On this day in history : 15th July 1685 – James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of Charles II is executed – later his head is re-attached so his portrait can be painted….

Monmouth had been born on the 9th of April 1649 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands – he was the eldest illegitimate son of King Charles II and his mistress Lucy Walter…. He was made the Duke of Monmouth on the 14th of February 1663, shortly after he was brought to England….and at the tender age of 14 was married to heiress Anne Scott, on the 20th of April 1663…. Two years later he was to begin his military career, rising to rank of Commander of the Anglo-Dutch Brigade, fighting against the French, by 1678….

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Duke of Monmouth – public domain

On his return to Britain Monmouth commanded a small army which was formed to stop the Scottish Covenanters…. His small, massively outnumbered army managed to defeat the Covenanters…. By now Monmouth was becoming a serious contender as heir to the English throne….a position he was eager to secure….

In 1683 Monmouth was implicated in the Rye House Plot – an attempt to assassinate Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York and successor to the throne…. Monmouth, identified as a conspirator was forced to go into exile in the Dutch United Provinces….

King Charles II died in February 1685…. In an attempt to take the throne from his uncle Monmouth led the Monmouth Rebellion….landing three ships at Lyme Regis in June 1685…. However, on the 8th of July 1685 Monmouth was captured near to Ringwood in Hampshire and was taken to London….

Monmouth was beheaded by executioner Jack Ketch on the 15th of July 1685 on Tower Hill…. He begged Ketch to finish him with one blow….but the executioner had other ideas…. He administered several blows – some say as many as eight – the official Tower of London records report five…. After each blow Monmouth rose up – giving the crowd a ghastly sight…. It s said a knife was finally used to sever his head…. He was then buried in the church at the Tower of London….

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Monmouth’s execution on Tower Hill – Public domain

According to legend soon after his execution realisation dawned that no official portrait of Monmouth existed…. So his body was exhumed….his head stitched back on to his shoulders and he was ‘sat’ for his portrait…. However, it has to be said, portraits in the National Gallery do appear to have been dated before his death…. But who really knows….

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