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A Dangerous Woman: Mary Speke, her Family, and the Puritan Gentry

  • Melinda S. Zook
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Part of the Early Modern History: Society and Culture book series

Abstract

The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Mews, kept a careful watch over the Speke family of Whitelackington in Somerset. A thorough-going royalist, Mews was no friend to the many Puritan gentry families in the West Country about whose activities he made regular reports to the authorities in London. But of all the wealthy nonconformist families within his diocese, the Spekes rankled him the most. In early July 1683, Mews informed Secretary Leoline Jenkins that “Mrs. Speak, the wife of Mr. Speak of Whitelackington in this county is now in London and hath been there for some time. There is not a more dangerous woman in the West, and what her sons are I need not tell you.” A couple weeks later, the Bishop wrote to Jenkins again, imploring him to have Whitelackington house searched for arms and papers. “I need give no character of their family. I suppose it is sufficiently known how actively of late years they have all appeared against his Majesty’s interest, especially the mother and her son, Hugh ….”2

Keywords

Nursing Mother Privy Council Natural History Society Bodleian Library Close Prisoner 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    The Speeches and Prayers of Major General Harrison, October 13; Mr. John Carew, October 15; Mr. Justice Cooke, Mr. Hugh Peters, October 16… (London, 1660), p. 22.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The original letter is in the National Archives, SP 29/427, part 1, f. 20; it is transcribed in CSPD, Charles II, 25: 8, 178. The transcriptions of the intercepted Speke letters in the Calendar of State Papers follow the original letters word for word. Henceforth, I have chosen to cite those in the Calendar and follow their modernization of the spelling.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The Green Ribbon Club was a Whig club that met at the King’s Head Tavern, London. It orchestrated anti-papist propaganda, pope-burning processions, and petition drives. The 1679 and 1680 Whig petitions called for a parliament to redress the nation’s grievances. J.R. Jones, “The Green Ribbon Club,” Durham University Journal, 49 (1956): 17–20; Mark Knights, “London Petitions and Parliamentary Politics in 1679,” Parliamentary History 12 (1993): 29–46; “London’s ‘Monster’ Petition of 1680,” HJ 36 (1993): 39–67.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Titus Oates (1649–1705) supposedly uncovered a Catholic plot to murder Charles II in 1678, the so-called Popish Plot, resulting in waves of anti-papist hysteria. Nonetheless, Oates was hero to “true Protestants” like the Spekes, who never doubted the veracity of his wild tales. On the Popish Plot, see J.P. Kenyon, The Popish Plot (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1974); Jonathan Scott, “England’s Troubles: Exhuming the Popish Plot,” in The Politics of Religion in Restoration England, eds. Tim Harris, Paul Seaward, and Mark Goldie (Oxford: Basil Blackwood, 1990), pp. 108–31.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 25: 178. I have searched for Mary Speke’s correspondence in local and national archives to no avail and suspect that she destroyed it.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in James Street, The Mynster of the Ile or, The Story of the Ancient Parish of Ilminster (Taunton: Chapple & Son, 1904), dedication.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Smith, De republica Anglorum: The Manner of Government or Policy of the Realm of England (1583), ed. L. Aston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1906), pp. 33, 39–40.Google Scholar
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    8John Collinson, The History and Antiquities of Somerset, 3 vols. (Taunton, 1791), 1: 67; DNB, s.v. “Espec, Walter.”Google Scholar
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    In the Appendix of J.T. Cliffe’s Puritans in Conflict: The Puritan Gentry During and after the Civil Wars (New York: Routledge, 1988), he lists gentry families with estate revenues of a £1,000 or more at the time of the mid-century crisis. Among those discussed in this chapter are: the Hampdens of Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire; the Pyes of Faringdon, Berkshire; the Pynes of Curry Mallet, Somerset; the Strodes of Barrington Court, Somerset; the Trenchards of Wolfeton House, Dorset. The Spekes are not listed in Cliffe’s book on Puritans because George Speke supported the royalists during the Civil Wars. Mary’s family, the Pyes of Faringdon, is listed.Google Scholar
