The weekend that the King spent at Boscobel became the iconic story of his survival after the battle of Worcester. Spending Saturday in an Oak tree and Sunday in recovery, hot food available for the first time since Worcester will always be the headline story. But the Boscobel weekend was a dead end. Charles was desperate and isolated. Despite his exertions Charles remained trapped inside the Roundhead cordon. He had no way out, saw contacting Willmott as his only hope of survival, and his memory was distorted as the reality of a humiliating defeat followed by living on the brink proved deeply demoralising .
The King’s Lost Weekend.
For this crucial weekend, the testimony of Charles is fallible becoming his ‘lost weekend’. What he told Pepys in 1680 is rightly described by William Matthews as “a classic among tales of escape, From its plunging beginning to its quiet but triumphant close, it never ceases to compel the reader’s attention” (1). But the text is a warning to historians not to use eyewitness accounts uncritically. Unlike Thomas Blount’s BOSCOBEL of 1660, expanded in 1662, which the King is said to have endorsed (2), the account is affected by Charles’s fading memory after 31 years, certain individuals standing out notably Richard Penderill over his brothers. The gaps in his knowledge, notably that the King did not know what Willmott was doing once he left Whiteladies on September 4th was a limitation he could never overcome. Pepys took down as fact statements which cannot be substantiated.
For example, Charles states that he asked the Penderill brother at Boscobel what had happened to Willmott, but William was the brother at Boscobel and there was no way William could know what Willmott was doing. John had been appointed to guard the Lord, but Charles recalled Richard as the prime mover. The statement the brother “ had conducted him to a very honest gentleman’s house” near Wolverhampton confused both the brother and what he had done: all the 5 brothers took him to Moseley Hall. Charles named the Catholic who owned Moseley as named Pitchcroft (3), but the ‘honest gentleman” (honest meaning Catholic) who owned Moseley Hall was in fact Thomas Whitgreave. Matthews says this was doubly muddled as Pitchcross was the meadow the Royal army mustered in before Worcester (4).
The King does not understand that the Penderell brother who made the vital connections involving Moseley was John, not Richard.The King tells Pepys (5) “That night (ie 6th September the day in the Oak) Richard Penderell and I went to Mr Pitchcrofts … where I found the Gentleman of the House and an old Grandmother of his and Father Hurlstone (sic)”. A much more complex – and dramatic – story of how Charles arrived at Moseley Hall with John, not Richard, playing the major role in the events which led to him reuniting with Willmott and escaping was the reality, with disaster hovering close and only just being avoided. The weekend which ended with Charles at Moseley was a roller coaster.
The Other Eye Witness Accounts: a Priest and a Catholic Gentry Tell the Tale
Establishing what actually happened needs to refer to the writings of the two Catholics who left written reports, the Father John Hudleston and the owner of Moseley Hall, Thomas Whitgreave. Other notable figures – John Penderell, Lord Willmott and the Lane brother and sister who were all deeply involved in events – left no written accounts, but the two men most closely linked to Moseley Old Hall did do so. In 1688 a statement of what happened to bring the King from Boscobel was published. Matthews argues the pamphlet of 1688 “is very much a catholic publication and its arrangement and exposition differ from those in the direct reports that were made by the two men”. (6) Reference back to the direct reports, which are provided by himself (7) do not however show any major discrepancies and are objective at all times, curiously using the third person perhaps to objectify the accounts.The individual reports are more revealing and less official in nature, but the joint reports, whoever wrote them – they are unlikely to be jointly written as a joint précis – are accurate and informative and used here for preference. Their report of Willmott’s leaving Whiteladies with the rest of the King’s party but stayed in the area is typical of their approach: (8)
“Lord Willmott… departed the same Thursday (ie 4th September TF) in the forenoon from Whiteladies, and took along with him another Brother of the Penderells as a guide into the Common road between York and London… but… the whole country was alarmed…. Wherefore my Lord … took refuge in the House of one Mr Huntbach of Brinford near Moseley,… and sheltered his horses in a ruined barn of a poor cottager… He sent his guide John to Wolverhampton, … in his return my Lord, by the singular conduct of divine providence met with Mr Hudlestone at a place called Northcote.”
Unlike Charles, who sent his horse away and blended into the life of the forest workers, Willmott refused to abandon his horses and dress down. This was tempting fate, as Willmott dressed as a Cavalier nobleman, risking Willmott and his servant in dodging Roundhead patrols. John Penderell meanwhile looked for a hiding place for Willmott, knowing that luck could not last with Willmott so obviously a Cavalier. He found nothing in Wolverhampton, walked north talking at random to anyone who might offer Willmott and his servant sanctuary. His break through happened when while talking to a woman who was too frightened to help, Penderell spotted a Catholic priest walking by who he recognised. This was Father Hudleston, who despite the rigorous persecution of Catholics managed to be an active priest to the Catholic population of the Forest.
Penderell had known Hudleston from his visits to Whiteladies to help the resident priest, Mr Walker. Hudleston stayed with Thomas Whitgreave who was the most militant Catholic Royalist in the area, having fought at Naseby in 1645 and been captured spending time as a Prisoner of War. John Penderell was aware that Hudleston’s base, in Whitgreave’s Moseley Hall, was effectively a Roman Catholic teaching centre, not only having priest holes but, concealed in the roof had a Catholic chapel that he used for teaching Catholic boys. The extent of the Catholic network over a century after the Reformation is astonishing, but even more so the fact that while the parliamentarians knew very well that Whitgreave was a militant royalist, and their troops visited Moseley, they never searched the house. This was one of the several missed Parliamentary opportunities which the King and his supporters could only pray for. But John Penderell could not know this would be the case. Like his brother Richard at Madeley, he had no alterntives. His priority was the urgent necessity that Willmott had to be hidden in a safe house and as he walked up the road from Wolverhampton, he made the encounter which opened the door to an escape.
The individual account from the catholic father concerned demands verbatim reproduction, notably because he did not know John Penderell and was openly dismissive of him – at the start. A forest worker had no status, whereas however covert, a priest did. But what Penderell said commanded attention.
The Priest wrote (9) “John leaves the woman, hastens after Mr Hodleston (sic) asks if he had heard yesterdays sad news, the unfortunate defeat of the King’s army at Worcester. Mr Hodleston (not knowing the man, nor much regarding what he said) asked him whence he came and where he had got that bad news. He said at White Ladies… and said futher “’If I did not know you better than you seem to know me, I should not have been thus bold, for I had commands and cautions sufficient to be circumspect, both what and to whom I spoke… I have brought to a very near neighbour of yours, a person of quality I believe, … There I have left him exposed to all dangers, been at Wolverhampton in hopes among friends thereabouts to have found som place of more safety for him, but am disappointed at all and now going back to see how God have disposed of him for it he be not removed this night, he cannot escape.”
Father Hudleston digested this sensational report while walking with John Pendrellto Moseley Hall. Ordering him to stay in his chamber, he went to find Whitgreave, told him the news, and on hearing what had happened, Whitgreave, went straight to Willmott at Brinford and offered him sanctuary. Accordingly Willmott moved to the safe house at Moseley once dark had fallen, arriving at around 10pm.