Page 176. " Now heard you much in London town about the Duke of Monmouth? "
James, Duke of Monmouth
Public DomainJames, Duke of Monmouth - Credit: William Wissing

Lucy Walter, a dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty, was an early love of Charles Stuart, Prince of Wales, while he was exiled in Europe.  She bore his son in April 1649, in Holland, and called him James.  While James was illegitimate, he was highly favoured by Charles, and publicly recognised as his son.  When James was eight years old he was removed from Lucy’s care, placed in the care of Charles’ mother, and sent to school in Paris.  Lucy died the following year, in 1658. 

Following Charles' ascension to the throne, James was made the Duke of Monmouth in 1663, at the age of fourteen.  As an illegitimate child, he had no legal claim to the crown.

When Charles finally married, his wife, Catherine of Braganza, was found to be barren: no legitimate heir would be born. Charles’ brother James, Duke of York, was therefore next in line for the throne. However, many of England’s Parliamentarians favoured Monmouth, a Protestant and a distinguished soldier, over the Catholic and pro-French Duke of York. 

Monmouth was implicated in the Rye House plot to assassinate his father and the Duke of York in 1683, and was sent into exile in the Dutch United Provinces.  

Page 178. " I went warily, being now almost among this nest of cockatrices "
Serpent, Trsat Castle, Rijeka, Croatia
GNU Free Documentation LicenseSerpent, Trsat Castle, Rijeka, Croatia - Credit: Georges Jansoone

A cockatrice is a mythical beast, a two-legged dragon with a rooster's head, bearing a crown. The terms "cockatrice" and "basilisk" are often used interchangeably.  The cockatrice was first described in its current form in the late twelfth century.  According to Alexander Nickham’s 1180 text, De naturis rerum, the cockatrice was supposed to be born from an egg laid by a cock and incubated by a toad.  The cockatrice was reputed to have magical abilities, including turning people to stone or killing them with a look or a breath.  It was believed that a cockatrice would die instantly upon hearing a rooster crow, or on looking at itself in a mirror.

In England the town most associated with the cockatrice is the village of Wherwell, near Andover in Hampshire. The story goes that the cockatrice terrorised the village until it was imprisoned in the dungeons below Wherwell Priory. A prize of land was offered to anyone who could kill the creature. None was successful until a man named Green lowered a mirror into the dungeon. The cockatrice battled against its own reflection until exhausted, at which point Green was able to kill it.

Page 194. " Whether they believed the folly about the black box, and all that stuff, is not for me to say "

By the late 1670s, Parliamentarians were pushing to legitimize Monmouth’s claim to the throne by arguing that Lucy and Charles had been legally married. This effort became known as the affair of the "black box."  It was alleged that Lucy, before her death, had placed her marriage records in a black box and given this to Anglican Bishop John Cosin, who was by this stage deceased and unable to testify. Witnesses swore they had seen the black box, although neither box nor papers were ever found.  The affair created such a sensation in 1679-80 that Charles II was required to swear three separate oaths to the Privy Council that he had never been married to anyone but his queen.

King Charles II died in February 1685 and James II was crowned. In June, Monmouth returned to England to gather an army and declare himself "now head and captain-general of the protestant forces of this kingdom" with a "legitimate and legal" right to the crown, which he promised he would exercise only with the agreement of a free parliament. Monmouth was popular in the countryside.  He had distinguished himself as a fine soldier in an impressive military career; and as a Protestant, he had the support of the anti-Papists.  However, the widespread uprising expected by Parliamentarians did not occur.  Monmouth’s forces engaged in several skirmishes, but were defeated within weeks at Sedgemoor near Bristol, where Monmouth was captured.  He was executed in July 1685 in London.

 

James, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch
Public DomainJames, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch - Credit: Jan van Wyck