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Charles II: Escape to Exile

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Rufus Sewell playing the part of Charles II at his coronation for the BBC historical drama 'Charles II : The Power and the Passion'.

After the Battle of Worcester, Charles II escaped to France, where he spent nearly 8½ years in exile until his restoration in 1660. This Entry covers his enthronement after the execution of his father Charles I, and much detail on his journey to sanctuary in France.

Prince Charles

After the execution of King Charles I by Parliament on 30 January, 1649, the Scots and Irish approached his son Prince Charles with a view to installing him on the throne of the Three Kingdoms. The Scots bitterly resented the execution of a Scottish King by an English Parliament, and the rulers of both nations saw it as an excellent opportunity to put a pliant king upon the thrones. The Scots also hoped that Prince Charles 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.

Charles II

Prince Charles was understandably cautious, but eventually chose Scottish rather than Irish support and sailed for Scotland, landing on 23 June, 1650. He was proclaimed King of Scotland; England; Ireland and France1 and crowned at Scone on 1 January, 1651. Like his father, Charles II tolerated the control of the most powerful party (in this case the Scottish Kirk) while 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 New Model Army (NMA), that he had for so long led and protected. Parliament turned instead to Oliver Cromwell to lead the invasion. Cromwell crossed into Scotland in July 1650, and after an initially hesitant and difficult campaign, crushed the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar on 3 September, 1650.

Up to now the Scots Kirk had treated Charles more as a prisoner, or a pawn to be dominated for their own purposes. But the disaster at Dunbar allowed Charles to gain a measure of equality with the Kirk. This led to King Charles and the Scottish Army — commanded by David Leslie (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 cavalry on the Parliamentary Army's left flank at Marston Moor (on 2 July, 1644).

March into England

One of the King's first acts when he entered England on 1 August, 1651, 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 less than 16,000, 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, so moved further south to Worcester, reaching it by 22 August, 1651. Here the Mayor of Worcester proclaimed him King of Great Britain, France and Ireland. The Battle of Worcester took place on 3 September.

Worcester to Moseley Old Hall

Charles was forced to escape out of the back door of his lodgings at Rowland Berkeley's house while Parliamentarian troops entered via the front door. He fled the city of Worcester in the company of Lords Wilmot and Derby, Charles Giffard, and about 200 others. His initial impulse was to dash for London, but he was talked out of it. The first move, then, was to shadow the retreating Scots cavalry that was using the main road. However, it became apparent that this large body of horses was attracting close pursuit by the NMA cavalry intent on destroying it, so Charles became less keen on the idea of heading for Scotland.

Acting upon Giffard's or the Earl of Derby's advice, Charles decided to head into south Staffordshire, a Roman Catholic stronghold (which therefore offered many excellent hiding places if you had the sympathy of the Roman 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 Giffard's Boscobel estate at about 3am on 4 September. 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 was cut, and he was furnished with an old set of clothes. The one thing they could not provide was a pair of shoes that fitted, as the King was 'two yards high' — at six foot this was well above the average height of the time. Two shoes were located that almost fitted, and their sides were cut so he could just force them on.

For safety's sake the King was taken to a nearby wood, where he had to hide. It rained all day. After dark 'Trusty Dick' took Charles to Hubbal Grange where he partook of 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' hands were too unblemished to be the true hands of a woodsman. The pair fled; unbeknown to them 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 among 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 Boscobel2, arriving early on Saturday, 6 September.

The King's Oak

On the same day, one 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 while Parliamentarian troops searched the woods below. That night the pair slipped into the house, ate a meal and afterwards Charles spent the night in one of Boscobel's priest holes.

The Pendrell Brothers

Late in the evening of 7 September, 1651, Charles left Boscobel. He was mounted upon an old mill horse and accompanied by all five Pendrell brothers and Francis Yates (a servant of Charles Giffard and brother-in-law of 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 Pendrell took the horses back home with them, while Richard and John Pendrell 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 while 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, Thomas Whitgreave. 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.

Father John

Charles was given a meal and wine by a Catholic priest, Father John Huddleston, who also tenderly ministered to the King's physical comfort by washing his feet.

A Sound Sleep and a Close Shave

Charles spent the rest of the night and the following two days hiding at Moseley; on 9 September he was able to sleep in a bed for the first time since 3 September. Later that morning he saw some of his Scottish troops, who were fugitives, passing the house. In the afternoon danger approached 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 Charles I3 before being wounded and captured at Naseby4, arguably the most important battle on English soil. However, 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?

More importantly they made no serious search of the Hall, which indicates that they were unaware of the hiding places (unlike at Boscobel), and the King's and Lord Wilmot's presence in the area was not seriously considered. At one point a £1,000 reward was offered to the household, but this was not taken up.

Moseley Old Hall to Stratford

At midnight on 9/10 September Charles left Moseley Old Hall to be taken to Bentley Hall. During this period in 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 Roman Catholic of Bentley Hall, had obtained one of these passes for herself and one manservant to enable them to travel south of Bristol to visit Jane's friend who was pregnant. After the battle of Worcester, Lord Wilmot, hiding at Moseley, learnt of this pass and thought to disguise himself as the manservant and travel with Jane. However, once he'd heard of the King having to turn back from the Severn, he thought it best for the King to utilise that method.

