Gateway to the Classics: Charles II by Jacob Abbott
Charles II by  Jacob Abbott

The King's Escape to France

W HEN the king and Carlis came into the house again, on the evening after their wearisome day's confinement in the tree, Dame Penderel had some chickens prepared for his majesty's supper, which he enjoyed as a great and unexpected luxury. They showed him, too, the hiding hole, built in the walls, where the Earl of Derby had been concealed, and where they proposed that he should be lodged for the night. There was room in it to lay down a small straw pallet for a bed. The king thought it would be very secure, and was confirmed in his determination not to go again to the oak. Before his majesty retired, Carlis asked him what he would like to have to eat on the morrow. He said that he should like some mutton. Carlis assented, and, bidding his master good night, he left him to his repose.

There was no mutton in the house, and Richard and William both agreed that it would be unsafe for either of them to procure any, since, as they were not accustomed to purchase such food, their doing so now would awaken suspicion that they had some unusual guest to provide for. The colonel, accordingly, undertook himself to obtain the supply.

Getting the necessary directions, therefore, from Richard and William, he went to the house of a farmer at some little distance—a tenant, he was, on the Boscobel estate—and groped his way to the sheep-cote. He selected an animal, such as he thought suitable for his purpose, and butchered it with his dagger. He then went back to the house, and sent William Penderel to bring the plunder home. William dressed a leg of the mutton, and sent it in the morning into the room which they had assigned to the king, near his hiding hole. The king was overjoyed at the prospect of this feast He called for a carving knife and a frying pan. He cut off some callops from the joint, and then, after frying the meat with Carlis's assistance, they ate it together.

The king, becoming now somewhat accustomed to his situation, began to grow a little more bold. He walked in a little gallery which opened from his room. There was a window in this gallery which commanded a view of the road. The king kept watch carefully at this window as he walked to and fro, that he might observe the first appearance of any enemy's approach. It was observed, too, that he apparently spent some time here in exercises of devotion, imploring, probably, the protection of Heaven, in this his hour of danger and distress. The vows and promises which he doubtless made were, however, all forgotten, as usual in such cases, when safety and prosperity came again.

There was a little garden, too, near the house, with an eminence at the further end of it, where there was an arbor, with a stone table, and seats about it. It was retired, and yet, being in an elevated position, it answered, like the window of the gallery in the house, the double purpose of a hiding place and a watch tower. It was far more comfortable, and probably much more safe, than the wretched nest in the tree of the day before; for, were the king discovered in the arbor, there would be some chances of escape from detection still remaining, but to have been found in the tree would have been certain destruction.

In the mean time, the Penderels had had messengers out during the Saturday and Sunday, communicating with certain known friends of the king in the neighboring towns, and endeavoring to concert some plan for his escape. They were successful in these consultations, and before Sunday night a plan was formed. It seems there was a certain Colonel Lane, whose wife had obtained a pass from the authorities of the Republican army to go to Bristol, on the occasion of the sickness of a relative, and to take with her a man-servant. Bristol was a hundred miles to the southward, near the mouth of the Severn. It was thought that if the king should reach this place, he could, perhaps, succeed afterward in making his way to the southern coast of England, and embarking there, at some sea-port, for France. The plan was accordingly formed for Mrs. Lane to go, as she had designed, on this journey, and to take the king along with her in the guise of her servant. The arrangements were all made, and the king was to be met in a wood five or six miles from Boscobel, early on Monday morning, by some trusty friends, who were afterward to conceal him for a time in their houses, until all things should be ready for the journey.

The king found, however, when the morning approached, that his feet were in such a condition that he could not walk. They accordingly procured a horse belonging to one of the Penderels, and put him upon it. The brothers all accompanied him as he went away. They were armed with concealed weapons, intending, if they were attacked by any small party, to defend the king with their lives. They, however, went on without any molestation. It was a dark and rainy night. Nights are seldom otherwise in England in September. The brothers Penderel, six of them in all, guided the king along through the darkness and rain, until they were within a mile or two of the appointed place of meeting, where the king dismounted, for the purpose of walking the rest of way, for greater safety, and three of the brothers, taking the horse with them, returned. The rest went on, and, after delivering the king safely into the hands of his friends, who were waiting at the appointed place to receive him, bade his majesty farewell, and, expressing their good wishes for the safe accomplishment of his escape, they returned to Boscobel.

