Escape of Charles II

Escape of Charles II

The Escape of Charles II from England in 1651 is a key episode in his life. Although it took only six weeks, it had a major effect on his attitudes for the rest of his life.

The fugitive king

Charles had lost to Cromwell's New Model Army at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September, 1651 and was a wanted man. A reward of £1,000 was offered for the capture of the King, and it is likely that the King and anyone helping him would have been executed for treason, if caught. The King had a distinctive appearance: very swarthy and six foot two inches tall (1.88 metres), at a time when most men were under 5'10. Furthermore there were cavalry patrols specifically tasked with finding the King. Fortunately for Charles, the Catholics had an organisation with 90 years of experience in keeping secrets and hiding people. However it was also illegal for Catholics to travel more than five miles away from their homes without a pass from the Sheriff of the County, increasing the hazards faced by those who helped him.

Flight from Worcester

Charles fled the city of Worcester in the company of Lord Wilmot, Lord Derby, Charles Giffard (or Gifford) and many others. It was felt that it would be safer for the King to travel almost alone and so he left the main group. (Six miles further on, this group was routed by a troop of cavalry. Lord Derby was captured and later executed.) Charles decided to head into Shropshire, a Catholic stronghold with many hiding places. They stopped after five miles at an inn in Ombersley (now the Kings Arms) for refreshments; then through Hartlebury and over Kinver Heath. Tradition has it the King halted at Whittington Manor, now the Whittington Inn on the A449. [Staff, [ Whittington Inn, Stourbridge] , Express & Star 19 February 2007] The party stopped again at Wordsley before arriving at White Ladies Priory on Giffard’s estate at Boscobel in the early hours of 4 September.Chris Modd [ The Escape of Charles Stuart After Worcester] , [ Orders of the day] , Volume 33, Issue 4, 2001 ]

Boscobel to Bentley

The houses on the estate were looked after by servants. Five Catholic brothers called Pendrell (also Pendrill or Penderel) lived on the Boscobel Estate. At White Ladies the King was met by George Pendrell who called his brother, Richard, from his farm, Hobbal Grange, at Tong. They disguised the King as a woodsman and his long hair was cut. For safety he and Richard Pendrell hid in Spring Coppice in the estate. Shortly after the King had left the Priory, a company of soldiers, rode up and ransacked the place in the search for the King.

Charles recalled: "'In this wood I stayed all day without meat or drink and by great fortune it rained all the time which hindered them, as I believe, from coming into the wood to search for men that might be fled there.'"

After dark Richard Pendrell took Charles to Hobball Grange where he had a meal and then immediately set off Madeley, hoping to cross the River Severn into Wales where the Royalists had strong support. At Evelith Mill they were challenged by the miller and the pair fled. (Some accounts have the miller chasing them down the lane.)

At Madeley Francis Wolfe provided a barn for Charles to hide in, while Richard and Francis Wolfe scouted the Severn crossings, but they found that the Severn was very closely guarded, so Charles and Richard returned to Boscobel, arriving early on 6 September. On the same day a Colonel William Carlis (or Careless) also arrived at Boscobel House from Worcester, where William Pendrell was a caretaker. He and the King spent all day hiding in a nearby oak tree (The Royal Oak) and then Charles spent the night in one of Boscobel House’s priest-holes.

Late in the evening of 7 September Charles left Boscobel for Moseley Old Hall at the suggestion of Wilmot who was staying there. Humphrey Pendrell was the local miller and provided Charles with the old mill horse. The King was 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 Pendrell 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. Three Pendrells took the horse back, while Richard and John Pendrell with Francis Yates continued with the King to Moseley Old Hall, which was the home of Thomas Whitgreave.

At Moseley Charles was given a meal and dry clothes. A Catholic priest, Father John Huddleston bathed the King’s bruised and bleeding feet. Charles spent the night and the next two days hiding at Moseley Hall, sleeping in a bed for the first time since 3 September. Later that morning he saw some of his fleeing Scottish troops passing by.

Parliamentary troops arrived at Moseley Hall and accused Thomas Whitgreave of fighting for the King at Worcester, which he had not done (though he had fought as a Royalist before being wounded and captured at Naseby in 1645). However they were eventually convinced that Whitgreave had not fought and went away, without searching the house, but the King no longer felt safe at Moseley Hall. Shortly after midnight on 10 September Charles left Moseley Hall and went to Bentley Hall near Walsall.

Bentley to Trent

Colonel John Lane lived at Bentley Hall. He had been an officer in the Royalist Army since 1642. His sister was Jane Lane. At Moseley Wilmot learned that Jane had obtained a permit from the military for herself and a servant to travel to Abbot's Leigh, Somerset, to visit a friend who was having a baby. Abbot's Leigh also lay just across the Avon Gorge from the important seaport of Bristol. Lord Wilmot saw the opportunity of escaping through Bristol in the guise of the servant. On learning of the King's failure to reach Wales, Wilmot decided that the King should take advantage of the military pass and travel to Bristol as Jane Lane's servant, and then find a ship to take him to France.

