The fame of Boscobel is justifiable, but it has overshadowed the importance of Whiteladies, the place the King was taken to after the battle. Whiteladies can never rival Boscobel because drama is always attractive and the legend of the Royal Oak makes for many pub signs. Yet Whiteladies played a vital role in English history as when Charles and his followers arrived it provided the safe haven to think through an escape plan – and where he met the Penderill brothers and made the crucial decision to trust them and dismiss the Cavaliers supporting him. He did not need men on horseback who Roundhead troopers could capture easily. He needed a strategy to escape, and local people who were totally trustworthy and prepared to risk their lives to save him. He found them at Whiteladies.
Whiteladies – A Safe Place Before Boscobel
The plan to reach a safe place and regroup after rushing from the battle field was first designed to go to Boscobel but the guide with the local knowledge of the Forest of Brewood, Francis Yates decided to go to Whiteladies, a deserted priory building where nuns had lived in their white uniforms till the dissolution in 1536, and where a half timbered building had been built in which Catholics lived. The decision is normally put down to Whiteladies being deeper in the forest, as Yates knew Cromwell’s Roundheads would be hunting them once dawn broke. This is true, but it is also a factor that Yates knew Boscobel – where the Earl of Derby and Colonel Roscarrock had been sheltered on the way to Worcester – only had the two caretakers and little chance of any help being available. Charles Giffard belonged to the family which owned the estate and Yates, his servant who had fought at Worcester and made the decision to go to Whiteladies, knew there were more people at Whiteladies. With the Cavaliers in a desperate state of exhaustion, tired and hungry after travelling through the night, the party around the King needed every ounce of help they could get.
The key question which Charles asked of his followers “If they thought there was any place where he might take a few hours rest?” was answered that there were two such places, occupied by Catholics and reliable, and Giffard told Charles on arrival “he trusted they were now out of immediate danger of pursuit”. But this would not last, as Whiteladies was a known Catholic safe house, and entering the hall of the half timbered house standing next to the Priory ruin the King’s party cannot have had any illusions about how vulnerable they were, and must have questioned whether they could expect help from inhabitants who would be risking their lives if they helped the King. But the inhabitants of Whiteladies exceeded their wildest expectations, and it was here that the King met the Penderill brothers.
The Arrival at Whiteladies
The shock of the party’s arrival can only be imagined. The King and his other horsemen turning up to wake the sleeping inhabitants, when they had no idea the battle had been lost, and the realization the King and his followers were penniless fugitives turned their world upside down. The calm and level headed reactions of the inhabitants showed how fortunate the King had been in the advice he was given to go to Whiteladies.
George Penderill was the gatekeeper and was almost certainly asleep as the party arrived at 3am in the darkest hour of the night. He took the King into the hall while Colonel Roscarrack sent a youth, Bartholomew Martin, to Boscobel a mile away to wake William Penderell and bring him to the discussion. Charles Giffard sent for Richard Penderill – who Charles would later call “Trusty Dick”- and his other brothers. Humphrey Penderill was the local miller and presumably lived at Whiteladies. Charles rapidly realized the Cavaliers had no ability to advise what course to pursue while the people of the Forest had practical advice and useful resources to draw upon. Some questions were easy to solve. It was clear Charles Stuart could not survive in the battle uniform which made him stand out dangerously, so the priority was to disguise him in the garb of a forest worker. He used soot from the fire to darken his face and hands, took off his blue ribbon and jeweled badge of the Garter, laced ruff and buff coat to put on a noggin (coarse shirt) donated by Edward Martin the father of Bartholemew, and donned Richard Penderill’s green suit and leather doublet, while talking with his closest advisors about the best options to pursue.