On this day in history : 20th July 1685 – Lady Alice Lisle shelters two supporters of Monmouth’s defeated army, following the Battle of Sedgemoor…. They are caught and all three are executed….

The Monmouth Rebellion, or otherwise known as the ‘Pitchfork Rebellion’, was an attempt to overthrow James II…. The Battle of Sedgemoor was the last confrontation between the rebels and the King’s men…. It took place near to Bridgewater, Somerset….the rebels were no match for the superior, trained army…. Monmouth himself escaped but was captured near to Ringwood in Hampshire; he was taken to the Tower of London and beheaded…. Around 500 rebels were captured and imprisoned in St. Mary’s Parish Church in Westonzoyland, whilst others were hunted down and shot…. Many more were hanged by the roadside….

The Duke of Monmouth leads the Rebels – Jan Wyck – Public domain

Two weeks after the Battle of Sedgemoor Lady Alice agreed to help two of the rebels who had avoided capture, by giving them refuge at her home, ‘Moyles Court’, near Ringwood…. John Hickes was a well-known non-conformist minister and his companion was a Richard Nelthorpe…. Lady Alice was the widow of lawyer and politician John Lisle – who had fled England to Switzerland after the Restoration – only to be assassinated in 1664….

Hickes and Nelthorpe spent the night at Moyles Court – but the following morning they were arrested…. Lady Alice initially denied that they had been in her home but she was charged with harbouring fugitives…. At her trial, which was held at the Bloody Assizes in Winchester, the jury questioned whether her actions should be considered as treasonable as she had not been directly involved with the rebellion…. She claimed she had no sympathy with the rebellion and had believed Hickes had done nothing more than a bit of illegal preaching….

The trial was presided over by Judge Jeffreys – who was also known as the ‘Hanging Judge’…. He denied Lady Alice permission to speak and defend herself and placed pressure on the jury – who, if not somewhat reluctantly, found her guilty after just 15 minutes of deliberation…. She was sentenced to burn at the stake….

Judge Jeffreys – Public domain

Lady Alice’s execution was delayed for a week…. However, James II refused to show mercy – but did allow her sentence to be changed to beheading, seeing it more fitting to a woman of her standing….

On the 2nd of September 1685 she was publicly beheaded by axe in the market square of Winchester…. She was the last woman to be executed by beheading in England…. She spent her last night in the Eclipse Inn, Winchester – close to the Cathedral…. She accessed the scaffold directly from one of the upstairs windows…. She died with dignity….

The Eclipse Inn, Winchester – Image credit : Ptelea – own work CC BY-SA 4.0

Lady Alice Lisle is buried at St. Mary and All Saints Church in Ellingham, Hampshire….

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