September 4th was the day Charles Stuart came to understand that Richard Penderill and the People of the Forest were assets beyond price. In the dawn light he had chosen to send his horsed supporters away as they were visible and easily captured. Deciding he had to blend with the workers of the forest on foot and have the appearance of poverty was simple common sense. He had gambled that totally unknown people he was now relying on would be reliable and supportive, and by the end of the day he would know his choice was triumphantly justified. The People of the Forest would show by practical support and total loyalty they would go with him on his journey literally and metaphorically.
His memory did not fully recall this, for in 1680 he told Pepys that September 4th which he spent in Spring Coppice was one when he “ stayed all day without meate or drink” (1) which was not the case. The Pederill brothers were now working to preserve the King who now had only their assistance to count on. Richard Penderill had gone to Francis Yates house – another Francis Yates, not the man who brought the party to Whiteladies and was later executed for so doing – and borrowed a blanket for the King to sit on. Blount reported that when Charles went to the Coppice, “about half a mile from Whiteladies, William, Humphrey and George (were) scouting abroad, and bringing what news they could learn to his Majesty in the wood”. Richard was central to what happened however and it was he who arranged for plain food to be delivered.
The wife of the second Francis Yates brought a mess of milk, eggs and cheese to the king, who asked “Can you be faithful to a distressed cavalier?” to which she answered “yes sir I would rather die than discover you”, (2) a response the king valued, but did not remember.
The King’s account to Pepys in 1680 does not mention other members of the forest community being involved in the events of September 4th, either in Spring Coppice or Hobbal Grange, but none of the other men and no women. He did however remember when talking to Pepys that “I had got some bread and cheese the night before at one the Penderells houses, I not going in”. But Blount has a fuller account, (3), showing that he did go inside. Blount wrote that .
“Before they began their journey, his Majesty went into Richard’s house at Hobbal Grange, where the old goodwife Penderel had not onely the honour to see his Majesty, but to see him attended by her son Richard…. In this posture about nine o clock at night (after some refreshment taken in the house) his Majesty with his trusty servant Richard began their journey on foot”.
Blount is correct, but the visit to Hobbal Grange involved more than refreshments vital though these were. Practical help and priceless moral support were given without question. The 3 Penderill brothers and the second Francis Yates set about improving the King’s disguise as a man of the Woods. Spencer says that Yates, changed the tool the King was carrying to a lighter implement, his existing tool being too heavy for a man not used to carrying tools over his shoulder, and he was given a new name – Will Jones. Spencer (4) claims the second Francis Yates lived near Boscobel at Langley Lawn. The King’s advisors at Hobbal Grange were pleased he had picked up the local accent – Charles was a good mimic – but he was not an actor and could not remember to keep using the local accent. Richard advised the King never to speak on the journey since his accent would betray him and Richard alone would speak if this was needed on the trek to Madeley, a mile from the river Severn. Richard believed that at Madeley there was a Roman Catholic named Woolf who could shelter the King and help him cross the River. However, he could never abandon the way he walked, which was that of a man born to command not the energy saving trudge of the worker travelling on foot. During his time in the Forest, this did not matter and he was never exposed to people who were not aware who he was. While he was in Staffordshire, those he met knew who he was and gave unstinting support.
Spencer quotes Colonel Gounter’s Report on the events of the early evening of September 4th at Hobbal Grange, to the effect that the men
“arrived there about five o’clock. The king delighted Richard and his wife by the charming ease with which he played with their small daughter Nan… dandling her on his knee… After dinner Jane Penderel appeared. The brother’s widowed mother was plainly mystified why her family had been chosen to help the king in this dark time, but she thanked God for the great honour bestowed upon them….” (5)
Yates offered the king thirty silver shillings but the king took just ten. If he did not get across the
River it would not matter how much loose change he had.
The visit to Hobbal Grange was an interlude of near serenity which would be easily forgotten by the King in recalling the nightmarish events which then took place that night. Given the nightmare he then endured is not surprising he forgot this peaceful interlude, but it is clear that without the food he was given that day, he would not have had the physical strength to cope with the events of the night to come and the moral and practical support he received from the Foresters was beyond price.
