Charles II After Worcester: Unanswered Questions

The escape of Charles II from the battle of Worcester in 1651 is history as a romantic tale. That the King spent a day in an oak tree is celebrated in hundreds of pub signs, testifying to the appeal of the story of a fugitive who had to hide in plain sight to avoid the biggest manhunt in English history. Yet there is more to the escape of Charles Stuart from parliamentary forces than a day in a tree. The King was on the run for six weeks after fleeing the only City gate remaining open to the Royalists, pursued relentlessly by the Roundheads who knew they were could take a great step towards the ultimate prize for which the Civil War had been fought – the elimination of the Royalist contenders to the throne.

Capturing and executing the heir to the throne would mean they had eliminated two of the three descendants of James I (and a generation back, Mary Queen of Scots). The royal succession would hang by the thread of the younger brother James, who was unimpressive as the final Stuart male contender. But while the capture of Charles would be a decisive step towards a republic, the parliamentarians had to capture him. Alas neither the parliamentary forces nor the Royalists had any idea where he was. The parliamentary forces at least knew he was alive, taking heart from random sightings of the fugitive moving through various locations north of Worcester, so placed a bounty of £1000 on his head. It was never claimed. The King had vanished.

How he achieved this remarkable feat has never been properly explained. There are many unsolved mysteries about the day to day progress of Charles Stuart away from Worcester into exile which can be found sprinkled in the better accounts of the escapade. All are Royalist in nature, proving that history is written by the victors, and all are reliant on a number of patchy accounts none of which were written till years later – nothing could be put on paper till Charles was restored to the throne in 1660 and the Cromwellian period was in the past. Even then some of the key players – including the illiterate Penderill family of the Brewood forest, and Colonel Careless who shared the tree at Boscobel left no recollections in their own words. No uncomplicated first hand record was ever made by eyewitnesses.. The only complete account, by Charles himself, was dictated to Samuel Pepys in 1680 and Pepys realised at the time he took down the King’s memories in shorthand the King’s memory was not reliable after 29 years.

The first days after the battle can only be resumed in detail from Boscobel, a book issued in 1660 from the memories of those with the King who are believed to have spoke to the author Thomas Blount. Blount is a writer highly regarded by Charles Spencer in his 2017 book To Catch a King (1) in which he praises Colonel Gunter’s account, plus the classic – if flawed – story the King told Pepys, (2) with highest praise give to Thomas Blount’s book Boscobel (3). Spencer also cited the accounts of Father Huddleston, Thomas Whitgreave and Colonel Philips as“priceless testimonies” (4)

Spencer is uncritical about Blount for whose account he is very appreciative. Blount claimed in his introduction to have written impeccably, and this is quoted by Spencer who regards the book as having “set a standard for his painstaking research in this field of recent royal history” (5). This is partly justified by Blount having published in 1660 using eyewitnesses and found more testimony ay the largely illiterate saviours of the King for a second edition in 1662. The first edition was not problematical, but the second certainly was.

The Earl does not note the comments made by Alan Fea, who over a century ago cited Royal objections to the second, expanded version. Boscobel gained a reputation as the best of the many accounts published when the King was restored in 1660, but Fea notes “In the’ Kingdom’s Intelligencer” for 1662 we find the following announcement: “By express command of his Majesty, we are to acquaint the reader that a little book named ‘Boscobel’ (being a relation of his Majesty’s happy and miraculous escape after the fight at Worcester), hath diverse errors and mistakes in it, and (is) therefore not to be admitted as a true and perfect narrative of his Sacred Majesty’s deliverance” (6).

What the King objected to has not been established: perhaps a comparison of the King’s version and that of Blount can clarify the issue. But there is a second mystery linked to what the King objected to, this being the identity of Thomas Blount. The assumption is that Blount was an investigator from outside the Forest of Brewood, which was on the Staffordshire – Shropshire border. However a second companion volume (7) contains the following curious statement according to Fea. He alleges the author writes:

“The first part of this miraculous history I long since published, having the means to be well informed in all circumstances relating to it; the scene (whereon those great actions were performed) being my native country, and many of the actors my particular friends”

The Thomas Blount normally thought to be the author of Boscobel was a Roman Catholic lawyer born in Worcestershire with roots in Herefordshire, a county whose history he was writing at the time of his death. Fea says the lawyer denied he had written the book the King was referring to, with its detailed description, and he speculates that as the writer appears to be from Staffordshire or Shropshire, he might be found in records of these counties.

The statement “many of these actors (were) my particular friends” cannot relate to the illiterate workers of the forest, so the author may be found among the gentry helpers of the King who were not found living in the Forest itself – this could be a profitable line of investigation. But what, in the second expanded version of Boscobel, had led to the King’s disapproval? Given that Blount’s Boscobel is the only one of the many (and various) accounts of the Escape after Worcester which can credibly describe the time spent in the Forest, assessing and explaining the unknown aspects of the authorship is a task well overdue. Richard Ollard’s 1966 book is a rare reference to the mystery (8)

The most recent book I am aware of on the topic, Martin E Beardsley’s aiming to “recreate his passage through England” does reconstruct the six week’s evasion of the biggest manhunt in English history recognizing that the sources of information are flawed, arguing “some of the sources for what we know of Charles’ oddessey contradict each other on certain points or dates” (9) and accepts that even Charles own account is somewhat misleading. Yet the wider issue of why Charles escaped is not the holes in the record. The big issue is why the Roundhead pursuit was massive – and totally unsuccessful.

(1) William Collins 2017

(2) Gunter sent his account to Pepys in 1685, Pepys took down the Kings Account in 1680,

(3) Blount’s book had a first edition in 1660. second expanded 1662

(4) the last three dealing with events after the King left Boscobel.

(5) quote is page xix Spencer is Lady Diana’s brother

(6) Alan Fea, The Flight of the King, Forgotten books classic reprints pages x-xi, Original publication 1897.

(70 Alan Fea, After Worcester Fight, John Lane, the Bodley Head page xv.

(8) Richard Ollard The Escape of Charles II, Hodder & Stoughton 1966 (Robinson 1986) p152

(9) Martin E Beardsley. Charles II his escape into Exile, Pen & Sword 2019 pvii

Boscobel Blockage

No historian has a perfect grasp of the facts, patching over the cracks with educated guesses is one of the key skills. Sometimes this will not do. For my work on Charles’ Stuart’s escape after the battle of Worcester, I reached that point. In my last essay, on the King’s lost weekend, I pointed out that the testimony Charles gave Samuel Pepys 29 years later is suspect but I still trusted Thomas Blount’s 1660 book Boscobel.

