Signs and Portents
I've been looking for the various bits and pieces that preceded the Monmouth Rebellion in Somerset - below is an excerpt from Magonia - a Fortean magazine's piece on Millenarianism that is well written and contains all the main events.
Despite the return of ‘Anti-Christ’ however the West Country, and Somerset in particular, remained a hot-bed of sedition. Astrologers, prophets and non-conformists were unceasingly brought to trial, imprisoned, or whipped round the town on market day. For twenty years the whole West Country was coming to the boil of the Monmouth Rebellion, when once more Civil War radicals and millenarians would rise.
In May 1683, only two years before Monmouth landed, there were large scale outbreaks of possession and witchcraft in villages like Spreyton and towns like Barnstaple, amongst the Nonconformist weavers. At Spreyton a man was hounded by spirits and thrown from his horse in front of witnesses by invisible beings and propelled through the air. There were hags and apparitions which came and haunted the entire village, and poltergeist activity.
Some idea of the millenarian atmosphere in the West Country just before the Monmouth Rebellion can be gauged by the letters Andrew Paschal, the Rector of Chedzoy in Somerset - a parish contiguous to Sedgemoor - wrote to the antiquary John Aubrey:
“Before our troubles (the Rebellion) came on we had such signs as used to be deemed forerunners of such things. In May 1680 there was that monstrous birth at Isle Brewers, a parish in Somerset, which at that time was much taken note of - two female children joined in their bodies from the breast down. They were born May 19th, and christened Aquila and Priscilla. May 29th I saw them well and likely to live. About at the same time, reports went of divers others in the inferior sorts of animals, both the oviparous and viviparous kinds. But perhaps many of these, and the other odd things then talked of, owed, if not their being, yet their dress, to superstition and fancy. In the January following, Monday the 3rd, at seven in the morning, we had an earthquake, which I myself felt here It came with a whizzing gust of wind from the west end of my house which shook it. This motion was observed in Bridgewater, Taunton, Wells and other places, and near some caverns in the Mendip Hills and was said to be accompanied by thundering noises.
“In the end of the year 1684, 12 Dec., were seen from this place, at sun rising, parahelii, and this when in a clear, sharp, frosty morning there were no clouds to make the reflection. It was probably from the thickness of the atmosphere. The place of the fight (Sedgemoor) which was in the following summer, was near a line drawn from the eyes of the spectators to these mock suns.”