When the King reached Bentley Hall in the early morning of 10 September he was quickly dressed as a tenant farmer’s son and adopted the alias ‘William Jackson’ for the next part of his journey. The party then set out, Charles riding the same horse as Jane Lane. They were accompanied by Withy Petre (Jane Lane’s sister), her husband John Petre, and Henry Lascelles, another related Royalist officer.

Lord Wilmot refused to travel in disguise; he rode openly half a mile ahead of the party and if challenged he said he would claim to be out hunting. This was a brave and 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 lost a shoe. The King, playing the role of servant, took the horse to a blacksmith.

The King when he later told his story to Samuel Pepys and others said, "As I was holding my horse's foot, I asked the smith what news. He told me that there was no news that he knew of, since the good news of the beating the rogues of the Scots. I asked him whether there was none of the English taken that joined with the Scots, He answered he did not hear if that rogue, Charles Stuart, were taken; but some of the others, he said, were taken. I told him that if that rogue were taken, he deserved to be hanged more than all the rest, for bringing in the Scots. Upon which he said I spoke like an honest man; and so we parted." [Count Grammont. " [ Memoirs of the Court of Charles the Second and the Boscobel Narratives] ", edited by Sir Walter Scott, Publisher: Henry G Bohn, York Street, London, 1846. Chapter: King Charles's escape from Worcester: (The Kings own account of his escape and preservation after the Battle of Worcester as dictated to Samuel Pepys at Newmarket on Sunday, October 3d, and Tuesday, October 5th, 1680). p.464] [J. Heughs (ed) (1857). [ The Boscobel Tracts: Relating to the Escape of Charles the Second After the Battle of Worcester and his subsequent adventures] , William Blackwood and Sons. p.162 ] [ J. Fitzgerald Molloy. " [ Royalty Restored or London under Charles II] " CHAPTER II.]

The party reached Wootton Wawen where cavalry had gathered outside the inn. Here John and Withy Petre went ahead of the party. The King, Jane and Henry Lascelles with great coolness rode through the troops and then on to Stratford-upon-Avon, where they spent the night of 10 September at the house of John Tomes, another relation of Jane’s.

On Thursday 11 September they continued through Chipping Campden and then to Cirencester, where it is claimed they spent the night of 11 September at the Crown Inn. The next morning they travelled on to Chipping Sodbury and then to Bristol, arriving at Abbots Leigh on the evening of 12 September. They stayed at the home of Mr and Mrs George Norton, who were also Jane’s friends. The Nortons were unaware of the King's identity during his three-day stay at Abbotsleigh. While staying there Charles deflected suspicion by asking a servant, who had been in the King's personal guard at the Battle of Worcester, to describe the King's appearance and clothing at the battle. The man looked at Charles and said, "The King was at least three fingers taller than [you] ." [Count Grammont. " [,M1 Memoirs of the Court of Charles the Second and the Boscobel Narratives] ", edited by Sir Walter Scott, Publisher: Henry G Bohn, York Street, London, 1846. Chapter: King Charles's escape from Worcester: (The Kings own account of his escape and preservation after the Battle of Worcester as dictated to Samuel Pepys at Newmarket on Sunday, October 3d, and Tuesday, October 5th, 1680). p.466] [J. Heughs (ed) (1857). [ The Boscobel Tracts: Relating to the Escape of Charles the Second After the Battle of Worcester and his subsequent adventures] , William Blackwood and Sons. p.166 ]

Attempts were made to find a ship from Bristol to France but without success. Charles and Wilmot therefore decided to make for the south coast with Jane. On the morning of 16 September Charles set out and reached the Manor House, Castle Cary. The next day they reached Trent near Sherborne. They stayed at Trent House, the home of Colonel Francis Wyndham, another Royalist officer. The King spent the next few days hiding at Trent whilst Wyndham and Wilmot attempted to find a ship from Lyme Regis or Weymouth. It was whilst he was at Trent that the King witnessed a bizarre event where the local villagers were celebrating, believing that he had been killed at Worcester. It was also this point that Jane Lane and Lascelles returned home.

On 22 September Charles rode with Juliana Coningsby, a niece of Lady Wyndham to Charmouth, pretending to be a runaway couple. Charles waited at the Queen’s Arms Inn while Wilmot negotiated with a Captain Limbry take them to France. Limbry was prevented by his wife from turning up, having (according to him) been locked into his bedroom by his wife, who was afraid for his safety. The King then travelled via Bridport to Broadwindsor, spending the night at The George Inn owned by Rhys Jones. The local constable then arrived with 40 soldiers who were to be billeted at the inn. Fortunately one of the women travelling with the soldiers went into labour. The locals feared that the parish would be forced to pay for the child’s upbringing and this caused a row which diverted attention, allowing the King to escape. On the evening of 24 September the King returned to Trent House.

