THE TRAGIC DUKE AND THE BLOODY ASSIZES
Taunton Castle was built in the 12th century and stands on the site of a Saxon earthwork fortification.
Although it has, doubtless, witnessed much happiness, and considerably more tragedy, over the centuries - one particular event has left an indelible stain upon Taunton Castle's fabric and has caused several ghosts to roam what is now part hotel and part museum.
James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (1649- 1685) was the illegitimate son of King Charles 11 and his mistress Lucy Walter.
Determined to win the throne from his uncle James 11, he returned to England from Holland, and landed and Lyme Regis, Dorset, on 11th June 1685.
Having captured Taunton he and his followers took up residence in the Castle and here he was proclaimed King.
That night his supporters celebrated at Taunton Castle quaffing large quantities of wine and dancing with Ladies who were loyal to his cause. But the high spirits were short lived.
In the early hours of the morning of July 6th 1685, Monmouth’s army suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Sedgemoor.
On July 15th, James was beheaded in London, and his uncle, the King, sent the infamous Judge Jeffrys to the West Country to mete out savage retribution at the notorious "Bloody Assizes".
It was in the Great Hall of the Castle that the Taunton Assize was held and here Hanging Judge Jeffries condemned two hundred of the Duke’s followers to the gallows, whilst many more were sold into slavery.
The women, who had so recently danced in celebration in that very hall, were sentenced to be flogged.
Needless to say, the strong emotions of those long ago events still linger at Taunton Castle.
The museum that now occupies the Great Hall often echoes to the steady tramp of invisible boots, as unseen soldiers drag the hapless followers of the ill-fated Duke, before the diabolical Jeffries.
Meanwhile, at the Castle Hotel guests often hear the ghostly, though soothing, strains of a phantom violin or fiddle, which are said to be the ethereal tones of the Duke and his follows as they continue to celebrate the victory that they were certain would soon be theirs.