On Wednesday, the third day of September 1651, the army which had marched from Scotland to set King Charles upon the throne was utterly defeated by Cromwell at Worcester. The battle began at one o’clock and lasted during the autumn afternoon, the main action being fought east of the city. Many of the chief Royalists, like the Duke of Hamilton, fell on the field. When the issue was clear, Charles, accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Derby, Lord Shrewsbury, Lord Wilmot, and others, entered the city by Sudbury Gate. There an ammunition wagon had been overturned, and this gave check for a moment to the pursuit. In Friars Street the King threw off his armour and was given a fresh horse, and the whole party galloped through the streets and out at St. Martin’s Gate, Charles was wearing the laced coat of the Cavalier, a linen doublet, grey breeches, and buff gloves with blue silk bands and silver lace. The little party, dusty and begrimed with battle, galloped to the Barbon Bridge, a mile north of the city, where they halted for a moment to plan their journey.
The nearest and most obvious refuge was Wales, where the country people were Royalist, and where, in the mountains, Cromwell’s troopers might well be defied. But there was no chance of crossing the Severn in that neighbourhood, so it was decided to ride north into Shropshire. Colonel Careless offered to act as rearguard and stave off the pursuit, and Mr. Charles Giffard, of the ancient family of the Giffards of Chillington, who knew the forest country of the Staffordshire and Shropshire borders, undertook the business of guide. There was a place called Boscobel, an old hunting lodge among the woods, where Lord Derby had already been concealed a few weeks before, so Giffard and a servant called Francis Yates (who was afterwards captured by the Cromwellians and executed) led the little band through the twilight meadows.
They passed the town of Kidderminster on their left, where, at the moment, Mr. Richard Baxter, the Presbyterian divine, was watching from an upper window in the market-place the defeated Royalists galloping through and a small party of Cromwellian soldiers firing wildly at the fugitives. The main road was no place for the King when the bulk of the Scottish horse was fleeing northward by that way, so he turned through Stourbridge and halted two miles farther on at a wayside inn to drink a glass of ale and eat a crust of bread. After that they passed through the boundaries of the old Brewood Forest, and at about four o’clock on the morning of Thursday, 4th September, arrived at the ancient half-timbered manor of Whiteladies, belonging to the family of Giffard. A certain George Penderel was in charge as bailiff, and at the sight of the party he stuck his head out of the window and asked for news of the battle. The door was flung open, and the King rode his horse into the hall. Charles was taken into the inner parlour, and George’s brothers, William and Richard Penderel, were sent for. Richard was bidden fetch his best clothes, which were breeches of coarse green cloth and a leather doublet. Charles changed into them, his hair was shorn, and he was now no more the Cavalier, but a countryman of the name of Will Jones, armed with a woodbill.
It would have been fatal for the party to have remained together, so his companions galloped off in the direction of Newport, where most of them were taken prisoner. Lord Derby was captured and afterwards beheaded; Giffard also was taken, but he managed to escape, as did Talbot and Buckingham. Charles was led by Richard Penderel into a wood at the back of the house called Spring Coppice, where he had to make himself as comfortable as might be under the trees.
All that day, Thursday, 4th September, it rained incessantly. Richard Penderel brought him food and blankets, and Charles, worn out with want of sleep, dozed till the dusk of the evening. Then Penderel aroused him and bade him be going. His proposal was to guide him south-west to Madeley, where there seemed a chance of crossing the Severn into Wales. Madeley lay only nine miles to the south-west, a pleasant walk among woods and meadows; but on that autumn night, with the rain falling in bucketfuls and every field a bog, it was a dismal journey for a young man stiff from lying all day in the woods, and stayed by no better meal than eggs and milk. Charles was a hearty trencherman, and had not trained his body to put up with short commons. However, he was given some bacon and eggs before he started.
