Charles II - Jacob Abbott

The Royal Oak Of Boscobel

It was in June, 1650, about eighteen months after the decapitation of his father, that Charles was ready to set out on his expedition to attempt the recovery of his rights to the English throne. He was but twenty years of age. He took with him no army, no supplies, no resources. He had a small number of attendants and followers, personally interested themselves in his success, and animated also, probably, by some degree of disinterested attachment to him. It was, however, on the whole, a desperate enterprise. Queen Henrietta, in her retirement at the Louvre, felt very anxious about the result of it. Charles himself, too, notwithstanding his own buoyant and sanguine temperament, and the natural confidence and hope pertaining to his years, must have felt many forebodings. But his condition on the Continent was getting every month more and more destitute and forlorn. He was a mere guest wherever he went, and destitute of means as he was, he found himself continually sinking in public consideration. Money as well as rank is very essentially necessary to make a relative a welcome guest, for any long time, in aristocratic circles. Charles concluded, therefore, that, all things considered, it was best for him to make a desperate effort to recover his kingdoms.

His kingdoms were three, England, Scotland, and Ireland. Ireland was a conquered kingdom. Scotland, like England, had descended to him from his ancestors; for his grandfather, James VI., was king of Scotland, and being on his mother's side a descendant of an English king, he was, of course, one of the heirs of the English crown; and on the failure of the other heirs, he succeeded to that crown, retaining still his own. Thus both kingdoms descended to Charles.

It was only the English kingdom that had really rebelled against, and put to death King Charles's father. There had been a great deal of difficulty in Scotland, it is true, and the republican spirit had spread quite extensively in that country. Still, affairs had not proceeded to such extremities there. The Scotch had, in some degree, joined with the English in resisting Charles the First, but it was not their wish to throw off the royal authority altogether. They abhorred episcopacy in the Church, but were well enough contented with monarchy in the state. Accordingly, soon after the death of the father, they had opened negotiations with the son, and had manifested their willingness to acknowledge him as their king, on certain conditions which they undertook to prescribe to him. It is very hard for a king to hold his scepter on conditions prescribed by his people. Charles tried every possible means to avoid submitting to this necessity. He found, however, that the only possible avenue of access to England was by first getting some sort of possession of Scotland; and so, signifying his willingness to comply with the Scotch demands, he set sail from Holland with his court, moved northward with his little squadron over the waters of the German Ocean, and at length made port in the Frith of Cromarty, in the north of Scotland.

The Scotch government, having but little faith in the royal word of such a youth as Charles, would not allow him to land until he had formally signed their covenant, by which he bound himself to the conditions which they had thought it necessary to impose. He then landed. But he found his situation very far from such as comported with his ideas of royal authority and state. Charles was a gay, dissipated, reckless young man. The men whom he had to deal with were stern, sedate, and rigid religionists. They were scandalized at the looseness and irregularity of his character and manners. He was vexed and tormented by what he considered their ascetic bigotry, by the restraints which they were disposed to put upon his conduct, and the limits with which they insisted on bounding his authority. Long negotiations and debates ensued, each party becoming more and more irritated against the other. At last, on one occasion, Charles lost his patience entirely, and made his escape into the mountains, in hopes to raise an army there among the clans of wild Highlanders, who, accustomed from infancy to the most implicit obedience to their chieftains, are always very loyal to their king. The Scotch nobles, however, not wishing to drive him to extremities, sent for him to come back, and both parties becoming after this somewhat more considerate and accommodating, they at length came to an agreement, and proceeding together to Scone, a village some miles north of Edinburgh, they crowned Charles King of Scotland in a venerable abbey there, the ancient place of coronation for all the monarchs of the Scottish line.

In the mean time, Cromwell, who was at the head of the republican government of England, knowing very well that Charles's plan would be to march into England as soon as he could mature his arrangements for such an enterprise, determined to anticipate this design by declaring war himself against Scotland, and marching an army there.

