The much celebrated escape of the heir to the throne, Charles Stuart, following total defeat in the Battle of Worcester (September 3rd 1651) is a turning point in the history of the monarchy. Some parts of the story are folklore, and the Royal Oak in which the King sheltered at Boscobel has become the name of Royal Navy warships and hundreds of pubs. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says the escape has become legendary, “not least because of the frequency with which he retold it”. The problem with the King’s accounts is that he told the story as a miracle, and by the time Samuel Pepys took in down in shorthand in 1680 some of what the King recalled was fantasy and imagination.
Pepys could have compared what Charles told him with the flood of ephemera, pamphlets and catchpenny publications which appeared after the restoration in 1660. Much proved to be a mish-mash of speculation and rumour but some serious research was undertaken. The Royal gifts to principals like the Penderill brothers appear to have been the occasion for talking through and recording why they were recieving rewards from the King. However, Pepys never went beyond talking to Charles. His notes were not published till 1766. Of these William Matthews wrote exactly 200 years later “Since then (Sir David) Dalrymple’s not altogether accurate text has frequently been republished….” (Charles II’S Escape from Worcester – University of California Press 1966 p10).
Matthews also publishes several other accounts of events in the Forest of Brewood one of which is anonymous. The outcome is that we have no completely accurate account of these events. I am currently seeking to find out how innaccurate Dalrymple’s account is – by comparing a facsimile (Gale ECCO print editions no date, original from the British Library) with the version given by Matthews himself. It is not possible to believe an accurate account of how Charles escaped via the Forest can be achieved without a much wider investigation that has happened so far.
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