A smattering of spinneys, woods and hedgerows are all that remain of the dense woodland that covered most of southern Staffordshire and Shropshire in the Seventeenth Century. The greedy demands of the agricultural and industrial revolutions saw to their demise. The Boscobel estate was located deep within one such woodland, the former Royal forest of Breewood. When visiting now it takes a fair amount of imagination to see it in its original context, you’d be hard pressed to hide anything in the large, open fields that greet you today.
Yet, the woodland location is crucial in understanding the place that Charles was taken to after escaping Worcester. It was what undoubtably made it such a useful base for an underground Catholic community. The woods also kept the Penderel brothers in employment, Richard Penderel is specifically described as a woodcutter, and it’s likely that all the Penderels had some role in maintaing what was a managed woodland.
Having given the context, and whistle-stop tour, in this post, HERE, in the next few posts I’m going to take a chronological look at events in each of the locations that Charles visits within this lost forest of Staffordshire/Shropshire.
The house at Whiteladies was built amongst the remnants of the Augustinian priory that, prior to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, had been located there for almost four hundred years. The nuns of this order wore white habits and thus the name Whiteladies came about. In 1587 the house that had been built on the site had found its way into the hands of the Giffard family, and on 4 September 1651 the current owner, Frances Cotton, widow of John Gifford, was in residence.
No evidence remains now of the timber-framed house that was integrated into the ruins of the priory. Hidden away down a dirt track, off a small lane leading from Boscobel house, all that remains of Whiteladies is the remnants of the original 12th century building and a 19th century wall marking the boundary of the former graveyard. The building was already neglected by the end of the 17th Century, and was demolished in the late 1800s.
During my visit to Boscobel House it was suggested to me that the wainscoting in the parlour there actually comes from Whiteladies. If so that is so, aside from the lonely stones of the ruined priory, it is the last remnants of the room that witnessed the first steps in the young monarch’s transformation from King to fugitive.
In the dim light of early morning it was George Penderel who was first to be rudely woken from his sleep by knocking at the gate. George was the youngest of the five Penderel brothers to have survived the Civil Wars and was a servant in the Whiteladies household. Charles was brought in to the house, horse and all, and quickly the remaining Penderels were gathered there by Charles Giffard and put into motion.
Richard Penderel, the third oldest brother, was summoned to the house and then immediately ordered to return to his nearby cottage, Hubbal Grange, to bring clothes for the King to disguise himself in. The oldest of the brothers, William, also came from Boscobel house, where he resided as caretaker. John, the second oldest brother, and Humphrey, the fourth oldest brother, are not mentioned in the accounts at Whiteladies, but they were there about. The King is given Humphrey’s once white millers hat to wear as part of his disguise.
If the men were startled by being summoned from their families and beds in the deepness of the night the accounts do not record it. It may well be that Catholics in the service of the Giffards were well versed in nigh-time subterfuge, but surely a King, the stench of war still fresh on him, was another matter.
Once disguised the King makes his smartest decision, trusting himself to these ‘low born’ men. It is Richard who takes initial charge of the King and secretly bundles him through the back door of the house and off into Spring Coppice. Charles spends all of Thursday hidden in the outskirts of this wood, near to the Breewood to Shifnal road.
Aside from the dense, late summer foliage Charles’ was fortunate that the weather was on his side too:
by greate good Fortune it rained all the time, which hindered them, as I believe, from comeing into the wood to search for men that might be fledd thether… those with whome I have spoken since… did say that it rained little or nothing with them all day, but onely in the wood where i was; this contributing to my safety.
The Kings account, Pepys
It can’t have been a pleasant stay. The cool relief of rain on hot, exhausted flesh must have worn off quick enough, to be left with only the sodden feel of rough country cloth and an unaccommodating seat of tree roots. The King was brought a blanket and some food, and was visited periodically by Richard Penderel, but otherwise was left alone to contemplate the road and his fate. Meanwhile the brothers scouted out the roads and lanes as vigilantly as was possible without raising suspicion, attempting to gather intelligence throughout the day on their monarch’s pursuers. After a sleepless day, in the muggy embrace of coppice camouflage ,the King had made up his mind on the next step: he would abandon his attempt on London, and flee to Wales. Next Post