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The Rye House Plot of 1683 was a plan to assassinate King Charles II of England and his brother (and heir to the throne) James, Duke of York. Historians vary in their assessment of the degree to which details of the conspiracy were finalized.

After the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles in 1660 there was concern among some members of Parliament, former republicans and the general Protestant population of England that the King's relationship with France under Louis XIV and the other Catholic rulers of Europe was too close. Anti-Catholic sentiment, which associated Catholicism with absolutism, was widespread, and focused particular attention on the succession to the throne. While Charles was publicly Anglican, he and his brother were known to have Catholic sympathies. These suspicions were confirmed in 1673 when James was discovered to have converted to Catholicism.

In 1681, triggered by the opposition-invented Popish Plot, the Exclusion Bill was introduced in the House of Commons, which would have excluded James from the succession. Charles outmanoeuvred his opponents and dissolved Parliament. This left his opponents with no legal method of preventing James's succession, and rumours of plots and conspiracies abounded. With the "country party" in disarray, Lord Shaftesbury, leader of the opposition to Charles's rule, fled to Holland where he soon died.

Rye House, a manor house in Hoddesdonmarker in Hertfordshire, was owned by a well-known Republican, Richard Rumbold. The plan was to conceal a force of 100 men in the grounds of the house and ambush the King and the Duke on their way back to London from the horse races at Newmarketmarker.

They were 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. As a result, the planned attack never took place.

News of the plot leaked and the plot was publicly discovered 12 June 1683; Charles and his supporters were quick to act: a royal declaration of the heinous nature of the plot was issued on 27 July.. Many well-known members of Parliament and noblemen of the "country party", which opposed the Court party and would soon be known as Whigs, were arrested. Although the principal conspirators were minor figures, the Whig leaders William, Lord Russell, a son of the Earl of Bedford, was convicted and executed, and Algernon Sidney was convicted on weaker evidence by Judge Sir George Jeffreys, brought in as Lord Chief Justice in September and also executed. The Earl of Essex committed suicide in the Tower of London. The Duke of Monmouth, Charles' illegitimate son, was also implicated and obliged to retire to the United Provinces. A popular account of the plot was published in 1685 by T. Sprat, A True Account and Declaration of the Horrid Conspiracy against the Late King.

Historians have suggested the story of the plot may have been largely manufactured by Charles or his supporters to allow the removal of most of his strongest political opponents. Richard Greaves cites as proof that there was a plot in 1683, the 1685 armed rebellions of the fugitive Earl of Argyll and Charles' Protestant bastard, James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (Greaves 1992). Doreen Milne asserts that its importance lies less in what was actually plotted than in the public perception of it and the uses made of it by the government. The popular reaction to the Tories' reactive excesses led to the discontent expressed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Notes

  1. Milne 1951:95
  2. He replaced Sir Francis Pemberton, dismissed after Russell's trial.
  3. Milne 1951


References

  • Greaves, Richard L. Secrets of the Kingdom: British Radicals from the Popish Plot to the Revolution of 1688-89 (Stanford University Press) 1992.
  • Milne, Doreen J. "The Results of the Rye House Plot and Their Influence upon the Revolution of 1688: The Alexander Prize Essay" Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Seris, 1 (1951), p. 91-108.



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