Charles felt comparatively little interest in what became of Scotland. His aim was England. He knew, or supposed that there was a very large portion of the English people who secretly favored his cause, and he believed that if he could once cross the frontier, even with a small army, these his secret friends would all rise at once and flock to his standard. Still he attempted for a time to resist Cromwell in Scotland, but without success. Cromwell penetrated to the heart of the country, and actually passed the army of Charles. In these circumstances, Charles resolved to leave Scotland to its fate, and boldly to cross the English frontier, to see what he could do by raising his standard in his southern kingdom. The army acceded to this plan with acclamations. The king accordingly put his forces in motion, crossed the frontier, issued his manifestoes, and sent around couriers and heralds, announcing to the whole population that their king had come, and summoning all his subjects to arm themselves and hasten to his aid. This was in the summer of 1651, the year after his landing in Scotland.

It certainly was a very bold and almost desperate measure, and the reader, whether Monarchist or Republican, can hardly help wishing the young adventurer success. The romantic enterprise was, however, destined to fail. The people of England were not yet prepared to return to royalty. Some few of the ancient noble families and country gentlemen adhered to the king's cause, but they came in to join his ranks very slowly. Those who were in favor of the king were called Cavaliers. The other party were called Roundheads. Queen Henrietta Maria had given them the name, on account of their manner of wearing their hair, cut short and close to their heads all around, while the gay Cavaliers cultivated their locks, which hung in long curls down upon their shoulders. The Cavaliers, it turned out, were few, while the Roundheads filled the land.

It was, however, impossible for Charles to retreat, since Cromwell was behind him; for Cromwell, as soon as he found that his enemy had actually gone into England, paused only long enough to recover from his surprise, and then made all haste to follow him. The two armies thus moved down through the very heart of England, carrying every where, as they went, universal terror, confusion, and dismay. The whole country was thrown into extreme excitement. Every body was called upon to take sides, and thousands were perplexed and undecided which side to take. Families were divided, brothers separated, fathers and sons were ready to fight each other in their insane zeal, the latter for the Parliament, the former for the king. The whole country was filled with rumors, messengers, parties of soldiers going to and fro, and troops of horsemen, with robberies, plunderings, murders, and other deeds of violence without number, and all the other elements of confusion and misery which arouse the whole population of a country to terror and distress, and mar the very face of nature in time of civil war. What dreadful struggles man will make to gain the pleasure of ruling his fellow man!



Along the frontiers of England and Wales there flows the beautiful River Severn, which widens majestically at its mouth, and passes by the Bristol Channel to the sea. One of the largest towns upon this river is Worcester. It was in those days strongly fortified. It stands on the eastern side of the river, with a great bridge opposite one of the gates leading across the Severn in the direction toward Wales. There are other bridges on the stream, both above and below, and many towns and villages in the vicinity, the whole presenting, at ordinary times, a delightful scene of industry and peace.

Worcester is, perhaps, three hundred miles from the frontiers of Scotland, on the way to London, though somewhat to the westward of the direct route. Charles's destination was the capital. He pushed on, notwithstanding the difficulties and disappointments which embarrassed his march, until at last, when he reached the banks of the Severn, he found he could go no further. His troops and his officers were wearied, faint, and discouraged. His hopes had not been realized, and while it was obviously dangerous to stop, it seemed still more dangerous to go on. However, as the authorities of Worcester were disposed to take sides with the king, Charles determined to stop there for a little time, at all events, to refresh his army, and consider what to do.

He was received in the city with all due honors. He was proclaimed king on the following day, with great parade and loud acclamations. He established a camp in the neighborhood of the city. He issued great proclamations, calling upon all the people of the surrounding country to come and espouse his cause. He established his court, organized his privy council, and, in a word, perfected, on a somewhat humble scale it is true, all the arrangements proper to the condition of a monarch in his capital. He began, perhaps, in fact, to imagine himself really a king. If he did so, however, the illusion was soon dispelled. In one short week Cromwell's army came on, filling all the avenues of approach to the city, and exhibiting a force far too great, apparently, either for Charles to meet in battle, or to defend himself from in a siege.

Charles's forces fought several preliminary battles and skirmishes in resisting the attempts of Cromwell's columns to get possession of the bridges and fords by which they were to cross the river. These contests resulted always in the same way. The detachments which Charles had sent forward to defend these points were one after another driven in, while Charles, with his council of war around him, watched from the top of the tower of a church within the city this gradual and irresistible advance of his determined enemy, with an anxiety which gradually deepened into dismay.