Trent to France

Charles spent the next few weeks in hiding at Trent House while his friends tried to arrange a passage to France. Wilmot went to Salisbury to contact known Royalists, including Colonel Phillips of Montacute House and John Coventry, son of the former Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Passage was booked on a ship from Southampton on 29 September, but the ship was commandeered to transport troops to Jersey. Phillips, Coventry and a Doctor Henchman of Salisbury Cathedral then decided to try the Sussex coast, and contacted Colonel George Gunter of Racton between Havant and Chichester.

On the 6 October the King, Julia Coningsby and Henry Peters, Colonel Wyndham’s servant, left Trent for the home of Mrs Amphillis Hyde at Heale House between Salisbury and Amesbury. Though sleeping at Heale, Charles spent his days at Stonehenge, returning to the house each evening after dark. On 7 October Wilmot visited Colonel Gunter, who found a French merchant, Francis Mancell. Together they made arrangements with a Captain Nicholas Tattersell to carry the King and Wilmot from Shoreham near Brighton in a coal boat called the "Surprise" for £80. [Dale, Antony (1989): "Brighton Churches", pages 10-11. Routledge, London. ISBN 0-415-00863-8]

The King, Wilmot and Gunter set out for Shoreham on 14th October arriving on 15 October. Gunter knew that The George Inn in Brighton was a safe place to spend the night. At the inn while negotiating with Captain Tattersell, Charles was recognised by the inn-keeper who was drunk and who fell on his knees. The captain realising who he would be carrying, demanded an additional £200 as danger-money. On 16 October the King and Lord Wilmot landed in France at Fécamp, near Le Havre. Only hours after the King sailed, a troop of cavalry arrived in Shoreham to arrest him.

Next day Charles went to Rouen and then to Paris to stay with Charles’s mother, Queen Henrietta Maria. The King did not return to England for nine years. The death of Oliver Cromwell was followed by two years of political confusion, which led to the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

When he returned to England in 1660 the King granted various annuities and gifts to the people such as Pendrill brothers and Jane Lane for their services. They were summoned to Whitehall Palace to attend the King and did so for a number of years. For Thomas Whitgreave and the Richard Pendrell, Charles created annual pensions of £200 to be paid to them and £100 to the descendants of Richard Pendrell in perpetuity. At some point the Whitgreave pension lapsed (it may never have actually been paid) and so did Jane Lane's because she had no children. The other Pendrell brothers also received lesser pensions. The pensions to the Pendrells are still being paid to a number of their descendants today. [ [ History of Pendrell Hall] , [ Pendrell Hall College website] ]

The families who helped the King were awarded Coats of Arms. The Pendrill Arms are the same as those awarded to Colonel Carlis, but with a silver field and black fesse. The crest is distinguished by a royal crown encircling the crossed sword and sceptre. The Lanes' Coat of Arms was modified to show the three lions of England.

In 1664 the King's birthday of 29 May was designated Oak Apple Day, by Act of Parliament and a special service was inserted in the Book of Common Prayer. For over 200 years the King's birthday was celebrated by the wearing of a sprig of oak leaves in remembrance of the events. This tradition is no longer observed, although hundreds of inns and public houses throughout the country are still called The Royal Oak after the famous escape.

A series of inaccurate paintings by Isaac Fuller was commissioned shortly after the Restoration to record the episodes such as the oak tree, the King's night ride to Moseley Hall and pillion ride south with Jane Lane. These are on display in the Banqueting House in Whitehall in London.


For much of the time without courtiers and troops, Charles had to rely on his own wits to avoid capture. He was a nerveless actor, though he made a few mistakes early in his role as a tenant farmer's son. His performance gave him the confidence in later life to be his 'own man'. For six weeks Charles also experienced ordinary life, which most kings never saw, and learned to appreciate all people, rich and poor. He became a King without 'airs and graces' and took a great interest in ordinary people as can been seen by his actions after the Great Fire of London.

The events made such an impression on Charles that in later years he loved to recount the exact details to people, including: Edward Hyde, his doctor (Dr. George Bate), and to Samuel Pepys who each recorded what they were told, with few discrepancies between each version. This is why such detail, sometimes hour by hour, is known. Charles also saw that Catholics would take great risks for him and developed a great respect for them and their plight. On his deathbed, he became a Catholic.


Further reading

* [ Charles at Moseley]
* [ The Lanes and Charles II]
* [ Charles in Dorset]
* Modd, Chris [ The Escape of Charles Stuart After Worcester] , The Sealed Knot, Orders of the day, Volume 33, Issue 4, 2001

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