A Nightmare Journey
The five mile trek to Madeley in the dark upped the tension which the King was already feeling. Some two miles from Madeley the two men endured a nerve shredding encounter at Evelin (nowadays Evelith) Mill, which Blount described as having serious consequences for the King’s physical suffering. According to Blount
“the miller was upon his watch, and Richard unhappily causing the gate to clap … gave occasion to the miller to come out of the mill… Richard, thinking the miller had pursued them, quitted the usual way in some haste and led his Majesty over a little brook, which they were forced to wade through, and which contributed much toward the surbating and galling his Majesties feet.” (6)
Charles told Pepys a more graphic account which made clear the nervous impact on his state of mind, increasing his already considerable anxiety, to wit:
“we believeing there was company in the house, the fellow (Richard TF) had me follow him close, and he run to a gate … some men came out of the Mill after us, which I believed was soldiers. Soe we fell to running, … up the lane… it being very deep and very dirty. Till at last I bade him leap over a hedge and lye still to hear if any boddy followed us. Which we did, and continued lyeing down upon the ground about half an hower; when hearing no body come, we continued our way on to the Village upon the Severn.” (7)
Charles suffered from an understandable fear that soldiers would capture him and complete the disaster that started with his losing the battle of Worcester.. The King’s account to Pepys revealed his anxiety was now at a stage where he did not trust even someone Richard Penderill vouched for and he ordered Penderill to keep his identity secret, telling Pepys
“I would not go in, till I knew a little of his minde, whether he would recive soe dangerous a guest as me, and therefore stayed in a feild under a hedge by a great tree, commanding him not to say it was I, but only to ask Mr Woolf whether he would receive an English gentleman, a person of quality, to hide him on the next night for I durst not goe but by night. Mr Woolf… said that for his part it was soe dangerous a thing to harbour any boddy that was known, that he would not venture his neck for any man, unless it was the King himself. Upon which, Richard Penderell very indiscreetly, and without any Leave, told him that it was I. Mr Woolf replied that he should be very redy to venture all he had in the world to secure me.” (8)
Charles was concerned that Richard had divulged his identity, but day was coming on – and Richard had had no real choice in the matter. This was the only way to get taken into Woolf’s house – so the King went into Woolf’s house only to hear bad news. Roundhead troops ocupied the town of Madeley, had searched Woolf’s house and discovered his priest holes, and had guards on the ferry and other crossings of the River Severn making it impossible for a Cavalier to cross to get to Wales.The King was trapped.
Woolf put the two fugitives into his barn, fed them during the day, and as dark came on advised them to go to Boscobel which he believed was the best fitted of all houses in the local area for having priest holes and security. Charles agreed with the advice, and that night – the 5th and 6th of September –headed back towards Hobbal Grange but with the aim, if he could walk that far, of going past the Penderill house to Boscobel . He was depressed by his failure to cross the Severn and the effectiveness of the parliamentary cordon which had closed off all his options, but there was hope in the way his supporters continued to help him despite the threat to their own lives. Mrs Woolf seeing the King was losing some of the darkening he had applied to his hands using soot provided walnut leaves to return his skin to look like that of an outdoor worker, and found him green stockings, believeing the white ones he was wearing stood out in the dark.
But his spirits were depressed by the effectiveness of the parliamentary cordon and the fact that he was now heading towards a safe house rather than a way to break through the cordon showed he was only treading water with nothing but a desperate attempt to reach London was available to him. He was oppressed by the sense that enemies were waiting all around, and when the two fugitives approached the Mill for a second time, the King insisted they cross well down the River Worfe away from the Mill. This alarmed Richard Penderill who confessed he could not swim. Charles, who was a strong swimmer, promised to escort him over but wading into the middle of the River found it was only up to his waist, so holding hands the two men crossed over perfectly safely, but with Charles now having soaking shoes and stockings.
Charles was again planning to get to London, but was wondering what had happened to Lord Wilmott, who had stayed in the area and was also dealing with a Penderill brother. They would not meet up for some days during which Charles made his famous visit to Boscobel where Charles had the most famous and legendary day of his escape. At 3am on 6th September he and Richard Penderill arrived at Boscobel and the famous, but his most desperate adventure, the resort to a day in an Oak Tree was about to happen.
- Mattthews op cit p42
- Thomas Blount Boscobel, The History of His sacred Majesties most Miraculous Preservation, 1660, Page 24
- Blount op cit p27
- Charles Spencer TO CATCH A KING William Collins 2017 p112- 113
- Spencer op cit pp114 – 115 Gunter was a Royalist colonel who only helped in the later stages of the escape – his story is told on pages 208- 231 and it is clear that although he lived at Racton, four miles from Chichester and did not have direct contact with events in Staffordshire, he had been visited by a ‘Mr Barlow’ – Lord Wilmot – who introduced him to the King and asked Gunter to obtain a boat to take the party to France, which he did. His account, entitled CHARLES II ESCAPE FROM WORCESTER was based on what the two principals told him.
- Blount op cit pp28-29
- Mattthews op cit p44
- Mattthews op cit pp44-46