Jane Lane and Charles II

Jane Lane and Charles II

Thursday, September 29, 2011

September 24, 1651 - a wild goose chase

The wee hours of September 24, 1651 found Charles holed up in the top floor of the George Inn at Broadwinsor with Lord Wilmot, Frank Wyndham, and Juliana Coningsby, unable to go anywhere because the inn was full of Parliamentary troopers who had stopped on their way southward. 

An innyard in Shropshire
Once more Charles had had a carefully laid plan fall apart.  When the soldiers finally left near dawn, according to Anne Wyndham, “His majesty having with an evenness of spirit got through this rough passage, safely anchored at Broadwinsor … at length enjoying some rest, he commands the colonel [Wyndham] to give his opinion what course was to be taken, as the face of affairs then looked.  The colonel (seeing forces drawn everywhere upon that shore) thought it very hazardous to attempt anything more at Dorsetshire, and therefore humbly besought his majesty that he would be pleased to retreat to Trent: he hoped his majesty was already satisfied in the fidelity of his servants, and that he doubted not his majesty might lie securely in that creek, till it was fair weather and a good season to put forth to sea.”

Wyndham suggested that his servant Henry Peters should accompany Lord Wilmot to the King’s Arms at Sarum (Salisbury), “where he and many of his friends had sheltered in the time of troubles.”  Peters would put Wilmot in touch with Wyndham’s relative John Coventry, “with whom he had kept intelligence, in order to the king’s service, ever since his majesty had set foot in Scotland, and Wyndham assured Charles that Coventry “would think himself highly honored to correspond in this matchless employment, the king’s preservation.” 
King's Arms, Salisbury, about 1908
drawing from Alan Fea's The Flight of the King
Salisbury and Trent were thirty miles apart, and messengers could easily be sent to and fro to keep the king informed of plans to get him out of the country. So Wilmot and Peters set off northeast toward Salisbury, and Charles rode north and a little west with Frank Wyndham and Juliana Coningsby.

Now – how did it happen that a party of soldiers had been pursuing the king the previous day?
After Charles left the Queen’s Arms at Charmouth, Wilmot discovered that his horse had cast a shoe, and he asked the ostler at the inn to take it to the blacksmith.  According to William Ellesden’s account, the smith, a man named Hammet, said, “This horse hath but three shoes on, and they were set in three several counties, and one of them in Worcestershire.” 

A suspicious blacksmith

As it happened, the ostler was “one of Captain Macy’s soldiers, a notorious knave,” working at the inn to make a little extra money.  His curiosity had already been aroused the night before when Wyndham and Peters “went out so late at night toward the seaside, and … the rest of the company, during their absence, were more private than travellers are wont to be, and perhaps inspired and prompted by the devil, [he] suspected one of these guests to be the king.”

The smith’s words only confirmed the ostler’s suspicions, and he told the landlady of the inn what he thought.  She, who might already have guessed the same thing, “very passionately rebuked the ostler for these insolencies, hoping by that means to put a stop to his (as she judged) treasonable projects.”  But the ostler would not be put off, and sought out the local parson, the Reverend Doctor Benjamin Westly, the great-grandfather of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement.

The parson, however, was praying, and would not be disturbed. The ostler, worried about losing his tip if he wasn’t there when Wilmot’s horse was ready for him, went back to the inn.  But after Wilmot had left, the ostler returned to Westly, now done praying, and confided his suspicions.  Both of them confronted the landlady, who seems to have been related to Mistress Quickly of Falstaff’s local, the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap.

Mistress Quickly, right, watches Falstaff
Westly: Why how now, Margaret? You are a maid of honor now.
Landlady: What mean you by that, Mr. Parson?

Westly: Why, Charles Stuart lay last night at your house, and kissed you at his departure; so that now you can’t but be a maid of honor.
Landlady: I’faith, you are a scurvy, ill-conditioned man, to go about to bring me and my house into trouble.  But if I thought it was the king, as you say it was, I would think the better of my lips all the days of my life; and so, Mr. Parson, get you out of my house, or else I’ll get those shall kick you out.

The parson and the ostler now went off to the justice of the peace, “and earnestly pressed him to raise the county by his warrants…. But he … thinking it very unlikely that the king should be in these parts, notwithstanding all the parson’s bawling and the strong probabilities upon which their conjectures seemed to be grounded, utterly rejected his council, fearing lest he should make himself ridiculous to all the county by such an undertaking.” 
The ostler finally did what he should have done in the first place, and went to his commanding officer. Captain Macy (or Massey, depending on the account), no doubt keenly conscious of the thousand pound reward for the king’s capture as well as his duty, “having no sooner received the report of these surmises, and information on what horses and in what equipage, and which way the persons suspected made their departure from Charmouth …instantly resolves to leave no means unattempted, that with the least show of probability might conduce to his majesty’s attachment.

“In pursuance of which he presently mounts, and setting spurs to his horse, in a full career he rides toward Bridport, where, at his arrival, after a little inquiry made, he was given to understand that some persons, with whom the descriptions he had received most exactly suited, had dined at the George that day, but not long before his coming were departed towards Dorchester.  This, therefore, was the next place to which he posted … which he no sooner entered, but (as if he had been to execute some warrant for the apprehending the most notorious felon in the kingdom … he searched all the inns and alehouses in the town.”
Oliver Cromwell
who very much wanted to capture Charles

According to Anne Wyndham, “the report of the king’s being at Charmouth was grown so common, that the soldiers … searched the houses of several gentlemen who were accounted royalists, thinking to surprise him.”  Pilisdon, the home of Sir Hugh Wyndham, Frank Wyndham’s uncle, “was twice rifled." 
Sir Hugh Wyndham
A young lady of the mid 17th century
not looking much like Charles II
"They took the old baronet, his lady, daughters, and whole family, and set a guard upon them in the hall, whilst they examine every corner, not sparing either trunk or box.  Then taking a particular view of their prisoners, they seize a lovely young lady, saying she was the king disguised in woman’s apparel.  At length being convinced of their gross and rude mistake, they desisted from offering any further violence to that family.” 

Just as alarmingly, Captain Ellesden, who had undertaken to find a ship for Charles but perhaps was now trying to hedge his bets, arrived at Pilisdon, “and enquired of Sir Hugh and his lady for the king and colonel, confidently affirming that they must needs be there.”
But, as Ellesden wrote triumphantly (much later, when it was safe once more to be a Royalist), “God … was graciously pleased to make this furious hunter to overrun the game he hunted for.”

Macy and his men didn’t get to the George at Broadwinsor, and by the next day, Charles had once more safely reached Trent Manor, where he could bide his time in Lady Wyndham’s chamber with its priest hole.

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