Dorset’s Demon Judge

James Scott, first Duke of Monmouth

In June 1685, James Scott, the first Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of King Charles II, landed at Lyme Regis in Dorset, bringing with him a bloody swatch of rebellion. In the days that followed, horror filled the hearts and minds of those living in the area. Monmouth brought some eighty trained soldiers with him. When King Charles II died, his Catholic brother, James, the Duke of York, who became King James II, succeeded him. However, Monmouth, a Protestant, made a bloody bid for the throne.

Landing in Lyme Regis, Monmouth marched across the West Country towards Taunton, into Somerset, Devon, and back to Dorset, gathering support for his bid. The revolt soon became known as The Pitchfork Rebellion. When word reached James II of his “nephew’s” efforts to claim the throne, James II sent an army, commanded by Lord Faversham, to crush the revolt.

On July 6, the two armies clashed at the Battle of Sedgemoor, where Monmouth’s army, along with the Duke, fled. The following morning, disguised as a farm laborer and hiding in a ditch at a spot now known as Monmouth’s Ash, the Duke was captured near Horton Heath, about 8 miles south of the hamlet of Woodyates. Escorted immediately to London, Monmouth was tried for treason and, eventually, beheaded on Tower Hill on July 15, 1685.

Monmouth’s Execution

George Jeffreys

As part of his revenge on those who stood with Monmouth, King James II sent his most ruthless judge, George Jeffreys, the First Baron Jeffreys of Wem, to deal with the rebels. Jeffreys held a reputation for swift justice and merciless sentences; he, eventually, rose to the position of Lord Chancellor, and occasionally served as Lord High Steward.  Some 1400 prisoners were brought before Jeffreys at the courts of Winchester, Taunton, and Dorchester. The court hearings were given the title of The Bloody Assizes, for some 300 men were put to death during the proceedings. Those found guilty by Jeffreys were hanged or drawn and quartered. Rotting bodies hung from makeshift gallows peppered the main highways and towns in the area. These gruesome sights were a clear warning to those who might force the king’s hand. Another 800 men were sentenced for transportation.

George Jeffrey

From his Prescript to the Sheriff of Dorset, Jeffreys leaves these orders: “These are, therefore, to will and require of you, immediately on sight hereof, to erect a gallows in the most public place to hand the said traytors on, and that you provide halters to hang them with, a sufficient number of faggots to burn the bowels, and a furnace or cauldron to boil their heads and quarters, and salt to boil them with, half a bushel to each traytor, and tar to tar them with, and a sufficient number of spears and poles to fix and place their heads and quarters; and that you warn the owners of four oxen to be ready with dray and wain, and the said four oxen, at the time hereafter mentioned for execution, and you yourselves together with a guard of forty able men at the least, to be present by eight o’clock of the morning to be aiding and assisting me or my deputy to see the said rebels executed. You are also to provide an axe and a cleaver for the quartering of the said rebels.”

Judge Jeffreys opened the Bloody Assizes at Dorchester on 5 September 1685 at the Antelope Hotel in the “Oak Room.” During his stay in Dorchester, Jeffreys stayed at a house in High West Street, a building, which is still known as his lodgings, and made his way to the courtroom by a secret passage in order to avoid the angry crowds. In one of his more infamous manipulations, Jeffreys convinced a young girl to spend the night in his bed in exchange for her brother’s freedom. When the girl woke the next morning, she peered out the window to see her brother hanging from the neck by a Bridport Dagger. (The town of Bridport was known for the production of netting and rope for the fishing industry and for use by the British navy. Bridport was also known for the production of the hangman’s rope. It was customary to say that those who were hanged were “stabbed by a Bridport Dagger.”) By the time, Jeffreys moved on to Lyme Regis, he had sentenced 74 men to death, sent another 175 to transportation, had 9 whipped, and pardoned 55.

On 11 September 1685, the Bloody Assizes opened at Lyme Regis. On the 12th of September, twelve men were executed on the beach west of the Cobb, and their body parts were displayed on spikes along the railings around the church. Two of the men’s heads were impaled on the iron gates of Chatham House. Jeffreys had dined at the great house on Broad Street the evening before the executions. Since that time, Jeffreys’ ghost is said to carry a bloody bone through the house.

This ghost tale is circumspect at best. After all, in reality, Jeffreys died some four years after the Bloody Assizes ended. During the Glorious Revolution, Jeffreys stayed in London when James II fled However, when William III’s troops marched into the city, Jeffreys disguised himself as a sailor and made his escape. He was captured at a public house in Wapping (now named The Town of Ramsgate). Fearing the public outcry for his “crimes,” Jeffreys begged for protection. On 18 April 1689, he died of kidney failure while in custody in the Tower of London.

Book Blurb:

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy

A Pride and Prejudice Mystery

By Regina Jeffers

A thrilling novel of malicious villains, dramatic revelations, and heroic gestures that stays true to Austen’s style…

Darcy and Elizabeth have faced many challenges, but none as dire as the disappearance of Darcy’s beloved sister, Georgiana. After leaving for the family home in Scotland to be reunited with her new husband, Edward, she has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving official word that Georgiana is presumed dead, Darcy and Elizabeth travel to the infamous Merrick Moor to launch a search for his sister in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish countryside. Suspects abound, from the dastardly Wickham to the mysterious MacBethan family. Darcy has always protected his little sister, but how can he keep her safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? Written in the language of the Regency era and including Austen’s romantic entanglements and sardonic humor, this suspense-packed sequel to Pride and Prejudice recasts Darcy and Elizabeth as a husband-and-wife detective team hunting for truth amid the dark moors of Scotland.

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