I no longer trust Blount, and I will write no more till the problems of what evidence is reliable has been addressed and hopefully have been resolved. This is best done collaboratively and readers who would like to see my essay on the problems with Blount and what needs to be done are asked to contact me – using the form on the Contact section of the site. More may be achieved by collective effort than me beavering away alone on material over 360 years or more in the making.

Boscobel E – The King’s Lost Weekend

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.

This left a glaring problem, how to stable the horses, an obvious signal to the parliamentary forces that a Cavalier horseman was about. There was no place to keep the horses in Moseley, which was on the main road north from Wolverhampton and repeatedly traversed by parliamentary troops, so Whitgreave used his knowledge of Royalist contacts in the area to take a decision with enormous consequences. As the two men later wrote,

“Mr Whitgreave sent a trusty person to Collonel Lane at Bentley, about three miles from Moseley, acquainted him with my Lords arrival, and desired him for some little time to secure my lords horses” (10)

Colonel Lane had served under Willmott in the Royalist army, visited Willmott at Moseley, and revealed a development which transformed the situation.

The Solution Revealed: a Passport is Available.

The Colonel’s sister, Jane Lane, had obtained a pass from the parliamentary commander in Stafford to visit a cousin in Bristol who was about to give birth. She could travel with a male servant, a sole woman not being safe to travel across country. Colonel Lane offered Willmott the pass to pose as that servant and escape through the parliamentary cordon. As Willmott knew what Colonel Lane did not, that Charles Stuart had arrived in Staffordshire at the same time as he had done, Willmott played a waiting game. Hudlestone and Whitgreave wrote the flat statement that

“My lord thanked him for his civility, but said, he was well satisfied with his present quarters, Yet withal entreated the Collonel he would keep the opportunity of his sister’s pass and retain his horses till he heard from him again. Thus they took leave of each other, and the Collonel returned home” (11)

The priority was now to find out what had happened to the King who had a higher priority to use the pass, if he needed to. The situation was laden with possibilities for escape or disasterous miscalculation: and miscalculation was likely. In an era before telecommunications, there was no way of knowing what had happened to the king.

Where is the King?

Willmott had no idea where Charles Stuart was or whether he had escaped, and the succinct passage which Hudleston and Whitgreave penned outlined what he decided.

“The next day being Friday, (5th September TF), his Lordship sent John Pendrel to learn what had become of the King, and what had passed at Whiteladies. John returning that same night, brought word that the King went the night before with his brother Richard towards Severn, designing to pass into Wales. Upon this information, my Lord resolved to accept of the proffered benefit of Mistris Lane’s pass, and accordingly next Morning being Saturday, he desired Mr Whitgreave to send to Colonel Lane for his horses. He dismissed John in the afternoon home to Whiteladies, and the Horses arriving at a certain place and time appointed, about midnight he took leave of Mr Whitgreave with all due expressions of Gratitude and kindness, and so departed to Bently Saturday”. (12)

That Saturday the fate of Charles Stuart and the English monarch hung by a thread.

The pass which allowed Jane Lane to go through the parliamentary cordon to Bristol with a manservant was a miraculous gift, which the King and his companions at Boscobel did not know about – the King and Careless were in the Royal Oak that day. John had told Willmott correctly that the King had left for Wales, but Willmott did not know – and could not know given that the King had not yet returned to Boscobel when John Penderell had gone back to survey the lie of the land – that he had not escaped. The decision to use the pass was therefore potentially fatal though from Willmott’s viewpoint sensible as he assumed the King would not need the pass,

However the others who had talked to Willmott were starting to worry. Hudlestone and Whitgreave that Saturday evening were deeply concerned – and more important, so was John Penderell at Whiteladies. Two entirely different scenarios were developing that Saturday evening. The party at Boscobel relaxed as they knew that on the Sabbath a puritan army would be at prayer not on patrol, and Charles enjoyed eating mutton. But John now made the decisive move which was the tipping point. far more than the Royal Oak. He concluded that he should go to Moseley to warn Willmot that the King was back and wanted to see him.

Hudleston and Whitgreave wrote that on the Saturday evening

“And now my Lord being gone, Mr Whitgreave and Mr Hudleston entertained themselves with thoughts and solicitudes concerning the king. They had heard nothing of him that day. The last intelligence brought by John from Whiteladies of Friday was that the King was gone the night before with Richard towards the Severn for Wales; but what success he had, or what was become of him since, they knew not. Wherefore anxious between hopes and fears for his Majesties safety, they resolved to go the next day becoming Sunday to Whiteladies”. (13)

Retiring to bed, their hopes and fears were to be amplified in a dramatic and unforeseen day with John Penderell taking centre stage.

Sunday 7th September, the Pieces of the Jigsaw Finally Match

The two men at Moseley woke before dawn to make their way to Whiteladies, but were forestalled by the dramatic appearance of a man walking to Moseley from Whiteladies, which they recounted as follows

“Walking together very early on the backside of the Orchard on Sunday morning: they were surprised to see John Pendrel unexpectedly coming towards them, and approaching them with a frightful countenance and much impetuosity asked where is my Lord? They told him His Lordship was gone.” (14)

The next stage of the conversation is best told in the more animated style of Father Hudleston than the version used for the 1688 combined account

“the poor man, much struck and dejected therewith said “Then wee are undone, for His Majestie is now forced back again to Whiteladies, weary, wett. enduring there hunger and cold all day long in the woods, no place to harbour him at night ….who hath sent me to my Lord to procure his speedy remove, not resolving which way to remove, nor see able to advise” (15)

He was wrong to say the King had gone back to Whiteladies but the tenor of the report was correct in seeing Charles physically and emotionally exhausted and having no prospect of escaping the trap the Roundheads had placed to confine him. John Penderell was sent to find Willmott as a last hope of finding a way out: and it is not clear whether Penderell knew about the pass Jane Lane had secured. Had Pendrell known the full story as Hudleston and Whitgreave did, he would have been distraught by the prospect that Willmott was about to use the pass and remove the one realistic prospect that the King could move beyond the Parliamentary cordon. But Hudleston and Whitgreave understand immediately that with the King returned. Willmott had to be prevented from using the pass and the Lanes had to transfer the pass to the King. This was the critical point of the escape, never given proper emphasis.