The king, finding his situation now desperate, determined to make one final attempt to retrieve his fallen fortunes. He formed his troops in array, and marched out to give the advancing army battle. He put himself at the head of a troop of Highlanders, and fought in person with the courage and recklessness of despair. The officers knew full well that it was a question of victory or death; for if they did not conquer, they must die, either by wounds on the field of battle, or else, if taken prisoners, by being hung as traitors, or beheaded in the Tower. All possibility of escape, entrapped and surrounded as they were in the very heart of the country, hundreds of miles from the frontiers, seemed utterly hopeless. They fought, therefore, with reckless and desperate fury, but all was in vain. They were repulsed and driven in on all sides, and the soldiers fled at length, carrying the officers with them, in tumult and disorder, back through the gates into the city.

An army flying in confusion to seek refuge in a city can not shut the gates behind them against their pursuers. In fact, in such a scene of terror and dismay, there is no order, no obedience, no composure. At the gate where Charles endeavored to get back into the city, he found the way choked up by a heavy ammunition cart which had been entangled there, one of the oxen that had been drawing it being killed. The throngs of men and horsemen were stopped by this disaster. The king dismounted, abandoned his horse, and made his way through and over the obstruction as he could. When he got into the city, he found all in confusion there. His men were throwing away their arms, and pressing onward in their flight. He lightened his own burdens by laying aside the heaviest of his armor, procured another horse, and rode up and down among his men, urging and entreating them to form again and face the enemy. He plead the justice of his cause, their duty to be faithful to their rightful sovereign, and every other argument which was capable of being expressed in the shouts and vociferations which, in such a scene, constitute the only kind of communication possible with panic stricken men; and when he found that all was in vain he said, in despair, that he would rather they would shoot him on the spot than let him live to witness such an abandonment of his cause by the only friends and followers that had been left to him.

The powerful influence which these expostulations would otherwise have had, was lost and overborne in the torrent of confusion and terror which was spreading through all the streets of the city. The army of Cromwell forced their passage in, and fought their way from street to street, wherever they found any remaining resistance. Some of the king's troops were hemmed up in corners, and cut to pieces. Others, somewhat more fortunate, sought protection in towers and bastions, where they could make some sort of conditions with their victorious enemy before surrendering. Charles himself, finding that all was lost, made his escape at last from the city, at six o'clock in the evening, at the head of a troop of horse. He could not, however, endure the thought of giving up the contest, after all. Again and again, as he slowly retreated, he stopped to face about, and to urge his men to consent to turn back again and encounter the enemy. Their last halt was upon a bridge half a mile from the city. Here the king held a consultation with the few remaining counselors and officers that were with him, surveying, with them, the routed and flying bodies of men, who were now throwing away their arms and dispersing in all directions, in a state of hopeless disorganization and despair. The king saw plainly that his cause was irretrievably ruined, and they all agreed that nothing now remained for them but to make their escape back to Scotland, if by any possibility that could now be done.

But how should they accomplish this end? To follow the multitude of defeated soldiers would be to share the certain capture and death which awaited them, and they were themselves all strangers to the country. To go on inquiring all the way would only expose them to equally certain discovery and capture. The first thing, however, obviously was to get away from the crowd. Charles and his attendants, therefore, turned aside from the high road—there were with the king fifty or sixty officers and noblemen, all mounted men—and moved along in such secluded by-paths as they could find. The king wished to diminish even this number of followers, but he could not get any of them to leave him. He complained afterward, in the account which he gave of these adventures, that, though they would not fight for him when battle was to be given, he could not get rid of them when the time came for flight.

There was a servant of one of the gentlemen in the company who pretended to know the way, and he accordingly undertook to guide the party; but as soon as it became dark he got confused and lost, and did not know what to do. They contrived, however, to get another guide. They went ten miles, attracting no particular attention, for at such a time of civil war a country is full of parties of men, armed and unarmed, going to and fro, who are allowed generally to move without molestation, as the inhabitants are only anxious to have as little as possible to say to them, that they may the sooner be gone. The royal party assumed the air and manner of one of these bands as long as daylight lasted, and when that was gone they went more securely and at their ease. After proceeding ten miles, they stopped at an obscure inn, where they took some drink and a little bread, and then resumed their journey, consulting with one another as they went as to what it was best to do.