The Penderels were Catholics, and men of that faith were accustomed in those days to secret goings and desperate shifts, and, since all were half-outlawed, there was a freemasonry between them. Therefore Richard proposed to take the King to a Catholic friend of his, Mr. Francis Wolfe, on the Severn bank, who might conceal him and pass him across the river into Wales. That journey in the rain remained in the King’s mind as a time of peculiar hardships, though there seems no particular difficulty in an active young man walking nine miles at leisure in the darkness. In after years Charles was a famous walker, and used to tire out all his courtiers both by his pace and endurance. But on this occasion he appears to have been footsore and unnerved. When they had gone a mile they had to pass a water-mill and cross a little river by a wooden bridge. The miller came out and asked them their errand; whereupon Penderel took alarm and splashed through the water, followed by his King. After that Charles almost gave up. Lord Clarendon, to whom he told the story, says that “ he many times cast himself upon the ground with a desperate and obstinate resolution to rest there till the morning that he might shift with less torment, what hazard so ever he ran. But his stout guide still prevailed with him to make a new attempt, sometimes promising that the way should be better and sometimes assuring him that he had but little farther to go.” Charles was desperately footsore. Perhaps the country shoes of “ Will Jones “ did not fit him.
In the small hours they arrived at Mr. Wolfe’s house. Charles waited “ under a hedge by a great tree “ while Richard Penderel went forward to meet his friend. He was greeted with bad news. Every ford, every bridge, and every ferry on the Severn was guarded by the Cromwellians, who were perfectly aware that the King would make for Wales. Wolfe had “ priests’ holes “ in his house, but he did not dare to hide the King there, for they had already been discovered by the soldiers; so Charles was concealed among the hay in the barn, where he lay during the day of Friday the 5th. There was nothing for it but to take refuge at Boscobel, the hiding-place originally arranged. That night, after borrowing a few shillings from Wolfe, the King and Richard set off eastward again, guided for the first part of the road by Mr. Wolfe’s maid. At Whiteladies they heard that Colonel Careless,; who was acting as rearguard, had safely reached the Boscobel neighbourhood, and that Lord Wilmot was at Moseley, in Staffordshire, nine or ten miles to the east. All the country was thick woodland interspersed with heaths, and few safer hiding-places could be found in England.
Charles was now in better form. The Penderels had stripped off his stockings, washed his feet and anointed the blisters. His disguise was also perfected, for his face and hands had been dyed with juice, and he made gallant efforts to imitate the clumsy gait of a yokel. But his disguise can never have been very perfect. The harsh features, the curious curl of the lips, the saturnine dark eyes, and above all the figure and the speech, were not such as are commonly found among mid-England peasantry.
Penderel did not dare take him into the house, so he took refuge in the wood, where he was presently joined by Colonel Careless. On the coast being reported clear, the King spent the night in one of the priests’ holes in the old manor, an uncomfortable dormitory, which had, however, a gallery adjoining it, where he took walking exercise and surveyed the road from Tong to Brewood. Saturday the 6th was a fine day, and the King spent some time sitting in an arbour in the garden. He was presently induced by Colonel Careless to seek a safer retreat in an oak tree in the wood. A little platform was made in the upper branches, pillows were brought from the house, and there Careless and the King spent the day. The Royal Oak is famous in Stuart history, and this particular tree has long since been hacked to pieces to make keepsakes for the faithful. But it is by no means certain that Charles was in particular danger during the day that he slept in it, or that any Roundhead trooper rode below the branches and “ hummed a surly hymn.” Careless had the worst part of the business, for the King rested his head in his lap and the honest soldier’s arm went to sleep. “ This,” in the words of the Miraculum Basilicon, “ caused such a stupor or numbness in the part, that he had scarcely strength left in it any longer to support His Majesty from falling off the tree, neither durst he by reason of the nearness of the enemy speak so loud as to awake him; nevertheless, to avoid both the danger of the fall and surprise together, he was (though unwillingly) constrained to practise so much incivility as to pinch His Majesty, to the end he might awake him to prevent his present danger.”
