The escape of Charles II from England in 1651 started with the Royalist defeat at Battle of Worcester. He had many adventures, most famously hiding up an oak tree in Boscobel Wood, before setting sail for France in October. The story is remembered in the traditions of Oak Apple Day, on 29 May.
The ‘Faithful City’ of Worcester, due to its loyalty to the King, was one of the most harshly fought over towns in England. Parliamentary control was only interrupted for 12 days when Charles II arrived with his largely Scottish army, but he was then defeated at the Battle of Worcester. Magnificent views of what would have been the battlefields can be seen from the cathedral tower, where you can imagine the scenes that influenced Charles II decisions and made the battle a turning point in British history.
Charles fled the city of Worcester in the company of Lord Wilmot, Lord Derby, Charles Gifford and many others. He headed into Shropshire, which he regarded as a Catholic stronghold with many hiding places. It was felt that it would be safer for the King to travel almost alone, so he left the main group and continued on towards Stourbridge, passing through the parishes of Chaddesley Corbett, Hagley and Pedmore.
Charles arrived at the priory in the early hours of 4th September. He was met by the Penderell brothers, who disguised the King as a woodsman and cut his long hair. Charles hid in Spring Coppice, recalling ‘In this wood I stayed all day without meat or drink and by great fortune it rained all the time which hindered them, as I believe, from coming into the wood to search’. It was nearby that he famously hid in ‘the royal oak’.
Charles left Boscobel for Moseley Old Hall, where he was given a meal and dry clothes, and the Whitgreave family's priest, Father John Huddleston, bathed the King's bruised and bleeding feet. After hiding in the Moseley priesthole, he left for Bentley Hall where he met Jane Lane. She had a permit from the military to travel to Somerset. Charles travelled as her servant, and when the party reached Wootton Wawen they rode with ‘great coolness’ through the troops gathered outside the inn.
The party continued through Stratford upon Avon, and on to Long Marston where they spent the night of 10 September at the house of John Tomes. In keeping with his guise as a servant, the cook Charles to work in the kitchen winding up the jack used to roast meat in the fireplace. Charles was very clumsy, but said that as the son of poor people, he so rarely ate meat that he did not know how to use a roasting jack. Given the state of the economy at the time, his story was accepted and he was not identified.
Charles arrived at Abbot's Leigh, late on the afternoon of 12 September. The Nortons were unaware of the King's identity during his three day stay, but the butler, Pope, had formerly been a Royalist soldier and immediately recognised the King. Pope also attempted to find a ship for the King at the port of Bristol, but discovered none would be sailing to France for another month.
On the morning of 16 September Charles set out and reached the Manor House, Castle Cary. The next day they reached Trent, the home of Colonel Francis Wyndham. The King hid there while Wyndham attempted to find a ship. It was while he was at Trent that the King witnessed local villagers celebrating, believing that he had been killed at Worcester. It was also from here that Jane Lane returned home.
After a second stay at Trent House, and some close encounters with parliamentary troops, it was agreed to try the Sussex coast for a ship. Arrangements were finally made with a Captain Nicholas Tattersell to carry the King and Wilmot from Shoreham in a coal boat called Surprise for £80. They rode to the village of Bramber, which to their horror was filled with soldiers. Their only course of action was to boldly ride through the village in order to avoid suspicion.
The King then rested briefly in The George Inn, Brighthelmstone (Brighton) before setting out for the boat. Around 2am on 15 October, the King and Lord Wilmot boarded the Surprise, which sailed at high tide 5 hours later. Two hours after the ship had set sail, a troop of cavalry arrived in Shoreham to arrest the King, having been given orders to search for ‘a tall, black haired man, six feet two inches in height’. They landed in France at Fécamp, near Le Havre, on the morning of 16 October 1651.