It was early September of 1651, the year that tolled the knell of royalty in England. In all directions from the fatal field of Worcester panic-stricken fugitives were flying; in all directions blood craving victors were pursuing. Charles I. had lost his head for his blind obstinacy, two years before. Charles II., crowned king by the Scotch, had made a gallant fight for the throne. But Cromwell was his opponent, and Cromwell carried victory on his banners. The young king had invaded England, reached Worcester, and there felt the heavy hand of the Protector and his Ironsides. A fierce day's struggle, a defeat, a flight, and kingship in England was at an end while Cromwell lived; the last scion of royalty was a flying fugitive.
At six o'clock in the evening of that fatal day, Charles, the boy-king, discrowned by battle, was flying through St. Martin's Gate from a city whose streets were filled with the bleeding bodies of his late supporters. Just outside the town he tried to rally his men; but in vain, no fight was left in their scared hearts. Nothing remained but flight at panic speed, for the bloodhounds of war were on his track, and if caught by those stern Parliamentarians he might be given the short shriving of his beheaded father. Away went the despairing prince with a few followers, riding for life, flinging from him as he rode his blue ribbon and garter and all his princely ornaments, lest pursuers should know him by these insignia of royalty. On for twelve hours Charles and his companions galloped at racing speed, onward through the whole night following that day of blood and woe; and at break of day on September 4 they reached Whiteladies, a friendly house of refuge in Severn's fertile valley.
The story of the after-adventures of the fugitive prince is so replete with hair-breadth escapes, disguises, refreshing instances of fidelity, and startling incidents, as to render it one of the most romantic tales to be found in English history. A thousand pounds were set upon his head, yet none, peasant or peer, proved false to him. He was sheltered alike in cottage and hall; more than a score of people knew of his route, yet not a word of betrayal was spoken, not a thought of betrayal was entertained; and the agents of the Protector vainly scoured the country in all directions for the princely fugitive, who found himself surrounded by a loyalty worthy a better man, and was at last enabled to leave the country in Cromwell's despite.
Let us follow the fugitive prince in his flight. Reaching Whiteladies, he found a loyal friend in its proprietor. No sooner was it known in the mansion that the field of Worcester had been lost, and that the flying prince had sought shelter within its walls, than all was haste and excitement.
"You must not remain here," declared Mr. Gifford, one of his companions. "The house is too open. The pursuers will be here within the hour. Measures for your safety must be taken at once."
"The first of which is disguise," said Charles.
His long hair was immediately cut off, his face and hands stained a dark hue, and the coarse and threadbare clothing of a peasant provided to take the place of his rich attire. Thus dressed and disguised, the royal fugitive looked like anything but a king.
"But your features will betray you," said the cautious Gifford. "Many of these men know your face. You must seek a safer place of refuge."
Hurried movements followed. The few friends who had accompanied Charles took to the road again, knowing that their presence would endanger him, and hoping that their flight might lead the bloodhounds of pursuit astray. They gone, the loyal master of Whiteladies sent for certain of his employees whom he could trust. These were six brothers named Penderell, laborers and woodmen in his service, Catholics, and devoted to the royal family.
"This is the king," he said to William Penderell; "you must have a care of him, and preserve him as you did me."
Thick woodland adjoined the mansion of Whiteladies. Into this the youthful prince was led by Richard Penderell, one of the brothers. It was now broad day. Through the forest went the two seeming peasants, to its farther side, where a broad highway ran past. Here, peering through the bushes, they saw a troop of horse ride by, evidently not old soldiers, more like the militia who made up part of Cromwell's army.
These countrified warriors looked around them. Should they enter the woods? Some of the Scottish rogues, mayhap Charles Stuart, their royal leader, himself, might be there in hiding. But it had begun to rain, and by good fortune the shower poured down in torrents upon the woodland, while little rain fell upon the heath beyond. To the countrymen, who had but begun to learn the trade of soldiers, the certainty of a dry skin was better than the forlorn chance of a flying prince. They rode rapidly on to escape a drenching, much to the relief of the lurking observers.