They now altered the king's disguise in some degree, to accommodate the change in his assumed character from that of a peasant of the woods to a respectable farmer's son, such as would be a suitable traveling attendant for an English dame, and they gave him the new name of William Jackson in the place of Will Jones. Mrs. Lane's sister's husband was to go with them a part of the way, and there was another gentleman and lady also of the party, so they were five in all. The horses were brought to the door when all was ready, just in the edge of the evening, the pretended attendant standing respectfully by, with his hat under his arm. He was to ride upon the same horse with Mrs. Lane, the lady being seated on a pillion behind him. The family assembled to bid the party farewell, none, either of the travelers or of the spectators, except Mrs. Lane and her brother-in-law, having any idea that the meek looking William Jackson was any other than what he seemed.

They traveled on day after day, meeting with various adventures, and apparently with narrow escapes. At one time a shoe was off from the horse's foot, and the king stopped at a blacksmith's to have it replaced. While the smith was busy at the work, the king, standing by, asked him what news. "No news," said the smith, "that I know of, since the grand news of beating the rogues, the Scots, at Worcester." The king asked if any of the English officers who were with the Scots had been taken since the battle. "Some had been captured," the smith replied, "but he could not learn that the rogue Charles Stuart had been taken." The king then told him that if that rogue were taken, he deserved to be hanged more than all the rest, for bringing the Scots in. "You speak like an honest man," said the smith. Soon after, the work was done, and Charles led the horse away.

At another time, when the party had stopped for the night, the king, in accordance with his assumed character, went to the kitchen. They were roasting some meat with a jack, a machine used much in those days to keep meat, while roasting, in slow rotation before the fire. The jack had run down. They asked the pretended William Jackson to wind it up. In trying to do it, he attempted to wind it the wrong way. The cook, in ridiculing his awkwardness, asked him what country he came from, that he did not know how to wind up a jack. The king meekly replied that he was the son of a poor tenant of Colonel Lane's, and that they seldom had meat to roast at home, and that, when they had it, they did not roast it with a jack.

The party at length arrived safely at their place of destination, which was at the house of a Mrs. Norton, at a place called Leigh, about three miles from Bristol. Here the whole party were received, and, in order to seclude the king as much as possible from observation, Mrs. Lane pretended that he was in very feeble health, and he was, accordingly, a good deal confined to his room. The disease which they selected for him was an intermittent fever, which came on only at intervals. This would account for his being sometimes apparently pretty well, and allowed him occasionally, when tired of being shut up in his room, to come down and join the other servants, and hear their conversation.

There was an old servant of the family, named Pope, a butler, to whose care the pretended William Jackson was specially confided. On the following morning after his arrival, Charles, feeling, notwithstanding his fever, a good appetite after the fatigues of his journey, went down to get his breakfast, and, while there, some men came in, friends of the servants, and Pope brought out a luncheon of bread and ale, and placed it before them. While they were eating it, they began to talk about the battle of Worcester, and one of the men described it so accurately, that the king perceived that he must have been there. On questioning him more particularly, the man said that he was a soldier in the king's army, and he began to describe the person and appearance of the king. Charles was alarmed, and very soon rose and went away. Pope, who had had, it seems, his suspicions before, was now confirmed in them. He went to Mrs. Lane, and told her that he knew very well that their stranger guest was the king. She denied most positively that it was so, but she immediately took measures to communicate the conversation to Charles. The result of their consultations, and of their inquiries about the character of Pope for prudence and fidelity, was to admit him to their confidence, and endeavor to secure his aid. He was faithful in keeping the secret, and he rendered the king afterward a great deal of very efficient aid.

There was a certain Colonel Wyndham, whose name has become immortalized by his connection with the king's escape, who lived at a place called Trent, not far from the southern coast of England. After much deliberation and many inquiries, it was decided that the king should proceed there while arrangements should be made for his embarkation. When this plan was formed, Mrs. Lane received a pretended letter from home, saying that her father was taken suddenly and dangerously sick, and urging her immediate return. They set out accordingly, William having so far recovered from his fever as to be able to travel again!