As far as the increasingly exhausted John Penderel was concerned, he was simply a messenger doing his duty of bringing Willmott back into contact with the king, whose morale depended on contacting his most trusted follower. The two Moseley activists knew there was far more than this at stake. The pass provided to Jane Lane must be transferred to the King, and as Colonel Lane did not know John Penderel they must all go to Bentley, which they did that morning. John was allowed to met his troublesome aristocratic patron, who was shocked to learn that the King had not escaped but was at Boscobel.

Concluding from a cross examination of Penderel that Boscobel was dangerously exposed to parliamentary searches, Willmott decided that Charles must be moved to Moseley Hall where he would meet him and plan their escape using Jane Lane’s pass. There was no question only one man could use it to escape, and this must be the King. Assuming that Charles could survive the day – and the Sabbath was a day puritan troops took as the biblical day of rest – They would meet that night. John was to go back to Boscobel to prime the King that he must come to Moseley that night where Willmott would meet him. Hudleston and Whitgreave went back to Moseley to make arrangements, which had to be of the strictest secrecy. Only those who were absolutely essential to knowing that the King and Willmott were to meet would know. If the parliamentary forces had any inkling what was taking place, the prospects of success, now rising, would disintegrate into disasterous failure. The stakes could not be higher.

(1) Matthews page 9

(2) Matthews p6

(3) Matthews p48

(4) Matthews p174

(5)Mattthews p50. Charles account given to Pepys merges Boscobel and Moseley into three paragraphs which have no historical value but define what become the King’s “lost weekend”

(6) Matthews p 101

(7) Hudlestone’s account pp100- 114. Thomas Whitgreaves pp115-122 of Matthews volume

(8) A Summary of Occurences.. taken from the express personal testminony of those two worthy Roman Catholics, Thomas Whitgreave .. and Mr John Hudleston priest LONDON printed by Henry Hills, printer to the Kings most Excellent Majesty, …1688. pp9-10

(9) Matthews p102 – 103

(10) Hudleston and Whitgreave p12

(11) “         “          “          “ P13

(12) “         “          “          p14

(13)”          “          “          p15

(14)”          “          “          p15-16 (15) Matthews – Hudleston’s original account – p105

Boscobel D – the Royal Oak.

When Richard Penderill took the King to Boscobel in the pre dawn of September 6th, he was far more than just a guide. The suffering Charles had experienced on the way to Madeley  as the blistering of his feet grew worse undermined his spirits. Even before reaching Evelith Mill on the way to  Madeley the King had thrown himself to the ground saying he could not go on. Richard had to skilfully encourage and cajole him to carry on which was a role that he was ideally placed to carry out in   his time with the monarch. It was not for nothing that the King called him “Trusty Dick”.  

But the set back at Madeley tested Richard’s powers of persuasion to the limit. Charles could see no way out of the trap he was in, with parliamentary troops sealing off the exits north south east and above all west of the forest, meaning  Charles’ hopes to move across the River Severn to Wales were in ruins. Boscobel had been recommended as a Catholic safe house, but how long this could this be a place of refuge?. Roundhead Troops were steadily combing the Forest of Brewood with ruthless efficiency and had already visited Whiteladies. 

Charles plan to walk to London was an act of desperation, he knew the staunchly  Catholic population of the Forest was not to be found elsewhere. Chances of finding supporters outside the Forest were remote.  Richard Penderill was unable to advise: the Catholics of the Forest rarely went outside their safe area, even priests staying close to home and safety. It was increasingly impossible for Charles to walk 150 miles or more. The state of his feet meant walking even a few miles in the Forest was agony. Charles had been well supported by the Foresters, but he was isolated and wanted to meet Willmot. He told Pepys that when  he arrived at Boscobel, he asked about the aristocrat as he knew the Lord remained in the locality, but in an age before modern telecommunications there was no news. And if he could not devise a Plan B, which would need more than Foresters to put together, then staying at Boscobel was only a stop gap. The obstacles to escape were formidable.

Fearing parliamentary forces had occurpied Boscobel, Charles  remained in the forest while Richard Penderill  went to see his elder brother William Penderill and his wife Joan to see if the coast was clear. Charles could never for a moment relax vigilance against the presence of Roundhead troops. But having received the all clear, he arrived in the safe house to  receive practical assistance.. Joan Penderill tended to him, finding him dry stockings, washing the dirt away and removing gravel that had damaged the skin of his feet, but having no alternative shoes could only put hot coals into the wet shoes he had been wearing to dry them. 

There was no news about Willmot; the King later told Pepys “Penderell’s brother told  me he had conducted him to a very honest gentleman’s house (honest = Catholic TF) one Mr Pitchcroft not far from Wolverhampton” (1) but his memory was confused.  This would have been John not William, 

and John was not at Boscobel that morning, but there was a piece of good news; Major William  Careless was hiding in the house, a veteran from the Battle of Worcester. When he was presented to Charles, both  men burst into tears.  Careless, a local from the forest of Brewood who may have been a tenant farmer of the Giffards of Chillington,  had been a strong supporter of the Royalist cause being a leading figure in the local community and a Roman Catholic. He became an officer in the Royal Army and as he knew the forest of Brewood intimately was made Governor of Tong Castle in 1644 a couple of miles from Whiteladies. While his name seems odd, at that time it meant not having a care. Not true in this case. He had already been a prisoner of war when the Royalists were outfought by the Roundheads in the First Civil War.

Charles knew his face as Careless had been one of the heavily outnumbered rearguard action which fought in the streets of Worcester at the end of the battle –  he may have seen the last man killed in the battle before escaping at the final moments. The bravery of the rearguard fighters, a heavily outnumbered group far smaller than the Roundhead cavalry they faced, allowed the King to flee through St Martins Gate and survive. Careless then made his own escape and had entered the safe house of Boscobel to use a Priests Hole the night before Charles arrived. Careless  had understood the strength of the parliamentary forces and  the  immediate options facing Charles, notably that Boscobel was not secure and the parliamentary troops were bound to return that very day. Nor was the forest a safe place for shelter, Charles had been very lucky in Spring Coppice, but relying on rain to keep Roundhead troopers away was no option at all. If the house and the forest were not hiding places, there had to be a third option. Careless came up with a proposal which was to become legendary.

He proposed that he and the King should spend the day in the branches of a tree.

