Norton St. Philip's Bloody Past
Part two of my visit to Norton St. Philip
The Battle of Philips Norton (Norton St. Philip)
Welcome to part two of my visit to Norton St Philip. In part one, I took you around the village and showed you some of my photographs. Today, my story goes back in time.
We travel back to the year 1685. In February 1685, James ll succeeded his brother Charles ll as King of England, Scotland and Ireland. James was a Catholic, which didn’t sit well with many. James Scott, the 1st Duke of Monmouth, opposed James ll. Scott was the eldest illegitimate son of Charles ll, and as a protestant, thought he should be the King.
Earlier in 1681, an attempt was made to assassinate Charles ll and James due to the failure of Parliament to exclude James from the succession list. Although Monmouth was living in exile in Holland, he was identified as a co-conspirator. Monmouth and others planned to overthrow the King.
On June 11th 1685, Monmouth returned to England, his boat landing at Lyme Regis in Dorset. In this area of England, he had many supporters. He planned to take control of the west of England, and eventually march his army to London, and challenge for the Kingship. The rebellion became known as the ‘Pitchfork Rebellion’ due to amount of farm workers who enrolled to fight for him.
Read the article below for more information on Lyme Regis and where Monmouth landed.
This would be a short-lived rebellion and would be over in a few weeks. His mainly untrained army faced the professionals of the King. They were not able to prevail, although they bravely tried. Our story regarding what happened at Norton St. Philip commenced on June 26th 1685. Monmouth had withdrawn his troops from Keynsham, realising that his target of Bristol was well defended. He could now withdraw, go to Warminster, and march on the capital while many Royal troops had been pulled out of London. The Earl of Argyll, working with Monmouth, took troops and sailed to Scotland in an effort to draw more soldiers away from the capital and weaken its defence.
Monmouth’s opponent, the Earl of Feversham, had ordered his three main forces to concentrate on Bath, just north of Norton St. Philip. It is estimated that Monmouth had 5,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and 4 light guns. Feversham had 2,400 infantry, 800 cavalry and 8 light guns. In addition he brought 3,000 military militia and 100 militia cavalry.
Monmouth didn’t allow for the bad weather. When they reached Norton St. Philip, his soldiers were wet, exhausted and mud-covered. Monmouth ordered them to camp on the fields close to the church to give them time to recover.
To protect his army, Monmouth established sentries and set up a barricade on the road leading into the town from Bath. Monmouth had established his HQ in the George Inn. Early the following day, the army marched towards Frome, along with most of the baggage. Staying behind as a rear guard was the Duke of Monmouth, his Lifeguards, the Artillery, and a regiment under the command of Major Wade.
General Feversham of the Royalists, who had headed off Monmouth’s attack on Bristol, now goes into attack mode. With an army of almost 5,000 men, he launched his attack on Wednesday, June 27th 1685. Monmouth tactically wins this battle. It was a bloody one and lasted all day. There was so much blood spilt that local folklore called Chevers Lane, which runs downhill from Bath Road, Bloody Lane. Imagine the horror of such close combat fighting. Body parts, blood and gore!
Feversham’s attack, though, did succeed in preventing Monmouth from getting to Warminster and onwards to London. Monmouth’s supplies were running short, and he decided to march to Bridgwater to resupply.
Judge Jeffreys and Norton St. Philip
Monmouth never did make it to London. He was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor (Somerset) on July 15th 1685. Justice, or some might say revenge, was swift. King James ll appointed the infamous Judge Jeffreys for the Western Assizes. The King had already decided who would live, who would die and who would be sold into slavery. Monmouth was captured on July 8th 1685, close to Ringwood in Hampshire. The captive was taken to London, where he was granted an audience with his cousin, King James ll. Despite making many pleas for his life, Monmouth was executed on Monday, July 15th 1685, by beheading on Tower Hill.
This, however, does not end our story of the rebellion at Norton St. Philip. Judge Jeffrey came to the George Inn to conduct a trial to punish the rebels. Twelve men were executed. They were taken across the road, behind the Fleur-de-Lys pub, an area today known by the locals as Bloody Close. It is here that the twelve were hanged.
For such a pretty village, it has a gruesome story to tell. How many visitors passing through would give thought to this event? Well, if you didn’t know before, you do now! If you visit, you can see where this event took place.
Roland’s Travels is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.