The Commonwealth—The Adventures of a Prince
K ING CHARLES was beheaded on 30th January 1649 A.D., and Parliament immediately proclaimed that kings were bad and useless, so England would have no more. The Government would be a commonwealth. Common here means "belonging to all," and wealth, although we now use it to mean money, at one time meant well-being or happiness. Commonwealth really means the well-being or happiness of all. No one was to be greater than another; all were to be equal. The House of Lords was therefore, they said, useless and dangerous, and they did away with it. They also made it a crime for any one to call Prince Charles king, although he was the eldest son of Charles I.
The people of Scotland and Ireland, however, were very angry when they heard what had happened. The Scots had never wished the King to be killed; they had hoped to force him to rule better. Now that he was dead they proclaimed his son Charles king. At the same time the Irish rebelled, and Cromwell and his Ironsides went to subdue them. Very many of the Irish were Roman Catholics, and some years before they had risen and cruelly murdered the Irish Protestants. Cromwell hated the Roman Catholics, and he intended now to punish them for their cruelty to the Protestants, as well as for rebelling against the Commonwealth, as the Government of Britain was now called.
Cromwell remained nine months in Ireland, and so cruel and pitiless was he, that for many years no Irishman could hear his name without a shudder and a curse. The country was utterly subdued. Many of the people were killed, others were sent as slaves to the West Indies, and all who could fled to far countries to escape the fury of Cromwell.
When he had finished this dreadful work, Cromwell returned to England, and then marched into Scotland. The Ironsides had never been defeated, and now they won battle after battle, and at last Charles decided to march into England and fight for his crown there.
Cromwell was very much astonished when he heard what Charles was doing, and he hurried after him as fast as he could. The English did not flock to join Charles as he had expected, and when the two armies met at Worcester, Cromwell's army was nearly twice as large as that of the Prince. A dreadful battle followed. The Scots fought gallantly for their Prince, but they were utterly defeated. Hardly any escaped, and those who were not killed were sold as slaves.
Cromwell called this battle his "crowning mercy," for with it Charles lost all hope of regaining his kingdom. It was fought on what Cromwell used to think was his "lucky day," the third of September.
Charles fled from Worcester, and had many adventures before he reached safety. Great rewards were offered to any one who would tell where he was hiding, punishment and death threatened those who helped him. Yet so many were faithful to him that he escaped.
He cut off his beautiful hair, stained his face and his white hands brown, and instead of silk and satin, he put on coarse clothes which were much patched and darned, so that he looked like a labouring man. Then with an axe over his shoulder, he went into the woods with four brothers, who really were working men, and pretended to cut wood.
All day long they stayed in the wood, and at night the four brothers guided the Prince to another place. There they found so many of Cromwell's men that it was not safe for Charles to stay in a house. That night he slept in a hay-loft. Next day, finding that even there he was not safe, he climbed into an oak-tree, and lay among the branches. As it was September, the leaves were very thick and hid him well.
Charles lay very still and quiet. His heart thumped against his ribs, and he held his breath when some of Cromwell's soldiers rode under the tree. They were so close that he could hear them talk.
"The Lord hath given the ungodly one into our hands," said one.
"Yea, he cannot be afar off."
"We will use well our eyes. Perchance the Lord may deliver the malignant even unto us."
But the kind green leaves kept close, and little did the Roundheads think that the very man for whom they were looking was close above their heads and could hear every word they said.
For a whole long day Charles lay in the oak, and at last Cromwell's men, having searched and searched in vain for him, went away. Then Charles climbed down from the tree and walked many weary miles till his feet were blistered and sore, and his bones ached.
At length he reached the house of a Royalist lady and gentleman, who were kind to him.
The lady pretended that she had to go on a journey to visit a sick friend. Charles was dressed as her servant and mounted upon a horse, and the lady got up behind him. In those days, before there were trains or even coaches, ladies very often travelled like this. They did not ride upon a horse by themselves, but mounted behind a servant or a friend.
For many miles Charles travelled as this lady's servant, having many adventures and escapes by the way. As Charles was supposed to be the servant, he had, of course, to look after the horse. One evening, as he went into the stable-yard of the inn in which they were to spend the night, he found it full of Cromwell's men. One of them looked hard at the Prince.
"My friend," he said, "I seem to know your face."
"Like enough," replied Charles, "I have travelled a good deal with my masters."
"Surely," said the man, "you were with Mr. Baxter?"
"Yes," replied the Prince calmly, "I was with him. But now make way, my man, till I see after my beast. I will talk to you later."
So Charles busied himself with his horse, and escaped from the man who took him to be a fellow-servant.
After many dangers, often being recognised in spite of his disguises, the Prince arrived at Lyme Regis, and there a little boat was found to take him over to France. But when the captain's wife heard who was going to sail in her husband's boat, she was afraid. She was afraid that Cromwell might hear of it, and perhaps kill her husband. So she told him he must not go.
"I must go," said the captain, "I have promised."
"You shall not go," said his wife, and, seeing that talking did no good, she locked him into a room and took the key away.
Charles and his friends waited in vain for the captain, and at last they left Lyme Regis in despair. After more adventures they reached Brighton, and there they really did find a boat and a captain willing to take them over to France.
The evening before starting, Charles was having supper at a little inn in Brighton, when the landlord came behind him and kissed his hand. Again he had been recognised. But the landlord was faithful, and would not betray him.
"God bless your Majesty," he said, "perhaps I may live to be a lord, and my good wife a lady." He thought that if Charles ever came back to the throne he would not forget those who had helped and served him when he was poor and in trouble.
For more than six weeks Charles had travelled in fear and danger among his bitter enemies. In spite of his disguises, many people had recognised him. Yet not one had betrayed him. Instead, they had taken a great deal of trouble and run many risks to help and save him, and now his difficulties and dangers were over.
Very early next morning, while it was still almost dark, the little party crept down to the shore. In the grey dawn Charles stepped on board the boat, the sails were set, and slowly he was carried away from his kingdom which he was not to see again for many long days.