The tree in question was an oak tree, as most trees were in the Forest of Brewood. This one was both close to the house and somewhat isolated from other trees, with a pathway for horseman going underneath its foliage. Countering these negative aspects and spotted by Careless was the way the tree had been pollarded, with the replacement branches having grown so thickly, the denseness of growth meant it was almost impossible to see into the foliage from below. However at the top of the tree it was possible to see for a great distance, allowing views of the movement of the parliamentary troops on horseback. Careless had climbed into the tree the previous day and having sampled the tree and the priest hole thought the tree provided clear advantages. Charles again showed his intelligence by accepting that the local man knew best and after a breakfast of  ploughman’s fare – cheese bread and beer –  agreed to go into the tree.

William Penderill supplied a wooden ladder to climb the tree, and carrying plain food and small (weak) beer for the day and two cushions to rest on, Charles and Careless climbed into  the Oak. Settling down in the fork of the branches, Careless realized that Charles was exhausted – he had been on the move for days and had had very little sleep since leaving Worcester, so the Major used cushions to cradle the Kings head in his lap and Charles had the first deep sleep since losing the battle.  Parliamentary troops were moving up the paths through the wood, and as Careless was starting to lose sensation in his thigh because of the weight of the King in his lap, but dared not speak in case the Roundheads heard his voice, pinched his sovereign till he woke and moved to allow Careless to recover.

Charles may have witnessed the most alarming incident of his time in the forest. A parliamentary trooper began to take an interest in the tree, only for Joan Penderill who was collecting sticks to divert his attention and save the day. This incident was a turning point, and after the Restoration Joan was awarded £100 by Royal Warrant to “Joan Penderill, the person who gathered sticks, and diverted the horsemen from the tree”. (2) 

That evening the two fugitives climbed out of the tree and Charles retired to the arbour in the garden till darkness fell. Charles sat drinking wine that Richard Penderill had bought for him in Wolverhampton, William Pendrel shaved him and trimmed his hair, and the decision was taken that he would use a priest hole to sleep that night, Careless presumably using the other. Spencer (3) implies that this decision was taken on Sunday  7th but clearly this had to be Saturday 6th, the King’s first night at Boscobel. This night Charles was fed with chicken by Joan Penderill and a pallet was put into a hiding place for him to sleep on though which priest hole is not clearly stated. (4) It  is said to have been the same priest hole that Lord Derby had used, and desperate though his situation was the fact he had fallen on his feet among supporters was now clear to him. His luck was turning. Certainly there were few places anywhere in the Midlands where both safe houses and supporters with unshakeable commitment to his cause could be found. 

A Pendrill Brings News

Charles would need all the determination to defend him that the Forest People could provide, when he received news from the world outside on how the hunt for him was shaping up. Humphrey Penderill, the miller who lived at Whiteladies, went to Shifnal to pay taxes due to the Parliamentary forces. 

While paying the tax collector, a Parliamentary Colonel came into the room to ask whether Whiteladies had been searched – it had – as news that Charles Stuart has been there had reached the Parliamentary High Command. The tax collector, a Captain Broadways pointed to Humphrey to say he might have inside knowledge – he lived there.

The Colonel interrogated the Miller, pointing out that the punishment for helping the king was death without mercy, but there was a £1000 reward for information leading to the exiled monarch. Humphrey remained unmoved, claiming Charles could not have been more than a passing figure at Whiteladies and the Cavalier party had long gone. However when he reported back at Boscobel that evening his news shocked Charles who had no idea so much money had been laid to his capture. This would buy a forester 200 head of cattle, riches for life, at a time a craftsman could only earn £25 per year. Had Charles known the full story he would have been even more unsettled. According to Spencer (5) the previous day someone who had been at Whiteladies when the Cavaliers arrived approach one of the brothers to ask if he knew where the king was as he had heard there was a prize of £1000 on his head. The brother warded off the enquiry by saying it was too late: they had not informed and so would be executed without mercy for helping the king to vanish into the woods  

Charles went to sleep more aware of the risks he faced, but he had a priceless ability to live in the present and not fret over impending danger. There is no sign that the stresses he had experienced in the flight from Worcester ever disturbed his sleep, even when he was confined to the claustrophobic quarters of a priest hole at the top of Boscobel House.   At least this night unlike the previous three nights he did not have to rush helter skelter across landscapes he could not even see, trying to find ways to escape his enemies. 

The following morning he relaxed after his devotions, read in the arbour in the garden, and asked  if he could have mutton for his dinner. He was completely unaware the poverty stricken Penderills had no access to sheep – William and Joan had last eaten meat at the christening of their eldest child several years before – and apart from the cost, if William went to buy a sheep questions would be asked about  who was this to feed. William went to steal a sheep from a local tenant farmer, William Staunton, aided by Careless who killed it with his dagger. The sheep was dissected, the hind leg presented to the King, who fried it claiming that he was the master cook while Careless was an apprentice. This provided amusement but only temporary relief. He still had no plan to escape. Luckily for him, the other brother able to spend time on working for the King, John Penderill, had gone with Lord Wilmot when he  left Whiteladies, and was investigating any plan which looked as though it could solve the problem of breaking through the parliamentary cordon. He had been making progress. 

  1. Matthews op cit p48. (Spencer has William asking the question op cit p137. William would not have known where John had taken Willmott as he had not gone outside the immediate area.
  2. Charles II escapes to Tong p13
  3. Charles Spencer op cit has the report from Humphrey Penderill on Saturday 6th (p139) but suggests (p142) the decision to put the King in a priest hole was taken after he had eaten mutton, which was on the Sunday as Spencer clearly states. The King was at Boscobel on two nights, Saturday and Sunday and had to have been in the priest hole both nights.
  4. Spencer op cit p143. As the English Heritage Guide Book says “The King awoke early the next morning walked a little in the ‘Gallery’ which had ‘the advantage of a window which surveyed the road from Tong to Brewood’ but no source is given in the Guide book for the quote. The two priest holes at Boscobel one adjacent from the main bedroom, where a trapdoor led to a space five feet two inches deep, six inches long and three feet four inches wide – too small to be comfortable to a man six feet two inches tall – while Spencer says the second one was higher up at the top of a staircase called ‘the gallery’ which had “unlike the cramped, windowless sleeping place below, this had the benefit of space and light . Presumably this had to be a sleeping place as well or it could not be a hiding place. It is likely this  is the sleeping place of the King.  
  5. Spencer op cit p140-141

Boscobel C – Before Boscobel – Madeley

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.

