MacLean, Gerald, editor. The Return of the King : An Anthology of English Poems Commemorating the Restoration of Charles II / edited by Gerald MacLean
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J. W., Henry Jones, & John Couch

J. W.,

The Royall Oak

Henry Jones,

The Royal Patient Traveller

The Royal Wanderer

The Wonderfull and Miraculous escape of our Gracious King

John Couch,

His Majesties miraculous Preservation By the Oak, Maid, and Ship

   Among the most popular themes that poets used to celebrate Charles's return was his seemingly miraculous escape from the battle of Worcester back in 1651. The flight from battle, the early days in hiding, and the escape to France six weeks later had swiftly become the stuff of both royalist legend and parliamentarian propaganda. In the months following the battle, the London press had kept busy publishing all manner of speculation and misinformation about the Scottish king's "mad design": widely-circulated news reports maintained that he had escaped into Scotland, or was disguised as a woman and living in London.72 After safely arriving in France in mid October, Charles himself turned misinformation into disinformation by confirming false reports of his route that had appeared in the London press in order to protect those who had helped him escape.73 But nine years later, he was keen that the truth should be told. As soon as he set sail for England, Charles "fell in disourse of his escape from Worcester,"74 subsequently taking a personal interest in setting the record straight and rewarding those who had taken risks on his behalf.75

   Understandably, accounts of the escape published in 1660 tended to rely on the familiar, though often unreliable, stories that had been in circulation since 1651.76 Some of the grosser fabrications disappeared, but errors, such as the soujourn in London which Charles himself had confirmed,77 are frequently repeated. In order to understand how the events of those weeks have been retold by the poets, some facts and dates are useful.

   On Wednesday, 3 September, Charles left the battlefield accompanied by his personal servants and a group of principal noblemen, including Henry Wilmot.78 On Lord Derby's advice, the group herded north where the king had good hopes of being hidden by the recusant underground. By 3:00pm on Thursday they had got as far as Whiteladies and stopped. Here Charles met the five Penderel brothers -- tenant farmers, royalists, and recusants accustomed to hiding people -- who would keep him safely in hiding for the next week. Charles paid off his servants and went into disguise. After a day spent hiding in the woods, with Richard Penderel, Charles attempted but failed to cross the Severn; they retreated to Boscobel House where Charles spent Saturday hiding in an Oak tree. That evening William Penderel cut Charles's hair in an attempt to disguise his overly familiar features.

   Meanwhile John Penderel and Wilmot had been planning an escape in league with Colonel John Lane, whose sister Jane had a parliamentary pass to Abbots Leigh, near Bristol, for herself, her cousin Henry Lascelles, and a manservant. On Sunday evening, following a day at prayer during which he suffered a celebrated nose-bleed, the disguised king, carrying a billhook, set off with all five Penderels to meet up with Wilmot and the Lanes. At Moseley en route, Charles took leave of the Penderels, ending his sojourn among this branch of the loyalist recusant underground. Early on the morning of the 10th, Charles met up with Jane at Bentley and, taking on the guise of William, her manservant, set out riding pillion with Jane for Abbots Leigh, where he would be safely among royalists and close to one of England's busiest ports. As the party approached Stratford, parliamentary troops scared off Jane's sister and brother-in-law, who turned back home. But the rest carried on unmolested, arriving at Long Marston for the night of the 10th. It was here that manservant "William" was scolded by a kitchen maid for being too incompetent to turn a roasting handle. Travelling next day to Cirencester, where they put up at the Crown Inn, the fugitive party arrived at Abbots Leigh on Friday the 12th. Here, despite attempts at disguise, Charles was recognized by a butler named Pope. Finding no boat from Bristol, with Pope's advice and connivance, Jane, Lascelles, with their manservant "William" travelled on into Dorset to Trent. Once plans for a boat to take Charles to France had been arranged, Jane and her cousin returned to Bentley.