When the dusk came the two descended and went into the manor-house. There they were met by the news that the enemy cordon was closing round, that 1,000 reward had been put upon the King’s head. Charles, however, was in no way dismayed, and demanded a loin of mutton. William Penderel accordingly fetched one of his master’s sheep, which Careless stabbed and cut up with his dagger. The King made Scotch collops of a hind-quarter, which the Colonel fried in a pan, and the two had a hearty meal. The King slept that night in the house in a “ priest’s hole,” and next day resolved to join Lord Wilmot at Moseley. He found, however, that his feet were still so tender that walking was impossible, so an old mill horse that had carried provisions in the campaign was found for him. Mounted on this beast, attended by Careless and the Penderels, the King set out in the dusk of the Sunday evening. At Moseley he found Lord Wilmot, and since Moseley was a safer place than Boscobel the King spent a peaceful night in the house. There, too, was a priest, Father John Huddleston, and not far off was Colonel Lane, both devoted Royalists. There he said farewell to his staunch friends, the Penderels. The ‘“King, we are told, spent the evening by the fire while Father Huddleston attended to his unfortunate feet. Charles had stuffed his stockings with paper, but the precaution had not saved him from further galls and sores. He was given new worsted stockings and clean linen and slippers, and was so much cheered thereby that he declared he was now fit for a new march, and that “ if it should ever please God to bless him with ten or twelve thousand loyal and, resolute men he doubted not to drive these traitors out of his kingdom.”
We have this description of Charles on his arrival at Moseley: “ He had on his head a long white steeple-crowned hat, without any other lining than grease, both sides of the brim so doubled with handling that they looked like two spouts; a leather doublet full of holes, and half black with grease above the sleeves, collar, and waist; an old green woodreve’s coat, threadbare and patched in most places, with a pair of breeches of the same cloth and in the same condition, the flaps hanging down loose to the middle of his legs; hose and shoes of different parishes; the hose were grey, much darned and clouted, especially about the knees, under which he had a pair of flannel riding-stockings of his own with the tops cut off. His shoes had been cobbled with leather patches both on the soles and the seams, and the upper-leathers so cut and slashed, to adapt them to his feet, that they could no longer defend him either from water or dirt. This exotic and deformed dress, added to his short hair by the ears, his face coloured brown with walnut leaves, and a rough crooked thorn stick in his hand, had so metamorphosed him, he became scarcely discernible who he was, even to those that had been before acquainted with his person.’
Next day, Monday, the 8th, it was given out that Father Huddleston had a Cavalier friend lying privately in the house, and all the servants were sent away on errands except the cook, who was a Catholic. Watch was kept at the different windows in case of any roving party of soldiers. The King spent the day largely in sleeping and discussing the future, while messages were sent to loyal neighbouring squires to find out the lie of the land. He saw a sad sight from the windows many starving Royalist soldiers limping past the door, munching cabbage stalks and corn plucked from the fields. However, he heard one piece of news of some importance. Colonel Lane, who lived five miles off at Bentley, had a sister, Mss Jane, who had procured a pass from the Governor of Stafford for herself and her servant to go to Bristol, and it was thought that if the King passed as her servant he might thereby get clear of the country. It was accordingly arranged that on the Tuesday night Lord Wilmot’s horses should fetch the King to Bentley as the first stage of Ms journey to the Bristol Channel.
On the Tuesday afternoon, however, the plan all but miscarried. A party of soldiers arrived to search Moseley, and the King was hurriedly hustled into one of the “ priests’ holes.” The place is still pointed out a stuffy little nook behind the panelling, through which liquid food used to be conveyed to the unfortunate occupant by means of a quill through a chink in the beams. The soldiers made a great row, and questioned the owner, Mr. Whitgreave, with a musket cocked at his breast, but in the end departed. When dusk fell Colonel Lane’s horses arrived, and Charles set out and arrived safely at Bentley. There Colonel Lane gave him, in place of Will Jones’s unspeakable clothes, a good suit and cloak of country grey, like a farmer’s son, and put 20 in his pocket for the expenses of the journey.
