|The Route of the Great Escape|
Lord Wilmot had a problem. He had safely brought the King to a sympathetic Catholic house (“Whiteladies”). However the fact remained that they were many, many miles away from the coast and with every road in England bristling with soldiery all on the look out for “a tall dark man some two yards high” (in an age when the average height of a man was about 5’ 10” – being over 6’ set him apart from his fellows) , their chances of getting the defeated King safely back to France seemed slim.
|The "Wanted" Poster|
|Charles and Carlis hiding in the "Boscobel Oak"|
They reached Abbots Leigh on September 12, after encountering troops on the road and hearing from a blacksmith that “that rogue Charles Stuart had been captured, who deserved to hang…”. There he was forced to keep to his room on pretence of fever when he discovered one of the household had served in his regiment. With a hefty reward on his head, his former soldier posed more of a risk than a regiment of roundheads.
Unable to find a boat in Bristol and with the Welsh ports watched, the party decided to head south still with Jane Lane to provide the cover story. They passed through Somerset and were forced to bypass the most obvious point of escape, Dorset because of the heavy enemy presence. Their aim was to reach Lyme (later awarded the “Regis” in recognition of its loyalty). There a boat was arranged to depart from nearby Charmouth. Charles parted company with the courageous Jane Lane and in company of another fearless woman, Juliana Coningsby, the party went down to meet their boat. The boat never arrived (the skipper having been locked in his bedroom by his outraged wife!) and once more the King’s party were forced back on their own resources. They were now in a part of the country where Charles was well known and he risked detection at every turn.
His refuge (or his “Ark” as it was described by the lady of the house) was the home of Colonel Wyndham, Trent Manor. There the King spent two weeks while Wilmot scoured the coast looking for a boat. On 13 October, Charles set out again, heading for Sussex. A boat had been arranged under the cover story of transporting a pair of illegal duelists and for the price of 60 pieces of silver, a boat was arranged to leave from Shoreham harbor. On Wednesday 15 October at 4am, King Charles II finally sailed away from England to spend the next nine years in penniless exile in France.
Some interesting facts about the great escape:
|Charles II c1653|
• Despite being forced to sleep on hard pallets, being squashed into priest holes or forced to spend days in trees, the main source of discomfort for the King were his shoes. Shoes could not be found to fit his feet and so he suffered dreadful blisters and in his later years developed something of an obsession for well fitting shoes!
• The King learned more about the way his people lived than any other monarch. While he was at Boscobel he asked for mutton for his supper. Mutton was a meat reserved only for the most special of occasions and could not be readily provided.
• In his travels he encountered for the first time the hidden world of the English catholics and his talks with Father Huddleston would have a profound effect on him.
The "Royal Oak" became a cult, a "symbol of royalty and romance" (Fraser). After the Restoration the King's birthday, May 29th was designated "Oak Apple Day" and remained a public holiday until the 1850s.
Postscript on Jane Lane. Once her part in the Great Escape became known she was exiled in France until the Restoration after which she was granted £1,000 a year for life. Jane married to Sir Clement Fisher of Great Packington, Warwickshire in 1663 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In later life she lived rather extravagantly and became deeply in debt. When she died, her estate was valued at only £10.
|The "Boscobel" Oak today|
"When Kate Ashley finds herself the unwilling inheritor of the Thornton family estate of Seven Ways in Worcestershire, she could not have foreseen that along with the impoverished estate she, the respectable widow of a parliamentary officer, would find herself drawn into the last conflict of the English Civil War by her love for the royalist, Jonathan Thornton. Jonathan has returned from exile, carrying with him the vain hopes of the young King Charles II and the demons of his own dark past. In the aftermath of the battle of Worcester, Kate is caught between Jonathan and the man who has hunted him down over the years, the dour parliamentarian, Stephen Prescott. Jonathan comes face to face with his nemesis and learns the price he has paid for his long dead love; a secret that will change his life, and Kate's, forever."