   As events turned out, it would take several more weeks before Charles would find passage for France; he finally left from Shoreham on the 15th of October. News that the king had escaped in the company of a woman was in print within a month of his arrival in Paris on the 20th, so there must have been a leak in or around the Lane household.79 The recusant underground handled secrecy somewhat better; the Penderels only enter the story in 1660. In any event, Jane and Colonel Lane, determined to escape any danger, walked to Yarmouth and took ship for the continent in December. Once there, they joined the court in exile. Details of Charles's escape, once Jane Lane had left him, remained obscure to the poets of 1 and so need not detain us here.80

    Restoration accounts of the escape from Worcester are clearly interested in claiming historical accuracy, especially when verisimilitude might contribute to royalist legend and help legitimate regal authority. But the truth about Charles's kingship was to be a gradual and continuing process of revelation. New details were invented, while established rumours, such as Charles claiming to be the son of a nail maker from Birmingham, persisted regardless of their historical accuracy. Harold Weber describes the escape narratives operating a pattern of disguise and revelation that characterizes and legitimates Charles's paradoxical status, rendering the king both human and royally other. By 1660, his defeat at Worcester had already been turned to his advantage, representing not "a military victory over his own people, but . . . a conquest of their hearts."81 Recycling the escape story was ideally suited to keeping that conquest alive by rendering Charles, both man and king, knowable and familiar. In keeping with their popular form, the ballads favor comic inversion -- such as a kitchen maid calling the king a booby -- a device which serves to reaffirm rather than disturb the established order.

   Since none can be dated exactly, the broadside verses given in this section are arranged in the order in which the information they provide became available. The first three reiterate a remarkably similar repertoire of narrative details that had mostly been available in printed form since 1651: Charles leaving the field only after several horses were shot from under him, the subsequent cutting of the king's hair, his disguise, his distributing £300 in gold among his servants, his hiding in an oak tree, his further disguise as a servant to Jane Lane, the £1, reward offered by Parliament for his capture, his taking ship for France. Some anecdotes found in the first three ballads seem to be the stuff of irreducible but undocumentable legend, such as the disguised king claiming to be the son of a Birmingham nail maker. Misinformation from the 1 news reports persists into some of these accounts: the story of Charles and the kitchen maid is set at an inn in Bristol, and he is imagined visiting London before sailing for France.

   The fourth ballad given here, The Wonderfull and Miraculous escape, however, depends on information generally available only after the king's return and fills in some of the details of the first week after Worcester when Charles was in company with the Penderels. John Couch's broadside verses are less interested in reporting historical narrative than with transforming historical detail into the magical forms of poetic iconography. Allusions, both casual and detailed, to the providential-seeming nature of Charles's escape persist in Restoration poems throughout the year. Poems in later sections that make full use of the story include John Crouch's Mixt Poem, Thomas Fairebrother's An Essay, and Thomas Fuller's Panegyrick.


[72] See The last Newes from the King of Scots (for G. Wharton, 1651), LT E.641.(24), ms dated 29 Sept.; The Weekly Intelligencer 16, for 9-16 September 1651, reports on "the madnes of that Design" (p. 281); and see the fuller account from early November, A Mad Designe (for Robert Ibbotson, 1651), LT 669.f.16.(32).

[73] Printed reports of Charles's own account include The Declaration of the King of Scots (for G. Horton, 1651), LT E.645.(5), ms dated "10 November," and A Mad Design.

[74] Pepys, 23 May 1660. Twenty years later, Charles gave Pepys a full account; and see Matthews, ed., Charles's II's Escape from Worcester

[75] On rewards for those who assisted, see Richard Ollard, The Escape of Charles II after the Battle of Worcester (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1966), pp. 139-48.

[76] See Harold Weber, Paper Bullets, chapter on the escape from Worcester stories.

[77] See The Declaration, pp. 2-3.

[78] Alone of the noblemen, Wilmot stayed with Charles during the escape, becoming an important member of the court in exile. He was created Earl of Rochester on 13 December 1652, remaining engaged in royal service until his death on 19 February 1658.

[79] A Mad Designe and The Declaration appeared in early Novemeber. An undated ballad, The last Newes from France (Printed for W. Gilbertson), to the tune "When the King enjoyes his own again," at GU Euing 181, tells the story in the voice of the un-named Lady.

[80] Jane entered the service of the Duke of Orange, whom she attended to Cologne in 1654. In 1660, she was voted £1,000 by the Commons to buy herself a jewel; Charles gave her a gold watch that was to become a family heirloom; a pension of £1, was also voted her (DNB).

[81] Weber, Paper Bullets, p. 40.