"The rogues are hunting me close," said the prince, "and by our Lady, this waterfall isn't of the pleasantest. Let us get back into the thick of the woods."
Penderell led the way to a dense glade, where he spread a blanket which he had brought with him under one of the most thick-leaved trees, to protect the prince from the soaked ground. Hither his sister, Mrs. Yates, brought a supply of food, consisting of bread, butter, eggs, and milk. Charles looked at her with grateful eyes.
"My good woman," he said, "can you be faithful to a distressed cavalier?"
"I will die sooner than betray you," was her devoted answer.
Charles ate his rustic meal with a more hopeful heart than he had had since leaving Worcester's field. The loyal devotion of these humble friends cheered him up greatly.
As night came on the rain ceased. No sooner had darkness settled upon the wood than the prince and his guide started towards the Severn, it being his purpose to make his way, if possible, into Wales, in some of whose ports a vessel might be found to take him abroad. Their route took them past a mill. It was quite dark, yet they could make out the miller by his white clothes, as he sat at the mill door. The flour sprinkled fellow heard their footsteps in the darkness, and called out,—
"Who goes there?"
"Neighbors going home," answered Richard Penderell.
"If you be neighbors, stand, or I will knock you down," cried the suspicious miller, reaching behind the door for his cudgel.
"Follow me," said Penderell, quietly, to the prince. "I fancy master miller is not alone."
They ran swiftly along a lane and up a hill, opening a gate at the top of it. The miller followed, yelling out, "Rogues! rogues! Come on, lads; catch these runaways."
He was joined by several men who came from the mill, and a sharp chase began along a deep and dirty lane, Charles and his guide running until they were tired out. They had distanced their pursuers; no sound of footsteps could be heard behind them.
"Let us leap the hedge, and lie behind it to see if they are still on our track," said the prince.
This they did, and lay there for half an hour, listening intently for pursuers. Then, as it seemed evident that the miller and his men had given up the chase, they rose and walked on.
At a village near by lived an honest gentleman named Woolfe, who had hiding-places in his house for priests. Day was at hand, and travelling dangerous. Penderell proposed to go on and ask shelter from this person for an English gentleman who dared not travel by day.
"Go, but look that you do not betray my name," said the prince.
Penderell left his royal charge in a field, sheltered under a hedge beside a great tree, and sought Mr. Woolfe's house, to whose questions he replied that the person seeking shelter was a fugitive from the battle of Worcester.
"Then I cannot harbor him," was the good man's reply. "It is too dangerous a business. I will not venture my neck for any man, unless it be the king himself."
"Then you will for this man, for you have hit the mark; it is the king," replied the guide, quite forgetting the injunction given him.
"Bring him, then, in God's name," said Mr. Woolfe. "I will risk all I have to help him"
Charles was troubled when he heard the story of his loose-tongued guide. But there was no help for it now. The villager must be trusted. They sought Mr. Woolfe's house by the rear entrance, the prince receiving a warm but anxious welcome from the loyal old gentleman.
"I am sorry you are here, for the place is perilous," said the host. "There are two companies of militia in the village who keep a guard on the ferry, to stop any one from escaping that way. As for my hiding-places, they have all been discovered, and it is not safe to put you in any of them. I can offer you no shelter but in my barn, where you can lie behind the corn and hay."
The prince was grateful even for this sorry shelter, and spent all that day hidden in the hay, feasting on some cold meat which his host had given him. The next night he set out for Richard Penderell's house, Mr. Woolfe having told him that it was not safe to try the Severn, it being closely guarded at all its fords and bridges. On their way they came again near the mill. Not caring to be questioned as before by the suspicious miller, they diverged towards the river.
"Can you swim?" asked Charles of his guide. "Not I; and the river is a scurvy one."
"I've a mind to try it," said the prince. "It's a small stream at the best, and I may help you over."
They crossed some fields to the river-side, and Charles entered the water, leaving his attendant on the bank. He waded forward, and soon found that the water came but little above his waist.
