During the reign of King James II, one man struck fear and hatred into the heart of every miscreant, criminal, and ne'er-do-well. Traitors had cause to fear him too, for George Jeffreys' most notorious work was done at the Bloody Assizes, where many of the bastard Duke of Monmouth's followers were punished with death.
Hanging Judge Jeffreys - the nickname was well-earned, 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 imprisoned. Although the judge handed sentences that were perfectly in line with the laws of the land, his lack of mercy and love shocked onlookers.
Indeed, the ferocious nature with which he condemned over a thousand ignorant peasants, used wantonly as pawns in Monmouth's failed power-grab, made Judge Jeffreys infamous.
George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys of Wem by William Wolfgang Claret
The usurper had played on the religious disputes of the day, taking advantage of West Countrymen's fears of papacy and Catholicism, themselves fuelled by the crazed preaching of angry despots in church pulpits.
Those men were sent into battle at Sedgemoor without real weapons. 1,300 were slaughtered there, only 200 troops loyal to James II losing their lives. That the survivors should be treated so cruelly explains why Judge Jeffreys became so hated 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 notorious gaol, 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 this 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. While 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