  1. Mattthews op cit p42
  2. Thomas Blount Boscobel, The History of His sacred Majesties most Miraculous Preservation, 1660, Page 24
  3. Blount op cit p27
  4. Charles Spencer TO CATCH A KING William Collins 2017 p112- 113
  5. 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.
  6. Blount op cit pp28-29
  7. Mattthews op cit p44
  8. Mattthews op cit pp44-46

Boscobel B – Before Boscobel – Whiteladies

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.

The King Makes Plans

Charles Stuart is often seen as an idle, pleasure loving monarch who neglected the work he had to do. However he was highly intelligent, which infuriated those who knew him best after the restoration when he did not exert himself and appeared to waste his talent. Lord Wilmot as his closest ally was always supportive, but this is not true of Wilmot’s son the second Earl of Rochester and a notorious libertine. John Wilmot shared many of the King’s vices but took politics seriously and after the king’s death wrote the following scathing verse on the man he knew too well:

“Here lies our sovereign lord the king
Whose word no man relies on
Who never did a foolish thing
Nor never did a wise one”      (1)

But this is not true at the time ordinary people were risking their lives for him when he was on the run from total defeat in 1651. His decisions were wise and the people of the forest could rely on his promises. He promised to reward them, and kept his promise. That he was in a position to keep his promises was due to his ability to take decisions based on cold analysis of the facts, not being overcome with depression though he was depressed, and showing a cool and accurate understanding the dangers he faced. He had dressed for battle as a commander – but now he stripped off fine clothing and regalia to blend in with the workers of the Forest. Secondly, he realized that the failure to win the battle deprived him of any chance of fighting back, so there was no military option left. This was less obvious. His colleagues, hearing some 3000 Scottish troops had arrived at Tong castle a few miles away, urged him to join them and regroup for battle. The king knew this was futile and later told Samuel Pepys

“There came in a country fellow that told us there were 3000 of our horse just hard by at Tong Castle… under David Leshley … Upon which there was some people of quality that were with me who were very earnest that I should goe to him and endeavour to gett into Scotland. Which I thought as absolutely impossible…. Men who had deserted me when they were in good order would never stand to me when they have been beaten”. (2)

 which showed that he had understood that he would have to make his way in association with illiterate foresters and their local knowledge, so he sent away his cavalrymen, who urged that they not know his plan for survival in case the parliamentarians caught and tortured them. This was wise – most of the Cavaliers were arrested by Parliamentary troopers in a few days. Charles was able to survive by trudging through rough forest land and relying on people who knew the terrain. This approach not only contradicted his training as an elite politician, but condemned him to walk in peasant shoes which cut into his skin. Monarchs did not walk outdoors: but the price of survival was to let his horse go with the rest of the cavaliers and walk with the Foresters. There was one exception to the order to his companions to leave and seek their own escape, which was Lord Wilmot. Charles asked him to meet him in London and fixed a place to meet, as Plan A was still to get to London. But Charles had not thought through what this meant, and he was to change the plan as it became clear he would have to walk around 150 miles with few supporters on the way – the unstinting support from Catholics he was finding in the Forest of Brewood was never going to be reproduced across the country. Eventually fortune would favour him by allowing him to ride a horse through the blockade the Roundheads had set up, but the stroke of luck which allowed this was inconceiveable at dawn on September 4th .

As dawn came up, his mind was focused on what the gipsies would call “cutting a horse out of his feathers”, removing his tell tale characteristics, notably his flowing locks of hair. When his disguise had been partially completed, William and Richard Penderill warned that as the sun rose, the Roundhead troopers based at Codsall three miles away would come straight for Whiteladies as a known Catholic outpost. The King must move out. They were right, troopers arrived to search Whiteladies half an hour after the King had left. Charles was finding out how lucky he had been to come to a Catholic outpost with loyal and far seeing supporters who knew the territory.

Richard Penderill led the King out of WhiteLadies to spend the daylight hours of 4th September in Spring Coppice, part of the Giffard estate where Charles could hide in dense undergrowth. According to Charles’s testimony to Pepys, Richard Penderill – Trusty Dick – joined him in Spring Coppice. He told Pepys that

“… I was noe sooner gone (being the next morning after the battle and then Broad Day) out of the house, with this country fellow … As I was in the wood I talked with the fellow about going towards London…. I did not find that he knew any men of quality in the way towards London…. I resolved of another way of making my escape”. (3)

Roundhead troops were now combing the forest meaning Charles had no margin of error. He had to remain totally concealed and could only move at night.

His new plan was to head west to cross the River Severn to go into Wales, the river being less than ten miles away. This first attempt to break out would take place in the darkness of the night of September 4th to 5th, after spending the day of September 4th sheltering in the Forest. He told Pepys that he had “immediately saw a troop of horse coming by” but the Roundheads stayed out of the wood because it rained heavily and the King believed this saved him from discovery. His luck was turning, but there was still very little to be optimistic about.

 The King would not return to White Ladies and other properties would become the focus of the story with Boscobel pre-eminent. But the time spent at Whiteladies was crucial, allowing the king to rest and be fed, and think through his options. The day spent in Spring Coppice in heavy rain was crucial to his rethinking of his position, with the untutored help of Richard Penderill. He could now consider what had happened and why his plans had gone so badly wrong.

Charles Stuart had based his whole strategy on being King of Scotland and crowned as such and the heir to the English throne as eldest son to Charles I, though as yet uncrowned. He did not think not being crowned was important and had assumed that as he marched through England the English would rally to his cause, but the 300 mile journey from Scotland proved this an illusion, By the time he arrived at Worcester, only 2000 English had come to serve under his flag, demoralizing and weakening the resolve of the 12,000 Scots troops already exhausted from marching and fully aware that Cromwell had the superiority in numbers and tacit support of the English, giving Cromwell not merely victory on the day but the sense that the Stuart cause was doomed”.

This alone rendered Charles plan to reach London impossible: even before he realized that there was a £1000 ransom on his head and this would make his arrest inevitable,a journey across hostile country would not end well. He knew the Welsh and Irish were far more sympathetic and as he began to conceive the idea of heading west, crossing the river Severn, to reach Royalists in the principality. It was a good plan, and as September 5th wore on he and Richard Penderell planned to walk to Madeley near the Severn where ‘Trusty Dick’ aimed to draw on the inside knowledge of a catholic sympathizer. When darkness fell they began the trek and the White Ladies episode came to an end.