"Give me your hand," he said, returning. "There's no danger of drowning in this water."
Leading his guide, he soon stood on the safe side of that river the passage of which had given him so many anxious minutes.
Towards morning they reached the house of a Mr. Whitgrave, a Catholic, whom the prince could trust. Here he found in hiding a Major Careless, a fugitive officer from the defeated army. Charles revealed himself to the major, and held a conference with him, asking him what he had best do.
"It will be very dangerous for you to stay here; the hue and cry is up, and no place is safe from search," said the major. "It is not you alone they are after, but all of our side. There is a great wood near by Boscobel house, but I would not like to venture that, either. The enemy will certainly search there. My advice is that we climb into a great, thick-leaved oak-tree that stands near the woods, but in an open place, where we can see around us."
"Faith, I like your scheme, major," said Charles, briskly. "It is thick enough to hide us, you think?"
"Yes; it was lopped a few years ago, and has grown out again very close and bushy. We will be as safe there as behind a thick-set hedge."
"So let it be, then," said the prince.
Obtaining some food from their host,—bread, cheese, and small beer, enough for the day,—the two fugitives, Charles and Careless, climbed into what has since been known as the "royal oak," and remained there the whole day, looking down in safety on soldiers who were searching the wood for royalist fugitives. From time to time, indeed, parties of search passed under the very tree which bore such royal fruit, and the prince and the major heard their chat with no little amusement.
Charles light-hearted by nature, and a mere boy in years, he had just passed twenty-one,—was rising above the heavy sense of depression which had hitherto borne him down. His native temperament was beginning to declare itself, and he and the major, couched like squirrels in their leafy covert, laughed quietly to themselves at the baffled searchers, while they ate their bread and cheese with fresh appetites.
When night had fallen they left the tree, and the prince, parting with his late companion, sought a neighboring house where he was promised shelter in one of those hiding-places provided for proscribed priests. Here he found Lord Wilmot, one of the officers who had escaped with him from the fatal field of Worcester, and who had left him at Whiteladies.
It is too much to tell in detail all the movements that followed. The search for Prince Charles continued with unrelenting severity. Daily, noble and plebeian officers of the defeated army were seized. The country was being scoured, high and low. Frequently the prince saw the forms or heard the voices of those who sought him diligently. But "Will Jones," the woodman, was not easily to be recognized as Charles Stuart, the prince. He was dressed in the shabbiest of weather-worn suits, his hair cut short to his ears, his face embrowned, his head covered with an old and greasy gray steeple hat, with turned-up brims, his ungloved and stained hands holding for cane a long and crooked thorn stick. Altogether it was a very unprincely individual who roamed those peril-haunted shires of England.
The two fugitives—Prince Charles and Lord Wilmot—now turned their steps towards the sea port of Bristol, hoping there to find means of passage to France. Their last place of refuge in Staffordshire was at the house of Colonel Lane, of Bently, an earnest royalist. Here Charles dropped his late name, and assumed that of Will Jackson. He threw off his peasant's garb, put on the livery of a servant, and set off on horseback with his seeming mistress, Miss Jane Lane, sister of the colonel, who had suddenly become infected with the desire of visiting a cousin at Abbotsleigh, near Bristol. The prince had now become a lady's groom, but he proved an awkward one, and had to be taught the duties of his office.
"Will," said the colonel, as they were about to start, "you must give my sister your hand to help her to mount."
The new groom gave her the wrong hand. Old Mrs. Lane, mother to the colonel, who saw the starting, but knew not the secret, turned to her son, saying satirically,—
"What a goodly horseman my daughter has got to ride before her!"
To ride before her it was, for, in the fashion of the day, groom and mistress occupied one horse, the groom in front, the mistress behind. Not two hours had they ridden, before the horse cast a shoe. A road-side village was at hand, and they stopped to have the bare hoof shod. The seeming groom held the horse's foot, while the smith hammered at the nails. As they did so an amusing conversation took place.
"What news have you?" asked Charles.
