"Lord William Russell and Mr. Algernon Sidney had been seized and sent to the Tower of London, on a charge of high treason"
James, Duke of York
Public DomainJames, Duke of York - Credit: Henry Gascars

The Rye House Plot of 1683 was a plan to assassinate King Charles II and his brother and heir, James, Duke of York.

After the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles in 1660 there was concern among some members of Parliament, and England’s Protestant population more broadly, that the King's relationship with France's Louis XIV was too close. Anti-Catholic sentiment was widespread.  While Charles was officially Anglican, he and James were known to have Catholic sympathies. In 1673 it was discovered that James had formally converted to Catholicism.

Lord William Russell 1639-1683 Tower Of London
Public DomainLord William Russell 1639-1683 Tower Of London - Credit: Mather Brown

Lord William Russell (1639 –1683) was a Member of Parliament from 1660.  As a leading member of the Country Party, and subsequently the Whigs, he was strongly anti-Catholic, and opposed to James’ position as heir to the throne.  In June 1680, he was part of a Parliamentary delegation that indicted James at Westminster as a "popish recusant." He called on Parliament to suppress popery and prevent a popish successor, and supported the Exclusion Bill, designed to preclude James from the throne.  Charles’ reaction was to dissolve Parliament.  This left his opponents with no legal method of preventing James's succession. 

In October 1682 Russell, together with Algernon Sidney and others, began to formulate plans against the king.  Russell and Sidney were subsequently implicated in the Rye House Plot, a plan to ambush Charles II and his brother James at the Rye House, a manor house in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, on their way back to London from the Newmarket races.

The royal party was expected to make the journey on 1 April 1683, but there was a great fire in Newmarket on 22 March, which destroyed half the town. The races were cancelled, and the King and the Duke returned to London early – thwarting the plan. The plot was discovered in June of the same year.  Many well-known members of Parliament and noblemen were arrested. Lord Russell was sent to the Tower of London, where he was tried and convicted of treason, and sentenced to death by beheading.  He was executed in July 1683 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  Algernon Sidney was convicted and executed in December the same year. 

In The Apology of Algernon Sydney, in the Day of his Death, Sidney declared his life's work was to “... uphold the Common rights of mankind, the laws of this land, and the true Protestant religion, against corrupt principles, arbitrary power and Popery... I do now willingly lay down my life for the same…”