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    George Speke’s estate was valued at £ 1,410 p.a. in 1641; it seems to have been kept intake for the most part by the time of his death. J.A. Hawkins, ed., Sales of Wards in Somerset, 1603–1641 (Frome: Butler & Tanner, 1965), pp. 57–8; Speke’s will is in the NA, PROB 28/1249. The hearth tax for 1664–65 lists George Speke as having 22 chimneys which is far more than most of his Somerset neighbors. R. Holworthy, Hearth Tax for Somerset, 1664–5 (Taunton: E. Dwelly, 1916), p. 205.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 21: 176.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 23: 121; 21:185–6: The eldest son, John, who was educated at Wadham College, does mention two books, an enchiridion (possibly Erasmus’s Enchiridion militis Christiani or Francis Quarles’s popular Enchiridion, containing institutions divine, contemplative, practical, moral, ethical,etc., which went into thirteen editions in the seventeenth century) and Moses Pitt’s English Atlas (London, 1680).Google Scholar
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    See Strode’s will, NA, PROB 11/323/2.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 21: 175–6; CSPD, Charles II, 25: 316, 399; The Judgment and Decree of the University of Oxford, Pass’d in their Convocation, July 21, 1683, against certain Pernicious Books and Damnable Doctrines (London, 1683).Google Scholar
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    Since most couples married late in the seventeenth century, married women would normally only bear four or five children of whom only two or three reached adulthood. Alan Macfarlane, Marriage and Love in England: Modes of Reproduction, 1300–1840 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), p. 62. Even Lawrence Stone’s class-based analysis of marriage has elite women marrying around age 26. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800 (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), abridged edition, p. 42. Mary’s fecundity speaks to both her youth when first married (age sixteen) and general good health. Nor were large numbers of children entirely unusual among similarly wealthy seventeenth-century families. Alexander Popham of Wellington, Somerset, had eight children; six of whom survived to adulthood. Sir Wadham Wyndlam of Orchard Wyndlam, Somerset, had twelve children, of whom ten survived.Google Scholar
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    Bernard Burke, A Genealogy and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, 3 vols. (London, 1939), 3: 2103.Google Scholar
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    J.T. Cliffe, The Puritan Gentry Besieged, 1650–1700 (New York: Routledge, 1993), Chapter 11: “The Godly Household,” pp. 136–46.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 3: 116; G. Lyon Turner, Original Records of Early Nonconformity under Persecution and Indulgence, 2 vols. (London, 1911), 2: 1111–12, 1: 7. On Strong, see John D. Ramsbotton, “Presbyterians and ‘Partial Conformity’ in the Restoration Church of England,” JEH 43 (1992): 260.Google Scholar
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    James Strong, Lydia’s Heart Opened: or, Divine Mercy Magnified in the Conversion of a Sinner by the Gospel (London, 1675), dedicated “To the Religious Mrs. Mary Speke of Whitelackington,” pages unnumbered.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    This sermon was delivered by Joseph Rowe, an Anglican cleric of Puritan sympathies. Thomas Hervey, ed., Some Unpublished Papers Relating to the Family of Sir Francis Drake (Colmber, 1887), p. 50. Many women (and men) practiced “closet devotions.” A closet was like a small, private office which could be used for solitary prayer and meditation as well as a place to hold private audiences.Google Scholar
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    The evidence suggests that George tolerated and tried to protect his wife and his children’s nonconformity, but did not partake in it. For example, a description of a conventicle in Otterton speaks of John, the eldest surviving son, participating while his father waits “in the hall.” Emanuel Green, The March of William of Orange through Somerset (London, 1892), p. 53. In 1682, amid a heated political argument, a neighbor asked George whether he had “turned Presbyterian.” George replied merely, “The Presbyterians are the honestest [sic] men and the preservers of the country’s rights.” CSPD, Charles II, 26: 1.Google Scholar
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    These and other Puritan mothers are described in Cliff, The Puritan Gentry, pp. 143–6.Google Scholar