'William Jackson' and Jane Lane

The King reached Bentley Hall within a few hours, quickly dressed as a tenant's son and adopted the alias 'William Jackson' for the next part of his journey. The party set out, with Charles riding the same horse as Jane Lane. They were accompanied by Jane's sister Withy Petre and her husband John, and a kinsman called 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 and on 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 local blacksmith to be re-shod. 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 10 September at the house of John Tomes, another kinsman of Jane's. This marked the end of the first week of wandering.

Stratford to Bristol

On Thursday, 11 September, the journey continued through Chipping Campden and then to Cirencester, where it is claimed the party spent the night of 11 September 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 12 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 acquire a ship from one of the small ports.

Bristol to Lyme Regis

On the morning of 16 September, Charles (still in disguise) set out with his companions to reach Trent House, the home of Colonel 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 17 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 while 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. While he was at Trent 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 22 September Charles's journey continued. This time the group pretended to be a runaway wedding party and Charles was riding before Juliana Coningsby, a niece of Lady Wyndham. Arriving at Charmouth, the party went to the Queen's Arms Inn to await Captain Limbry who was due to undertake the actual crossing. He failed to turn up having (according to him) been locked in his chamber by his wife, who feared for his safety if he performed this task. Thwarted, the King and his companions pressed on to Bridport, where Charles pushed his way through a crowd of enemy troops and into the stable yard of The Old George Inn. Unfortunately the ostler, Horton, declared that he'd met Charles before, so, erring on the side of caution, the King and his 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 into the loft by the innkeeper, where 'privateness recompensed the meanness of the accommodation'.

Once more danger was close by, 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 fortuitously for the King one of the women travelling with the soldiers went into labour. The locals feared that she would be left behind when the soldiers departed, 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 24 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 29 September, but the ship was taken over at the last minute by Parliament to transport troops to Jersey, one of the Channel Islands. 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, 5 October, Phillips went to Trent House to fetch the King.

The next day the King, accompanied by Juliana Coningsby and Henry Peters, Col Wyndham's servant, left Trent for the home of Mrs Amphillis Hyde at Heale House, between Salisbury and Amesbury. While here Charles, accompanied by Phillips, spent his days at Stonehenge, returning to the house each evening after dark. On 7 October, Wilmot visited Col Gunter and persuaded him to help. They failed to get a ship at Emsworth, however Gunter then approached 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 the princely sum of £60.

Salisbury to France

On Sunday, 12 October, Col Phillips and Dr Henchman rode to Heale House to prepare the King for his departure. The following day Gunter and his brother Thomas met Charles and Col Phillips. Together at sunset they journeyed 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 14 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 15 October, 1651, 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 unaware of the identity of their passengers. On Tuesday, 16 October, 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.

Post-exile and Oak Apple Day

The preservation of the King in the oak tree became known during his exile, and souvenir hunters stripped it bare, destroying the tree. When Charles landed back in England on 23 May, 1660, for his re-entry into London on 29 May (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 1859 it was a public holiday. A scion of the original tree was preserved at Boscobel, which is now owned by English Heritage. Unfortunately the tree was very badly damaged during a storm on 31 October, 2000. It still survives today, though a scion has been planted near it to grow for the future.

Restoration and Rewards

The King wished to reward those who had helped him during his escape. Charles has always had a bad reputation for not restoring lands or recompensing those who had lost everything during the Civil Wars. But from limited examples, he did take especial care of those who had directly helped him during his escape. He presented Jane Lane with £1,000 to buy herself a jewel. This was the sum that Parliament had put on his head as a reward to anyone who would betray him. This was no mean remuneration as it represented 70-plus years' wages to the average musketeer.

For Thomas Whitgreave and the Pendrell brothers, Charles created pensions of £200 to be paid to them and their descendants in perpetuity. At some point the Whitgreave pension lapsed, indeed it may never have actually been paid, though there is some indication that after the Restoration Thomas was found a position by the King, and they did meet and converse.

Father John

Father John Huddleston, the Catholic priest who had given up his room and his hiding place at Moseley for the King, was taken into Queen Catherine of Braganza's household as a reward. As Charles lay dying in 1685, his brother James (a strong Roman Catholic who was to be driven from the throne in 1688 by the 'Glorious Revolution'), introduced the aged priest into the King's presence with the words:

Sire, here is one who once had care of your body, he has now come to have a care of your soul.

Father John then administered the sacrament of the last rites to his Majesty.

Pendrell Pension

The Pendrell pension is still being paid; obviously after the last 350-plus years there are a lot more Pendrells around, scattered across the globe, and the pension was not index-linked. A Pendrell visitor to Moseley from New Zealand told one of the guides he was receiving the equivalent of £1.49 a year!


  • The Escape of Charles II after the Battle Of Worcester - Robinson
  • Charles II's Escape Route - National Trust leaflet
  • Dorset in the Civil War, 1625–1665 - Dorset Books
  • The Monarch's Way (Books 1-3) - Meridian Books
  • The Reign of King Covenant - Hale 1956

Suggested Further Reading

The King's Peace and The King's War - Fontana

1Technically at this point he was not King of England or France as neither of them at this point in time acknowledged his claim, but for ease of reference he will be referred to as the King.2Boscobel is a simplification of the Italian bosco bello or 'beautiful wood', an appropriate name indeed for such a house.3Before the wars broke out, Thomas Whitgreave had been training to be a solicitor. He quickly joined a local Royalist regiment, rising to the rank of Ensign.4On 14 June, 1645.

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