About ten or twelve miles further on there was a somewhat wild and sequestered region, in which there were two very secluded dwellings, about half a mile from each other. One of these residences was named Boscobel. The name had been given to it by a guest of the proprietor, at an entertainment which the latter had given, from the Italian words bosco bello, which mean beautiful grove. It was in or near a wood, and away from all high roads, having been built, probably, like many other of the dwellings reared in those days, as a place of retreat. In the preceding reigns of Charles and Elizabeth, the Catholics, who were called popish recusants, on account of their refusing  to take an oath acknowledging the supremacy of the British sovereign over the English Church, had to resort to all possible modes of escape from Protestant persecution. They built these retreats in retired and secluded places, and constructed all sorts of concealed and secure hiding places within them, in the partitions and walls, where men whose lives were in danger might be concealed for many days. Boscobel was such a mansion. In fact, one of the king's generals, the Earl of Derby, had been concealed in it but a short time before. The king inquired particularly about it, and was induced himself to seek refuge there.

This house belonged to a family of Giffards, one of whom was in the suite of King Charles at this time. There was another mansion about half a mile distant. This other place had been originally, in the Catholic days, a convent, and the nuns who inhabited it dressed in white. They were called, accordingly, the white ladies, and the place itself received the same name, which it retained after the sisters were gone. Mr. Giffard recommended going to the White Ladies' first. He wanted, in fact, to contrive some way to relieve the king of the encumbrance of so large a troop before going to Boscobel.

They went, accordingly, to the White Ladies'. Neither of the houses was occupied at this time by the proprietors, but were in charge of housekeepers and servants. Among the tenants upon the estate there were several brothers of the name of Penderel. They were woodmen and farm servants, living at different places in the neighborhood, and having charge, some of them, of the houses above described. One of the Penderels was at the White Ladies'. He let the fugitives in, tired, exhausted, and hungry as they were, with the fatigue of marching nearly all the night. They sent immediately for Richard Penderel, who lived in a farm house nearby, and for another brother, who was at Boscobel. They took the king into an inner room, and immediately commenced the work of effectually disguising him.

They gave him clothes belonging to some of the servants of the family, and destroyed his own. The king had about his person a watch and some costly decorations, such as orders of knighthood set in jewels, which would betray his rank if found in his possession. These the king distributed among his friends, intrusting them to the charge of such as he judged most likely to effect their escape. They then cut off his hair short all over, thus making him a Roundhead instead of a Cavalier. They rubbed soot from the fire place over his face, to change the expression of his features and complexion. They gave him thus, in all respects, as nearly as possible, the guise of a squalid peasant and laborer of the humblest class, accustomed to the privations and to the habits of poverty.

In the mean time Richard Penderel arrived. Perhaps an intimation had been given him of the wishes of the king to be relieved of his company of followers; at any rate, he urged the whole retinue, as soon as he came to the house to press forward without any delay, as there was a detachment of Cromwell's forces, he said, at three miles' distance, who might be expected at any moment to come in pursuit of them Giffard brought Penderel then into the inner room to which the king had retired. "This is the king," said he. "I commit him to your charge. Take care of him."

Richard undertook the trust. He told the king that he must immediately leave that place, and he conducted him secretly, all disguised as he was, out of a postern door, without making known his design to any of his followers, except the two or three who were in immediate attendance upon him. He led him away about half a mile into a wood, and, concealing him there, left him alone, saying he would go and see what intelligence he could obtain, and presently return again. The troop of followers, in the mean time, from whom the king had been so desirous to get free, when they found that he was gone, mounted their horses and rode away, to escape the danger with which Richard had threatened them. But, alas for the unhappy fugitives, they did not get far in their flight; they were overtaken, attacked, conquered, captured, and treated as traitors. Some were shot, one was beheaded, and others were shut up in prisons, where they pined in hopeless privation and suffering for many years. There was, however, one of the king's followers who did not go away with the rest. It was Lord Wilmot, an influential nobleman, who concealed himself in the vicinity, and kept near the king in all his subsequent wanderings.