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    There is very little information on William Speke, the youngest son, probably because he was only around 14 at the time of Monmouth’s Rebellion, the apogee of the Speke family activism. The second youngest brother, Charles, executed in 1685, left William the bulk of his inheritance and Mary, his mother, left all of her estate to William when she died in 1697. Charles’s will is recorded in Matilda Pine-Coffin, The Speke Family History (Exeter, 1914), p. 21. Mary’s will is in the National Archives, PROB11/491, f. 133r.Google Scholar
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    Philipa was apprehended at a conventicle at Taunton in 1683; John was spotted at one in Otterton in 1685; CSPD, Charles II, 26: 229; Green, The March of William of Orange, p. 53.Google Scholar
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    She was probably the Mary Pye who was baptized at Richmond, Surrey in 1625. M. Zook, “Speke, Mary (fl. 1641–1697),” ODNB.Google Scholar
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    He was knighted in 1621 and purchased the estate at Faringdon sometime in the 1620s. He married Mary Croker of Battisford, Gloucestershire, and they raised six children. G.E. Aylmer, “Pye, Sir Robert (bap. 1585, d. 1662),” ODNB.Google Scholar
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    Aylmer, Ibid; C.H. Firth, “Pye, Sir Robert (c. 1622–1701);” ODNB; Robert Pye, A More Exact Relation of the Siege Laid to the Town of Leicester… Delivered to the House of Commons by Sir Robert Pye (London, 1645).Google Scholar
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    Mary Frear Keeler, The Long Parliament, 1640–41 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1954), p. 317; HMC: Report on the Manuscripts of F. W. Leyborne-Popham, Esq. (Norwich, 1899), p. 144.Google Scholar
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    Speke paid £2,390. The six hostages were all prominent West Country gentlemen, many of whom would later become the Speke’s royalist enemies. P.F. Campbell, “Two Generations of Walronds,” The Journal of Barbados Museum and Historical Society 38 (1989): 268, 271; On George Speke’s Cavalier days, see Hugh Speke, Some Memoirs of Most Remarkable Passages and Transactions on the Late Happy Revolution in 1688 (Dublin, 1709), p. 34.Google Scholar
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    M. Zook, “George Speke (1623–1689),” ODNB; The Diurnal of Thomas Rugg, 1659–1661, ed. W.L. Sashse (London: Royal Historical Society, 1961), pp. 70–1; Letter from George Speke to Middleton (August 1685), BL, Add. 41, 804, f. 31.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    See above, note 15. The mean age of first marriage for English women in the seventeenth century was around 26 and around 27 for men. While there was a low legal threshold, a minimum age for valid marriage of 12 for girls and 14 for boys, early marriage was clearly frowned upon in the prescriptive literature of the time. Macfarlane, Marriage, pp. 24–6, 211–15.Google Scholar
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    Bodleian Library, Wood MS. F. 40, f. 293; CSPD, Charles II, 22: 515.Google Scholar
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    House of Commons, 1660–1700, 3: 643–4; Keeler, Long Parliament, p. 319; Cliffe, Gentry Besieged, p. 85; Green, March, p. 53.Google Scholar
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    Frederick Brown, Abstracts of Somersetshire Wills, 4 vols. (London, 1889), 4: 10.Google Scholar
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    There were numerous reports of conventicles held at Forde Abbey. Turner, Original Records, 1: 44.Google Scholar
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    House of Commons, 1660–1700, 3: 288; CSPD, Charles II, 23: 26.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in H.A. Helyar, “The Arrest of Col. William Strode of Barrington, in 1661,” Somerset Archeological & Natural History Society 37 (1891): 33.Google Scholar
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    The election was contested by Tory candidates, but Speke and Strode prevailed. The Case of the Petitioners, William Strode and John Speke, Esquires (London, 1681).Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 22: 514. Also see, Thomas Serel, “On the Strodes of Somersetshire,” Somerset Journal 13 (1856–66): 6–20.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 25: 356; John Burke, ed., Royal Families of England, Scotland and Wales, 2 vols. (London, 1851), 2: pedigree CIX; Alan J. Miller, “Sir John Trenchard — The Movement Man of the West,” The Dorset Year Book (1996), pp. 17–20; Robin Clifton, “Trenchard, Sir John (1649–1995),” ODNB.Google Scholar
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  50. 50.