The King is now no longer an aimless wanderer among the Staffordshire woods. A plan of campaign has been evolved, and the fugitive in a reasonable disguise is making for the sea. He arrived at Bentley about midnight on 9th September. The party that set out on the 10th. consisted of Miss Jane Lane, her cousin, Mrs. Petre, Mr. Petre, that cousin’s husband, and a certain Cornet Henry Lassels, also a kinsman. The Petres were bound for their house at Horton, in Buckinghamshire, and proposed to go only as far as Stratford-on-Avon. Charles rode in front as Miss Jane’s servant. The route lay by Bromsgrove and Stratford-on-Avon, then through Cotswold to Cirencester, and thence to Bristol.
It was a bold enterprise, for the natural route of flight after Worcester would be down the Severn valley to the sea. Cromwell’s troopers were in every parish, and a large part of the population, knowing of the King’s escape, and the reward for his capture, were on the watch for any suspicious stranger. The first stop was at the village of Bromsgrove, where the King’s horse cast a shoe. In the smithy Charles, in his character of servant, asked the smith the news. “ Precious little,” was the answer, “ except that Cromwell has routed the Scots. He has slain or captured most of them, but I hear the King has made his escape.” “Perhaps,” said Charles, “the King has gone by by-ways back into Scotland.” “ No,” said the smith, “ there is not much luck for him that way. He is lurking secretly somewhere in these parts, and I wish I knew where lie were, for then I would be the richer by a thousand pounds.’
Nothing more happened till they came near Stratford, riding as far as they could by secluded by-ways. Their plan was to ford the Avon about a mile below the town; but when they drew near the river they observed soldiers’ horses feeding in the meadows and many troopers lying upon the ground. This sight made them turn to their left so as to enter Stratford another way. But at the bridge there they ran full into the same troop of soldiers. The troop opened right and left to let them pass, and returned the civil salute which the little party gave them.
They were now among the foothills of Cotswold, and before evening reached the straggling village of Long Marston, a place famous for its morrice dancing. In the village there was a certain Mr. John Tomes, and in his house the travellers found lodging. The King, passing as a servant, found his way to the kitchen, where, like an earlier monarch of England, he was scolded by the cook because he had no notion how to wind up a roasting jack. The said jack is still in existence, and is to be seen in the village. Meantime Lord Wilmot and Colonel Lane were following behind, and the latter turned off towards London, in order to arrange the final details of a pass for “ Will Jackson,” which was the name the King had now adopted.
On Thursday morning, llth September, the travellers began the ascent into the Cotswold moors. In that empty country of sheep-walks there was less risk of detection, and accordingly good speed was made by Stow-on-the-Wold and along the old Roman Fosse Way to Northleach and so to Cirencester, where they arrived in the evening, after a ride of thirty-six miles. Near the market-place stood the “ Crown Inn,” an inconspicuous hostelry, and the travellers, professing great fatigue, went immediately to bed. In one chamber a good bed was prepared for Mr. Lassels and a truckle bed for Will Jackson; but as soon as the door was closed the King went to sleep in the good bed and the Cornet on the pallet.
Next day, Friday, 12th September, the party rode twenty-two miles south-west to Chipping Sodbury, probably escorted for part of the way by Captain Matthew Huntley, an old soldier of Prince Rupert’s, who lived in those parts. They entered the city of Bristol by Lawford’s Gate, rode through the streets, crossed the Avon by a ferry, and kept the left bank of the river to the village of Abbots Leigh, three miles west of Bristol. Abbots Leigh, which stands high up on the Downs, was an old Elizabethan house belonging to the family of Norton. There the King was in safe quarters. Miss Jane ordered a bed to be made for him in a private room, and gave out that he was the son of one of her father’s tenants and was sick of an ague. A neighbouring Royalist country gentleman, Dr. Gorge, was called in to prescribe. Seeing that the party had come from the north, Gorge asked the King for news of the battle. When Charles faltered in his answer the doctor accused him of being a Roundhead. The King denied the charge, and was there and then compelled to prove his politics by drinking a glass of wine to his own health.
