The Escape of Charles Stuart After Worcester
Author: Chris Modd
Orders of the day, Volume 33, Issue 4, 2001
2001 sees the 350th anniversary of the Battle of Worcester and Charles II’s escape to France, where he was to spend nearly 8½ years in exile until his restoration in 1660.France to Worcester - January 1649 to 23rd August 1651
After the execution of King Charles I by Parliament on 30th January 1649, the Scots approached his son Prince Charles with a view to putting him upon the throne of the Three Kingdoms. They bitterly resented the execution of a Scottish King by an English Parliament and also saw it as an excellent opportunity to put a pliant king upon the thrones. They also hoped that he would adhere to the National Covenant, convert to Presbyterianism and come under the control of the Kirk party which had seized control of Scotland in 1648.
Prince Charles was understandably cautious, but eventually sailed for Scotland and landed on 23rd June 1650. He was proclaimed King of Scotland and crowned at Scone on 1st January 1651. Like his father, Charles II tolerated the control of the most powerful party (in this case the Scottish Kirk) whilst he needed them to regain his throne, though there is little doubt that once he had regained it he planned to repudiate the agreements he had made on the grounds that they had been made under duress.
The English Parliament should not in good faith have intervened - after all Scotland was free to crown whom she liked, just as England was free to become a republic. But leaders on both sides of the border divined Charles’s intentions – he wanted it all back. The English Council of State met and cited Charles (not the Scottish people or Kirk party) the enemy and decided to strike at him. If, however, they struck down Charles and this caused a pro-English government in Scotland, then they would be doubly satisfied.
England’s chief military leader and hero of the Civil Wars, Lord General Thomas Fairfax, refused to be party to an invasion of Scotland, a former close ally. He voluntarily resigned command of the Army and Parliament turned to Oliver Cromwell to lead the invasion. This led to King Charles and the Scottish Army – commanded by David Leslie the 1st Lord of Newark – to counter-invade England in 1651 in the twin hope of drawing Cromwell out of Scotland and raising Royalist English support. It is ironic that Leslie and Cromwell were former comrades in arms; both had led Scottish cavalry on the Parliamentary Army’s left flank at Marston Moor.
One of the King’s first acts when he entered England was to issue a proclamation ordering all men between 16 and 60 to rally to his cause. Unfortunately few did, so Charles was left with fewer than 16,000 men, mainly Scottish, against the 28,000 experienced New Model Army soldiers plus 3,000 militia that Cromwell was assembling against him. The King originally intended to raise his standard at Shrewsbury, but found it closed to him and moved further south to Worcester, reaching it by 23rd August 1651. Here the Mayor of Worcester proclaimed him King of Great Britain, France and Ireland. The battle took place on 3rd September … by the late afternoon Charles was forced to flee out of the back door of his lodgings at Rowland Berkeley’s house whilst Parliamentarian troops entered the front door.ESCAPE - 3RD SEPT 1651 - 15TH OCT 1651
Worcester to Boscobel
Charles fled the city of Worcester in the company of Lords Wilmot and Derby, Charles Giffard and about 200 others. Probably on Giffard’s advice he decided to head into south Staffordshire, a Catholic stronghold which therefore offered many excellent hiding places if you had the sympathy of the Catholic community. Thus the party headed North, stopping after five miles at an inn in Ombersley (now the Kings Arms) for refreshments; they then passed through Hartlebury, over Kinver Heath where tradition has it the King halted at Whittington Manor, now the Whittington Inn on the A449.
The party travelled on again, stopping for food at Wordsley before arriving at White Ladies Priory on the Giffard’s Boscobel estate at about 3.00am on September 4th. At White Ladies the loyal Pendrell brothers were presented to the King: William, tenant of Boscobel House; Richard, who lived with their widowed mother at Hubbal Grange Farm; Humphrey, a miller at White Ladies; John, a forester, and George, a servant employed on the estate. The King was now disguised as a woodsman, his long hair cut and he was found an old set of clothes. The one thing they could not provide was a pair of shoes that fitted, as the average height of a man was 5’4” at the time but the King was ‘two yards high’. Two shoes were found that nearly fitted and their sides cut so he could just force them on. For safety he was taken by Richard and hid in Spring Coppice. Lord Derby and others then left to rejoin Royalists at Tong, while Lord Wilmot went to Moseley Old Hall.