During all this time, Lord Wilmot, who has already been mentioned as a fellow fugitive with Charles from the battle of Worcester, had followed the party of the king in his progress through the country, under various disguises, and by different modes of travel, keeping near his royal master all the way, and obtaining stolen interviews with him, from time to time, for consultation. In this way each rendered the other very essential aid. The two friends arrived at last at Colonel Wyndham's together. Mrs. Lane and her party here took leave of the king, and returned northward toward her home.

Colonel Wyndham was a personal acquaintance of the king. He had been an officer under Charles I., in the civil wars preceding that monarch's captivity and death, and Charles, who, as Prince of Wales, had made a campaign, as will be recollected, in the west of England before he went to France, had had frequent intercourse with Wyndham, and had great confidence in his fidelity. The colonel had been at last shut up in a castle, and had finally surrendered on such conditions as secured his own liberty and safety. He had, consequently, since been allowed to live quietly at his own estate in Trent, though he was watched and suspected by the government as a known friend of the king's. Charles had, of course, great confidence in him. He was very cordially received into his house, and very securely secreted there.

It would be dangerous for Wyndham himself to do any thing openly in respect to finding a vessel to convey the king to France. He accordingly engaged a trusty friend to go down to the sea-port on the coast which was nearest to his residence, and see what he could do. This sea-port was Lyme, or Lyme-Regis, as it is sometimes called. It was about twenty-five miles from Trent, where Wyndham resided, toward the southwest, and about the same distance to the eastward of Exeter, where Charles's mother had some years before sought refuge from her husband's enemies.

Colonel Wyndham's messenger went to Lyme. He found there, pretty soon, the master of a small vessel, which was accustomed to ply back and forth to one of the ports on the coast of France, to carry merchandise. The messenger, after making inquiries, and finding that the captain, if captain he may be called, was the right sort of man for such an enterprise, obtained an interview with him and introduced conversation by asking when he expected to go back to France. The captain replied that it would probably be some time before he should be able to make up another cargo. "How should you like to take some passengers?" said the messenger. "Passengers?" inquired the captain. "Yes," rejoined the other; "there are two gentlemen here who wish to cross the Channel privately, and they are willing to pay fifty pounds to be landed at any port on the other side. Will you take them?"

The captain perceived that it was a serious business. There was a proclamation out, offering a reward for the apprehension of the king, or Charles Stuart as they called him, and also for other of the leaders at the battle of Worcester. All persons, too, were strictly prohibited from taking any one across the Channel; and to conceal the king, or to connive in any way at his escape, was death. The captain, however, at length agreed to the proposal, influenced as the colonel's messenger supposed, partly by the amount of his pay, and partly by his interest in the Royal cause. He agreed to make his little vessel ready without delay.

They did not think it prudent for the king to attempt to embark at Lyme, but there was, a few miles to the eastward of it, along the shore, a small village named Charmouth, where there was a creek jutting up from the sea, and a little pier, sufficient for the landing of so small a vessel as the one they had engaged. It was agreed that, on an appointed day, the king and Lord Wilmot were to come down to Charmouth, and take up their lodgings at the inn; that in the night the captain was to sail out of the port of Lyme, in the most private manner possible, and come to Charmouth; and that the king and Wilmot, who would, in the mean time, be watching from the inn, when they saw the light of the approaching vessel, should come down to the pier and embark, and the captain then immediately sail away.

The messenger accordingly went back to Colonel Wyndham's with intelligence of the plan that he had formed, while the captain of the vessel went to work as privately as possible to lay in his stores and make his other preparations for sea. He did this with the utmost precaution and secrecy, and succeeded in deceiving every body but his wife. Wives have the opportunity to perceive indications of the concealed existence of matters of moment and weight which others do not enjoy, in studying the countenances of their husbands. A man can easily, through the day, when surrounded by the world, assume an unconcerned and careless air, though oppressed with a very considerable mental burden; but when he comes home at night, he instinctively throws off half his disguise, and conjugal watchfulness and solicitude easily penetrate the remainder. At least it was so in this case. The captain's dame perceived that her husband was thoughtful and absent-minded. She watched him. She observed some indications that he was making preparations for sea. She asked him what it meant. He said he did not know how soon he might have a cargo, and he wanted to be all ready in season. His wife, however, was not satisfied. She watched him more closely still, and when the appointed night came on which he had agreed to sail, finding that it was impossible for him to elude her vigilance, he told her plainly, that he was going across the Channel on private business, but that he should immediately return.

