Rye House Plot Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Beginning as early as the summer of 1682, two unrelated groups, one radical Whigs and the other disgruntled republicans, planned to prevent a Roman Catholic accession by assassinating Charles II and James, duke of York. Their conspiracies are known collectively as the Rye House Plot, and their failure led to the execution of a number of prominent Whigs and old Cromwellians.

Summary of Event

Historians are still divided on the question of whether the Rye House Plot was actually an attempt to assassinate Charles II Charles II (king of England);Rye House Plot and and his brother, James James II (king of England) , duke of York, or a cleverly contrived government effort to destroy the leadership of the exclusionary faction. This faction, which had acquired the nickname “Whigs” Whigs and would later evolve into a formal political party of that name, sought to remove the Catholic James from the line of succession. They feared that if he became Supreme Head of the Church of England, James would turn England into a Catholic nation. Charles, who had no desire to remove his brother from the succession, had motive to fabricate a false plot. However, the behavior of James Scott, duke of Monmouth, Monmouth, first duke of before and after the crisis supports those who contend that the plot was genuine. Catholicism;England [kw]Rye House Plot (Aug., 1682-Nov., 1683) [kw]Plot, Rye House (Aug., 1682-Nov., 1683) Government and politics;Aug., 1682-Nov., 1683: Rye House Plot[2770] Religion and theology;Aug., 1682-Nov., 1683: Rye House Plot[2770] England;Aug., 1682-Nov., 1683: Rye House Plot[2770] Rye House Plot (1682-1683)

There were actually two plots, and the link between them was Monmouth. Anthony Ashley Cooper, first earl of Shaftesbury, Shaftesbury, first earl of who had managed the failed Parliamentary attempt to exclude James, was living in exile. Before his death, like a skilled puppet master, Shaftesbury used Monmouth, Lord Russell, Russell, Lord the first earl of Essex, Essex, first earl of Algernon Sidney, Sidney, Algernon Lord Howard of Escrick, Howard of Escrick, Lord and John Hampden Hampden, John to formulate a plan for a general insurrection, which centered on kidnapping the king and his brother. The “Council of Six,” as they called themselves, could not agree what to do if they succeeded in this bold venture. Although they began discussing their insurgency as early as the summer of 1682, their plan never quite matured.

Meanwhile, a small group of republican fanatics led by a former Cromwellian soldier, Colonel John Rumsey, Rumsey, John and including Richard Rumbold, Rumbold, Richard who had stood guard at the execution of Charles I, began planning a much bolder solution to the possibility of a Roman Catholic succession. Beginning as early as February, 1683, Rumsey and his associates began to discuss the possibility of assassinating Charles II and the duke of York. Every year, the king attended the spring race meeting at Newmarket, in Hertfordshire. The republicans planned to ambush the royal brothers at Rye House, an isolated spot near the village of Ware on the road to London. Charles II enjoyed evading his bodyguard, so the attack could be made and the murders accomplished before the soldiers caught up with the royal coach. Monmouth, who could easily be controlled by the heirs of Shaftesbury, would then be proclaimed king, and the Whig faction would assume control of the government. Robert Ferguson, one of the conspirators, informed Monmouth of the assassination plot. He was one of Shaftesbury’s henchmen, and when the first arrest warrants were issued on June 23, he was able to flee abroad.

Once the duke of York became King James II, he took his revenge upon the duke of Monmouth for his role in the Rye House Plot. Monmouth is shown here begging James for mercy.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

On March 22, a disastrous fire in Newmarket destroyed a large portion of the town, including the royal lodging. As a result, Charles II and the duke of York returned to the capital ahead of schedule. The assassins did not have an alternative plan, and thus they were caught off guard by the conflagration and the royal escape. The failure of this conspiracy threw the aristocratic plotters into a quandary, and their plans had to be postponed. The whole affair might have been forgotten save for the fact that some of the participants began to talk too freely to individuals who were actually government agents.

