Up until now, our fugitive King, Charles Stuart, has hidden in a tree, fought off a deranged miller, crouched in a priest’s hole, sparred with a Republican smith, and ridden past a sea of enemy dragoons, all while picking up lessons on the speech and comportment of a country fellow. He’s had a busy time of it, but now we get to the final stretch. Our King must find a ship.
After Charles had left the Nortons of Abbotsleigh, he arrived at Trent, the home of a close acquaintance, Colonel Frank Wyndham, who set to work to find him a ship. Wyndham connected with an old friend in Lyme, Captain William Ellesdon, who brokered passage for Charles on a ship scheduled to sail for France. The ship’s master was Captain Limbry, and they were to meet at Charmouth.
In the morning of September 22, 1651, Charles left Trent House with Colonel Wyndham, Wilmot (sans a goshawk), Henry Peters (Wyndham’s servant), and Wyndham’s niece, Juliana Coningsby. During Charles’s travels with Jane Lane (see Damsel Saves the Day), her presence had saved him from closer scrutiny. No doubt, Charles considered this a winning strategy, only this time, instead of being a servant, he played the groom in a runaway wedding party.
They arrived at Charmouth later that day and settled into the Queen’s Arms Inn to wait for Captain Limbry. They waited throughout the night, but the good master did not arrive. Not even a note. What they didn’t realize was that with the recent prohibition for transporting passengers without a license, Mistress Limbry feared for her husband. He had let drop his suspicions that he would be transporting two or three Royalists to France and “it seems the grey mare was the better horse.” So when the time came for Limbry to head for his ship and greet his new passengers, his wife locked him in the bedroom. I’ve often wondered if Mistress Limbry lived to see the Restoration and hear of the reward that Jane Lane received for helping our Fugitive King (see Damsel Saves the Day). I’m certain if she had, she might have kicked herself.
The next morning, Charles sent Wilmot and the servant Peters to make inquiries in Lyme for the missing captain while he and the rest of the party packed up and headed for Bridport. There, they found a redcoat convention of over fifteen hundred strong, all preparing for transport to Jersey. Cromwell had been feeling a tad feisty over this unresolved matter with Charles and decided to eliminate remaining Royalist strongholds.
This did not faze Charles (except for the fact that Cromwell was beating up on poor Jersey. That bothered him very much). Rather than slinking away, Charles rode up to the Old George Inn, one of the town’s finest, to secure rooms for the night. He arrived in the stable yard, which was clogged by russet-clad dragoons, and instead of skirting around the soldiers to remain inconspicuous, he purposely went “blundering in among them,” leading the horses “through the middle of the soldiers into the stables…and [the soldiers] were very angry with me for my rudeness.” Nothing better to cloud your opponents’ judgement than to distract them with a good measure of irritation.
But inside the stables, Charles had to employ a different tactic, proving once again that he was an astute observer of human nature.
While he assisted the ostler to feed the horses, the man looked at Charles and said, “Sure, sir, I know your face?”
Rather than denying it, Charles decided to play along and asked where the man had lived. The man readily explained that he had been born in Exeter where at one time he had been employed at an inn near a merchant by the name of Potter. As it happened, Charles knew the place having stayed there during the war. “Friend, certainly you have seen me then at Mr. Potter’s, for I served him a good while, above a year.”
“Oh!” says he, “then I remember you a boy there.”
Charles then promised to stand the man a pot of beer once he returned from London with his ‘master’ and took his leave from the stables. Then before the ostler could think more upon this young man who served Master Potter, particularly with a town full of Cromwell’s dragoons, Charles roused his party, and they slipped out of town.
They had no choice than to return to Trent House from where they continued to look for a ship. Between September 24th and October 5th, Charles had two near brushes with a ship but both times came up short. Realizing that he could no longer remain safely with Wyndham, Charles left for Salisbury in the company Colonel Robert Phillips on October 5th. Their search for a ship would take them from one house to another and even to Stonehenge where the King spent several days within that stone circle.
Charles’s patience was soon rewarded. A small barque had been secured for him in Shoreham. On October 14th, Charles arrived in Brighton with Robin Phillips and Wilmot. They headed for the George Inn (yes, another one), where they were to meet the merchant who had brokered the deal, a Francis Mansel, and the master of the barque, Captain Tattersell. They were shown to a private room.Mansel had no idea who Charles was, only suspected that he was a Worcester fugitive. But while they were finalizing the details, Tattersell kept staring at Charles.
Tattersell drew Mansel aside and said that though he had been given a good price to carry a gentlemen to France, Mansel hadn’t treated fairly with him, “For,” said the captain, “he is the king, and I very well know him to be so.”
Mansel must have thought Tattersell was barking mad and argued the matter. “I know him very well,” Tattersell insisted, “for he took my ship, together with other fishing vessels at Brighthelmstone [Brighton].”
But Karma had not failed Charles. Though he had indeed taken the master’s ship while commanding his father’s fleet, as Tattersell had described, Charles had kindly released the prize, and this Tattersell had not forgotten either.
“But,” said Tattersell to the merchant, “be not troubled by it, for I think I do God and my country good service in preserving the king, and, by the grace of God, I will venture my life and all for him, and set him safely on shore, if I can, in France.”
Still, Charles wasn’t taking any chances. Ships were hard to come by, and captains willing to accept the risk were even more rare. Even though they were scheduled to set out at first tide, there were still many hours away from that happy event, and Tattersell could well have thought better of it.
The solution? In Charles’s own words, “thinking it convenient not to let him go home, lest he should be asking advice of his wife, or anybody else, we kept him with us in the inn, and sat up all night drinking beer, and taking tobacco with him.” And it succeeded.
The next morning at 4am on October 15th, the party set out for Shoreham on horseback with the good captain in their midst.
After weeks of searching for passage, Charles and Wilmot embarked the barque Surprise, and at 7am they were on their way to France.
So ended the Fugitive King’s six-week odyssey to escape capture by his enemies.
Denouement: Charles arrived safely at Fécamp, France, on October 16, 1651 and eventually joined his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, in Paris. Charles would remain in exile (in France and then in the Netherlands) for nine years. Following the death of Oliver Cromwell and his would-be successor, Richard Cromwell, King Charles was finally restored to the throne on May 29, 1660, the very day he turned thirty. And he lived merrily ever after…
Catching this at the end? Check out the full story: Finding the Fugitive King Series: