At the time of Charles II.'s escape from Worcester, Boscobel was inhabited by William Penderell, a forester in the service of Mr. Giffard, the owner of the domain. William dwelt there with his wife, his mother, and four brothers - Richard, Humphrey, John, and George. To the loyalty, secrecy, and courage of these seven persons the king owed his life; death would have been the certain punishment of their fidelity had it been discovered that they concealed the king; riches would have been theirs had they uttered one treacherous word, and they were only poor labouring men, in this instance equalling the disinterested loyalty that has immortalised the poor Highlanders who sheltered Prince Charles Edward.
The king fled from Worcester attended by Lords Derby and Wilmot and several other nobles, and arrived early next morning at Whiteladies, a house about three quarters of a mile from Boscobel House. At Whiteladies the king changed his dress for that of a peasant: "a pair of ordinary grey cloth breeches," he tells us, "a leathers doublet, and a green jerkin." He also cut off his lovelocks and made his hair very short. Here his companions left him, hoping to find, or fight, their way to Scotland, and begging Charles not to tell them what he purposed to do, lest they should be "forced to confess." The king went into the great wood near the house and stayed there all day without food, "and by great good fortune," his Majesty writes, or dictated, "it rained all the time, which hindered them (the militia), as I believe, from coming into the wood to search for men that might be fled thither. And one thing is remarkable enough, that those with whom I have since spoken, of them that joined with the horse upon the heath, did say that it rained little or nothing with them all the day, but only in the wood where I was."
After a vain expedition to reach the Severn, Charles returned to the Penderells, where he found Major Careless, an officer of his own army. The king at once consulted him as to what they had better do the next day.
"He told me," says the king, "that it would be very dangerous for me either to stay in that house or go into the wood (there being a great wood near Boscobel), that be knew but one way how to pass the next day, and that was to get up into a great oak, in a pretty plain place where we might see round about us; for the enemy would certainly search at the wood for people that had made their escape. Of which proposition I approving, we (that is to say Careless and I) went, and carried up with us some victuals for the whole day, viz., bread, cheese, small beer, and nothing else, and got up into a great oak that had been lopped some three or four years be. fore, and being grown out again very bushy and thick, could not be seen through, and here we stayed all the day.... Memorandum. That while we were in this tree we saw soldiers going up and down in the thicket of the wood, searching for persons escaped, we seeing them, now and then, peeping out of the wood."
The custom of wearing oak-apples on the 29th of May was, of course, originated by the escape of King Charles in the Oak; the 29th of May was fixed on, because it was the king's birthday, and the day on which he entered London as its king.
The Royal Oak, as the tree was called, was destroyed by the Royalists cutting relics from it, but another oak, raised from one of its acorns, still flourishes. Charles also planted two of its acorns in Hyde Park, on the north side of the Serpentine, but one tree only now remains.
The eager search for escaped Royalists may be easily explained by the fact that Cromwell sold his prisoners for slaves to the American planters, and thus every defeated soldier was worth money.
Meantime, while Charles was in the oak, one of the Penderells went to ask at Mr. Whitgrave's if Lord Wilmot were there He brought back word that he was, and that Mr. Whitgrave had a secure hiding place, and wished his Majesty to go there. Here Charles was concealed for a day or two, and then went to Colonel Lane's. The colonel's sister was going on a visit to a cousin who lived near Bristol, and offered to take Charles with her as her servant. He changed his garb of peasant for a kind of grey cloth servant's suit.
On arriving at her cousin's house Mrs. Lane called the butler, a loyalist named Pope, told him that her servant had been ill with ague, and asked him to be kind to him. The man obeyed her by taking great care of the unknown king and letting him dine alone, not with the servants. But the next day when Charles, meeting Mrs. Norton in the hall, took oft his hat to her, Pope recognized him; and the king thought it wise to take him into the secret. The man was faithful and most useful, and went to seek for a ship for Charles in Bristol to convey him to France, but without success. They (Mrs. Lane and her sovereign) then proceeded to the house of Mr. Frank Windham, a friend of the king, with whom he remained a fortnight, while his friends made every effort to get a ship for him, and the king went to a little village near Lyme for the purpose of embarking in a merchant vessel they had engaged, but the master failed to bring her for him. Cromwell's soldiers were indeed just then taking all the vessels for their expedition to Jersey. Mr. Windham, Mrs. Coningsby and the king then went to Burport, about four miles from Lyme, but, as they entered the town, they saw that the streets were full of Cromwell's soldiers. The king boldly resolved to go and take rooms at the best inn, and Mr. Windham and the lady attended him there But the inn yard was full of soldiers. Charles took the horses - he was still acting servant - and pretending to be a loutish fellow, led them through the middle of the soldiers to the stable, amidst their abuse and anger. The hostler "thought he had seen his face before," and the king had some trouble in turning his thoughts away from these unpleasant remembrances.
