During the reign of King James II, one man struck fear into the heart of every miscreant, criminal, and ne'er-do-well. Traitors had cause to fear him too, for Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys' most notorious work was done at the Bloody Assizes, where many of the Duke of Monmouth's followers were punished with death.
Hanging Judge Jeffreys: the nickname was well-earnt, for 320 of Monmouth's followers were executed. Another 800 were condemned to lives of slavery in Barbados. Hundreds of others were fined, flogged, and flung into prison. Although the judge handed sentences perfectly in line with the laws of the land, his lack of compassion shocked onlookers.
Indeed, the ferocious nature with which he condemned over a thousand West Country peasants, wantonly used as pawns in Monmouth's failed power grab, made Judge Jeffreys loathed in Devon.
...which takes us to Lydford Castle!
Standing gaunt and hollow on the very edge of Dartmoor is an old Norman keep. It was once used as a jail, imprisoning men accused of breaking the stannary laws. Tin mining was so important, the industry boasted its own set of rules, courts, and punishments. Lydford Castle was at the heart of the system.
One such prisoner was Richard Strode, MP for Plymouth. He was confined there in 1510 after complaining about tin mining debris dumped in moorland rivers silting up his city's harbour. Whilst many folk today would love to see their politicians banged up in jail, Richard's unfair treatment shows how arbitrary the so-called Lydford Laws were!!
Steps leading down to the dungeon