Though Whiteladies did not have a priest hole to shelter a priest from a search party, and none of the glamour and drama which took place in other properties on the route Charles was to follow in escaping, the hours that the King spent in the house and coppice recovering and revising his escape plans were vital. And he met the Penderill brothers. Sadly the importance of Whiteladies was never recognized, so while Boscobel and Moseley Old Hall were preserved – albeit not always as Charles would have recognized, White Ladies was allowed to decay. It is now almost impossible to recreate why Whiteladies was the right place to go as the building the party went to has long since disappeared, as half timbered properties normally do, and the Priory has long been a roofless partly demolished remnant. But at the time it proved the ideal place to pause a desperate flight. The house built against the remnant, was occupied by Royalists who were Roman Catholics, and his advisors – Charles Giffard and Francis Yates – knew that their loyalty was unshakeable..

Hobbal Grange where the mother of the Penderells lived with some of her children is not preserved for posterity. The mill where Humphrey Penderell to earn a living vanished, and there is little that explains what happened to a casual visitor to explain the role of this little enclave in saving the monarchy. That history has allowed these places to decay is sad, and there should be a greater attempt made to celebrate the contribution White Ladies made to English national history. It was here that Charles Stuart transformed himself for a time into a forest worker, and by adapting to the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ vanished as a monarch in the interests of survival. More should be done to preserve the physical evidence that this transformation took place here in the days after the battle of Worcester.

  • John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, was a favourite of Charles II because of his father’s loyalty in the civil war, but did not spare the King in his satirical verse. Played by Johnny Depp while John Malkovitch played the King in the film The Libertine
  • William Matthews, Charles II’s Escape from Worcester, University of California Press 1966 p40
  • Matthews op cit p42

14 6 21

Boscobel A – The Story of the Escape

Charles Stuart, King of Scotland and heir to the English throne, famously sheltered in an Oak tree after defeat at the battle of Worcester on 3rd September 1651. The name Royal Oak is said to be the third most popular name for a pub in the country, yet the story of how Charles survived to become Charles II is skipped over in most history books. That the king returned to be restored as the “Merry Monarch” is taken for granted. It should not be. He survived by a near miracle.

After the battle he fled north into a forest he had never been in encountering people who were unknown to him. The King gambled on the loyalty and skill of forest people who were virtually peasants to save him being pursued by Cromwell’s Roundhead troops who sealed off the forest and went through it with a fine toothcomb. The King escaped by a near miracle, and even a short telling of the tale reveals that the days spent in the forest is a tale of near misses. It is not true that “Who dares wins”, but certainly true that “Fortune favours the Brave”. This is the story of a week that saved the monarchy.

The Battle and After

As Scottish King Charles led a Scots Army into England planning to fight Cromwell’s New Model Army in the Midlands and pick up English recruits on the way south. This plan did not work, as he failed to overcome nationalist hostility to the Scots. A particularly serious defeat on 25th August by Royalist troops led by the Earl of Derby at the battle of Bolton le Moors near Wigan lost the Royalists 1000 men and the remnant that limped into Worcester was only a demoralizing 30 strong. However on the way through Shropshire the Earl and Colonel Roscarrock were taken by a local Royalist landowner, Richard Snead (the name now spelt Sneyd) to Boscobel, the first time that the hunting lodge in the Forest of Brewood occurs in this story. Derby was treated by the caretakers, William Penderill and his wife Joan. They moved on to Worcester unaware that this would become the most famous site in the events following the battle.

By the time Derby arrived, the Royalist army was outnumbered 2 to 1 and the result was disasterous defeat. By late afternoon Charles and his closest allies fled the battle heading north. He hoped to reverse his direction and head to London, but steadily headed in the wrong direction. As dusk fell and without food Charles realized he had to reduce the now useless cavalier detatchment. 29 years later he told Samuel Pepys “Though I could not get them to stand with me against the enemy, I could not get ridd of them now I had a minde to it” (Matthews 1966 p38). As dusk fell he chose 60 odd to head away from the beaten Scots to go across country avoiding the Roundheads pursuing them. The chosen few included Lord Derby, Lord Wilmot, the Earl of Lauderdale, and the Duke of Buckingham all being in desperate need of food and rest.

Debating his options, he heard that there was a community of Catholic supporters in the Forest of Brewood some five miles north of Wolverhampton, and that he had men in his party who knew how to get to the Catholic safe houses in the Forest. Specifically Lord Derby suggested that he should head for Boscobel, which the King had never heard of. He was in luck. One of the party, the Earl of Shrewsbury, hearing Derby’s advice, realized that one of the party belonged to the family who owned Boscobel – Charles Gifford was cousin to John Gifford who had built Boscobel with a priest hole for a Catholic priest. Gifford persuaded the King to allow his servant Francis Yates to lead them into the Forest of Brewood. In the end Yates decided to take the party to White Ladies, a half timbered house built next to a stone priory that had been dissolved at the Reformation once occupied by nuns. The Party arrived at 3am on the morning after the battle, September 4th.

White Ladies

White Ladies was another safe house used by Catholics but without a priest hole – it was so deep in the Forest it was regarded as a place a Catholic priest could live, and could conduct burials according to church ritual. Crucially, it was the place where the King discovered the Penderill family.

The gatekeeper was George Penderill, a servant at White Ladies. The exhausted party could now consider their options. The dominant issue was how Charles could escape being captured by parliamentary troops, there being a detachment of Roundheads three miles away at Codsall.

Local knowledge was clearly vital and Roscarrock sent for William Penderill to come from Boscobel as he trusted him. Another brother, Richard, known as “trusty Dick” arrived from Hobbal Grange, the tenant farm where he lived. It was decided the King had to be disguised as a peasant, and his party with their horses must leave. The Roundhead search parties were bound to notice a party of men on horses, so the King must seek to escape on foot, posing as a woodman. The best known figure in England must be turned into an anonymous working man.

The Penderill brothers and Lord Wilmot worked on his disguise. Wilmot used a knife to cut his hair, making a complete mess so Richard Penderill produced shears and gave Charles the plain haircut of the working man.

It was a symbolic moment in the King’s history. Wilmot would remain Charles’ most trusted advisor but the King realized that he had to rely on the skills and knowledge of the people who lived and worked in the forest. Common people were his only hope of becoming invisible to the Roundheads who would be searching the forest when the sun came up. Charles Gifford brought the tallest Penderill brother, to donate spare clothes as the King was over six feet tall. With Charles donning a working man’s hat and using soot to darken his skin, he could hope to blend in with the people of the Forest.As the dawn broke, Charles sent his Cavalier companions to join the fleeing Scots troops, who had reached Tong Castle nearby. He arranged with Lord Wilmot to meet in London as Charles was at this time hoping to get to the Capital even though it meant walking about one hundred and fifty miles. This plan would soon be changed.

