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William Harrison Ainsworth
Boscobel: or, the royal oak A tale of the year 1651

In that fair part where the rich Salop gains
An ample view o'er all the Western plains,
A grove appears which Boscobel they name,
Not known to maps; a grove of scanty fame.
And yet henceforth no celebrated shade
Of all the British groves shall be more glorious made.
Cowley's Sylva. Book VI.


In his letter to Mr. Hughes, the then Bishop of Llandaff describes King Charles the Second's Wanderings after the Battle of Worcester "as being by far the most romantic piece of English history we possess."

I have always entertained the same opinion, and after reading the "Boscobel Tracts," so admirably edited by Mr. Hughes, I resolved to write a story on the subject, which should comprehend the principal incidents described in the various narratives of the King's adventures; but not having at that time visited any of the hiding-places, I deferred my design, and possibly might never have executed it, had I not seen a series of Views depicting most graphically the actual state of the different places visited by Charles, and privately published by Mr. Frederick Manning, of Leamington.

Stimulated by these remarkable sketches, I at once commenced my long-delayed Tale.

An enthusiast on the subject, Mr. Manning has collected all the numerous editions of the "Boscobel Tracts," and has printed a list of them, which is exceedingly curious. The collection is probably unique. His nephew, Mr. John E. Anderdon, whose death occurred while this work was in the press, was also an enthusiastic collector of all matters relating to Boscobel and the King's escapes, and from both these gentlemen I have derived much valuable assistance1.

I am under equal obligations to my excellent friend, Mr. Parke, of the Deanery, Wolverhampton, who has furnished me with many curious tracts, prints, plans, and privately printed books relating to Boscobel, Brewood, and Chillington. I shall always retain a most agreeable recollection of a visit paid to Chillington in company with Mr. Parke and the Hon. Charles Wrottesley, and of our hearty reception by the hospitable Squire.

Among the various works relating to Boscobel that have come under my notice is a charming little volume written by the Rev. George Dodd, Curate of Doddington, Salop, the village where Boscobel is situated, who has ascertained all the facts connected with the story.

Boscobel House, I rejoice to say, is in very good preservation, and I sincerely hope it may not be altered, or improved, as is the case with Trent – a most interesting old house. Moseley Hall is still extant; but, alas! Bentley House and Abbots Leigh are gone.

Finer figures do not appear in history than those of the devoted Jane Lane and the stalwart and loyal Penderel Brothers. "The simple rustic who serves his sovereign in time of need to the utmost extent of his ability, is as deserving of commendation as the victorious leader of thousands." So said King Charles the Second to Richard Penderel after the Restoration. It is pleasant to think that several descendants of the loyal family of Penderels are still in existence. With some of them I have been in correspondence.2

Good fortune seems to have attended those who aided the fugitive monarch. Many representatives of the old families who assisted him in his misfortunes are to be found – Mr. John Newton Lane, of King's Bromley Hall, near Lichfield, a lineal descendant of the Lanes; Mr. Tombs, of Long Marston; Mr. Whitgreave, of Moseley; the Giffards, of Chillington; and the ennobled family of Wyndham.

In describing the King's flight from Worcester to White Ladies on the night of the fatal 3rd of September, I have followed exactly the careful topographical description furnished by the Rev. Edward Bradley, Rector of Stretton, Oakham, to Notes and Queries, June 13th, 1868. Mr. Bradley has been the first to trace out the King's route, and to him all credit is due.3

"I know of no part of our annals," remarks Mr. Hughes, "which continues to be so familiar a subject of conversation among the commonalty as that connected with 'King Charles and the Royal Oak.' In every village directly or indirectly marked by particular incidents of the King's escape, the honest rustics preserve their scattered legends in a shape more or less correct, and mixed and transposed as they must necessarily be in many cases; and it is pleasing to witness the yeomanly pride with which, like Catholics zealous for the honour of Our Lady of some particular shrine, they contend for the appropriation of some well-known incident, as connected with the good and loyal service performed by the companions of their forefathers. The interest is, in most cases, strengthened by the existence of the identical houses where the circumstances in question took place, and of the principal families whose names figure conspicuously in the Tale, as well as by the slightness of difference between our present domestic habits and those of a time commencing, as it were, the more familiar era of dates. And to all ranks, in fact, the occurrences in question are calculated to present one of those pleasing episodes in history, distinct from the wearying details of bloodshed and political intrigue, which we dwell on with unmixed satisfaction as reflecting honour on our national good faith, and as brought home to our fancy by those domestic minutiæ, which form so great a charm in the Odyssey. The reality here presents all those features of romance which the imagination chiefly supplies in the Partie de Chasse d'Henri IV., or the incognitos of Haroun Alraschid."

It has been very pleasant to me to follow the King in his wanderings from place to place; and I have reason to believe that the story excited some interest in the different localities as it proceeded, when first published in a serial form.

In describing the old and faithful city of Worcester at the time of the Battle, I have received very great assistance from a distinguished local antiquary, which I have acknowledged in its place.

Never did Charles bear himself better than after the Battle. Though vanquished he was not overcome. Truthfully, though in somewhat high-flown strains, has Cowley sung of him:

Yet still great Charles's valour stood the test,
By fortune though forsaken and opprest.
Witness the purple-dyed Sabrina's stream,
And the Red Hill, not called so now in vain.
And Worcester, thou who didst the misery bear,
And saw'st the end of a long fatal war.

The Tale closes with the King's departure from Heale. How he journeyed from Salisbury to Brightelmstone, and embarked safely on board Captain Tattersall's bark at Shoreham, I have elsewhere related.

Hurstpierpoint, October 9, 1872.

Note by Mr. Manning

When Charles arrived within a mile of Stratford, perceiving a body of troopers, he and his party proceeded, by the road marked A in the plan, as far as the junction B. They then returned by the road marked C, and at the end of the lane, went down the hill into Stratford between the two large estates of Clopton and Welcombe, and over the bridge to Marston.

Book the First.


During the Civil Wars, the old and faithful city of Worcester suffered severely for its devotion to the royal cause. Twice was it besieged – twice sacked by the Parliamentarians. In 1642, the Earl of Essex marched with a large force against the place, stormed and pillaged it, and sent several of the wealthier citizens prisoners to London. Four years later – namely, in 1646 – the city again declared for the king, and being captured by the Roundheads, after an obstinate defence, underwent harder usage than before. Besides plundering the inhabitants, the soldiers of the Commonwealth, exasperated by the resistance they had encountered, did much damage to the public buildings, especially to the cathedral, the interior of which magnificent edifice was grievously injured. According to their custom, the troopers stabled their horses in the aisles, and converted the choir into a barrack, and the chapter-house into a guard-room. The organ was destroyed; the rich painted glass of the windows broken; many monuments mutilated; and the ancient records preserved in the library burnt. The exquisitely carved stone cross in the churchyard, from the pulpit of which Latimer and Whitgift had preached, was pulled down. Before this, John Prideaux, somewhile Bishop of Worcester, had been deprived of his see, and the dean and prebends dismissed – Church of England divines having given place to Presbyterian ministers, Independents, and Anabaptists.

But notwithstanding their sufferings in the good cause, the loyalty of the Worcester Cavaliers remained unshaken. Heavy fines and imprisonment could not subdue their spirit. To the last they continued true to the unfortunate king, though any further attempt at rising was checked by the strong garrison left in charge of the city, and commanded by Colonel John James, one of the strictest of the Republican leaders.

After the terrible tragedy of Whitehall, the Cavaliers of Worcester transferred their allegiance to the eldest son of the royal martyr and heir to the crown. All the principal citizens put on mourning, and every countenance, except those of the soldiers of the garrison, wore a sorrowful aspect. A funeral sermon, the text being, "Judge, and avenge my cause, O Lord," was preached by Doctor Crosby, the deprived dean, to a few persons assembled secretly by night in the crypt of the cathedral, and prayers were offered up for the preservation of Prince Charles, and his speedy restoration to the throne. The service, however, was interrupted by a patrol of musketeers, and the dean was seized and lodged in Edgar's Tower, an old fortified gate-house at the entrance of the cathedral close. Never had Worcester been so gloomy and despondent as at this period.

Nor did the hopes of the loyal citizens revive till the middle of August, 1651, when intelligence was received that Charles, who had been recently crowned at Scone, had escaped Cromwell's vigilance, and crossing the border with a considerable army, had pursued the direct route to Lancaster. Thence he continued his rapid march through Preston to Warrington, where he forced the bridge over the Mersey, in spite of the efforts of Generals Lambert and Harrison to arrest his progress. The young king, it was said, was making his way to his faithful city of Worcester, where he meant to establish his head-quarters and recruit his forces before marching on London.

The news seemed too good to be true, yet it obtained ready credence, and it was evident Colonel James believed it, for he forthwith began to put the fortifications in order. The commandant, in fact, had received a despatch from General Lambert, informing him that he and General Harrison had failed in preventing the young King of Scots from passing the bridge over the Mersey at Warrington, and had been disappointed in their expectation that he would give them battle on Knutsford Heath, where they awaited him.

Favoured by night, the young king had continued his march unmolested, it being understood from prisoners they had taken, that he was making for Worcester. Charles Stuart's forces, Lambert said, had been greatly reduced by desertions since he entered England, and now amounted to no more than eight thousand infantry and three thousand horse, and he was only provided with sixteen leathern guns. As yet he had obtained few recruits, the country gentlemen holding aloof, or being prevented by the militia from joining his standard. But the Earl of Derby had undertaken to raise large levies in Lancashire and Cheshire, and had been left behind by the king for that purpose. It was to defeat the earl's design that the two Parliamentary generals deemed it expedient to remain where they were rather than pursue the royal army. Many malignants, Papists, and Presbyterians, ill affected towards the Commonwealth, would doubtless join Lord Derby, who, unless he were speedily discomfited, might become formidable. But discomfited he assuredly would be, and his forces scattered like chaff, since the Lord would fight on the side of his elect. This good work achieved, the two generals would hasten to the relief of Worcester. Speedy succour might also be expected from the Lord General Cromwell, who was in close pursuit of the Scots' king, at the head of twelve thousand cavalry and infantry. Colonel James was, therefore, exhorted to hold out.

General Lambert further stated in his despatch, that Charles was accompanied by the most experienced leaders in the Scottish army – by the crafty and cautious Colonel Lesley, who had so long baffled Cromwell himself – by Generals Montgomery, Middleton, Massey, and Dalyell, and by the valiant Colonel Pitscottie, with his Highland regiment. Besides these, there were several English and Scotch nobles, the Dukes of Buckingham and Hamilton, the Earls of Rothes, Lauderdale, Carnworth, and Cleveland; Lords Spyne, Sinclair, and Wilmot; Sir John Douglas, Sir Alexander Forbes, and others.

While scanning this imposing list, and reflecting that the royal forces numbered at least eleven thousand men, Colonel James asked himself how he could possibly hold out against them with a garrison of only five hundred? He was ill supplied with cannon and ammunition, and the fortifications were ruinous. Moreover, the citizens were hostile, and so far from lending him aid, were ready to rise in favour of the king. He should have to contend against foes within as well as enemies without. His position seemed desperate, and though as brave a man as need be, he was filled with misgiving.


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