What was the Rye House Plot

00:00 Mon 18th Jun 2001 |

A. A dastardly plot hatched in 1683 to assassinate King Charles II and his brother and heir, the Duke of York (later James II), as they passed by Rye House in Hertfordshire on their way back from Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, to London. < xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Q. So how was it foiled

A. Because of a fire. The king's lodging house in Newmarket accidentally caught fire, so the king set out on his journey earlier than expected and missed the plotters. It was as simple as that.

Q. Who were the conspirators

A. Radical members of the English Whig Party. The Whigs ' predecessors of today's Liberal Democrats ' were initially formed to oppose the succession of James, a Roman Catholic. Broadly speaking, they favoured a monarchy with limited powers. Some of the plotters favoured a republic, and others wanted to place Charles's illegitimate son, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth, on the throne. Rye House was owned by Richard Rumbold, who was implicated with Lord Shaftesbury, the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Bedford.

Q. Their fate

A. They were all executed, except Essex, who committed suicide.

Q. Any other plotters

A. Many conspirators escaped, but the plot was used by the government as an excuse to arrest several Whig leaders, notably Lord William Russell (1639-83) and Algernon Sidney. Although there was little evidence that they were involved in the plot, Russell and Sidney were executed for treason. The Duke of Monmouth was probably more deeply implicated, but he was pardoned and excluded from the royal court.

Q. And that was an end of it

A. No ' as well you know. Monmouth wasn't satisfied and eventually led a full-scale rebellion which cost him his head. More of that, later.

Q. Is Rye House still there

A. Yes ' and a tourist attraction. In the late 18th Century Rye House became a parish workhouse and later an hotel. The advent of the railway made the area popular with holidaymakers and the house was developed ' the owners even bringing to it the famous Great Bed of Ware for tourists to view in 1870. The bed is now in the Royal Victoria and Albert Museum, but visitors can still tour Rye House in the summer and see how the infamous plot was hatched.

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By Steve Cunningham

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