For four days Charles pretended to be sick and sat in the chimney corner, while Miss Jane complained to heaven of the feebleness of her servant. “ That wretched boy will never be good for anything again,” she told all and sundry. One day the King, while eating his bread and cheese in the buttery, fell into talk with a man who had been at Worcester, and asked him if he had ever seen the King. “ Twenty times,” was the answer. “ What kind of a fellow is he? “ The man looked at Charles steadfastly. “ He is,” he said, “ four fingers’ breadth taller than you.” At that moment Mrs. Norton passed and Charles took off his hat to her. The butler, who had never seen him uncovered, saw something in his face which he remembered. He took occasion a little later, when they were alone, to ask if he were not the King. Charles confessed that he was, and the butler one John Pope, who had been once a falconer of Sir Thomas Jermyn, and afterwards a Loyalist soldier swore secrecy and fealty. Another person was now in the plot, and Pope was used as a messenger to Bristol to find out what ships were sailing. But the news was bad. No vessel could be obtained there, and since it was clear that the King could not stay on at Abbots Leigh, it was resolved to seek the hospitality of Colonel Francis Wyndham, who lived at Trent on the Dorsetshire borders. The aim was to reach the south coast, where a smack might be hired to carry him into France.
Lord Wilmot, who had arrived at Abbots Leigh soon after the King, was sent off to Trent to inquire whether the Wyndhams would hide His Majesty. He brought back a reply that Wyndham “ thought himself extremely happy that amongst so many noble and loyal subjects he should be reckoned chiefly worthy of that honour, and that he was ready not only to venture his life, family, and estate, but even to sacrifice all to His Majesty’s service.” There was some difficulty about the departure of Miss Jane. The lady at Abbots Leigh had just had a child and implored her friend not to leave her. An imaginary letter was accordingly fabricated, purporting to be from Miss Jane’s father, demanding her immediate return on the ground of his sudden and dangerous illness.
On the 16th Miss Jane, Lassels, and Charles set out for Dorsetshire, going first towards Bristol as if they were returning to Bentley. Presently they turned the horses’ heads south towards Castle Gary, where they were to sleep the night. The manor there was occupied by Lord Hertford’s steward, one Edward Kirton, who had been advised by Lord Wilmot to look out for the travellers. Next day a ride of ten miles brought the party to Trent, where Colonel Francis Wyndham and his wife, Lady Anne, were waiting to receive them. The Wyndhams, as if taking an evening walk, met their guests before the house was reached. Miss Jane and Lassels were publicly received as relations, but Charles was brought secretly into the old house.
Next morning the King parted with Miss Jane, who had been the Flora Macdonald of his Odyssey. She lived thirty-eight years after that eventful journey, marrying Sir Clement Fisher of Packington, a Warwickshire squire. She became a famous toast to Royalists, and the many portraits extant reveal a lady of pleasing aspect, with a certain resolution and vigour in her air. The King gave her many gifts, the House of Lords presented her with jewels, and she and all her relations had royal pensions. Her brother, Colonel Lane, was offered but declined a peerage. The family were granted an augmentation to their coat of arms, and the motto “ Garde le Roi “ to commemorate their achievement.
Trent was a good hiding-place and within reasonable distance of the coast, so that negotiations could be entered upon for a vessel to carry His Majesty to France. There Charles stayed several days, living in a set of four rooms, which are still unaltered. One day the bells of the neighbouring church rang out a peal, and the King sent to inquire the reason for the rejoicing. He was told that one of Cromwell’s troopers was in the village, who announced that he had killed Charles, and was even then wearing his buff-coat, and that the villagers, being mostly Puritans, were celebrating the joyful news.
