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.
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.
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...
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
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.
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.
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.