The master of the ship at Lyme refused to take him, thinking it was some dangerous employment he was hired for, and they had to return to Mr. Windham's; but it was no longer safe for Charles to remain there. His next refuge was at a widow lady's house, about four miles from Salisbury. He went to it just as it was dark, with Colonel Robert Philips, not intending to make himself known, but the lady, Mrs. Hyde, recognised him immediately; however, he had already resolved to tell her who he was; and after supper he saw her alone and confided in her. She told him she had a very safe place to hide him in, and advised him to take his horse and quit the house the next day, but to return about night, when she would have sent all her servants out of the house, and no one would be there but herself and her sister. The king and Colonel Philips accordingly took their horses the next morning, and rode to Stonehenge, where they spent a great part of the day, returning at night to Hale at the hour Mrs. Hyde had appointed. She took him to her secret chamber, which was at once comfortable and safe, and he remained there four or five days. Then Colonel Philips came to tell him that a ship had been provided for him at Shoreham, by Colonel Gunter. So about two o'clock in the morning he left his hiding-place by the back way, and with Colonel Philips met Colonel Gunter and Lord Wilmot together, some fourteen miles off on the road to Shoreham, and went to lodge for that night at Hambleton, a village seven miles from Portsmouth. Here they stayed for the night at a brother-in-law's of Colonel Gunter's, Charles still acting serving-man.
The next day the party proceeded to Brighton (Brighthelmstone) to meet the master of the ship. When they reached the inn they found Mansel, the merchant whose vessel they had hired, with the master. The latter looked fixedly at the serving-man in grey, and then taking the merchant on one side, told him he had not dealt fairly with him, though he had given him a very good price for carrying the gentleman over, for he said, "he is the king; I know him very well." The merchant assured him that he must be mistaken, but he answered, "I know him very well; he took my ship, together with some other fishing vessels, at Bright-helmstone in the year 1648." (This the king knew was true, but he had let them go again.)
"But," added the seaman, "be not troubled at that, for I think I do God and my country good service by preserving the king, and by the grace of God I will venture my life and all for him, and set him safely on shore, if I can, in France." The merchant hastened to repeat this to Charles, who found himself again under the necessity of revealing himself, but he delayed doing so; kept the merchant to supper with them, and sat up all night drinking beer and smoking with him.
Another danger arose. As the king stood after supper by the fireside alone (his friends had gone into another room), leaning his hand upon a chair, the landlord came in, and as soon as he saw that Charles was alone, he suddenly bent down and kissed the hand on the chair, saying, "God bless you wheresoever you go; I do not doubt before I die to be a lord and my wife a lady." The king laughed, and went away to the next room, not contradicting him, and the man proved very faithful.
The next morning at four o'clock they started for Shoreham, taking the master with them. The vessel, one of only sixty tons, lay dry, as it was low water, and the king and Lord Wilmot got on board her by means of a ladder, and vent to lie down in the cabin, awaiting the tide floating the ship.
Charles had scarcely lain down, before the master came into the cabin, fell on his knees and kissed his hand, telling him that he knew him very well, and would venture life and all that he had to set him down safe in France. At high water they left the port, but the master being laden with coal for Poole, stood towards the Isle of Wight. Then he came to Charles and asked him to induce the men to land himself and friend in France, to cover him (the master) from any suspicion. The king readily complied. He spoke to the crew of four men and a boy, told them that he and his friend were two merchants who had had misfortunes and were a little in debt, that they had money owing to them at Rouen, and that they were afraid of being arrested in England; that if they could persuade the master to take them to Dieppe, they would oblige them, and with that Charles gave them twenty shillings for drink. They agreed to second him if he would propose it to the master. Of course the captain yielded to these joint entreaties, and, about five o'clock, as they were in sight of the Isle of Wight, they stood over direct to the coast of France, with a fair wind, and the next morning saw the coast. But the tide failed and the wind veered, and the vessel was compelled to anchor two miles off the shore.
Then suddenly a vessel appeared to leeward that all took for an Ostend one, and as war was waging between France and Spain, the king thought it likely that they might be taken, plundered, and sent back to England. He proposed therefore that they should go ashore in a little cockboat. Wilmot agreed to this, and they went on shore at once, at Fechamp, where they stayed the day to provide horses for Rouen.
One is glad to hear that no sooner was the fugitive monarch landed, than the wind turned favourably for the return of the little vessel to Poole, so that it was never known that she had been upon the coast of France.
Charles stayed one day at Rouen, to get proper clothes, and then proceeded to Paris, and was met outside the city by his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria.
We have thus abridged from the Boscobel Tracts Charles II.'s own account of his perilous escape from England, which certainly may well account for the assurance he gave the Duke of York, "that he did not wish to set out on his travels again."