Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Rye House Plot

In their desperation, the Whigs became reckless. In September 1682 Monmouth staged a ‘progress’ in Cheshire to raise support from Whig magnates in the north-west. His enthusiastic reception angered his father, who ordered his arrest.

In June 1683 sensational details were revealed by plotters who turned king’s evidence of an alleged conspiracy by former Cromwellians to assassinate the king and the duke of York on their way to Newmarket. A second conspiracy involving the earl of Essex, William, lord Russell, and the republican, Algernon Sidney, was a scheme to seize the king’s person and assume power. The three Whig notables were promptly arrested.

On 13 July Essex was found with his throat cut. Russell was executed by Jack Ketch on 21 July at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in the presence of a silent crowd, some of whom dipped their handkerchieves in his blood. Sidney’s trial, presided over by Jeffreys, began on 21 November, and the evidence focused largely on his manuscript A Discourse Concerning Government, a classic republican polemic which justified both resistance and tyrannicide. He was executed on Tower Hill on 7 December. A Whig martyrology was created and with it a body of radical ideas that never found their way into mainstream Whiggism.

Perhaps there was no Rye House plot. This didn't matter as the 'plot' gave the king an enormous propaganda advantage. On the day of Russell’s execution Oxford University insisted on the duty of ‘passive obedience in all circumstances whatsoever’.

Monmouth first went into hiding and then publicly submitted to his father. Charles continued to make it clear that James was his successor. In 1684 James was readmitted to the Privy Council. (In August 1681 the Scots Parliament had declared his inalienable hereditary right.) He brought an action against Titus Oates, who was put in the pillory, flogged and imprisoned.

In July 1683 James's younger daughter Anne married the Lutheran Prince George of Denmark. She was given her own household, the Cockpit in Whitehall, and Sarah Churchill became her groom of the stole.