Meanwhile Colonel Wyndham was hunting high and low for a ship. He consulted his neighbour, Colonel Strangways of Melbury, the ancestor of the Ilchester family; and a certain William Ellesdon, a merchant of Lyme Regis, was named as a likely person to procure a vessel, since he had already assisted Lord Berkeley to escape. Ellesdon suggested a tenant of his, one Stephen Limbry of Charmouth, the master of a coasting vessel, and for 60 the latter agreed to carry Lord Wilmot and his servant to France. Limbry was to have his long boat ready at Charmouth on the night of the 22nd.
The next thing was to get rooms at Charmouth for that night, and Wyndham’s servant was sent to an inn “ The Queen’s Arms “ in that place, with a tale of how he served a worthy nobleman who was deep in love with an orphan maid and was resolved to steal her by night. The romantic hostess believed the story, and agreed to give them rooms and keep her tongue quiet. Accordingly Charles set out on the morning of 22nd September from Trent, riding pillion with a certain Miss Juliana Comngsby, Colonel Wyndham’s pretty cousin, who was to play the part of the runaway heroine. Colonel Wyndham went as a guide, and Lord Wilmot and his servant followed behind. On the way to Charmouth they met Ellesdon, who learned for the first time that the King was the fugitive. Charles made the merchant a present of a gold coin in which he had bored a hole to wile away the dreary hours of his hiding at Trent. In the afternoon the little party rode down the steep hill into Charmouth, arriving at the inn of the romantic landlady, while Ellesdon went to hunt up Limbry, the seaman.
It was an anxious moment, for, as luck would have it, it was market day at Lyme and the inn was crowded. Lord Wilmot and Miss Coningsby had to live up to the part of runaway lovers a part in which Charles would probably have shown more zeal than discretion.
Midnight came, but there was no sign of Limbry. Wyndham and his servant were out all night on the quest, but at dawn they returned to report failure. The first idea was that the man must have got drunk at the market; but later the true story came out. Limbry had gone home to get clean clothes for the voyage. But that day a proclamation had been made in the town declaring it death for any person to aid or conceal the King, and promising 1,000 reward for his apprehension. His wife, knowing her husband’s practices in the past, accordingly locked him in his room, and when he would have broken out raised racket enough to alarm the neighbourhood. The prudent man made a virtue of necessity and submitted.
Here was a pretty kettle of fish. Charles could not stay at Charmouth, and it was arranged that he and Mss Coningsby and Wyndham should ride on to Bridport, while Lord Wilmot and his servant should remain behind for an explanation with Ellesdon. A rendezvous was to be made at the “George Inn” at Bridport. Off went the King, while Lord Wilmot’s horse went to the smithy to be shod. The smith, who was a stout Cromwellian, began to ask questions. Whence came these nails if the gentlemen had ridden from Exeter, for these nails were assuredly put in in the North? The ostler in charge of the horse added that the saddles had not been taken off in the night time, and that the gentlemen, though travellers, sat up all night. Clearly they were people of quality fleeing from the Worcester fight, and probably the King was among them. The ostler saw a chance of making his fortune, and marched off to the parsonage to consult the parson, one Wesley, the great-grandfather of the famous John. It is interesting to note that just as Lord Macaulay’s great-grandfather did his best to prevent Prince Charlie’s escape, so John Wesley’s great-grandfather came athwart that of King Charles.
But Mr. Wesley was busy at his morning devotions and would not move till they were ended. On hearing the tale he accompanied the ostler to the inn, where, being apparently a humorist, he thus accosted the landlady: “ Charles Stuart lay last night at your house and kissed you at his departure, so that now you can’t but be a maid of honour.” “ If I thought it was the King, as you say it was,” was the answer, “ I would think the better of my lips all the days of my life. Out of my house, Mr. Parson.” So Mr. Parson went to the nearest commanding officer and got a troop of horse together, who followed what they believed to be the track of the fugitives along the London road.