    Letter to Anthony Wood in 1680 referring to George Speke. Bodleian Library, Wood MS. F. 40, f. 293.Google Scholar
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    Hugh Speke, Some Memoirs of the Late Happy Revolution (London, 1715).Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    See below, Chapter 1, n9.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    CSPD, Charles II, 3: 116. The royalist, Sir John Warre of Kingston, Somerset, was a member of the commission of peace and profoundly hostile to nonconformists.Google Scholar
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    There is little information on Thomas Jennings. The Hearth tax list for 1664–65 lists him as an “esquire” with thirteen chimneys. He seems to have been fairly wealthy. Holworthy, Hearth Tax, 1: 13.Google Scholar
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    Somersetshire Wills, 2: 10; CSPD, Charles II, 23: 121; 25: 247; John Whiting, Persecution Exposed in Some Memoirs Relating to the Suffering of John Whiting, and Many Others Called Quakers (London, 1715), p. 141.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    To avoid gender confusion, I have added an “a” to Philip Trenchard’s first name. However, her name was really “Philip.” This is how she herself spelled it and how the sources of the era spell it. Nineteenth-century historians and genealogists could not accept the fact that her name was “Philip” and always added an “a,” but this is actually incorrect. CSPD, Charles II, 25: 16, 25. BL, Add. 41,817, f. 274v.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Wadham had a strong West Country connection. Joseph Wells, Wadham College (London, 1898), p. 30.Google Scholar
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    On Walrond’s violence against conventicles, see Street, Mynster of Ile, pp. 205–7.Google Scholar
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    George Roberts, The Life, Progresses and Rebellion of James, Duke of Monmouth Life of Monmouth, 2 vols. (London, 1844; reprint, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, LCC 2007), 2: 318; Street, Mynster of Ile, p. 217.Google Scholar
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    A Narrative of the Duke of Monmouth’s Late Journey into the West (London, 1680), pp. 2–3.Google Scholar
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    The Speke’s pew was probably near the chancel. Although Mary and her children were committed Presbyterians, it is hardly surprising that they would attend Sunday services. The Spekes had a controlling interest in the churches at Ilminster, Whitelackington, and Dowlish Wake (where one can still see monuments to the Speke family) and they would have needed to maintain their authority, in part, through public appearances like Sunday services. Street, Mynster of Ile, p. 218.Google Scholar
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    Monmouth’s progress is described in Roberts, Life of Monmouth, 1: 89–105; also see, H. St. George Gray, “Whitelackington and the Duke of Monmouth,” Somersetshire Archeological & Natural History Society 73 (1927): 35–9.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 23: 121–2.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 23: 122; CSPD, Charles II, 24: 294.Google Scholar
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    Among the leaders arrested in connection with the plot were William, Lord Russell, Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex, Algernon Sidney and John Trenchard. On the Rye House Plot, see Richard Greaves, Secrets of the Kingdom: British Radicals from the Popish Plot to the Revolution (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 206–50; Richard Ashcraft, Revolutionary Politics: Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 332–98.Google Scholar
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    In 1682, Thomas Pilkington was sued by the Duke of York for supposedly exclaiming two years earlier that the Duke “hath burnt the city and is come to cut our throats.” Morrice, EB, 2: 318.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 24: 337–88.Google Scholar
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    Hugh was trying to help Laurence Braddon investigate Essex’s “murder” and the Court’s supposed cover-up. Some historians have attributed An Enquiry into and Detection of the Barbarous Murther of the Late Earl of Essex (London, 1689) to Hugh Speke, but it was written by Robert Ferguson.Google Scholar
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    Howell, State Trials, 9: 419; also transcribed in the CSPD, 25: 57.Google Scholar
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    Information of John Rumsey, CSPD, Charles II, 25: 188. Also see Robert Ferguson’s reproof of Trenchard’s failure to act in his, A Letter to Mr. Secretary Trenchard (London, 1694), p. 3.Google Scholar
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    Roberts, Life of Monmouth, 1: 211; on the riot, HMC: Downshire, vol. 2, part 1, p. 64.Google Scholar
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    Robin Clifton, The Last Popular Rebellion: The Western Rising of 1685 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), pp. 158–9; Street, Mynster of Ile, p. 223.Google Scholar
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    Yonge was arrested on May 19. House of Commons, 1660–1690, 3: 789–90. Monmouth’s envoy to the West found him “very cool in the matter.” Quoted in Mark Goldie, “John Locke’s Circle and James II,” HJ 35/3 (1992): 563.Google Scholar