Relying on Local Skills

Charles and his new advisors were aware the Roundheads were bound to visit local buildings during the day so it was decided to hide him in the Forest. At dawn on the day after the battle (September 4th) Richard Penderill with three of his brothers – Humphrey, George and William – acting as lookouts took the King into Spring Coppice a dense part of the forest half a mile away. A little while later, a troop of parliamentary cavalry passed by.

Brewood Forest in the rain sheltered the King through the daylight hours. He relied on his new local supporters for everything. In 1680 he told Samuel Pepys he had spent the day without food, saying “In this wood I stayed all day without meate and drink, and by great good fortune it rained all the time”. (Matthews 1966 p42). In fact Margaret Yates, daughter of Gifford and wife to a second Francis Yates provided food, without which he would not have had strength for the night to come. After talking to Richard Penderill who had no knowledge of how to get to London but knew the King would have to go through parliamentary territory to get there, Charles decided as he later told Pepys “My mind changed as I lay in the wood, and I resolved of another way of makeing my escape, which was to get over the Severne into Whales”. (Matthew 1966 p42). And for this plan, Richard Penderell was vital.

Planning to cross the River Severn needed local knowledge, and Richard suggested going to Madeley to the West to visit a Catholic, Francis Wolfe, who would know how to cross the river. They walked in the dark to avoid parliamentary patrols, with the pain from crude peasant shoes making the King despair of ever escaping. With the King’s morale declining, Richard struggled to keep him moving. The King’s spirits dropped further when they arrived at Wolfe’s home to find the news was bad. All the river crossings were guarded by Roundhead troops. Wolfe’s family hid and fed the two fugitives through the hours of daylight. The King never forgot Wolfe, who had risked his own life taking the king into his house, and later received a special award from his grateful monarch on September 6th.

When they arrived back at Whiteladies after a nightmare walk in the dark, the King and Richard Penderill decided to go to Boscobel, where news of national developments might be available. They arrived at 3am on Saturday 6th, taking 4 hours to cover 9 miles of rough country with the King’s feet bleeding as his skin was too soft for rough treatment

The Oak Tree Saturday 6th

At Boscobel he found Major William Careless, a Royalist who had fought at Worcester, hiding in a priest hole. Both men faced the risk of discovery by parliamentarians, with the priest hole being no use to two men. It was at this point that the prospect of hiding in the nearby Oak Tree became an issue.

Charles was exhausted, demoralised, and wet through from wading through a river near Madeley – and though Joan Pendrell found him fresh stockings there was no change of shoes, which were dried by putting burnt coals in them. Crude peasant shoes made every step painful. Samuel Pepys recorded him saying after the Restoration he remembered the torment of “a pair of country shoes that made him so sore all over his feet, that he could barely stir”, but for Careless the immediate issue was surviving the day when parliamentary troops were flooding into the area and would certainly visit Boscobel.

Charles was again fortunate in his new companions, for Careless had been brought up in Brewood village and was once the governor of Tong castle, located some two miles from Boscobel. He knew the forest intimately and had spotted a great oak tree near to Boscobel which had been pollarded, growing thick and impenetrable branches. He had already climbed into the branches and was convinced they provided a safe and secure hiding place. Careless persuaded the King to take the risk. After a breakfast of the fare traditionally linked with a ploughman, cheese bread and beer, as the sun came up on the morning of the 6th, Careless and Charles headed for the tree.

With the aid of a ladder provided by William Pendrell, the two men climbed into the tree with two cushions and some food. The cushions formed a crude mattress, allowing Charles to go to sleep with his head in the lap of Careless, the first deep sleep he had had in three days.

The major’s predictions were proved right when a troop of parliamentary soldiers rode into the estate. As Boscobel was searched, a trooper began taking an interest in the tree. Joan Pendrell diverted his attention and drew him away. Of all the services the People of the Forest carried out for their monarch, defusing the moment of greatest peril reigns supreme.

Saturday 6th

If Saturday 6th saw the moment of greatest danger, it was also the day Charles began to fully realize his plight. Humphrey Pendrell went to Shifnal and being known to live at Whiteladies was quizzed by a parliamentary colonel about the missing monarch. A reminder there was a £1000 reward for information had no effect, and Humphrey returned to Boscobel to tell what had happened. Charles had had no idea how much betraying him would realise – it would buy 200 head of cattle and offer security for life for any Forrester who informed. None ever did, but Charles was not to know this and his anxiety increased.

Anxiety might have turned to despair had Charles realized what Lord Wilmot was doing. Despite being the most trusted ally and having remained in the area, Wilmot had no idea Charles was at Boscobel. In an era without phones and other telecoms, a few yards separation cut off communications – and Wilmot was staying at what is now Moseley Old Hall, several miles away and a catholic safe house where he could sleep in a priests hole. He had no idea what his monarch was doing and focused on protecting himself.

As his splendid horse would give him away immediately, he lodged the animal at the house of Colonel John Lane, a Royalist commander living at Bentley Hall near Walsall. By so doing he accidentally discovered a way to escape the West Midlands where great numbers of parliamentary troops controlled the roads in and out of the area north of Worcestershire where Charles had last been seen. Colonel Lane had a young sister, Jane Lane, with cousins living near Bristol, one of whom was pregnant. Jane had talked the Cromwellian commander in Stafford, one Captain Stone, into accepting she should travel to help her cousin give birth. He gave her a pass which allowed her and a manservant to pass through the military cordon and travel to Bristol.

It was immediately clear that the manservant could be an escaping cavalier, and Wilmot saw this as the opportunity his leader was looking for. The problem was how to get the news to him. At this moment John Pendrell arrived at Moseley Hall and was immediately sent back to Whiteladies to tell Charles. But when he arrived on the evening of 5th September he found Charles had left for Madeley and Wales. Returning to Moseley, he and Wilmot assumed Charles was now safe – so Wilmot was free to use the pass. Wilmot went to Bentley Hall to collect the pass and when Jane Lane was ready, would accompany her to Bristol and freedom.

