Charles II Hides in the Boscobel Oak

By Cavendish, Richard | History Today, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Charles II Hides in the Boscobel Oak


Cavendish, Richard, History Today


September 6th, 1651

AT WORCESTER on Wednesday, September 3rd, the Roundheads under Oliver Cromwell routed Charles II and his Scots. The young king -- he was twenty-one -- slipped away on horseback with a few trusted companions. About dawn on the 4th they reached White Ladies, a house owned by the Giffard family, east of Tong in Shropshire, 40 miles from Worcester. They were let in by a servant named George Penderel. He and his four staunch brothers were to be key figures in the events of the next few days. As Roman Catholic recusants they had much experience in concealing people and pulling the wool over authority's eyes. Three of them, including Richard Penderel, were sent for at once.

Charles decided to make for London, on foot and disguised as a simple woodman. He changed into a pair of rough breeches, coarse shirt and leather doublet, stockings and ill-fitting shoes, and was given a stained white hat and a billhook. The house servants cut his hair short and dirtied his face with soot. His companions rode away and he and Richard Penderel hid damply in a wood for the day. As the King remembered the adventure for the benefit of Samuel Pepys years afterwards, while the two were talking and feeling painfully hungry, Charles decided not to go to London, but to head for the Severn and Wales, hoping to reach Swansea or some other port where he could find a boat to France. Meanwhile he took lessons from Richard Penderel in how to talk like a local and walk with a local's gait. He was a good mimic and the Worcestershire accent proved no problem, but the gait was.

Presently they set off for a house near Madeley, nine miles to the west, owned by a Catholic named Wolfe, but on the way were challenged by a suspicious miller. They ran away down the lane and hid behind a hedge for half an hour. When they reached Wolfe's house in the early hours of the 5th, it was to discover that the hunt was up and the Severn crossings were all being watched. Charles spent the day hiding in the barn and that night they walked back eastwards again to Boscobel House, another Giffard family house, where the eldest of the Penderels, William, was in charge.

They arrived at Boscobel around 3am on the Saturday to find one of Charles's officers from Worcester, Colonel Carlis, already hiding in the house. At daybreak Charles and Carlis climbed into a great oak tree in the wood 150 yards or so from the house, where they stayed all day. …

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