James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleugh (1649-1685), was the natural son of Charles II of England. He was an important political pawn in the reigns of Charles II and James II.
Born to Lucy Walters at The Hague, the result of a liaison between her and Prince Charles (later Charles II), James Scott was not officially recognized until 1663, when he was patented to his dukedom. However, for the first 14 years of his life and through the remainder of Charles's life, he was treated with considerable indulgence by his father. He was constantly forgiven by Charles for a variety of peccadilloes, which in his maturity included treason and at least loose commitment to an attempt on the King's life. Further, he was the center of nearly every conspiracy, from 1670 onward, to supplant his uncle, James, Duke of York, as the heir to the throne.
As a general, Monmouth showed some ability, at least in his youth, and the high point in his military career was the suppression of a Scots rebellion in 1679. This same period furnished Monmouth with his moment of highest political importance. During the exclusion crisis, which accompanied the Popish Plot hysteria, he was generally considered to be the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury's candidate for the succession.
So serious was Monmouth's candidacy taken that Charles exiled both him and the Duke of York. Against the royal wishes Monmouth returned to England during the crisis. Charles at this point deprived Monmouth of all his offices and once more forced him out of the country.
After the exclusion crisis passed, Monmouth became involved in further Whig machinations to change the succession. To what degree either Monmouth or any of the leading Whig figures were involved in the details of the actual plot has never been ascertained. Again forgiven, Monmouth was exiled to Zealand (Sjaelland), where he was received by the Prince of Orange. After the death of Charles II in 1685, Monmouth was contacted by Robert Ferguson, a plotter, and enlisted to lead an expedition to England to overturn the monarchy. The rebellion, which was mounted in the West Country, drew little support and is principally noted for the savagery of the King following its suppression.
Monmouth pleaded on his knees for his life after his capture, but his uncle, James II, refused to extend him pardon. He was executed in the Tower on July 15, 1685. Monmouth was a man of some military ability but, in part because of birth and in part because of the way he was treated and used, he never reached true maturity or any real understanding of his position.
The best biography of Monmouth is still George Roberts, Life, Progresses and Rebellion of James, Duke of Monmouth (2 vols., 1844), although it is more an apologia than a thorough examination. Allan Fea, King Monmouth (1902), is a rather sensational approach to Monmouth's career as a potential successor. The general histories of the period only touch on Monmouth in passing, although he is the center of considerable attention in Bryan D. G. Little, The Monmouth Episode (1956).
Watson, J. N. P., Captain-General and rebel chief: the life of James, Duke of Monmouth, London; Boston: G. Allen & Unwin, 1979.
Wyndham, Violet, The Protestant Duke: a life of Monmouth, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976.