Early in the summer of 1683, the accusations began. Terrified by the possibility of suffering the full penalty for treason, Josiah Keeling, Keeling, Josiah a Baptist oil merchant, turned informer. William Carstares Carstares, William confessed under torture and implicated a number of individuals. Among those arrested were Russell, Essex, Howard, Sidney, Hampden, Captain Thomas Walcott, Walcott, Thomas who was rumored to have been the executioner of Charles I, Nathaniel Wade Wade, Nathaniel and Robert West, West, Robert who were lawyers, and James Holloway, Holloway, James a linen merchant from Bristol. The Tories Tories (the Royalist faction in Parliament, which would evolve into the party opposed to the Whig Party) had been crippled by the witch-hunt conducted against Catholics during the Popish Plot (1678-1681) Popish Plot (1678-1681) . They now sought their revenge. The king personally questioned the Whig lords when they were brought before the Privy Council.

The state trials began in early July, 1683, but unlike the trials of the Catholic peers during the Popish Plot, the outcomes were not predictable. The grand jury handed down indictments against twenty-one persons including the duke of Monmouth. Lord Howard of Escrick, who had been a close associate of Shaftsbury, was pardoned, because he had given evidence against his fellow conspirators. Walcott was convicted and executed on July 20, but William Blague Blague, William was acquitted. Lord Russell, John Rouse, William Hone, James Holloway, and Algernon Sidney were executed for treason, but John Hampden, the nephew of a famous Civil War Parliamentarian, was fined and sentenced to prison. The earl of Essex was not brought to trial; he committed suicide in his cell in the Tower of London. Charles II was particularly distressed at news of Essex’s death, because his father had been executed for his devotion to the Royalist cause, and the king would probably have commuted his sentence to imprisonment if he had been convicted of treason.

As the evidence was assembled during the investigation and the trials, it became apparent that there was no nationwide plot, despite the fact that the Whig lords had tried to involve a group of dissident Scots. This was a disappointment for the duke of York, who felt that his brother had exercised too much restraint in punishing the traitors who had sought to take his life. When he ascended the throne as James II on February 6, 1685, however, he would have the opportunity to complete the process begun in 1683 and in particular to punish his nephew, Monmouth.

When the arrests of the Rye House conspirators began, Monmouth went into hiding, fearing that he might be charged with treason for plotting the overthrow of the government as well as knowing of the plan to murder his father. Despite the fact that his eldest natural son was as guilty as many of those executed for their participation in the plots, Charles II forgave Monmouth. His uncle James was not so merciful. When Monmouth sought to seize the throne after his father’s death, James II did not hesitate to send him to the block. Thus, in 1685, the severed head of the so-called Protestant Hope would join what remained of his fellow traitors still rotting on the spikes above Tower Bridge.

Significance

The Rye House Plot was the last crisis in the reign of Charles II, and its resolution in favor of the Crown ensured the undisputed succession of the duke of York in 1685. James actually garnered some degree of popularity from the Rye House affair, and he mounted the throne with a great deal of public goodwill—which he soon squandered. The execution of a number of the more radical Whigs ensured the ascendancy of the moderate wing of the faction and its return to power after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coote, Stephen. Royal Survivor: The Life of Charles II. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. A study of the political sagacity of Charles II as he faced and survived the various crises of his reign.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fraser, Antonia. King Charles II. London: Phoenix Press, 2002. The most balanced biography of the king, it places the events of the Rye House Plot in their proper context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Greaves, Richard L. Secrets of the Kingdom: British Radicals from the Popish Plot to the Revolution of 1688-1689. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992. It links the successive attempts to alter the nature of the English government, which finally ended with the Glorious Revolution. It is the most complete modern work on the Rye House Plot.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harris, Tim. London Crowds in the Reign of Charles II: Propaganda and Politics from the Restoration Until the Exclusion Crisis. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. An in-depth study of the component that made the city of London unstable.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, J. R. The First Whigs: The Politics of the Exclusion Crisis, 1678-1683. London: Oxford University Press, 1961. A thorough study of the men who failed to alter the legitimate succession.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Charles II (of England); James II; Mary II; Duke of Monmouth; First Earl of Shaftesbury; William III. Rye House Plot (1682-1683)

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