"None worth the telling," answered the smith; "nothing has happened since the beating of those rogues, the Scots."
"Have any of the English, that joined hands with the Scots, been taken?" asked Charles.
Some of them, they tell me," answered the smith, hammering sturdily at the shoe; "but I do not hear that that rogue, Charles Stuart, has been taken yet."
"Faith," answered the prince, "if he should be taken, he deserves hanging more than all the rest, for bringing the Scots upon English soil."
Scene on the River Avon.
"You speak well, gossip, and like an honest man," rejoined the smith, heartily. "And there's your shoe, fit for a week's travel on hard roads."
And so they parted, the king merrily telling his mistress the joke, when safely out of reach of the smith's ears.
There is another amusing story told of this journey. Stopping at a house near Stratford-upon-Avon, "Will Jackson" was sent to the kitchen, as the groom's place. Here he found a buxom cook-maid, engaged in preparing supper.
"Wind up the jack for me," said the maid to her supposed fellow-servant.
Charles, nothing loath, proceeded to do so. But he knew much less about handling a jack than a sword, and awkwardly wound it up the wrong way. The cook looked at him scornfully, and broke out in angry tones,—
"What countrymen are you, that you know not how to wind up a jack?"
Charles answered her contritely, repressing the merry twinkle in his eye.
"I am a poor tenant's son of Colonel Lane, in Staffordshire," he said; "we seldom have roast meat, and when we have, we don't make use of a jack."
"That's not saying much for your Staffordshire cooks, and less for your larders," replied the maid, with a head-toss of superiority.
The house where this took place still stands, with the old jack hanging beside the fireplace; and those who have seen it of late years do not wonder that Charles was puzzled how to wind it up. It might puzzle a wiser man.
There is another story in which the prince played his part as a kitchen servant. It is said that the soldiers got so close upon his track that they sought the house in which he was, not leaving a room in it unvisited. Finally they made their way to the kitchen, where was the man they sought, with a servant-maid who knew him. Charles looked around in nervous fear. His pursuers had never been so near him. Doubtless, for the moment, he gave up the game as lost. But the loyal cook was mistress of the situation. She struck her seeming fellow-servant a smart rap with the basting-ladle, and called out, shrewishly,—
"Now, then, go on with thy work; what art thou looking about for?"
The soldiers laughed as Charles sprang up with a sheepish aspect, and they turned away without a thought that in this servant lad lay hidden the prince they sought.
On September 13, ten days after the battle, Miss Lane and her groom reached Abbotsleigh, where they took refuge at the house of Mr. Norton, Colonel Lane's cousin. To the great regret of the fugitive, he learned here that there was no vessel in the port of Bristol that would serve his purpose of flight. He remained in the house for four days, under his guise of a servant, but was given a chamber of his own, on pretence of indisposition. He was just well of an ague, said his mistress. He was, indeed, somewhat worn out with fatigue and anxiety, though of a disposition that would not long let him endure hunger or loneliness.
In fact, on the very morning after his arrival he made an early toilette, and went to the buttery hatch for his breakfast. Here were several servants, Pope, the butler, among them. Bread and butter seems to have been the staple of the morning meal, though the butler made it more palatable by a liberal addition of ale and sack. As they ate they were entertained by a minute account of the battle of Worcester, given by a country fellow who sat beside Charles at table, and whom he concluded, from the accuracy of his description, to have been one of Cromwell's soldiers.
Charles asked him how he came to know so well what took place, and was told in reply that he had been in the king's regiment. On being questioned more closely, it proved that he had really been in Charles's own regiment of guards.
"What kind of man was he you call the king?" asked Charles, with an assumed air of curiosity.
The fellow replied with an accurate description of the dress worn by the prince during the battle, and of the horse he rode. He looked at Charles on concluding.
"He was at least three fingers taller than you," he said.
The buttery was growing too hot for Will Jackson. What if, in another look, this fellow should get a nearer glimpse at the truth? The disguised prince made a hasty excuse for leaving the place, being, as he says, "more afraid when I knew he was one of our own soldiers, than when I took him for one of the enemy's."