It rained all day. After dark “Trusty Dick” took Charles to Hubbal Grange where he had a meal. Afterwards he and Richard started off for Madeley, hoping to cross the River Severn into Wales where he had strong support. At Evelith Mill they were challenged by the miller, who thought Charles’s hands were too unmarked to be the hands of a woodsman. The pair fled, not knowing that the miller was actually a Royalist. At Madeley Francis Wolfe offered his barn for them to hide in, as the hiding places in the house were too well known. The King spent the rest of the night and the following day in hiding amongst the straw of the barn while Richard and Francis scouted the Severn crossings. They found that the Severn was very closely guarded, so Charles and Richard returned to Boscobel, arriving early on Saturday September 6th. On the same day a Colonel Carlis arrived at Boscobel from Worcester. He and the King spent all day hiding in a nearby oak tree, the Colonel at one point supporting the sleeping King whilst Parliamentarian troops searched the woods below. That night the pair slipped into the house and had a meal and afterwards Charles spent the night in one of Boscobel’s priest holes.Boscobel to Stratford
Late in the evening of 7th September 1651 Charles left Boscobel. He was mounted upon an old mill horse and accompanied by all five Pendrell brothers and Francis Yates (servant to Charles Giffard and brother-in-law to the Pendrells). Soon after leaving Boscobel the horse stumbled, and Humphrey joked that it was “not to be wondered at, for it had the weight of three kingdoms upon its back”. The party stopped at Pendeford Mill where Charles dismounted, as it was unsafe to continue riding. William, Humphrey and George took the horse back home with them, while Richard, John and Francis Yates continued with the King a further five miles until they reached Moseley Old Hall, the home of Thomas Whitgreave. This move had been arranged by Lord Wilmot who had taken sanctuary at Moseley whilst Charles was travelling to Madeley. Here Wilmot had devised a plan for his own escape to the Continent, but on hearing of Charles’s plight he decided to use the plan for the King instead.
Charles and his three companions were greeted at the back door of the Hall by its owner, who said that “if it was not for his height, I could not have told the King from his companions”. Lord Wilmot was waiting at the foot of the back stairs with a light and ushered the King quickly upstairs; Thomas took the other three into the buttery to give them a meal and get them away from the Hall as soon as possible. Charles was given a meal of biskitts and wine by a Catholic priest, Father John Huddleston, who bathed the King’s bruised and bleeding feet. Charles spent the rest of the night and the following two days hiding at Moseley; on 9th September he was able to sleep in a bed for the first time since the 3rd. Later that morning he saw some of his Scottish troops, fugitives, passing the house.
In the afternoon danger was close as Parliamentary troops arrived. The first fear was that they were going to search the Hall for the hidden King, however they had actually come to accuse Thomas Whitgreave of fighting for the King at Worcester – something he hadn’t done. He had fought for the King before being wounded and captured at Naseby in 1645, but – along with many others – he had ignored the King’s rallying proclamation and not gone to Worcester. It is ironic that the troops were eventually convinced of the truth and went away, without asking the right question, “Have you got the King here?”
At midnight on 9th/10th September Charles left Moseley Old Hall to be taken to Bentley Hall. At this time it was illegal for Catholics to travel more than five miles away from their homes without a pass from the Sheriff of the County. Before the battle of Worcester, Mistress Jane Lane, a Catholic of Bentley Hall, had obtained one of these passes for herself and one manservant to travel south of Bristol to visit a friend who was having a baby. After the battle Lord Wilmot, hiding at Moseley, learnt of this pass and thought to disguise himself as the manservant and travel with Mistress Lane. However once he’d heard of the King having to turn back from the Severn, he thought it best for the King to take that part.
The King reached Bentley Hall within a few hours and was quickly dressed as a tenant’s son and adopted the alias ‘William Jackson’ for the next part of his journey. The party soon set out, Charles riding the same horse as Mistress Lane. They were accompanied by Withy Petre (Jane Lane’s sister), with her husband John, and a kinsman Henry Lascelles, a Royalist officer.
Lord Wilmot refused to travel in disguise; he rode openly within half a mile of the party and if challenged claimed to be just out hunting. This was a brave if foolhardy move that must have been a useful decoy. The party rode through Rowley Regis then Quinton to Bromsgrove. When they arrived at Bromsgrove they found that the horse ridden by Charles and Jane had cast a shoe, so the King, as befitting his adopted status, took the horse to the blacksmith’s. Chatting with the blacksmith, who was anti-Royalist, Charles joked that “it’s high time that rogue Charles Stuart was taken – he deserves to be hanged if anyone does”. This blacksmith could not have been as observant as the miller at Madeley.
Travelling on, the party reached Wootton Wawen where Parliamentarian cavalry had gathered outside the inn. Here Mr and Mrs Petre left the party to take an alternative route to Stratford-upon-Avon. Charles, Jane and Henry Lascelles with incredible coolness rode through the troops and then on to Stratford, passing through there to spend the night of 10th September at the house of John Tomes, a kinsman of Jane’s. This marked the end of the first week of wandering.Stratford to Bristol
On Thursday 11th September the journey continued through Chipping Campden and then to Cirencester, where it is claimed the party spent the night of September 11th at the Crown Inn overlooking the market place. The following morning they passed through Chipping Sodbury and Bristol, arriving at Abbotsleigh on the evening of 12th September. This was the home of Mr and Mrs George Norton, Jane’s friends. The King, his identity unknown to his hosts, stayed at Abbotsleigh for three days while unsuccessful attempts were made to secure him a ship from Bristol to the Continent. Charles was recognised by the Norton’s butler, Pope. He had known the King as a boy and saw through his disguise; he was still a faithful subject and the King took him into his confidence. With passage from Bristol impossible, Charles and Wilmot determined to make for the south coast and try to get a ship from one of the small ports.Bristol to Lyme Regis
On the morning of 16th September Charles (still in disguise) set out with his companions to reach Trent House, the home of Col. Francis Wyndham, a Royalist officer recommended to the King by Pope. During that night they lodged at the Manor House, Castle Cary. They reached Trent House on the morning of 17th September, two weeks after the battle. Here Wyndham greeted them, along with Lord Wilmot who had travelled ahead, this time using the alias ‘Mr Morton’. The King spent the next few days hiding at Trent whilst Wyndham and Wilmot attempted to secure a ship from Lyme Regis or Weymouth; eventually they were successful in booking a passage from Lyme Regis through a sea captain, William Ellesdon. It was whilst he was at Trent that the King witnessed a bizarre event where the local villagers were celebrating his death, believing him slain at Worcester. It was also this point that Jane Lane and Lascelles parted from him to return home.