Meantime Charles had arrived at Bridport. The town was packed with soldiers who had mustered there for an expedition against the Isle of Jersey. It was no easy matter to get lodgings at the “ George “; but there he must go, for it was the rendezvous appointed with Lord Wilmot. A private room was found with some difficulty, while the King attended to the horses in the yard. There he met a drunken ostler who claimed to have known him in Exeter; the King played up to this part and the two made merry together. A hurried dinner was eaten, for there was no time to linger, and us soon as Lord Wilmot had joined them they pushed on along the London road. A quarter of an hour after they left the “ George” the local authorities arrived to search it (the news of the Royalists’ presence having come from Charmouth), and more soldiers started in pursuit. Luckily the King’s party resolved to go back to Trent, and had just turned off the high road when they saw the pursuit dash past in the direction of Dorchester.
After that the travellers seem to have lost their way, but in the evening they found themselves in the village of Broad Windsor, close to Trent. In the inn there Colonel Wyndham recognized in the landlord a former servant and a staunch Royalist, and there they slept the night. It was a narrow lodging and much congested with forty soldiers, who were marching to the south coast on the Jersey expedition. No untoward event, however, happened, and next morning the King got back to his old quarters in Trent, There he lay secure while his pursuers were laying hands upon every handsome young lady for forty miles round, under the belief that it was their monarch in disguise. The honest folk of Charmouth and Bridport seem to have seen the King in Miss Juliana Coningsby, and, indeed, this belief in Charles’s female disguise was almost universal. There was another rumour in London that, wearing a red periwig, he had actually got a post as servant to an officer of Cromwell’s army; and still another, published on 29th September, that he was safe in Scotland with Lord Balcarres.
The problem of escape had now become exceedingly difficult. It was impossible to stay on the coast, which was strictly watched, and was, moreover, all in a bustle with the Jersey expedition. But the coast was the only hope, and therefore it must be again visited. The only chance was to make a cast inland and try for the shore at another point. While at Trent Colonel Wyndham’s brother-in-law, Mr. Edward Hyde, came to dine, and mentioned that on the previous day at Salisbury he had seen Colonel Robert Phelips of Montacute, who could probably get them a vessel in one of the southern ports. Lord Wilmot was accordingly sent off next morning to Salisbury to find Colonel Phelips and devise a plan.
Phelips willingly undertook the service and went off to Southampton to look for a ship. He thought he had found one; but it turned out that the bark was pressed to carry provisions to Admiral Blake’s fleet, then lying before Jersey. He returned to Salisbury, and decided to get the assistance of a certain Colonel Gounter who lived near Chichester. It was agreed that Charles should be brought to Heale House, near Salisbury, the residence of a widow, a Mrs. Hyde, and there, on Monday, 6th October, accompanied by Miss Juliana Coningsby, the King duly arrived from Trent. At Heale Miss Juliana left him, having faithfully played her romantic part. To dinner came Dr. Hinchman, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury, and next day the King behaved like an ordinary tourist, riding out to see the sights, especially Stonehenge. Meanwhile Lord Wilmot was scouring the country for a man who would hire him a boat, and he and Colonel Gounter thought their likeliest chance was with a certain Captain Nicholas Tattersal, the master of a small coal brig, the Surprise, at Brighton. Tattersal, however, had just started for Chichester; but a message reached him at Shoreham, and on Saturday, llth October, there was a meeting, when, for 60, the captain agreed to carry over to France Colonel Gounter’s two friends, who were said to be anxious to leave the country’ because of their part in a fatal duel. It was now necessary to get the King from Heale to the Sussex coast. At two o’clock on the Monday morning Charles rode out of Heale by the back way with Colonel Phelips, and took the road for Hampshire. After they had covered about fifteen miles they were joined by Colonel Gounter and Lord Wilmot, who, by previous arrangement, had been coursing hares on the Downs. They spent the night in a house at Hambledon among the pleasant “hills of the Forest of Bere, where they parted with Phelips. Colonel Gounter was now in charge, and on Tuesday, the 14th, their way lay through the county of Sussex. Charles’s disguise must have been fairly complete, for he seems usually to have been taken for a Parliamentarian, since William Penderel’s scissors had left him with very little hair. He took pains to keep up the character, for when an inn-keeper used an oath, he flung up his hands and drawled, “ Oh, dear brother, that is a c scape.’ Swear not, I beseech thee.” He was clad in a short coat and breeches of sad-coloured cloth, with a black hat, and according to one narrative cut a figure like “ the minor sort of country gentleman.”