This alarm was soon followed by a greater one. One of his companions came to him in a state of intense affright.
"What shall we do?" he cried, "I am afraid Pope, the butler, knows you. He has said very positively to me that it is you, but I have denied it."
"We are in a dangerous strait, indeed," said Charles. "There is nothing for it, as I see, but to trust the man with our secret. Boldness, in cases like this, is better than distrust. Send Pope to me."
The butler was accordingly sent, and Charles, with a flattering show of candor, told him who he was, and requested his silence and aid. He had taken the right course, as it proved. Pope was of loyal blood. He could not have found a more intelligent and devoted adherent than the butler showed himself during the remainder of his stay in that house.
But the attentions shown the prince were compromising, in consideration of his disguise as a groom; suspicions were likely to be aroused, and it was felt necessary that he should seek a new asylum. One was found at Trent House, in the same county, the residence of a fervent royalist named Colonel Windham. Charles remained here, and in this vicinity, till the 6th of October, seeking in vain the means of escape from one of the neighboring ports. The coast proved to be too closely watched, however; and in the end soldiers began to arrive in the neighborhood, and the rumor spread that Colonel Windham's house was suspected. There was nothing for it but another flight, which, this time, brought him into Wiltshire, where he took refuge at Hele House, the residence of Mr. Hyde.
Charles himself tells an interesting story of one of his adventures while at Trent House. He, with some companions, had ridden to a place called Burport, where they were to wait for Lord Wilmot, who had gone to Lyme, four miles farther, to look after a possible vessel. As they came near Burport they saw that the streets were full of red-coats, Cromwell's soldiers, there being a whole regiment in the town.
"What shall we do?" asked Colonel Windham, greatly startled at the sight.
"Do? why face it out impudently, go to the best hotel in the place, and take a room there," said Charles. "It is the only safe thing to do. And otherwise we would miss Lord Wilmot, which would be inconvenient to both of us."
Windham gave in, and they rode boldly forward to the chief inn of the place. The yard was filled with soldiers. Charles, as the groom of the party, alighted, took the horses, and purposely led them in a blundering way through the midst of the soldiers to the stable. Some of the red-coats angrily cursed him for his rudeness, but he went serenely on, as if soldiers were no more to him than flies.
Reaching the stable, he took the bridles from the horses, and called to the hostler to give them some oats.
"Sure," said the hostler, peering at him closely, "I know your face."
This was none too pleasant a greeting for the disguised prince, but he put on a serene countenance, and asked the man whether he had always lived at that place.
"No," said the hostler. "I was born in Exeter, and was hostler in an inn there near Mr. Potter's, a great merchant of that town."
"Then you must have seen me at Mr. Potter's," said Charles. "I lived with him over a year."
"That is it," answered the hostler. "I remember you a boy there. Let us go drink a pot of beer on it."
Charles excused himself, saying that he must go look after his master's dinner, and he lost little time in getting out of that town, lest some one else might have as inconvenient and less doubtful a memory.
While the prince was flying, his foes were pursuing. The fact that the royal army was scattered was not enough for the politic mind of Cromwell. Its leader was still at large, somewhere in England; while he remained free all was at risk. Those turbulent Scotch might be again raised. A new Dunbar or Worcester might be fought, with different fortune. The flying Charles Stuart must be held captive within the country, and made prisoner within a fortress as soon as possible. In consequence, the coast was sedulously watched to prevent his escape, and the country widely searched, the houses of known royalists being particularly placed under surveillance; a large reward was offered for the arrest of the fugitive; the party of the Parliament was everywhere on the alert for him; only the good faith and sound judgment of his friends kept him from the hands of his foes.
At Hele House, the fugitive was near the Sussex coast, and his friends hoped that a passage to France might be secured from some of its small ports. They succeeded at length. On October 13, in early morning, the prince, with a few loyal companions, left his last hiding-place. They took dogs with them, as if they were off for a hunting excursion to the downs.
