King Charles the Martyr, 1643-1649

By Esmé Wingfield-Stratford | Go to book overview

I
CONFIDENCE TRICK

ON the 27th of April, 1646, three men rode out of Oxford. They were Sir John Ashburnham, treasurer and paymaster of the army, Dr Michael Hudson, one of the royal chaplains, and a third, who passed as Ashburnham's servant, and to whom the Governor, Sir John Glenham, bade an ostentatiously condescending "Farewell, Harry!" For "Harry" was, in fact, the King himself, with his beard closely trimmed, setting forth on the three years' pilgrimage that was to end on the scaffold. He had looked his last on power and freedom. Henceforth his lot was to be one compared with which that of the humblest of his subjects would be enviable; for he was to be a helpless captive, bandied about from one set of enemies to another, and with the jaws of a foreseen doom closing gradually upon him.

Even now it does not seem as if the King's destination had been irrevocably decided. It was before all things necessary to get out of Oxford while the going was possible. But whither? To take refuge with the Scottish army seemed the obvious, if not the only choice, but almost any alternative might have been accounted preferable. For the King had now few illusions about the game the Scots were playing with him. He must have more than suspected now that he was walking into a trap. And even if, faute de mieux, he decided to take the plunge, to make contact with them at all would be a formidable undertaking. Their army was besieging his garrison at Newark, and to get from Oxford to Newark, six months previously, Rupert with his eighty sabres had had to fight a series of battles. Yet what alternative was there but to try and trust for the best?

The King had chosen his companions well. Rupert himself had been eager to share the adventure, but the King had at once perceived that his towering form and well-known features would have given them away to the first Roundhead patrol they encountered. Hudson, an Oxford don who had served as tutor to the

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