But we must return to the king in the wood. It was about sunrise when he was left there, the morning after the battle. It rained. The king tried in vain to find a shelter under the trees of the forest. The trees themselves were soon thoroughly saturated, and they received the driving rain from the skies only to let the water fall in heavier drops upon the poor fugitive's defenseless head. Richard borrowed a blanket at a cottage near, thinking that it would afford some protection, and brought it to his charge. The king folded it up to make a cushion to sit upon; for, worn out as he was with hard fighting all the day before, and hard riding all the night, he could not stand; so he chose to use his blanket as a protection from the wet ground beneath him, and to take the rain upon his head as it fell.

Richard sent a peasant's wife to him presently with some food. Charles, who never had any great respect for the female sex, was alarmed to find that a woman had been entrusted with such a secret.

"My good woman," said he, "can you be faithful to a distressed Cavalier?"

"Yes, sir," said she; "I will die rather than betray you."

Charles had, in fact, no occasion to fear. Woman is, indeed, communicative and confiding, and often, in unguarded hours, reveals indiscreetly what it would have been better to have withheld; but in all cases where real and important trusts are committed to her keeping, there is no human fidelity which can be more safely relied upon than hers.

Charles remained in the wood all the day, exposed to the pelting of the storm. There was a road in sight, a sort of by-way leading across the country, and the monarch beguiled the weary hours as well as he could by watching this road from under the trees, to see if any soldiers came along. There was one troop that appeared, but it passed directly by, marching heavily through the mud and rain, the men intent, apparently, only on reaching their journey's end. When night came on, Richard Penderel returned, approaching cautiously, and, finding all safe, took the king into the house with him. They brought him to the fire, changed and dried his clothes, and gave him supper. The homeless monarch once more enjoyed the luxuries of warmth and shelter.

During all the day, while he had been alone in the wood, he had been revolving in his mind the strange circumstances of his situation, vainly endeavoring, for many hours, to realize what seemed at first like a dreadful dream. Could it be really true that he, the monarch of three kingdoms, so recently at the head of a victorious army, and surrounded by generals and officers of state, was now a friendless and solitary fugitive, without even a place to hide his head from the cold autumnal storm? It seemed at first a dream; but it soon became a reality, and he began to ponder, in every form, the question what he should do. He looked east, west, north, and south, but could not see, in any quarter, any hope of succor, or any reasonable prospect of escape. He, however, arrived at the conclusion, before night came on, that it would be, on the whole, the best plan for him to attempt to escape into Wales.

He was very near the frontier of that country. There was no difficulty to be apprehended on the road thither, excepting in the crossing of the Severn, which, as has already been remarked, flows from north to south not far from the line of the frontier. He thought, too, that if he could once succeed in getting into Wales, he could find secure retreats among the mountains there until he should be able to make his way to some sea-port on the coast trading with France, and so find his way back across the Channel. He proposed this plan to Richard in the evening, and asked him to accompany him as his guide. Richard readily consented, and the arrangements for the journey were made. They adjusted the king's dress again to complete his disguise, and Richard gave him a bill-hook—a sort of woodman's tool—to carry in his hand. It was agreed, also, that his name should be Will Jones so far as there should be any necessity for designating him by a name in the progress of the journey.

They set out at nine o'clock that same night, in the darkness and rain. They wished to get to Madely, a town near the river, before the morning. Richard knew a Mr. Woolf there, a friend of the Royalist cause, who he thought would shelter them, and aid them in getting across the river. They went on very well for some time, until they came to a stream, a branch of the Severn, where there was a bridge, and on the other side a mill. The miller happened to be watching that night at his door. At such times everybody is on the alert, suspecting mischief or danger in every unusual sight or sound.

Hearing the footsteps, he called out, "Who goes there?"

"Neighbors," replied Richard. The king was silent. He had been previously charged by Richard not to speak, except when it could not possibly be avoided, as he had not the accent of the country.

"Stop, then," said the miller, "if you be neighbors." The travelers only pressed forward the faster for this challenge. "Stop!" repeated the miller, "if you be neighbors, or I will knock you down;" and he ran out in pursuit of them, armed apparently with the means of executing his threat. Richard fled, the king closely following him. They turned into a lane, and ran a long distance, the way being in many places so dark that the king, in following Richard, was guided only by the sound of his footsteps, and the creaking of the leather dress which such peasants were accustomed in those days to wear. They crept along, however, as silently, and yet as rapidly as possible, until at length Richard turned suddenly aside, leaped over a sort of gap in the hedge, and crouched down in the trench on the other side. Here they remained for some time, listening to ascertain whether they were pursued. When they found that all was still, they crept forth from their hiding places, regained the road, and went on their way.