This last day’s ride was in many ways the most hazardous of all. As they neared Arundel Castle they suddenly encountered the Governor setting out to hunt with some of his men. Crossing the Arun at Houghton Bridge, they had beer at a poor alehouse and lunched off two neat’s tongues, which Colonel Gounter had brought with him. Then they passed through the pretty village of Bramber, which, as it happened, was full of Cromwellian soldiers who had stopped for refreshment. When they had left the village behind them they heard a clattering at their back and saw the whole troop riding as if in pursuit. The soldiers, however, galloped past them without stopping, and at the next village, Beeding, where Colonel Gounter had arranged a meal for the King, they did not dare to halt for fear of the same soldiers. Nine miles more over the Downs and they reached the obscure little fishing village of Brighthelmstone, which was all that then existed of Brighton, and halted at the “ George Inn,” where they ordered supper. The place was happily empty, and there Lord Wilmot joined them. That last meal was a merry one, and Charles was especially cheerful, for he saw his long suspense approaching its end. He had borne the strain with admirable fortitude and good-humour, and whatever may be said of his qualities as a king on the throne, he was certainly an excellent king of adventure. The landlord, one Smith, who had formerly been in the Royal Guards, waited on the table at supper and apparently recognized His Majesty, for he kissed his hand and said, “ It shall not be said that I have not kissed the best man’s hand in England. God bless you! I do not doubt but, before I die, to be a lord and my wife a lady.” Tattersal, the shipmaster, also joined them, and they sat drinking and smoking until 10 p.m., when it was time to start.
Horses were brought by the back way to the beach, and the party rode along the coast to Shoreham Creek. There lay the coal brig, the Surprise, and Charles and Lord Wilmot got into her by way of her ladder and lay down in the little cabin till the tide turned, after bidding adieu to Colonel Gounter; The honest Colonel waited upon the shore with the horses for some hours, lest some accident should drive the party ashore again.
It was between seven and eight o’clock in the morning of Wednesday, 15th October, before the boat sailed, making apparently for the Isle of Wight, the captain having given out that he was bound for Poole with a cargo of sea coal. At five o’clock that evening they changed direction, and with a favourable north wind set out for the French coast. The King amused himself on deck by directing the course, for he knew something of navigation. Next morning the coast of France was sighted, but a change in the wind and the falling tide compelled them to anchor two miles off Fecamp. Charles and Wilmot rowed ashore in the cock-boat. Thereafter the wind turned again, and enabled Tattersal to proceed to Poole without any one being aware that he had paid a visit to France.
After the Restoration the little coal boat was ornamented and enlarged and moored in the Thames at Whitehall as a show for Londoners. She now bore the name of the Royal Escape, and was entered as a fifth-rater in the Royal Navy.
Wilmot, the loyal and resourceful companion, did not live to see the Restoration, for he died in the autumn of 1657, after he had been created Earl of Rochester. Nine years after the events recorded in this tale, on the 25th May, in bright weather, Charles landed at Dover at the summons of his countrymen, as the restored King of England. He was met by the Mayor and presented with a Bible, which, he observed, was the thing he most valued in the world. So began a reign which was scarcely worthy of its spirited prelude. In one matter, indeed, the King was beyond criticism. No one of the people, gentle or simple, who had assisted him in that wild flight from Worcester died unrewarded. Until the end of his days Charles cherished tenderly the memory of the weeks when he had been an outlaw with a price on his head, and king, like Robin Hood, only of the greenwood.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05