That night they spent at Hambledon, in Hampshire. Colonel Gunter, one of the party, led the way to the house of his brother-in-law, though without notifying him of his purpose. The master of the house was absent, but returned while the party were at supper, and was surprised to find a group of hilarious guests around his table. Colonel Gunter was among them, however, and explained that he had taken the privilege of kinship to use his house as his own.
The worthy squire, who loved good cheer and good society, was nothing loath to join this lively company, though in his first surprise to find his house invaded a round Cavalier oath broke from his lips. To his astonishment, he was taken to task for this by a crop-haired member of the company, who reproved him in true Puritan phrase for his profanity.
"Whom have you here, Gunter?" the squire asked his brother-in-law. "This fellow is not of your sort. I warrant me the canting chap is some round headed rogue's son."
"Not a bit of it," answered the colonel. "He is true Cavalier, though he does wear his hair somewhat of the shortest, and likes not oaths. He's one of us, I promise you."
"Then here's your health, brother Roundhead!" exclaimed the host, heartily, draining a brimming glass of ale to his unknown guest.
The prince, before the feast was over, grew gay enough to prove that he was no Puritan, though he retained sufficient caution in his cups not further to arouse his worthy host's suspicions. The next day they reached a small fishing-village, then known as Brighthelstone, now grown into the great town of Brighton. Here lay the vessel which had been engaged. The master of the craft, Anthony Tattersall by name, with the merchant who had engaged his vessel, supped with the party at the village inn. It was a jovial meal. The prince, glad at the near approach of safety, allowed himself some freedom of speech. Captain Tattersall watched him closely throughout the meal. After supper he drew his merchant friend aside, and said to him,—
"You have not dealt fairly with me in this business. You have paid me a good price to carry over that gentleman; I do not complain of that; but you should have been more open. He is the king, as I very well know."
"You are very much mistaken, captain," protested the merchant, nervously. "What has put such nonsense into your pate?"
"I am not mistaken," persisted the captain. "He took my ship in '48, with other fishing-craft of this port, when he commanded his father's fleet. I know his face too well to be deceived. But don't be troubled at that; I think I do my God and my country good service in preserving the king; and by the grace of God, I will venture my life and all for him, and set him safely on shore, if I can, in France."
Happily for Charles, he had found a friend instead of a foe in this critical moment of his adventure. He found another, for the mariner was not the only one who knew his face. As he stood by the fire, with his palm resting on the back of a chair, the inn-keeper came suddenly up and kissed his hand.
"God bless you wheresoever you go!" he said, fervently. "I do not doubt, before I die, to be a lord, and my wife a lady."
Charles burst into a hearty laugh at this ambitious remark of his host. He had been twice discovered within the hour, after a month and a half of impunity. Yet he felt that he could put full trust in these worthy men, and slept soundly that last night on English soil.
At five o'clock of the next morning, he, with Lord Wilmot, his constant companion, went on board the little sixty-ton craft, which lay in Shoreham harbor, waiting the tide to put to sea. By day-break they were on the waves. The prince was resting in the cabin, when in came Captain Tattersall, kissed his hand, professed devotion to his interests, and suggested a course for him to pursue.
His crew, he said, had been shipped for the English port of Poole. To head for France might cause suspicion. He advised Charles to represent himself as a merchant who was in debt and afraid of arrest in England, and who wished to reach France to collect money due him at Rouen. If he would tell this story to the sailors, and gain their good-will, it might save future trouble.
Charles entered freely into this conspiracy, went on deck, talked affably with the crew, told them the story concocted by the captain, and soon had them so fully on his side, that they joined him in begging the captain to change his course and land his passengers in France. Captain Tattersall demurred somewhat at this, but soon let himself be convinced, and headed his ship for the Gallic coast.
The wind was fair, the weather fine. Land was sighted before noon of the 16th. At one o'clock the prince and Lord Wilmot were landed at Fécamp, a small French port. They had distanced the bloodhounds of the Parliament, and were safe on foreign soil.