At length they arrived at the town. Richard left the king concealed in an obscure corner of the street, while he went to the house of Mr. Woolf to see if he could obtain admission. All was dark and still. He knocked till he had aroused some of the family, and finally brought Mr. Woolf to the door.

He told Mr. Woolf that he came to ask shelter for a gentleman who was wishing to get into Wales, and who could not safely travel by day. Mr. Woolf hesitated, and began to ask for further information in respect to the stranger. Richard said that he was an officer who had made his escape from the battle of Worcester, "Then," said Mr. Woolf, "I should hazard my life by concealing him, which I should not be willing to do for any body, unless it were the king." Richard then told him that it was his majesty. On hearing this, Mr. Woolf decided at once to admit and conceal the travelers, and Richard went back to bring the king.

When they arrived at the house, they found Mr. Woolf making preparations for their reception. They placed the king by the fire to warm and dry his clothes, and they gave him such food as could be provided on so sudden an emergency. As the morning was now approaching, it was necessary to adopt some plan of concealment for the day, and Mr. Woolf decided upon concealing his guests in his barn. He said that there were holes and hiding places built in his house, but that they had all been discovered on some previous search, and, in case of any suspicion or alarm, the officers would go directly to them all. He took the travelers, accordingly, to the barn, and concealed them there among the hay. He said that he would himself, during the day, make inquiries in respect to the practicability of their going on upon their journey, and come and report to them in the evening.

Accordingly, when the evening came, Mr. Woolf returned, relieved them from their confinement, and took them back again to the house. His report, however, in respect to the continuance of their journey, was very unfavorable. He thought it would be impossible, he said, for them to cross the Severn. The Republican forces had stationed guards at all the bridges, ferries, and fords, and at every other practicable place of crossing, and no one was allowed to pass without a strict examination. The country was greatly excited, too, with the intelligence of the king's escape; rewards were offered for his apprehension, and heavy penalties denounced upon all who should harbor or conceal him. Under these circumstances, Mr. Woolf recommended that Charles should go back to Boscobel, and conceal himself as securely as possible there, until some plan could be devised for effecting his escape from the country.

The king had no alternative but to accede to this plan. He waited at Mr. Woolf's house till midnight, in order that the movement in the streets of the town might have time entirely to subside, and then, disappointed and discouraged by the failure of his hopes, he prepared to set out upon his return. Mr. Woolf made some changes in his disguise, and bathed his face in a decoction of walnut leaves, which he had prepared during the day, to alter his complexion, which was naturally very dark and peculiar, and thus exposed him to danger of discovery. When all was ready, the two travelers bade their kind host farewell, and crept forth again through the silent streets, to return, by the way they came, back to Boscobel.

They went on very well till they began to approach the branch stream where they had met with their adventure with the miller. They could not cross this stream by the bridge without going by the mill again, which they were both afraid to do. The king proposed that they should go a little way below, and ford the stream. Richard was afraid to attempt this, as he could not swim; and as the night was dark, and the current rapid, there would be imminent danger of their getting beyond their depth. Charles said that he could swim, and that he would, accordingly, go first and try the water. They groped their way down, therefore, to the bank, and Charles, leaving his guide upon the land, waded in, and soon disappeared from view as he receded from the shore. He returned, however, after a short time, in safety, and reported the passage practicable, as the water was only three or four feet deep; so, taking Richard by the hand, he led him into the stream. It was a dismal and dangerous undertaking, wading thus through a deep and rapid current in darkness and cold, but they succeeded in passing safely over.

