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National Park Authority Dartmoor was designated one of the National Parks of England and Wales in 1951. It is a beautiful moorland landscape with wooded valleys and wind swept Tors. 368 square miles (953 sq. km.) in area, with about 33,000 people living in it, and where about 10 million visits are made each year. All the land is owned by someone and the public is able to roam freely on unenclosed, open moorland on both foot and horseback. There are also about 600 miles (966 km) of public rights of way. Dartmoor is a rich habitat for wildlife and has a wealth of archaeological remains.
One of the most harrowing episodes in the history of England's West Country began on 11th June 1685.
This day can be called the first of the Duking days: - so called because that was the day that Charles II's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, sailed into Lyme Regis harbour. In May 1685, Monmouth set sail for South West England, a strongly Protestant region, with three small ships, four light field guns and 1500 muskets. He landed with 82 supporters, including Lord Grey of Warke and gathered around 300 men, at Lyme Regis in Dorset on 11 June.] King James was soon warned of Monmouth's arrival: two customs officers from Lyme arrived in London on 13 June having ridden some 200 miles (322 km) post haste.
There had been rumours that Charles had married Monmouth's mother, Lucy Walter, but no evidence was forthcoming, and Charles always said that he only had one wife, Catherine of Braganza.
Monmouth was a Protestant. He had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Army by his father in 1672 and Captain-General in 1678, enjoying some successes in the Netherlands in the Third Anglo-Dutch War. Monmouth's military reputation, and his Protestantism, made him a popular figure in England. An attempt was made in 1681 to pass the Exclusion Bill, an Act of Parliament to exclude James Stuart, Charles II's brother, from the succession and substitute Monmouth, but Charles outmanoeuvred his opponents and dissolved Parliament for the final time. After the Rye House Plot to assassinate both Charles and James, Monmouth exiled himself to Holland, and gathered supporters in The Hague.
James II marshalled his troops and on the night of July 5th the Battle of Sedgemoor took place. Not surprisingly, because of the lack of proper equipment, Monmouth's army was soon routed. Monmouth himself fled the battlefield and was found three days later cowering in a ditch at Ringwood in the New Forest.
When he was brought before King James in London he wept, begged and pleaded for his life. He even promised to become a Catholic if his life was spared. It was no use; he was beheaded on Tower Hill in London on July 15th 1685.
The bloodshed had only just started. The infamous Judge Jefffreys was sent by King James to Taunton to mete out justice to the rebels. The trials became known as the 'Bloody Assize' as more than 200 were hanged, drawn and quartered, and 800 transported to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations.
One of Monmouth's followers captured after the battle of Sedgemoor was a famous runner. He was promised his life if he could out-run a horse. He was roped alongside a stallion and raced across Somerset beside it. The horse is said to have tired before he did but his captors broke their promise and hanged him anyway!
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