Jane Lane and Charles II

Jane Lane and Charles II

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September 14, 1651 - an unexpected tragedy

View downhill from Abbots Leigh
Lord Wilmot, making his way from Packington to Abbots Leigh with his man Robert Swan, had run across an old friend, Captain Thomas Abingdon, who accompanied Wilmot to the home of his friend John Winter at Dyrham, only a few hours’ ride from Wilmot’s destination.  Winters in turn had sent his servant Henry Rogers to guide Wilmot and Swan to Abbots Leigh.  John Pope, the butler at Abbots Leigh, had intercepted them on the night of September 13 and lodged them in the village so Wilmot would not be recognized by members of the household who would be sure to ask questions about Worcester and might put two and two together if they noted the strange dark serving man who had arrived with Jane Lane. 

Road at Abbots Leigh
When Pope learned that there would be no ships for France or Spain leaving from Bristol within a month, Charles once more had to come up with a new plan.  Pope had sneaked Wilmot into the house late on Saturday night, and Charles conferred with them about what to do now.

Pope reminded him that Trent, a village in Dorset not far from the southern coast, was the home of Francis Wyndham, an ardent Royalist and the brother of Sir Edmund Wyndham, who had been governor of Bridgwater during the war, and whose wife Christabella had been nurse to Charles when he was a boy. 

Charles II as a young boy with his siblings
Pope suggested that Francis Wyndham would surely be willing to shelter the king and help him find a boat from one of the southern fishing ports.  And fortuitously, Rogers’s mistress, Mrs. Winter, was the sister of Francis Wyndham’s wife, so he could go along as guide.
Present house at Abbots Leigh, October 2009

Stone wall with ivy, Abbots Leigh
A new plan was now put into action. Wilmot and Swan would ride ahead to Trent to alert the Wyndhams, and the next day, Charles would set out with Jane, Henry Lascelles, and Rogers, spending a night at Castle Cary before arriving in Trent.

Trees at Abbots Leigh
But that afternoon, an unexpected tragedy struck that threw a further complication into Charles’s escape.  The original purpose of Jane Lane’s trip to Abbots Leigh had been to be there when her friend Ellen Norton gave birth to her first baby.  But on the afternoon of Sunday, September 14, Ellen "fell into Labour and miscarry'd of a dead Child, and was very ill." 

17th century anatomical model of
pregnant woman possibly used by midwives
Wellcome Library, London
As Charles recalled, they “could not tell how in the world to finde an excuse for Mrs. Lane to leave her Cousen in that condition,” but “it was not safe to stay longer there, when there was soe greate resort of disaffected Idle people.”  Charles couldn’t leave on his own – Jane was part of his disguise, and it would look very suspicious if her serving man rode off suddenly without her. Moreover, Wilmot had already left, and if Charles did not arrive at Trent as expected, it was likely that Wilmot, Wyndham, and others might put themselves in grave danger riding back to find him. 
Charles, consulting with Lascelles, came up with a scheme worthy of a Restoration comedy: “to counterfeit a Letter [to Jane] … to tell her that her Father was extreamly ill and commanded her to come away immeadiately for feare that she should not otherwise finde him alive.  Which letter Pope delivered soe well while they were all at Supper, and Mrs. Lane playing her part soe dexterously, that all believed Old Mr. Lane to be indeed in great danger, and gave his Daughter the Excuse to goe away with me the very next morning early.”

Jane Lane
from The Flight of the King
Poor Ellen.  Poor Jane.  None of the men who wrote their versions of these events set down how the women felt, but it is a matter of recorded fact that when the party set out in the morning, Jane was not riding behind Charles, but on the other horse, with her cousin Henry.  Too heartbroken and angry to ride with the king is what that looks like to me.

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