She declared positively that he should not go. She knew, she said, that the business was something which would end in ruining him and his family, and she was determined that he should not risk her safety and his own life in any such desperate and treasonable plans. She locked the door upon him, and when he insisted on being released, she declared that if he did attempt to go, she would immediately give warning to the authorities, and have him arrested and confined. So the discomfited captain was compelled to give up his design, and break his appointment at the Charmouth pier.

In the mean time, the king and Lord Wilmot came down, as had been agreed upon, to Charmouth, and put up, with many other travelers, at the inn. There was great excitement all over that part of the country, every one talking about the battle of Worcester, the escape of the king, and especially about an expedition which Cromwell had been organizing, which was then assembling on the southern coast. Its destination was the island of Jersey, which had thus far adhered to the Royalist cause, and which Cromwell was now intending to reduce to subjection to him. The bustle and movement which all these causes combined to create, made the king and Lord Wilmot very anxious and uneasy. There were assemblies convened in the villages which they passed through, and men were haranguing the populace on the victories which had been gained, and on the future measures to be pursued. In one place the bells were ringing, and bonfires were burning in celebration of the death of the king, it being rumored and believed that he had been shot.

Our two fugitives, however, arrived safely at the inn, put up their horses, and began to watch anxiously for the light of the approaching vessel. They watched, of course, in vain. Midnight came, but no vessel. They waited hour after hour, till at last morning dawned, and they found that all hope of accomplishing their enterprise must be abandoned. They could not remain where they were, however, another day, without suspicion; so they prepared to move on and seek temporary refuge in some other neighboring town, while they could send one of the attendants who came with them back to Colonel Wyndham's, to see if he could ascertain the cause of the failure. One or two days were spent in inquiries, negotiations, and delays. The result was, that all hope of embarking at Lyme had to be abandoned, and it was concluded that the fugitives should proceed on to the eastward, along the coast, to the care of another Royalist, a certain Colonel Gunter, who might perhaps find means to send them away from some port in that part of the country. At any rate, they would, by this plan, escape the excitements and dangers which seemed to environ them in the neighborhood of Lyme.

It was fortunate that they went away from Charmouth when they did; by doing so they narrowly escaped apprehension; for that night, while the king's horse was in the stable, a smith was sent for to set a shoe upon the horse of one of the other travelers. After finishing his work, he began to examine the feet of the other horses in the stalls, and when he came to the one which the king had rode, his attention was particularly attracted to the condition and appearance of the shoes, and he remarked to those who were with him that that horse had come a long journey, and that of the four shoes, he would warrant that no two had been made in the same county. This remark was quoted the next day, and the mysterious circumstance, trifling as it was, was sufficient, in the highly excitable state of the public mind, to awaken attention. People came to see the horse, and to inquire for the owner, but they found that both had disappeared. They immediately determined that the stranger must have been the king, or at least some distinguished personage in disguise, and they sent in search of the party in every direction; but the travelers had taken such effectual precautions to blind all pursuit that their track could not be followed.

In the mean time, the king journeyed secretly on from the residence of one faithful adherent to another, encountering many perplexities, and escaping narrowly many dangers, until he came at last to the neighborhood of Shoreham, a town upon the coast of Sussex. Colonel Gunter had provided a vessel here. It was a small vessel, bound, with a load of coal, along the coast, to the westward, to a port called Pool, beyond the Isle of Wight. Colonel Gunter had arranged it with the master to deviate from his voyage, by crossing over to the coast of France, and leaving his passengers there. He was then to return, and proceed to his original destination. Both the owner of the vessel and the master who commanded it were Royalists, but they had not been told that it was the king whom they were going to convey. In the bargain which had been made with them, the passengers had been designated simply as two gentlemen of rank who had escaped from the battle of Worcester. When, however, the master of the vessel saw the king, he immediately recognized him, having seen him before in his campaigns under his father. This, however, seemed to make no difference in his readiness to convey the passengers away. He said that he was perfectly willing to risk his life to save that of his sovereign, and the arrangements for the embarkation proceeded.