They reached Boscobel before the morning dawned, and Richard, when they arrived, left the king in the wood while he went toward the house to reconnoiter, and see if all was safe. He found within an officer of the king's army, a certain Colonel Carlis, who had fled from Worcester some time after the king had left the field, and, being acquainted with the situation of Boscobel, had sought refuge there; William Penderel, who had remained in charge of Boscobel, having received and secreted him when he arrived. Richard and William brought Colonel Carlis out into the wood to see the king. They found him sitting upon the ground at the foot of a tree, entirely exhausted. He was worn out with hardship and fatigue. They took him to the house. They brought him to the fire, and gave him some food. The colonel drew off his majesty's heavy peasant shoes and coarse stockings. They were soaked with water and full of gravel. The colonel bathed his feet, which were sadly swollen and blistered, and, as there were no other shoes in the house which would answer for him to wear, Dame Penderel warmed and dried those which the colonel had taken off, by filling them with hot ashes from the fire, and then put them on again.

Charles II of England


The king continued to enjoy such sort of comforts as these during the night, but when the morning drew near it became necessary to look out for some place of concealment. The Penderels thought that no place within the house would be safe, for there was danger every hour of the arrival of a band of soldiers, who would not fail to search the mansion most effectually in every part. There was the wood near by, which was very secluded and solitary; but still they feared that, in case of a search, the wood would be explored as effectually as the dwelling. Under these circumstances, Carlis was looking around, perplexed and uncertain, not knowing what to do, when he perceived some scattered oaks standing by themselves in a field not far from the house, one of which seemed to be so full and dense in its foliage as to afford some hope of concealment there. The tree, it seems, had been headed down once or twice, and this pruning had had the effect, usual in such cases, of making the branches spread and grow very thick and full. The colonel thought that though, in making a search for fugitives, men might very naturally explore a thicket or a grove, they would not probably think of examining a detached and solitary tree; he proposed, accordingly, that the king and himself should climb up into this spreading oak, and conceal themselves for the day among its branches.

The king consented to this plan. They took some provisions, therefore, as soon as the day began to dawn, and something to answer the purpose of a cushion, and proceeded to the tree. By the help of William and Richard the king and the colonel climbed up, and established themselves in the top. The colonel placed the cushion for the king on the best support among the limbs that he could find. The bread and cheese, and a small bottle of beer, which Richard and William had brought for their day's supplies, they suspended to a branch within their reach. The colonel then seated himself a little above the king, in such a manner that the monarch's head could rest conveniently in his lap, and in as easy a position as it was possible, under such circumstances, to attain. Richard and William, then, after surveying the place of retreat all around from below, in order to be sure that the concealment afforded by the foliage was every where complete, went away, promising to keep faithful watch during the day, and to return in the evening. All things being thus arranged in the oak, the colonel bade his majesty to close his eyes and go to sleep, saying that he would take good care that he did not fall. The king followed his directions, and slept safely for many hours.

In the course of the day the king and Carlis saw, by means of the openings between the leaves, through which, as through loop holes in a tower, they continually reconnoitered the surrounding fields, men passing to and fro, some of whom they imagined to be soldiers searching the wood. They were not, however, themselves molested. They passed the day undisturbed, except by the incessant anxiety and alarm which they necessarily suffered, and the fatigue and pain, which must have become almost intolerable before night, from their constrained and comfortless position. Night, however, came at last, and relieved them from their duress. They descended from the tree and stole back cautiously to the house, the king resolving that he could not bear such hardship another day, and that they must, accordingly, find some other hiding place for him on the morrow. We can scarcely be surprised at this decision. A wild beast could hardly have endured a second day in such a lair.

Other plans of concealment for the king were accordingly formed that night, and measures were soon concerted, as we shall see in the next chapter, to effect his escape from the country. The old tree, however, which had sheltered him so safely, was not forgotten. In after years, when the monarch was restored to his throne, and the story of his dangers and his escape was made known throughout the kingdom, thousands of visitors came to look upon the faithful tree which had thus afforded his majesty its unconscious but effectual protection. Every one took away a leaf or a sprig for a souvenir, and when, at last, the proprietor found that there was danger that the whole tree would be carried away unless he interposed, he fenced it in and tilled the ground around it, to defend it from further mutilation. It has borne the name of the Royal Oak from that time to the present day, and has been the theme of narrators and poets without number, who have celebrated its praises in every conceivable form of composition. There is, however, probably no one of them all who has done more for the wide extension of its fame among all the ranks and gradations of society than the unknown author of the humble distich,

"The royal oak, it was the tree,

That saved his royal majesty."