Jane Lane and Charles II

Jane Lane and Charles II

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September 23, 1651 - more close calls!

On the night of September 22, 1651, Charles sat up late at the inn at Charmouth with Lord Wilmot, Frank Wyndham, Juliana Coningsby, and Wyndham’s servant Henry Peters, waiting for the boat that was to come in on the tide around midnight and carry him to safety. 
As Anne Wyndham recounted, “they remained all night expecting; but seeing no long-boat, neither hearing any message from the master of the ship, at the break of day the colonel returns to the inn, and beseeches the king and the lord Wilmot to haste from thence… The lord Wilmot was desirous to stay behind a little, promising to follow the king to Bridport, whence his majesty intended to make a halt for him.”
But of course once more nothing went right.  Setting out from Charmouth with Wyndham and Juliana Coningsby, one of the travelers Charles passed on the road was a man who had been a servant to his father, and who also knew Wyndham, and obviously recognized both of them.  Fortunately, the man was discreet enough not to greet them and so draw attention to them.
The George Inn at Bridport around turn of 20th century
photo from 1908 edition of Alan Fea's The Flight of the King
Further adventures lay ahead when they got to Bridport.  As Charles told Samuel Pepys many years later, “just as we came into the Towne, I could see the Streets full of Redd-Coates, Cromwells Soldiers (being a Regiment of Coll. Haynes’s … (1500 men going to imbarke to take Jerzey) at which Franck Windham was very much startled, and asked me what I would doe.  I told him that we must goe impudently into the best inn in the Towne and take a Chamber there, as the only thing to be done, because we should otherwise miss my Lord Willmott…. So we Rodd directly into the best Inn of the place and found the Yard very full of Soldiers.  I alighted, and takeing the Horses thought it the best way to goe blundering in among them, and lead them through the middle of the Soldiers into the Stable, Which I did and they were very angry with my for my rudeness.

Inn yard of Queen's Head, Southwark, 1880
the yard of the inn at Bridport was probably similar

“As soon as I came into the Stable I took the Bridles off the Horses, and called the Ostler to me to help me give the Horses some Oates.  And as the Ostler was helping me to feed the Horses, Sure, Sir (Sayes the Ostler) I know your face.  Which was noe very pleasant Questian to me, but I thought the best way was to ask him where he had lived? Whether he had alwayes lived there or noe? He told me, that he was but newly come thether, that he was borne in Exeter and had been Ostler in an Inn there, hard by one Mr. Potter’s a Merchant, in whose House I had laine in the time of War.  Soe I thought it best to give the fellow noe further occacion of thinking where he had seen me, for feare he should guess right at Last. 

“Therefore I told him, Friend, Certainly you have seene me there at Mr. Potters, for I served him a good while, above a yeare.  Oh, sayes he, then I remember you a Boy there, and with that was putt off from thinking any more on it but desired that we might drinck a Pott of Beere together. Which I excused by saying that I must goe waite upon my Maister, and get his dinner ready for him, but told him, that my Maister was goeing to London and would return about three Weekes hence, when he would lye there, and I would not faile to drink a pott with him.”
Another view of the yard of the Queen's Head, Southwark
Judging Bridport too dangerous to stay in now, as soon as the party had eaten, “we rode out of Towne as if we had gone upon the Roade towards London, and when we gott 2 Myle off, my Lord Willmott overtooke us, he having observed while in Towne where we were, and told us that he beleived the Shipp might be ready next night, but that there had been Some mistake between him and the Maister of the Shipp.”
At this point occurred one of the many incidents that led the whole saga of Charles’s escape to become known as the Royal Miracle.  As the king and his companions made their way toward Bridport, a company of soldiers was on their trail.  How and why that came to pass I will save for another post.  But the king and his party were feeling spooked, and decided to leave the main road whenever they had the opportunity, and find their way back to Trent.  So when they came to Lee Lane, a small track branching off the main road near Bradpole, they took it, although none of them knew the area.  They were to learn later that taking this alternate route had saved them from certain capture by the troop of cavalry that had thundered by only a few minutes after they left the Dorchester Road.  This bit of serendipity came to be known as the Miraculous Divergence.

1911 re-enactment of the Miraculous Divergence
West Dorset Pageant, July 20, 21, 22
from A.M. Broadley's The Royal Miracle

Stone placed by A.M. Broadley, 1911
to commemorate the Miraculous Divergence
Having taken an unfamiliar road, Charles and his companions didn’t know where they were when they reached a village out in the country about four miles from Lyme.  Wyndham went in to the inn, the George, to make inquiries, and by good luck it turned out that he knew the innkeeper, and knew him to be a staunch Royalist.  He told the man that he and his brother-in-law, Bullen Reymes, who Wilmot strikingly resembled, had broken their paroles by being more than five miles from home and needed a quiet place to spend the night.  The innkeeper put the party in the top story of the inn and brought them supper himself. 

George Inn, Broadwindsor
drawing by Alan Fea, from The Flight of the King
Now came another scare.  A detachment of the Cromwellian Colonel Haines’s regiment, on its way to the coast to ship for Jersey, arrived at the inn at Broadwindsor.  Now Charles and his companions were trapped.  But as happened so often during his odyssey, a piece of bad luck was balanced with an astonishingly good one, at least for the king.  A woman with the soldiers went into labor.  The local authorities found out about it, and fearing the parish would end up bearing the cost of caring for the mother and child, they arrived at the inn to confront the soldiers, and “there arose a very hot conflict.”  While the poor woman was in labor in the kitchen, “this dispute continued till such time as … they were to march to the seaside.”  So everyone who might have taken notice of the fugitive king was too busy to notice him.  Once more, Charles had dodged a bullet.

Outbuilding at George Inn, Broadwindsor
drawing by Alan Fea from The Flight of the King

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