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    On the Strodes, see Serel, “On the Strodes,” p. 15. In some accounts, Prideaux was able to send money and horses to Monmouth before his arrest, while others report that he was arrested two days before Monmouth landed. Roberts, Life of Monmouth, 2: 293; Clifton, The Last Popular Rebellion, p. 245; House of Commons, 1660–90, 3: 287–8.Google Scholar
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    Whiting, Persecution Exposed, p. 297; BL, Lansdowne 1152A, f. 240v.Google Scholar
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    Clifton, The Last Popular Rebellion, p. 71; George was eventually fined 2,000 marks for his riot. John Ellis, The Ellis Correspondence, 1686–1688, ed. G.A. Ellis, 2 vols. (London, 1831), 1: 194; Morrice, EB, 3: 635.Google Scholar
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    BL. Add. 14,819, f. 58; Morrice, EB, 1: 635. Roberts states that John Speke was the most “influential gentleman” to join Monmouth and does not believe he deserted the Duke. But John himself admitted to leaving Monmouth when he petitioned the King for a pardon. Roberts, Life of Monmouth, 2: 32.Google Scholar
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    Gray, “Whitelackington,” p. 38; J.G. Muddiman, The Bloody Assizes (London: William Hodge & Co., 1929), p. 100. Both of these historians seem to be following John Dunton, The Merciful Assizes: or, a Panegyric on the Late Lord Jeffreys Hanging so Many in the West (London, 1701), p. 235.Google Scholar
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    The tract about Monmouth’s legitimacy was probably Robert Ferguson’s A Letter to a Person of Honour Concerning the Black Box (London, 1680); CSPD, Charles II, 26: 2; 22: 260.Google Scholar
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    CSPD, Charles II, 23: 121.Google Scholar
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    Wiltshire Quarter Session Rolls assert that Charles Speke was indicted “for marching in the late Duke of Monmouth’s army,” probably because he was confused with John Speke. Roberts, Life of Monmouth, 2: 223; Street, Mynster of Ile, p. 234.Google Scholar
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    Mary Jennings was found and placed under house arrest; she eventually secured her release by paying a fine supposedly over £200. Charles Chenevix Trench, The Western Rising (New York: Longmans, 1969), p. 241.Google Scholar
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    BL, Add. 41,818, ff. 206–7; 79, 98–9. Captain Matthews was Sir Thomas Armstrong’s son-in-law. Armstrong had been executed for his role in Rye House Plot. The “fraternity” of rebels included, Major John Manley and his son, as well as John Starkey, and the printer, Awnsham Churchill.Google Scholar
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    DHC, BLX/D60, f 57. Letter from John Trenchard to Henry Trenchard (August 26, 1686).Google Scholar
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    Journals of the House of Commons, 10: 128.Google Scholar
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    George’s will made Mary the executor and transferred several manors to his youngest son, William, for the security of William over debts amounting to £10,000 for which George and William stood jointly engaged. Once the debts were paid, the manors were to be returned to the rightful heir, John. John contested the will, but the court found it valid. NA PROB 28/1249.Google Scholar
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    Trenchard was honored as a great defender of the nation in the Nahum Tate’s poem celebrating Williamite appointees, “A Poem on the Promotion of Several Eminent Persons in Church and State,” collected in An Essay on Poetry (London, 1697), pp. 5–6.Google Scholar
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    Mary’s will is NA, PROB 11/491, f. 133r.Google Scholar
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    According to Robert Ferguson, “Mr [Hugh] Speak … hath been looked upon by reason of his folly, accompanied by his vanity, as the sport of society and the buffoon of the town … God hath denied him of understanding and good sense.” Letter to John Holt (London, 1694), p. 14.Google Scholar
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    Hugh claimed to be the author of the spurious “Third Declaration” of William of Orange which supposedly ignited Irish Night (the backlash against Catholics in London) during the Revolution. In 1703, Hugh petitioned Parliament for monetary compensation in consideration of all that his family had paid in fines under James II. He also had an account of his mighty deeds during the Revolution (Some Memoirs of Most Remarkable Passages and Transactions on the Late Happy Revolution in 1688) translated into French for George I. He also sent copies of his book to Archbishop Thomas Tenison and the Countess of Shaftesbury. See his letters in NA, PRO 30/24/28, ff. 4–5.Google Scholar
  113. 113.
    Their support for the Duke of Monmouth suggests their willingness to alter the royal succession; yet they also spread the claim that Monmouth was Charles II’s legitimate heir and they might have believed him to be so.Google Scholar

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© Melinda S. Zook 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melinda S. Zook
    • 1
  1. 1.Purdue UniversityUSA

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