On 22nd September Charles’s journey continued. This time the group pretended to be a runaway marriage party and Charles was riding before Juliana Coningsby, a niece of Lady Wyndham, their destination Charmouth. Arriving there the party went to the Queen’s Arms Inn to await Captain Limbry who was due to undertake the actual crossing. This Limbry failed to turn up having (according to him) been locked into his chamber by his wife, who feared for his safety if he performed his task. Frustrated, the King pressed on to Bridport. When the King and his companions arrived at Bridport, Charles pushed his way past a crowd of enemy troops and into the stable yard of The Old George Inn. Unfortunately the ostler, called Horton, declared that he’d met Charles before, so to be on the safe side the King and party moved on to Broadwindsor and spent the night at The George Inn owned by Rhys Jones. Here the King and his companions were shown by the innkeeper into the loft, where “privateness recompensed the meaness of the accommodation”. Again disaster was near, as the local constable chose that night to arrive with 40 soldiers who were to be billeted there. It was impossible to get the King away, but fortune again smiled on the King as one of the women travelling with the soldiers went into labour. The locals feared that she would be left behind when the soldiers went and thus the parish be forced to pay for the child’s upbringing. This caused a squabble between the locals and the soldiers that lasted until the following morning, diverting the soldiers’ attention away from the occupants of the Inn. On the evening of 24th September the King returned to Trent House.Lyme Regis to Salisbury
Charles spent the next few weeks in hiding at Trent House while his friends made many attempts to find him a safe sailing to France. Wilmot had gone to Salisbury to contact known Royalists, including Col. Phillips of Montacute House and John Coventry, son of the former Keeper of the Great Seal. Passage was booked on a ship from Southampton on September 29th, but the ship was taken over at the last minute by Parliament to transport troops to Jersey. Phillips, Coventry and a Doctor Henchman of Salisbury Cathedral decided to try the Sussex coast, and got in touch with Col. Gunter of Racton near Chichester. On Sunday 5th October Phillips went to Trent House to fetch the King.
On the 6th the King, accompanied by Mistress Coningsby and Henry Peters, Col Wyndham’s servant, left Trent for the home of Mrs Amphillis Hyde at Heale between Salisbury and Amesbury. Whilst here Charles, accompanied by Phillips, spent his days at Stonehenge, returning to the house each evening after dark. On 7th October Wilmot visited Col. Gunter and persuaded him to help. They failed to get a ship at Emsworth, however Gunter then saw a French merchant, Francis Mancell. Together they made arrangements with a Captain Tattersall to carry the King and Wilmot from Shoreham near Brighton in a coal boat called the Surprise for £60.Salisbury to France
On Sunday 12th October Col. Phillips and Dr. Henchman rode to Heale House to prepare the King for his departure. The next day Gunter and his brother Thomas met Charles and Col. Phillips. Together they journeyed at sunset to the house of Thomas Symonds, the Gunters’ brother-in-law, at Hambledon in Hampshire. Lord Wilmot had been staying at Hinton Daubney, the home of Lawrence Hyde; he now joined the King and together with Gunter they made their way to Brighton on 14th October. Gunter knew that The George Inn in Brighton was a safe place to spend the night, and although the landlord recognised the King, he proved trustworthy.
Exactly six weeks after the battle of Worcester, on 15th October Gunter awoke the King and Lord Wilmot early and they set out for Shoreham harbour. On the way they sheltered at a cottage in Southwick Green. Then the ‘precious cargo’ went on board and at eight o’clock in the morning the Surprise set sail, the crew not knowing the identity of their passengers. On Tuesday 16th October 1651 the King and Lord Wilmot landed on French soil at Fécamp at ten in the morning. Next day they went to Rouen and later proceeded to Paris where Charles’s mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, greeted them.
The preservation of the King in the oak tree became known during his exile, and souvenir hunters very quickly destroyed the tree. When Charles landed back in England for his restoration on 29th May 1660 (his 30th birthday), he was greeted by troops and citizens wearing sprigs of oak in their hatbands in celebration of this event. This date became known as ‘Oak Apple Day’ and until the late ‘70s was a public holiday. A scion of this tree was preserved at Boscobel which is now owned by English Heritage. Unfortunately the tree was very badly damaged by storm on 31st October 2000 and may not survive.
The King wished to reward those who had helped him during his escape: