The Royal Escape

The Royal Escape: the story of Charles II after the Battle of Worcester

The story of the concealment of King Charles II in the oak tree at Boscobel House in the county of Shropshire, after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, is the beginning of one of the great escape stories of all time.

Two years after the execution of his father by Oliver Cromwell, King Charles, then only 21 years of age and uncrowned, landed in Scotland from France. He was crowned at Scone, raised an army and marched south to defeat Cromwell's Commonwealth Army and restore the monarchy.

King Charles met Cromwell's army at the royalist town of Worcester on 3rd September 1651. So began a battle to decide the future of England. Cromwell's army was victorious, capturing the town and leaving the royalist forces of the King with hundreds dead and wounded. The King, with Lord Derby, Lord Wilmot and others, escaped and rode north to seek shelter at the royalist safe houses of Whiteladies Priory and Boscobel House, which were deep in Brewood Forest on the borders of Shropshire and Staffordshire.

So began six weeks of pursuit and concealment across England, with a reward of 1000 for the King's capture and the death sentence for those caught helping him.

With Lord Wilmot as his constant companion, and after many adventures narrowly avoiding capture, he reached the south coast on 15th October and took passage from Shoreham to Fécamp in France. The King was not to return to England for nine years. The death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, followed by two years of political confusion, led to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.


Of all the incidents during his escape, his concealment in the oak tree at Boscobel is the most well known. Boscobel, and nearby Whiteladies, were owned by the Giffard family. Living and working on the estate were the five Pendrill brothers: George, William, Richard, Humphrey and John. They were royalists and Roman Catholics and were to contribute more than any other family to the King's preservation.

When the King arrived at Whiteladies, some 50 miles from the battlefield, he was escorted by the owner, Charles Giffard, who had been at the battle. The five Pendrills were summoned to assist the King. There had been another brother, but he was killed at the Battle of Edgehill serving King Charles I. Richard Pendrill disguised the King in the coarse clothes of a woodman. His hair was cut and his face and arms stained to resemble a countryman's. He was then concealed in Spring Coppice, a dense wood near Boscobel House.

With the road to London blocked by Commonwealth troops and the route to Scotland choked with the remnants of his fleeing Royalist Army, Charles decided to make for Wales and the port of Swansea, hoping to find passage to France.

Just before dusk on the second day after the battle, Richard took the King to Hobbal Grange, the house he shared with his widowed mother. After a meal the King was ready for his journey into Wales and freedom.

Travelling at night and guided by Richard Pendrill, the King reached Madeley, ten miles towards the Welsh border, where he was sheltered by the royalist Wolfe family. They found the bridges and ferries across the River Severn were heavily guarded and impassable. Escape through Wales was impossible. They returned to Boscobel House and found Colonel Carlos there. He was one of the last royalists to escape from Worcester and had led the final charge. He hoped that William Pendrill could conceal him until the hue and cry was over. As dawn was breaking it was urgent to conceal the King and Colonel Carlos. A pollarded oak tree near the house was chosen. As they climbed into its concealing branches, Commonwealth troops were already searching the woods nearby.

With the King and Carlos safely hidden, the Pendrills took the situation in hand. William kept watch on the troops; Richard went to Wolverhampton to buy food; and John had the responsibility of looking after Lord Wilmot. Humphrey was dispatched to the local militia headquarters to pay taxes, hoping to discover the plans and intelligence of the Commonwealth troops. He was questioned closely about Whiteladies being a nest of Papists and persons hostile to the government. A 1000 reward was mentioned. He reported his interrogation to the King, who was concerned that the reward might be too tempting, but was reassured of the loyalty of all those persons who were helping him.

The King and Carlos had been concealed in the oak tree during the day and they were to spend the next night in a secret hiding place in Boscobel House.

Meanwhile, John Pendrill had taken Lord Wilmot to Moseley Hall, the home of Mr Whitgreave. John Pendrill was acting now as a messenger travelling between Boscobel and Moseley. During the night Wilmot moved to Bentley Hall, the home of Colonel John Lane, another royalist. Wilmot learned that the Colonel's sister, Jane Lane, had obtained a permit from the military for herself and a servant to travel to the seaport of Bristol, in the West Country, to visit friends. Lord Wilmot saw the opportunity of escaping through Bristol in the role of the servant. On learning of the King's failure to reach Wales, Wilmot asked that the journey be delayed until he knew what the King proposed to do next.

It was decided that the King and Lord Wilmot should meet at Moseley Hall, and that the King, not Wilmot, should take advantage of the military pass and travel to Bristol as Jane Lane's servant, hoping to take passage for France.

So the King, heavily disguised, mounted on Humphrey Pendrill's mill horse, and accompanied by the rest of the brothers - all armed - set out on 7th September for Moseley Hall and the next stage of his escape.

When he returned to England in 1660 the King granted various annuities and gifts to the Pendrill brothers for their services. They were summoned to Whitehall Palace to attend the King and did so for a number of years.

In 1675 permanent pensions were bestowed on the Pendrills. These are still being paid to a number of descendants today.

A series of arms was granted to those who aided the King. The Pendrill Arms are the same as those awarded to Colonel Carlos, but with a silver field and black fesse. The crest is distinguished by a royal crown encircling the crossed sword and sceptre.

In 1664 the King's birthday of 29th May was designated Oak Apple Day, by Act of Parliament, and a special service was inserted in the book of Common Prayer. For over 200 years the King's birthday was celebrated by the wearing of a sprig of oak leaves in remembrance of the event. Sadly, this tradition is no longer observed, although hundreds of inns and public houses throughout the country are still called 'The Royal Oak' after the famous escape.

A series of paintings by Isaac Fuller records the concealment in the oak tree and the King's night ride to Moseley Hall on Humphrey's horse. These are on display in the Banqueting Hall of Whitehall Palace.

More than 300 years later, the Pendrill Family History Society was formed by descendants of the five brothers to research their common ancestry. For more information about the Society, click here.

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