Friday 7 August 2020

Fighting for Liberty, 1685

The full title of the latest from Helion's Century of the Soldier series is “Fighting for Liberty. Argyll and Monmouth's Military Campaigns Against the Government of King James 1685".

I’ve read a bit about Monmouth’s rebellion and remember fondly the kids’ Sunday evening series The Pretenders (not the Roger Moore one!) from 1972 when we had Harlech TV, but know next to nothing about Argyll.

The book (The 57th in the series!) follows the usual tried and tested Helion format, starting with the background to the political situation that led to elements of the ‘British’ establishment plotting to overthrow the unpopular, despotic and Catholic King James II. This leads neatly into a detailed account of the landings and progress of the rebellions in the West Country and the West of Scotland and the Government’s (ie James II’s) ruthless  response to both. The narrative is richly punctuated with excerpts of contemporary correspondence, and the bumpy courses of both campaigns are allowed to unfold in a readable and engaging way. I was left with thinking that Monmouth and Argyll were very close to success. As I’ve just said, James’ attempts to thwart the rebellion before it even started were draconian to say the least, but clearly unsuccessful in preventing the invasions. The progress of both Monmouth and Argyll’s campaigns are explained clearly, as are the various skirmishes and battles. We don’t just get a narrative written from the perspective of the main protagonists ( from both sides) but one covering the planning, recruitment and organisation of the armies, the logistics and sense of tension in the country that built up while James’ camp struggled to get a grip of the situation. Obviously the book devotes a great deal of space to the events leading up to Sedgemoor and the battle itself, and does so in great detail. The author also devotes an interesting chapter to James’ cold blooded and arguably less than judicial retribution against the rebels. Such was life in 1685. 

As we have come to expect, the book contains 16 pages of beautiful colour plates by Patrice Courcelle, of soldiers and colours, as well as many very useful maps and black and white illustrations and orders of battle. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and can recommend it highly.


  1. Hi Colin. I remember The Pretenders too - I think I was about ten when it was on TV - same era as The Flashing Blade about the Chevalier de Ricci and dastardly Spaniards! I think Judge Jeffries and the so called Bloody assizes were part of the aftermath of crushing this rebellion - never mind, James II got his come uppence not long afterwards, courtesy of the Glorious Revolution and King Billy.....1690 and all that!

  2. The books an absolute must, even if I've already got all the information I'll ever need for the rebellion. Postie told me about the TV series, I'd never heard of it to be honest, but will have a look for it on amazon.