Soon after this false plot, there was a real one called the Rye-house Plot. Long ago, the king had pretended to marry a girl named Lucy Waters and they had a son whom he had made Duke of Monmouth, but who could not reign because there had been no right marriage. However, Lord Russell and some other gentlemen, who ought to have know better, so hated the idea of the Duke of York being king, that they joined in the Ryehouse Plot for killing the duke, and forcing the king to make Monmouth his heir. Some of the more unprincipled sort, who had joined them, even meant to shoot Charles and James together on the way to the Newmarket races. However, the plot was found out, and the leaders were put to death. Lord Russell’s wife, Lady Rachel, sat by him all the time of his trial, and was his great comfort to the last. Monmouth was pardoned, but fled away into Holland.
The best thing to be said of Charles II. was that he made good men bishops, and he never was angry when they spoke out boldly about his wicked ways; but then, he never tried to leave them off, and he spent the very last Sunday of his life among his bad companions, playing at cards and listening to idle songs. Just after this came a stroke of apoplexy, and, while he lay dying on his bed, he sent for a Roman Catholic priest, and was received into the Church of Rome, in which he had really believed most of his life—though he had never dared to own it, for fear of losing his crown. So, as he was living a lie, of course the fruits showed themselves in his selfish, wasted life.
It was in this reign that two grand books were written. John Milton, a blind scholar and poet, who, before he lost his sight, had been Oliver Cromwell’s secretary, wrote his Paradise Lost, or rather dictated it to his daughters; and John Bunyan, a tinker, who had been a Puritan preacher, wrote the Pilgrim’s Progress.
James II. A.D. 1685—1688.
James II. had, at least, been honest in openly joining the Church in which he believed; but the people disliked and distrusted him, and he had not the graces of his brother to gain their hearts with, but was grave, sad, and stern.
The Duke of Monmouth came across from Holland, and was proclaimed king in his uncle’s stead at Exeter. Many people in the West of England joined him, and at Taunton, in Somersetshire, he was received by rows of little girls standing by the gate in white frocks, strewing flowers before him. But at Sedgemoor he was met by the army, and his friends were routed; he himself fled away, and at last was caught hiding in a ditch, dressed in a laborer’s smock frock, and with his pockets full of peas from the fields. He was taken to London, tried, and executed. He did not deserve much pity, but James ought not to have let the people who favored him be cruelly treated. Sir George Jeffreys, the chief justice, was sent to try all who had been concerned, from Winchester to Exeter; and he hung so many, and treated all so savagely, that his progress was called the Bloody Assize. Even the poor little maids at Taunton were thrown into a horrible, dirty jail, and only released on their parents paying a heavy sum of money for them.