The Rye House Plot of 1683: Definition & Impact

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

English history has many twists and turns. In this lesson, we are going to look at one of those twists and see how the Rye House Plot of 1683 impacted England's long history.

The Rye House Plot

In 1685, King Charles II of England died of natural causes. Considering everything he'd been through, this was a pretty big accomplishment. For example, a plot had been set in motion only two years earlier to assassinate both him and his brother (the heir to the throne and future King James II). Known as the Rye House Plot, the assassination attempt was just one part of an era characterized by tension, fighting, and strife. Although it failed, the attempt on the king's life would shake England to its core.

Background

To understand the Rye House Plot, we need to talk about a series of events that happened over the preceding decades. As a result of the bloody English Civil War, England had been without a king, ruled by the Parliamentary forces. However, in 1660 the English Commonwealth ended with the restoration of Charles II to power. Restoring the monarchy would not be without its difficulties, and the relationship between Charles and Parliament remained strained.

Charles II
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Adding to this tension was the issue of religion. England was a primarily Protestant nation, which over the last century had seen Protestant monarchs persecute Catholics, as well as Catholic-sympathetic monarchs who persecuted many Protestants. It was amongst the most divisive issues in England at that time, and Charles II returned to England amidst rumors that he was secretly Catholic. After all, he had his spent time in exile with the Catholic king of France, as well as other Catholic rulers. Then, James converted to Roman Catholicism. That meant that once Charles died, England's next king would be Catholic.

To make things worse, in 1678 an English lord invented a fake conspiracy alleging that Catholics in England were plotting to kill the king. Designed to turn Charles II and the English people against Catholicism, the so-called Popish Plot resulted in the execution of over twenty people before it was revealed to be a hoax. It also resulted in the Exclusion Bill, a law debated in the House of Commons that was meant to remove James from the line of succession.

Plotting Against the King

After the end of the Civil War, restoration of the monarchy, Popish Plot, and Exclusion Bill crisis, England was not in a good place. Tensions were high, and even worse, the anti-Catholic factions had come no closer to removing Charles or James from power. To remedy this, a group of men started meeting secret to develop a plan.

The plotters developed several schemes, but settled on the one we now know as the Rye House Plot. The Rye House was a building in Hertfordshire, which sat next to a small road that Charles and James would pass along on their way back from the horse races in Newmarket. The plotters prepared to ambush and kill the king as he passed by the Rye House on April 1, 1683. At this point, they would start a rebellion to secure a Protestant monarch for England. Fortunately for Charles, there was a fire in the city of Newmarket. The races were cancelled and Charles and James returned home more than a week ahead of schedule. The plotters weren't ready, and the assassination attempt was abandoned.

The Rye House, where the assassination was meant to occur
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Discovery and Impact

Weeks after the failed plot was supposed to occur, someone leaked information about the plan. By the middle of June, the government was launching full investigations to uncover the truth behind these allegations. In July, the king issued the official findings of the investigations, which implicated dozens of people in the plot. Arrests were made, trials were held (some of which resulted in convictions upon little evidence) and twelve people were executed through various combinations of hanging, burning, beheaded, drawing, and quartering. Others were jailed, exiled, or removed from political power, and at least one committed suicide in the Tower of London.

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