The little vessel—its burden was about sixty tons—was brought into a small cove at Brighthelmstone, a few miles to the eastward from Shoreham, and run upon the beach, where it was left stranded when the tide went down. The king and Lord Wilmot went to it by night, ascended its side by a ladder, went down immediately into the cabin, and concealed themselves there. When the rising tide had lifted the vessel, with its precious burden, gently from the sand, the master made easy sail, and coasted along the English shore toward the Isle of Wight, which was the direction of the voyage which he had originally intended to make. He did not wish the people at Shoreham to observe any alteration of his course, since that might have awakened suspicion, and possibly invited pursuit; so they went on for a time to the westward, which was a course that rather increased than diminished their distance from their place of destination.

It was seven o'clock in the morning when they sailed. There was a gentle October breeze from the north, which carried them slowly along the shore, and in the afternoon the Isle of Wight came fully into view. There were four men and a boy on board the ship, constituting the crew. The master came to the king in the cabin, and proposed to him, as a measure of additional security, and to prevent the possibility of any opposition on the part of the sailors to the proposed change in their course which it would now soon be necessary to make, that the king and Lord Wilmot should propose the plan of going to France to them, asking their interest with the captain in obtaining his consent, as it had not yet been mentioned to the captain at all; for the sailors had of course understood that the voyage was only the usual coastwise trip to the port of Pool, and that these strangers were ordinary travelers, going on that voyage. The master, therefore, thought that there would be less danger of difficulty if the king were first to gain the sailors over himself, by promises or rewards, and then all come together to gain the captain's consent, which could then, at last, with apparent reluctance, be accorded.

This plan was pursued. The two travelers went to the sailors upon the forecastle, and told them, with an air of honest confidence, that they were not what they seemed. They were merchants, they said, and were unfortunately a little in debt, and under the necessity of leaving England for a time. They had some money due to them in Rouen, in France, and they wanted very much to be taken across the Channel to Dieppe, or some port near Rouen. They made known their condition to the sailors, they said, because they wanted their intercession with the captain to take them over, and they gave the sailors a good generous present in money for them to spend in drink; not so generous, however, as to cast suspicion upon their story of being traders in distress.

Sailors are easily persuaded by arguments that are enforced by small presents of money. They consented to the plan, and then the king and Lord Wilmot went to express their wishes to the captain. He made many objections. It would delay him on his voyage, and lead to many inconveniences. The passengers, however, urged their request, the sailors seconding them. The wind was fair, and they could easily run across the Channel, and then, after they landed, the captain could pursue his course to the place of his destination. The captain finally consented; the helm was altered, the sails were trimmed, and the little vessel bore away toward its new destination on the coast of France.

It was now five o'clock in the afternoon. The English coast soon disappeared from the horizon, and the next morning, at daylight, they could see the French shore. They approached the land at a little port called Fecamp. The wind, however, failed them before they got quite to the land, and they had to anchor to wait for a turn of the tide to help them in. In this situation, they were soon very much alarmed by the appearance of a vessel in the offing, which was coming also toward the shore. They thought it was a Spanish privateer, and its appearance brought a double apprehension. There was danger that the privateer would capture them, France and Spain being then at war. There was danger, also, that the master of their vessel, afraid himself of being captured, might insist on making all haste back again to the English coast; for the wind, though contrary so long as they wished to go on into their harbor, was fair for taking them away. The king and Lord Wilmot consulted together, and came to the conclusion to go ashore in the little boat. They soon made a bargain with the sailors to row them, and, hastily descending the vessel's side, they entered the boat, and pushed off over the rolling surges of the Channel.

They were two miles from the shore, but they reached it in safety. The sailors went back to the vessel. The privateer turned out to be a harmless trader coming into port. The English vessel recrossed the Channel, and went on to its original port of destination; and Lord Wilmot and the king, relieved now of all their anxieties and fears, walked in their strange English dress up into the village to the inn.

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