John Pendrell returned to Whitladies where the lack of news worried him. When Richard’s wife advised him to go to Boscobel to see what was happening he agreed, finding the King had returned. John told him that Wilmot was at Moseley Hall and Charles sent him back again to liaise with Wilmot. Arriving at Moseley Hall he asked where Wilmot could be found. When the owner, Thomas Whitgreave, told him Wilmot had left to go to Bentley Hall to get the pass and leave, Penderel saw the disaster this foretold, saying “then we are all undone, for His Majesty is forced to return”.

Whitgreave and a Catholic priest staying at Moseley, Father Huddleston, understood this meant Wilmot must be told immediately. Although Pendrell was exhausted after the stress of recent days, he had to be taken to Bentley – and they had to go with him to vouch he was reliable. They made all speed to get to Bentley, and found to their relief Jane Lane and Henry Wilmot had not yet left. The Great Escape was still possible.

Whitgreave and Huddleston told Colonel Lane that their companion had to meet Lord Wilmot as he had an urgent message from “a very eminent person whose name could not be disclosed”. Lane took John Pendrell to meet Wilmot, giving him the news Charles was still at Boscobel. Wilmot interrogated him and concluded Boscobel was far too dangerous for the King to stay there. He must move to Moseley Hall, where they could meet and organize their escape,

John estimated Charles could be brought to the Hall by midnight or shortly afterward, This being accepted, he went back to Boscobel with the news, which raised drooping spirits. But there was a fly in the ointment. Charles was suffering with his feet so severely that he would not be able to walk the eight miles to Moseley Hall. Major Careless persuaded Humphrey Pendrell to loan his old Mill horse to carry the King. With this agreed, Charles was also persuaded not to take Careless – he was too well known locally as a Royalist – and to let all 5 Pendrell brothers and their brother in law, the second man named Francis Yates in the story, go with him on the short journey.

The six men formed up in defensive formation – two ahead, two behind and one each side – and moved off guarding the horse and the King. They were armed with clubs, pikestaffs or scythes, and some had pistols. Had they met Cromwell’s ironsides these would have been next to useless, but as they set out at 11pm the chances of the Parliamentary army being on patrol were virtually non existent. A greater danger was that the horse would fall and tip its royal cargo head over heels.

When the party was two miles from Moseley Hall, at Pendeford Mill, Charles dismounted as the safest way was a narrow path too difficult for the horse. Charles used a walking stick to cope with being partly lame. When close to the Hall at around two thirty on Monday 8th September he realized three of the party he would never see again, and turned back to say to William, Humphrey and George Pendrell “if ever I come into England by foul or fair means, I will remember you and let me see you whenever it shall so please God”. It was a promise he would keep.

Planning The Great Escape

In the dark of an autumn night, Thomas Whitgreave waited in the orchard of Moseley Hall for the arrival of his king. Four men came through the orchard. Whitgreave knew three of them, the two Pendrell brothers and Francis Yates their relative, but the fourth man he did not know though he was over six feet tall – at a time when the average male was a little over five feet six inches tall. He later said “When he came to the door, with the Pendrell’s guarding him, he was so habited, I could not tell which was he, though I knew all the rest”.

The completeness of his disguise emphasizes the King’s enormous good luck in finding his way to the People of the Forest, who had the skill and knowledge to make a monarch appear to be a worker in the woods. They had fed him and hid him and brought him to the safe house where he could rest and plan how to move away from the Forest. Now he had to escape the parliamentary troops forming an impenetrable cordon designed to prevent his escape.

The first essential was to keep his arrival at Moseley Hall totally secret. Whitgreave took no chances –all the servants bar a Catholic maid were sent away, and of the residents only himself, his Catholic mother Alice and the Catholic priest Huddleston knew that the King was in hiding. At 4am Charles went to sleep in the priests hole, and when he awoke spent most of the day talking to Alice. Meanwhile outside the hunt came ever closer.

One of the mysteries of the events in Staffordshire is why the parliamentary troops did not search Moseley Hall, which they must have known was a Catholic safe house. They searched both White Ladies and Boscobel, but though Whitgreave was Catholic, the house had chapel, a priest hole for concealment and a resident priest- when Huddleston was not at White Ladies – – the troops did not search the Hall. Twice that Monday, 8th September, troops passed by – in mid-day Cromwellian cavalry passed through Moseley village, but as they were not stopping John Pendrell did not tell the King. Later in the day troopers visited the Hall and knowing Whitgreave had fought at Naseby accused him of fighting at Worcester. A neighbour vouched that he had been sick and did not fight, and the troops went away.

That afternoon Wilmot sent word from Bentley that Colonel Lane would come that night with horses to take the King to Bentley and plan the escape. While waiting Charles visited the chapel in the roof space of the Hall, and then Huddleston and Whitgreave took the King to where Lane was waiting in the orchard with the horses. Charles arrived at Bentley before dawn on Tuesday 9th September where John Pendrell supplied a change of clothing – the grey suit of a manservant for the clothes of the working forester. When the exchange was completed, they met Colonel and Jane Lane in a field just before dawn. A roan gelding with a double saddle was ready, the arrangement being that the manservant rode in front of the mistress – which taxed Charles’s riding skills. Given the name of William Jackson, he now had to adapt to being a servant.

John Pendrell was now left behind, the last of the people of the forest to have taken part in the survival stage of the King’s escape, playing a role Father Huddleston later recorded as being the most important of any of the people of the forest. His role had been crucial, but all the Forest people played a vital part in the revival of the King’s fortunes. The journey to Bristol, where the passport’s value in penetrating parliamentary lines ended, and beyond to the coast where a boat could take Charles to France, would involve alarms and fresh danger. But the King had come through the worst of his ordeal, and the Royal Oak would now become the most famous tree in English history.

The story would be told in many ways, with the role of the People of the Forest fully recognized, and rewarded notably with a pension which is still paid. But while Charles’s story has been fully explored and recognized, the history of the Staffordshire folk who fulfilled crucial roles is less well known. The Pendrell family still maintain links and are fully conscious of the historical role their ancestors played, and it would be well worth writing the history of an unremarkable group of people who exhibited remarkable qualities and rose to an extraordinary challenge which changed history.

*Whitgreave and Huddleston published their account of what happened at Moseley in 1688 as A Summary of Occurences, long since out of print

William Matthews CHARLES II ESCAPE FROM WORCESTER University of California Press 1966

Charles Spencer, TO CATCH A KING, William Collins 2018 CHECK

Note the Forest Family Pendrell name is spelt variously, the family being illiterate there was no fixed spelling The spelling of Gifford, the family who owned Boscobel and live at Chillington, is now Giffard.