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Battlefield of Sedgemoor

Listed under Battlefields in Taunton, United Kingdom.

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My Favourite Haunted Battlefield: Sedgemoor

Sedgemoor Battlefield, nr Westonzoyland, Somerset.

A blood red sun was sinking beneath the horizon as I trudged along the muddy path that leads to one of England’s most poignant battle sites, Sedgemoor field. Standing between the two huge trees that tower, sentry like, over the memorial stone I read the moving and non–partisan inscription

TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN MEMORY

OF ALL WHO, DOING THE RIGHT AS THEY SAW IT,

FELL IN THE BATTLE OF SEDGEMOOR, 6TH JULY 1685,

AND LIE BURIED IN THIS FIELD OR FOR THEIR

SHARE IN THE FIGHT SUFFERED DEATH, PUNISHMENT

OR TRANSPORTATION.

PRO PATRIA

When James II came to the throne of England in 1685 his Catholic leanings made him exceedingly unpopular. He was almost immediately challenged by Charles’s illegitimate son James, Duke of Monmouth, who arrived from Holland and led the Western Rebellion, which at its peak numbered over 7,000 men. Their plan was to march on London, depose the King and place Monmouth on the throne. But when they reached Bristol the rebels were driven back by a highly trained and disciplined Royal army, led by Lord Faversham.

By Sunday 5th July Monmouth was cornered in Bridgewater and his ragged army had dwindled to a mere 3,500. With the situation, all but hopeless, Monmouth hatched a desperate, and ultimately foolhardy, plan to steal across the nearby moor at night and lead a surprise attack upon the King’s army.

At 10.30pm that Sunday, the rebels filed silently out of Bridgewater and headed out across the moor where they prepared to cross two deep drainage ditches, known locally as Rines (pronounced Reens), and begin their attack from behind the dry ditch, Bussex Rine.

Unfortunately, as they attempted to cross the Langmore Rine, they missed the path and, when they eventually found the crossing point, a shot was fired which alerted the Royal army to their presence.

Within moments a battle was raging across the moor. But Monmouth’s rag- bag army of miners and peasant’s, was no match for Lord Faversham’s expert artillery and realising that all was lost, Monmouth threw off his armour and fled the field, outrunning his companions, it was later claimed, by an incredible distance.

By dawn the moor was littered with the bodies of the dead and dying rebels and the Royal army disgraced itself with a ruthless and indiscriminate slaughter of the beaten survivors.

Monmouth was captured two days later, hiding in a ditch near Ringwood. He was taken to London and brought before his uncle, the King. The Duke fell to his knees and implored James to spare his life. James watched the pitiful display in stony silence, and then ordered that his nephew be executed the next day, July 15th

The raw emotion of that long ago battle, the dashed hopes and unimaginable suffering have all left their mark on the surroundings. As the last rays of the sun faded away, and the field was plunged into darkness, I thought of the ghostly forms that are said to abound in the vicinity. Of the galloping horsemen whom local farmers have witnessed on more than one occasion; of the disembodied voices that call to startled witnesses from across the River Cary, urging them to “Come Over”; of Monmouth’s terrified shade that is still said to repeat his desperate escape year after year; and of the writhing, misty figures that swirl about the Bussex Rine.

But saddest of them all must be the ghost of the young girl, whose lover was captured by the Royal army. His athletic prowess caused the soldiers to set him a wager. They offered to spare his life if he could run as fast as a galloping horse. Watched by his sobbing lover, the young man succeeded in keeping pace with a Royal horseman. His relief, though, was short-lived, for they shot him anyway and, in her grief, his heartbroken sweetheart drowned herself in the River Cary. Her phantom, however, periodically returns to the scene of her sorrow, where she glides along the route of her lovers last run. The thundering of a horses hooves often accompany her sad vigil, and the desperate panting of an invisible runner, coupled with a cold blast of icy air have been known to alarm even the stoutest, and most sceptical, of the few visitors who find their way to the evocative field.

Written by  Richard Jones.

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