|Charles II in about 1651|
a miniature by Samuel Cooper
The 21-year-old Charles was in grave danger of capture and death, but the weeks he spent on the run were a strongly formative experience, and after the Restoration he told the story frequently for the rest of his life. The hardships he endured gave him an intimate understanding of the common people like no other king had had. If he hadn't escaped, England’s history would likely have come out quite differently.
My second book, The September Queen, is the first fictional account of Jane Lane, who risked her life to help Charles, embarking on a perilous and romantic journey with the handsome young king disguised as her servant. The book will be released in the U.S. on November 1, and until then I’ll be blogging regularly about the daily events in Charles’s peregrinations.
|Plan of Worcester in 1651|
On July 31, 1651, Charles set out from Stirling in Scotland with 3,000-4,000 cavalry and 7,000-9,000 footsoldiers, mostly of them Scottish highlanders. He crossed into England, hoping for a popular uprising of supporters, and on August 8 was proclaimed king at Penrith and Rokeby, but Carlisle failed to welcome him, and as he marched south his numbers dwindled as discouraged followers deserted.
|Charles in 1651, crowned as King of Scotalnd|
|Half-timbered buildings in Worcester which would have |
been there when Worcester was Charles's headquarters
|Bridge over the Severn, Worcester|
|Wall on the riverside, Worcester|
Harried by Cromwell’s forces following behind, after two weeks of rapid marches, on August 22 Charles and his exhausted men, many of them barefoot, limped into Worcester, where the mayor and sheriff proclaimed him King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland. He issued a general pardon for all who had fought against his father in the civil war, called for his subjects to join him to restore “the quiet, the liberty, and the laws of the English nation,” and rallied his followers in the riverside meadows near the cathedral.
|Alice on the river path near the cathedral, Worcester|
On August 29, Cromwell’s army -- better equipped and supplied and vastly outnumbering Charles’s men -- arrived at Red Hill, a mile outside Worcester. Over the next few days there was some artillery barrage, but Cromwell made no move to attack the royalists within the city walls until September 3, the first anniversary of his victory at the Battle of Dunbar.
|The great hall in the Commandery, |
Royalist headquarters in Worcester
|The Commandery from the street, the scene of desperate fighting|
|Edgar Gate, one of the medieval gates in the city's walls|
|Me on top of Worcester Cathedral,|
looking south to where Cromwell's forces gathered
and the battle began
|The green area is the hilltop site of Fort Royal |
view from Worcester Cathedral
|The Town Hall, Worcester|
The streets near here saw some of the most bloody fighting
View north from atop Worcester Cathedral
|The house that was Charles's lodgings|
By late in the day it was clear that the day was lost and with it the Royalist cause, and all that was left was to preserve the life of the king at all costs. His followers mounted a desperate last stand near the town hall, giving Charles just time to get back to his lodgings where he threw off his armor and begged his friend Lord Wilmot to meet him outside St. Martin’s Gate with fresh horses if it were possible.
|The street near the site of St. Martin's Gate|
|The back entrance of Charles's lodgings, which allowed his escape|
As the sun was setting, he left the building by the back door while Cromwell’s men were entering at the front, and dashed the few yards to the gate.
|"The King's House," Worcester. An 18th century view |
of the building that was Charles's lodgings, from which he narrowly escaped
|View of Worcester Cathedral from the hill where Fort Royal stood|
|Fort Royal - flower bed on site of gun emplacement|
the hilltop fort saw brutal slaughter of Charles's men
Outside the city walls the king was joined by his surviving officers and a few hundred other men. Charles was for rallying what was left of his forces and returning to the city but was convinced that it would be pointless, and that it was imperative for him not to be taken prisoner, so he and the remnants of his army rode northward and away from Worcester. But his survival depended on travelling as quickly and quietly as possible, so he broke away from the main body of refugees with a handful of supporters to consider the options.
Charles wanted to race for London, hoping to board a ship and sail for France or Spain before news of his defeat had reached the city. But London was far off, and the Earl of Derby suggested that he make for Brewood, a heavily Catholic area of Shropshire where Derby had recently found shelter at an old hunting lodge called Boscobel after his defeat at Wigan.
Among those still with the king was Charles Giffard, the owner of Boscobel. He said that the house had recently been searched, and that the king might be better hidden at Whiteladies, an old priory now owned by his family that lay in the woods near Boscobel.
|King's Arms at Ombersley, through which Charles passed escaping from Worcester|
|Earl of Derby|
he suggested Charles flee to Boscobel
|Boscobel and Whiteladies in 1660|
|The ruins of Whiteladies in 1809|
|Ruins of Whiteladies Priory in October 2009|
Sources and futher reading: I'll post many sources for the story of Charles's flight. For a good overview of the battle, please see Worcester 1651 by Malcolm Atkin.