The Monmouth Ash

by Suw on December 7, 2003

Just watched the last episode of Charles II – The Power and the Passion. One thing the BBC does do very well is period drama, and you don't come much more dramatic than the reign of Charles II. The power struggles between the King and the treacherous Buckingham; the conniving and scheming Barbara Villiers; the easily lead and slightly stupid Monmouth.

Of course, it helps if your King is played by the delectable Rufus Sewell, but the script was well written and the production values lush, yet intimate. Where most costume dramas leave me cold, this just left me wanting more.

As a by the by, there's a pub in Verwood where we're moving to called The Monmouth Ash and the story goes that when James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Charles II's eldest bastard son, returned to England to take part in an uprising against James II, he was captured beneath an ash tree.

I doubt that anyone knows exactly where that tree was, but I suspect it was very near Monmouth Ash Farm, which is just up on the heath here. I've been told, although I don't remember when or who by, that the exact tree is on the hill that I can see from my window and up which I have walked more than once, it being only the other side of the back field and nearby to Monmouth Ash Farm.

All the history accounts say is that it was 'near Ringwood in Hampshire', which is indeed an good description of this place, although it hardly pins down the location.

I find it interesting that our local oral history, something I’d always thought to be inherently unstable and inaccurate, should turn out to be potentially so near the mark. That history is even more fascinating now that I know a little more about who Monmouth was, and why he should have been rising up against James II in the first place.

Still, I find myself in sympathy with Charles II. He seemed to me to have done the best he could do in the face of unstinting deceit and betrayal, and his commitment to the cause of religious ‘toleration’ was something that many people now would do well to emulate.

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