Charles II hides in an Oak tree
After the disastrous battle of Worcester on September 3 1651 - a disaster from the Royalist viewpoint, a major victory from the Roundhead - the 21 year old Charles II fled for his life. A bounty of £1000 was placed on his head by Cromwell, a massive fortune in those times.
Had Charles II been captured it is highly likely that he would have met the same end as Charles I , tried for treason - his invasion with a Scottish army reasonable justification for the charge as similar actions counted against his father before him. Lord Derby, one of the party that escorted the King from the battle zone, was captured shortly after leaving Charles, and eventually executed.
One of Charles's attendants knew of a likely hiding place, where the owners and servants as Catholics would be loyal to the crown, and hate Cromwell . This was Boscobel House near Telford in Shropshire, around 40 miles' hard riding from the battlefield. That night the fugitive arrived at what had been Whiteladies Priory, where he was given refreshments. The servants at the house cut his hair short and rubbed his already swarthy face with soot to disguise him as of lowly estate. He was still, however, a very distinctive figure, well over six feet tall.
On September 4 the King and Richard Pendrell, a servant at Whiteladies, tried to make it across the Severn, but found their way barred by pickets at every crossing-point, so they were forced to find shelter away from the river at Madeley, where the King slept in a barn.
The priest holes and loyal friends at Boscobel seemed the best sanctuary in the short term, so on September 6 Charles and Richard Pendrell returned there, where they encountered a fleeing Royalist officer, Charles Carlis or Careless according to the variable spelling of the day (and supposedly with his surname further changed to Carlos i.e. Spanish for Charles by the King on his Restoration), whose rank is given in various descriptions as Captain, Major, or Colonel. Carlis advised the young King to hide in one of the oak trees in the woods around Boscobel House during the day, as the pursuers were bound to check the house.
Thus the King and the Colonel climbed into a mighty oak that was particularly densely leafed, having been lopped the previous year. They were supplied with small beer to quench their thirst, and some bread and cheese to stave off hunger.
A Roundhead search party passed through the woods, and one soldier went right beneath them without noticing their presence - it is one of the great what-ifs of our history - what if that soldier had looked about him with more diligence? When the searchers departed the pair of fugitives climbed down, and that night Charles slept in one of Boscobel's priest holes.
Charles's escape dragged on for six weeks, during which he had to blend in as a commoner, and a poor one at that. He is said to have learned much from his experience, losing the haughtiness and untouchability of the Stuarts in the process. Perhaps contemporary members of our governing elite could learn from similar lessons. On his restoration Charles rewarded the Pendrells with pensions for life and in perpetuity, such was his gratitude, and their descendants benefit from these to this day.
The Royal Oak was destroyed by the thousands of visitors who chipped off bark, branches and chunks of trunk as souvenirs between the Restoration and the end of the century. But a tree - Son of Royal Oak - grown from one of its acorns grows in the spot still, and as this has suffered damage a third generation has been planted there now to maintain the line.
internal link Boscobel House
More famous dates here
12381 views since 22nd February 2007
From cathy blackburn on 18th August 2013
A friend of mine says that Charles 11 hid in an Oak at Evesham as well.I have explained he has got this wrong,it is Boscobel.Dont think he hid in 2 oaks!Please confirm.Many thanks
On this day: