Under the Floorboards: Boscobel House


Boscobel House

Extent of Boscobel house that existed during Charles’ visit


Following on from: An Unexpected Guest, A Humble Home and The Royal Oak

After spending the day squatting in the branches of an oak tree, a night indoors must surely have felt like deliverance for Charles, and,  as he began to recover, he was certainly  grateful for food in his belly and the warm hospitality of William and Joan Penderel. Some time that evening was spent improving Charles’ disguise, in particular the rushed job of a haircut he had received during his visit to Whiteladies:

His majesty now finding himself in a hopeful security, permitted William Penderel to shave him, and cut the hair off his head as short at top as the scissors would do it, but leave some about the ears, according to the country mode; Colonel Carlis attending, told his majesty, ‘William was but a mean barber’; to which his majesty answered, ‘He had never been shaved by any barber before.

Thomas Blount, Boscobel

.The job was done so well that on his later  journey across the South of the country Charles would be accused of being a roundhead, because of the cut of his hair and dour clothing.

The Priest Hole

Extent of Boscobel house that existed during Charles’ visit

But the fear of a knock on the door from the parliamentary militia men ensured that Charles was not allowed to sleep in a warm bed, or even stretch out on a hard floor that night. The king was to spend the night in a priest-hole. Boscobel house has two priest holes (see picture above), or one definite priest hole, and one slightly dubious one. Priest-holes were secret hiding places used to hide visiting priests, usually a void in the wall, or a gap underneath floorboards. The priest-hole that was to host the young Charles was on the second floor of the house, in the roof space, under the floor. We can be confident that it was this priest hole as Charles refers to spending the following day walking the gallery that was in the same room, and that he could see the Tong to Brewood road out of the window. The attic space is the only room to have both a gallery space and a window in that direction. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed in the priest-hole, but the cramped conditions are obvious from the outside. Charles Stuart was unusually tall, over six-foot, and was therefore unable to lie flat within this space. While he was provided with a mattress stuffed with straw to sleep on, it must have been a claustrophobic night, trapped in that dark space.

The Attic Gallery

Extent of Boscobel house that existed during Charles’ visit

On Sunday, Charles spent some time alone pacing the attic gallery at his ‘devotionals’, and no doubt pondering the events of the last few days. On returning downstairs to his humble hosts he suffered a heavy nose-bleed, which would not have helped the tension amongst the servants, it seemingly being a bad portent. The Sunday lunch that Charles ate is a notable story and will be covered in the next blog post. With the rest of the Penderel brothers sent out to scout the nearby woods and roads it was clearly felt that the immediate threat of being searched had receded, and Charles spent some time outside in the gardens of Boscobel House. The Seventeenth Century gardens have been recreated from contemporary engravings of the house, including an arbour that Charles spent much of the day hiding in, certainly more comfortable and picturesque than an oak branch.


The gardens of Boscobel

Extent of Boscobel house that existed during Charles’ visit

The Arbour

Extent of Boscobel house that existed during Charles’ visit

Boscobel from gardens

Extent of Boscobel house that existed during Charles’ visit

By now Charles had received news back from Lord Wilmot, who was being sheltered by Colonel John Lane at Bentley Hall. Wilmott had been put in the care of John Penderel, the second eldest brother, and had proved to be a difficult man to move secretly, yet somehow he had remained hidden in Moseley and then Bentley. It was decided that Charles should be moved to Willmott’s previous hiding place, Moseley Hall, that night. The Penderel brothers and their families had kept Charles safe in the immediate flurry of searches after the Battle of Worcester and it was now time to pass him on to another set of loyalists, and indeed Catholics. The last role that the brothers played was to escort Charles through the five miles of sheltered by-ways to Moseley Hall. The King’s feet had yet to recover sufficiently for the walk, so the only horse available was brought to him, Humphrey Penderel’s Mill horse. The brothers armed themselves with a motley assortment of rustic weapons; bill hooks, pike staffs and a couple of pistols. The by-ways would be their only cover, if confronted they had agreed that fighting was the only recourse, five heavily armed yeoman creeping through the back lanes under the cover of night was unlikely to be explained away easily. The journey proved to be uneventful, except for providing the setting for one of the best anecdotes of the Boscobel episode:

After some experience had of the horse, his majesty complained, ‘it was the heaviest dull jade he ever rode on’; to which Humphrey (the owner of him) answered (beyond the usual capacity of a miller): ‘My liege, can you blame the horse to go heavily, when he has the weight of three kingdom’s on his back?’

Thomas Blount, Boscobel

After the Restoration of the monarchy, Humphrey Penderel clearly dined well off this quick wittedness, so much so that in 1673 he petitioned the King for copyright of the comment against those who claimed it was apocryphal.

Charles remained in danger throughout the rest of his journey, but he was never in the same degree of helplessness as he was in those early, exhausted days after the Battle of Worcester. He would suffer privations, more lowly disguises and near betrayals but much of the later tale hinges on his own resourcefulness and quick-thinking as much as on the actions of those protecting him. The accounts of Charles’ time at Boscobel show that the Penderel family tried their utmost to treat the King with respect, but there was clearly no time for pandering him and they did not let their status get in the way of doing what was needed. As he had began to recover there is a hint of Charles needing to reassert his Royal presence, or at least those writing the narratives felt the need to report this. The way in which he departs from the Penderels betrays this a little:

but his majesty, being gone a little way, had forgot (it seems) to bid farewell to William and the rest who were going back, so he called to them and said, ‘My troubles make me forget myself; I thank you all!’ and gave them his hand to kiss.

Thomas Blount, Boscobel

The Penderel family were treated well after the restoration in 1660. They received pensions in perpetuity, and some descendent still receive this crown stipend. All the brothers managed to improve their position, though some fared better than others in this respect. Their bravery is still proudly remembered by the modern descendants, whose society is on Facebook. The Stuarts managed to balls it all up of course, but that doesn’t matter to this story. Its importance is not in the role of protecting the later to be restored monarchy, it is a tale of honesty, loyalty and the bravery of these seventeenth century country folk. It’s good that the spotlight fell on them, and their qualities, for a brief moment.

For more on how the King ate at the Penderel’s then have a look at the Next Post.




4 thoughts on “Under the Floorboards: Boscobel House

  1. Geoff Sturges

    In your blog you state “We can be confident that it was this priest hole (“in the roof space, under the floor”) as Charles refers to spending the following day walking the gallery that was in the same room, and that he could see the Tong to Brewood road out of the window.”
    You are correct in stating that there were two priest holes in Boscobel House, with only one surviving, but possibly incorrect in saying that Charles hid in the one at the top of the stairs.
    The priest hole off the “Squire’s Bedroom” was “a place made between two walls, on purpose for secrecy, contrived at the building of the house”. This had an exit leading into the garden where Charles sat during the day (in the arbour).
    Charles “slept very incommodiuosly, with little or no rest, for that place was not long enough for him”. This does not fit the description of the priest hole at the top of the stairs.
    On the second night in Boscobel Charles spent the night on the stairs where he could wander about and look out of the window between the entrances to the two priest holes.
    On the one hand:
    “Charles reconnoitred the road from the window of the staircase adjoining his closet.” which could indicate the first priest hole, if this happened while he was in this one.
    On the other hand:
    “Charles [spent the day] in a summer-house in the garden, within immediate reach of the door which led up the chimney-stack to his hiding-place.” which indicates more definitely the second one.
    No one can say with certainty which priest hole he inhabited, but I suspect the one no longer extant.

  2. Tom Sykes Post author

    Thanks for the comment Geoff. I hope you don’t mind, but I have moved it from the About Me section to this post. Which account are you quoting from?

    I think you’re correct in that we cannot know for sure which priest-hole Charles hid in, but I’m still putting my money on the one located in the attic. That said, I was able to get into the second priest-hole, if that is what it is, in the Squire’s room, and it would certainly not have been much fun hiding in there.

  3. Pingback: The Royal Oak | History Botherer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s