By the time Charles Stuart left Moseley Old Hall on September 9, 1651, Parliament had circulated a £1000 reward for his capture.
This was no mean sum. To put this in perspective, a labourer made an average of £9 per year*, and it would have taken him over 110 years to earn the value of the reward. In today’s dollars, based on the average UK farmer’s salary** of £24,500 the reward would be approximately £545,000.
The stakes were definitely high.
Our old friend Thomas Whitgreave recommended the services of Colonel John Lane of Bentley Hall to Charles. The Colonel had not only hosted Lord Wilmot earlier (see ‘Where’s Wilmot’ in Part 2) but he had recently secured a travel pass for his sister Jane and a servant to travel to Bristol. In those days, a pass was required if a papist wanted to travel more than 5 miles from home. Jane’s friend, Anne Norton of Abbotsleigh, was expecting her first child and was anxious for Jane’s company during her lying-in. The Lanes had arranged the trip some time ago. Fortune once more favoured Charles. What better way for him to reach a port town and find a ship to the Continent?
Charles arrived at Bentley Hall late at night. Colonel Lane entrusted his secret to Jane and their cousin, Henry Lascelles, a former Royalist officer. The next morning, they dressed Charles in a grey coat with matching breeches and gave him the role of servant in charge of Jane’s horse while she rode pillion.
But there was one last minute entanglement. The Colonel’s other sister, Withy Petre, arrived with her husband intending to join Jane’s party as far as Stratford.
For his own reasons, Colonel Lane did not enlighten Withy about Charles and instead introduced him as William Jackson, a tenant’s son. Fortunately, Charles had been practicing his country accent after that near altercation with the belligerent miller (see Part 1), and by now managed a credible accent.
Two hours after setting out, Jane’s horse threw a shoe near Bromsgrove. Adopting the mien of a proper servant—Charles had no choice with Withy there—he took the horse to the local blacksmith. Time to try out his persona of country servant.
Charles threw himself into the role and struck up a conversation with the blacksmith. As he held the mare’s foot, he asked the man, “What news?”
“No news that I know of since the beating of the Scots,” the man answered.
“Was none of the English taken that joined with the Scots?” Charles said.
“I did not hear that the rogue Charles Stuart was taken, but some of the others were,” the smith replied.
“If that rogue were taken,” Charles said without missing a beat, “he deserved to be hanged more than all the rest, for bringing in the Scots.”
Pleased to have found a kindred spirit, the smith pronounced Charles an honest man, and they parted amicably.
The next tight spot occurred later that day when they reached the village of Wootten Wawen, near Stratford. Approximately five hundred dragoons took their ease by the side of the road and blocked their way.
Withy’s husband panicked and refused to advance saying that, “For his part he would not go by them, for he had been once or twice beaten by some of the Parliament soldiers, and he would not run the venture again.”
So as not to stir the dragoons’ suspicions, Charles didn’t want to be seen turning away. He leaned into Jane and whispered to her a plea that they continue their way through the dragoons. Jane cool, calm and collected agreed, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t sway her brother-in-law to ride with them. Withy and her husband retreated while the most wanted man in England headed straight for his enemies.
Providence intervened. As the party approached, the dragoons inexplicably saddled up and started on their way. (Aside: a fiction writer committing this to paper would have been accused of deus ex machina.)
Finally, on September 12th, Charles, Jane and Lascelles arrived at the Norton’s near Bristol to a house full of guests. In order to keep Charles safe, Jane begged for a private room for him claiming that her servant, William Jackson, was coming down with the ague.
The man assigned to sort out the accommodations was the Norton’s butler, a man named Pope, who had known Charles when the Prince had been a boy in Richmond. But Pope didn’t recognize the King until the next morning. Overhearing talk about the lost battle from three of the Norton’s guests in the buttery prompted the butler to take a closer look at Charles.
But Pope was a loyal man and warned Charles that it was too risky for him to stay long at Abbotsleigh. Though his master could be trusted, Pope couldn’t vouch for any of the guests who stayed on for the birth of the Norton’s first child.
Pope tried to find a ship, but none could be secured. He did, however, make contact with Colonel Frank Wyndham of Trent house in Somerset to provide safe accommodations. Charles was delighted for he knew and trusted Wyndham very well.
Before the party could leave for Trent, poor Mistress Norton delivered a stillborn child. A disaster on many levels. While their hostess was sick and grieving, her dearest friend, Jane, could not possibly leave Abbotsleigh. Now Charles was stuck in a house full of stunned guests, risking discovery the longer he stayed. How could he pry Jane from Abbotsleigh at this time? He couldn’t very well leave without Jane, not in his disguise as her dutiful servant.
Leave it to Charles. He forged a letter from Bentley Hall claiming that Jane’s father was on his deathbed and begging his daughter to return home as soon as possible. Jane took her leave, and the party was free to continue to Trent, with no one except the butler, realizing that William Jackson was more than a tenant farmer’s son.
Where was Wilmot?
The story was that Wilmot hovered around the neighbourhood, avoiding the Norton’s for fear of being recognized, yet remaining close enough to keep in touch. In other words, you just missed him. There was, however, one curious tale. After Charles left Bentley Hall, Wilmot and Colonel Lane (presumably to keep an eye on Charles) travelled along a parallel road with a pair of hawks on their wrists and pretended to be hawking. Though Wilmot objected to disguises in general, goshawks as accessories did not meet with his disapproval.
What happened to Jane?
At Trent, Charles parted with Jane Lane, the plucky damsel who had managed to protect him with her cool presence of mind.
A few months after this adventure, rumours began to link Jane with Charles’s escape. To avoid arrest, she left Bentley disguised as a peasant woman and walked all the way to Yarmouth where she found a ship to France. Once she reached France, she sent a letter to Charles to announce her arrival, and he dispatched a coach immediately. When they were reunited, he greeted her with genuine warmth, saying, “Welcome, my life!”
They remained great friends even following her marriage to Sir Clement Fisher, and they often exchanged letters. When Charles was restored to the throne, he bestowed upon Jane a sum of £1000 with which to buy a jewel, this being the price of the reward for his capture.
Stay tuned for the final instalment, Finding the Fugitive King a Ship where we learn that commissioning ships with their captains can be tricky affairs.
Coming into the story now? No worries. Get caught up with the previous instalments:
Featured Image: The Royal Oak-Bentley Cairn by John M. Creative Commons license. The Royal Oak – Bentley Cairn Bentley Cairn marks the site of Bentley Hall and has a series of depictions of the escape of King Charles II after the Battle of Worcester.
*Daily Life in Stuart England, by Jeffrey Forgeng
**BBC News http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26671221
***An Account of the his Majesty’s escape from Worcester, by Pepys