When I was researching the Blackdown Hills (see here if you’re interested!) I came across lots of stories and folklore related to the area, such as my last posting.
One of my other favourite tales relates to the ‘bewitching’ of Mr Seley, but that story needs some introduction….
It goes back to 1685, and James II had just been crowned king following the death of his brother, Charles II, in February of that year.
Charles had a illegitimate son, also called James, and on the new king’s coronation, James Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch plotted rebellion.
Monmouth had been exiled to the Dutch United Provinces some seven years earlier, and had significant support from the masses. So, coordinating with Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Argyll, they planned rebellion, and set sail from Rotterdam.
Campbell sailed to Scotland but was swiftly defeated as he could not raise a large enough following. Monmouth on the other hand arrived in Lyme Regis in June of 1685 with a small army, and proclaimed himself a Protestant King against his Catholic uncle. He draw together a small fighting force, populated significantly by farmers, artisans, and non-conformists seeking a return of religious rights that they had lost.
It is known that many men from the area of the Blackdown Hills had joined the Monmouth rebel army and camped on Luppitt Common. After a number of skirmishes and delays the two forces met at Sedgemoor on the 6th July 1685. The King’s army, led by John Churchill who later became the 1st Duke of Malborough, swiftly defeated the poorly prepared rebels. Monmouth was executed* at Tower Hill on the 15th of July, and 1,400 of his supporters were tried in the following August and September by Judge Jeffreys (known as the ‘hanging judge’) from his base in Dorchester, or in Winchester, Salisbury, or Taunton in what became known as the Bloody Assizes.
Stories in the Blackdown Hills state that many of the local men who joined Monmouth’s army were routed back from Sedgemoor and executed on Black Down Common, which lies on the border of the town of Hemyock in Uffculme. Within ten years of this bloody episode, stories were circulating of the belief that these men still wandered the commons and roadways trying to get home.
These stories came to prominence with the reports of ‘bewitchings’ by the ghosts of the Monmouth Rebellion, in particular the haunting of a man called Jacob Seley, but that’s for the next post…
* Interestingly, while checking the dates for this post, I found reference to a story stating that Monmouth was in fact the ‘Man in the Iron Mask’, as James II couldn’t execute his own nephew, which is a lovely addition to the myth surrounding this period.