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THE FAIR MAID OF TAUNTON.
not heard The Saviour's word, And ask ye surer token?
His work is done,
His reign begun,
And angels cry
Through earth and sky, “ THE LORD IS RISEN !”
AGNES BEAUFORT, THE FAIR MAID OF TAUNTON.
It was on a lovely summer-evening, in the year 1685, that the intelligence of the Duke of Monmouth's landing at Lyme, in Dorsetshire, reached the borough of Taunton, in Dorsetshire, and filled the place with tumult and excitement. Into the causes which had occasioned the disaffection which had existed among his subjects towards the government of King Charles the Second, and which was now widely felt towards that of his brother and successor King James, we need not enter. Suffice it to say, that, at this juncture, many of the western counties were ripe for rebellion.
Under such circumstances, it can be no matter of wonder that Taunton, then an eminently prosperous place, should have placed itself in the van of the disaffected towns. In the great civil war it had, through all changes of fortune, adhered to the parliament. Twice it had been closely besieged by Goring's troopers, and as often defended, with signal valour, by Blake, afterwards the celebrated admiral of the Commonwealth. Some of its best streets had been destroyed by the mortars and petards of the cavaliers ; food had been scarce, almost to the point of famine ; but famine and sword had alike failed to subdue the spirit of the place, and that spirit had descended to the generation who witnessed the attempt of James, Duke of Monmouth. The children of the men who, not half a century before, had manned the ramparts of their town against the royal army, now welcomed with transports of joy the rebel Duke. If they were still, at heart, Puritans, they were but so much the more opposed to the popish principles of the reigning monarch ; if they were Whigs, they so much the more detested his unconstitutional tyranny. Nor was this spirit of disaffection confined to the rougher sex; maidens of the best families shared in the reigning excitement. Every door and window was adorned by garlands of flowers, wreathed by the fairest fingers. If each man, who appeared upon the public street, wore in his hat
a green bough, as the badge of the popular cause, the best-born damsels of the town, nay some whose relatives were royalists, worked colours for the rebels. One magnificent flag in particular, richly embroidered with the royal arms of England, was presented to the Duke of Monmouth by a bevy of beautiful girls. The Duke received it with the grace of manner which he had inherited with his high blood; and the influence of which was felt whenever he chose to exert it. Then the lady who headed the procession, stepping forward with graceful self-possession, presented Monmouth with a small bible, bound in velvet and gold, and likewise bearing the ensigns of royalty. He received it with much show of reverence, saying, "I come to defend the truths contained in this book, and to seal them, if need be, with my blood.”
Had the Duke of Monmouth really understood the doctrines of that Book, he would assuredly never have suffered himself to be persuaded to appear in the character of a rebel against the then reigning monarch, who was afterwards lawfully and justly set aside. That he either was, or believed himself to be, the legal heir to the crown of England, is not even pretended.
Of “The Fair Maid of Taunton,” and her associates, we need only say, that their conduct on this memorable occasion, palliate it as we may, sufficiently shows, that political excitement is apt to act very injuriously upon the female character. In costume and other particulars, the accompanying plate represents, with much truth, the English lady of 1685.
H A UN TING E Y E S.
Ye haunt me, earnest eyes !
Ye shine and gleam ;
As sun-lit stream.
Eyes, though ye gaze no more
Ye haunt me still ;
My sad heart fill.