This is an extract from the programme written by Harry Mottram for the Axbridge Pageant due we hope in 2021. It was originally due to be performed this August but has been put back 12 months due to Covid-19 with even a question mark over that date due to the ongoing problems of social distancing. The pageant is directed by John Bailey.
The divisions of the civil war were not healed when Parliament’s army defeated the king’s soldiers and executed Charles I in 1649.
Following Cromwell’s Commonwealth the monarchy was eventually restored in 1660 with Charles II returning from exile. However the honeymoon didn’t last when his brother James ascended the thrown with fears of a Catholic monarchy.
In exile in Holland, James Duke of Monmouth, believed he should be king. He landed at Lyme Regis and raised a protestant army in Somerset with many from Axbridge joining his cause in 1685 which has been called the Pitchfork Rebellion – an inaccurate name as most of the rebels were skilled workers in the leather and metal industries.
The men of Axbridge marched off to join the rebels in high spirits. At last they’d be rid of a Catholic King and have a Protestant on the throne but things didn’t go their way when they marched on Bath. The gates were shut on them and they turned back to Bridgwater as the King’s army approached. One night they stole out of town to attack the army of King James near Weston Zoyland.
This is the account of Ernest Dummer, (an artillery officer in the King’s army) whose notes are in the Imperial War Museum
Officer Ernest Dummer: “Sixth of July: At two a clock this morning, we, securely sleeping, our Camp was rouz’d by the near approach of the rebels.
“From this Alarme, there seemes to be 2 Minutes distance, to a Volley of Small Shott from the Body of the Rebells Foot, followed by 2 or 3 Rounds from Three Pieces of Cannon brought up within 116 Paces of the Ditch Ranging Our Battallions.
“Dummer: Six of Our Nearest Gunns with ye greatest diligence imaginable advanced upon the Enemies; They Stood near an hour and with great Shouting and Courage, briskly firing.
“The Number of the Slaine was about 300. Taken, according to ye most modest computation might make up 1000. We Losing but 27.
“A Victory very considerable where Providence was absolutely a greater Friend, then Our Own Conduct. The Dead in the Moor we Buried, and the Country People took care for ye interment of those, slain in the Corne fields.”
Monmouth was captured four days after the battle and was beheaded on Tower Hill a week later. For his followers it was a two long months before Judge Jeffries came to carry the King’s vengeance into every corner of the West Country in the Bloody Assizes.
What had been rebellion was now treason. There were 1,000 rebels in prisons across the West– and seven of these were from Axbridge.
Thomas Burnell, John Gill, Thomas Hilary, Thomas Munday and John Butcher were hanged and then disembowelled.
The wealthy capital burgesses however were to escape with their lives after paying up cash to the authorities.
The bloody Assizes left a social scar on the area for a generation. Meanwhile William of Orange watched from the continent and in 1688, on the invitation of many in the establishment who preferred a Protestant Isle to a Roman Cathlic one, he landed at Torbay and with a well drilled Dutch army and swiftly took power in London known as The Glorious Revolution or perhaps more accurately: a military coup. King James went into exile and Judge Jeffries was captured and died in the Tower of London.
The pageant with a cast of 300 is now scheduled to take place from Saturday to Monday August 28-30th, 2021 – having been put back a year due to Covid-19. Please note due to the ongoing pandemic the date may have to be altered again.
For more details of the pageant visit http://axbridgepageant.com/index.html and
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For more from the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk