Tag Archives: Seventeenth Century

Pepys’ Book Presses – 350th Anniversary year

Follow the link below for a really interesting post on Samuel Pepys’ book presses, the first of their kind! I worked at the Pepys Library for almost a year and never got tired of looking at those lovely pieces of practical furniture (the books inside were pretty good too). I heartily recommend a visit to anyone, it’s a wonderful, wonderful place (and FREE!!!):

Source: 350th Anniversary year

Good Honest Yeoman Fayre

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birdeater

Not sure about the bird, but the pig and sheep fit.

Talk not of goose and capon, give me good beef and bacon

And good bread and cheese at hand:

With pudding, brawn and souse all in a farmer’s house

That is living for the husband-man

‘A Dialogue Between the Husbandman and the Servingman’, a traditional country ballad

Before reaching Whiteladies house, in the early hours of Thursday 4th September 1651, Charles II had fought in a battle, ridden 25 miles through the night and all on very little food (to pick up the full journay see these posts). One account refers to a brief halt at ‘Stourbridge’, where the King ate a chunk of bread and drank a cup of beer, but otherwise he had not eaten. When he arrived on their doorstep, the  Penderel’s had a problem; what do you feed a famished monarch when he turns up at your door in the dead of night?

What the Penderel families did feed Charles is recorded in the various contemporary accounts that were written after the Restoration. Despite some minor differences in detail, the accounts mostly agree on what he ate whilst staying at the Boscobel estate. The food given to the King corresponds with what we know about eating habits of the seventeenth century and were undoubtably included in the story to demonstrate the humble nature of the people that the King relied on. Caught unprepared the Penderel’s gave Charles the best of what they had, or what they could obtain by their own means without causing suspicion. The above ballad spells out exactly what we would expect to find on a good Yeoman’s table: bread, cheese, beef and bacon. All that is missing from that list is trusty mutton. While most of these items are offered to Charles, some are missing and it is the dishes that are missing that tells us more about the Penderels’ circumstances.

The first thing that Charles is fed, after rousing the inhabitants of WhiteLadies, is a cup of sack and some bisket. Biskets were the forerunner of modern biscuits, although recipes indicate that they were longer lasting, hard-wearing, but still sweet (more like modern Biscotti). Sack was a fortified white wine from Spain, and was a common drink.

To make Bisket bread.

Take a pound of flour, and a pound of Sugar beaten, and mingle them together with the Yolks of six Eggs, and the Whites of three Eggs, and Anniseed, Corianderseed, and Carrawaies, of all these half an ounce, and a little Rosewater, to the quantity of half a quarter of half a pint, you must labour all these together with a wooden Ladle, till it be mingled like thick water, and the more you labour it the whiter it will be, and annoint your Coffins or plates with a little melted butter, and so fill it no to full for running over, and so set them into the Oven, and your Oven must be no hotter then to bake a Tart, and they must have as much soaking as Manchet, and then take them out, and cut them thin with a knife in slices and lay them on a sheet of paper, and then put them into the oven to dry till they be hard like Bisket bread.

Natura Exenterata, Philiatros, 1655

It is Mrs Giffard who brings the sack and bisket to Charles, this would make sense, as it is likely to have been a dish of higher standard than the Penderels would normally have to hand. When he is out of Whiteladies the King doesn’t get bisket and sack again. In one account, (An Exact Narrative), Richard Penderel is sent off to buy more sack and bisket, which might imply that even the Giffords didn’t have a large supply.

The most common meal that is referred to in the narratives is cheese and bread. Charles is given cheese and bread at Boscobel House, while he is in the Boscobel Oak, and in some of the accounts, it is also what he eats at Hubbal Grange. As is indicated in the ballad quoted at the top of the post, cheese and bread were a staple part of the diet of ordinary folk. Many yeoman household would have a side building for either brewing or dairy production, or both. This would keep the family in cheese, but could also provide a surplus to sell at market.

While Charles shivered in Spring Coppice he is a brought  a ‘Messe of Milk, Eggs and Sugar in a black earthen Cup’. Scrambled eggs anyone? The meal of last resort when the fridge is bare. I can’t find a recipe specifically for a ‘Messe’ of eggs, I’m assuming this is because as it is such a basic dish that putting in a recipe book would have seemed ridiculous. I’ve had similar problems looking for Seventeenth Century descriptions of cuts of meat, one recipe book specifically saying that it won’t list them as everyone knows what they are. I have, however, found a recipe containing similar ingredients, an omelet:

To make an Amalet.

Take ten eggs, and more then half the whites, beat them very well, and p… in a spoonfull or two of cream, then heat some butter in your frying pan, and when it is hot put in your eggs and stir them a little, then fry them till you find they are enough; and a little before you put them out of the pan, turn both the sides over that the may meet in the middle, and lay it the bottome upward in the dish serve it in wit verjuice, butter and sugar.

Next on the list of food from the Husbandman’s ballad is bacon. In one account the King is given a ‘Fricasse of Bacon and Eggs’ in Richard Penderel’s house. Whether it was referred to by the Penderel’s as a fricasse, we don’t know, but it is unlikely. Fricasses were generally considered fanciful, French dishes at this time. However, bacon was certainly eaten by husbandmen, indeed it was more associated with the poorer end of the class scale. This appearance of bacon is the only reference to the Penderels having meat near at hand. The appearance of  another staple meat also prompts us to consider what the Penderel’s diet says about their social position.

One of the more awkward moments of Charles’ time with the Penderels occurs toward the end of his stay, straddling the Saturday and Sunday. It is a scene often considered to portray Charles’ common touch, but in fact it goes to show the gulf that separates him and the Penderel family. This is the best account:

After supper Colonel Carlis asked his majesty what meat he would please to have provided for the morrow, being Sunday; his majesty desired some mutton, if it might be had. But it was thought dangerous for William to go to any market to buy it, since his neighbours all knew he did not use to buy such for his own diet, and so it might beget a suspicion of his having strangers at his house. But the colonel found another expedient to satisfy his majesty’s desires. Early on Sunday morning he repairs to Mr. Wm. Staunton’s sheepcoat, who rented some of the demeans of Boscobel; here he chose one of the best sheep, sticks him with his dagger, then sends William for the mutton, who brings him home on his back.

As soon as the mutton was cold, William cut it up and brought a leg of it into the parlour; his majesty called for a knife and a trencher, and cut some of it into collops, and pricked them with a knife point, then called for a frying-pan and butter, and fried the collops himself, of which he eat heartily; Colonel Carlis the while being but under cook, and that honour enough too, made the fire and turned the collops in the pan.

Thomas Blount, Boscobel

It’s a great passage; surreal, gruesome and amusing. By asking for mutton no doubt the King thought he was choosing a humble dish, well he was certainly polite enough not to ask for venison or swan. It is immediately clear that mutton does not usually appear on the Penderel’s diet, to the extent that Richard Penderel marching into town and buying mutton would immediately have raised suspicion. Even the way in which they cooked the meat would have been alien to the brothers and their family, meat was for roasting not cutting up into callops and sizzling in a pan. Is it odd that this staple of yeoman fayre, is absent? It’s also worth noting that the great defining meat of the Yeoman, Beef, is not mentioned in relation to the Penderels at all.

Richard Penderel took his Yeoman status seriously, as we would expect, but it appears that the Penderel family, in their diet at least, were not at the higher end of the social scale. Yeoman they may have been, but they ate like husbandmen. Charles never once complained about the food he was given, though surely it was rough pickings compared to what he was used to. He is gracious throughout, referring to the mess of eggs it is recorded that;

the King guessed to be Milk and Apples, and said, he loved it very well; after he gave the rest to George and bid him eat it; for it was very good.

Food fit for a King after all.

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Under the Floorboards: Boscobel House

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Boscobel House

Extent of Boscobel house that existed during Charles’ visit

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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.

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The Royal Oak

NPG 5249 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Following on from: ‘An Unexpected Guest‘ and ‘A Humble Home

For the second time in three days Charles Stuart found himself entering the Boscobel estates in the small hours of the morning. No less exhausted, no nearer safety, the King was back in the hands of the wider Penderel family, except that he could now add bloody and  blistered  feet to his list of ailments. Not daring to chance Whiteladies again they made straight for Boscobel house. There the King was welcomed by William Penderel and his wife, Joan. He was brought into the parlour and Joan immediately saw to those feet.

Also hiding at Boscobel was another fugitive at large, Colonel William Carlis. Carlis was a local man who had spent the best part of the last three years evading capture amongst the Royalist and Catholic communities. He had played a distinguished role in the battle of Worcester, reputedly leading the rearguard as the King escaped. One account has him bursting into tears upon seeing Charles safe, the Monarch reciprocating. Two battle weary men reunited.

Over a steaming posset of small beer, it was agreed that it was not safe to stay in the house during the day.  The militia was searching nearby woods, but it was inevitable that they would find their way to the secretive denizens of Boscobel estate eventually, and the house would be searched. It was decided to place Charles back into the protection of the sprawling woods, this time they would hide him in the thick camouflage of a pollarded oak, not far from the house. In doing so an iconic moment in British history was brought about, a moment that Charles and his supporters would not be slow to exploit after his restoration.

Charles and Carlis climbed into the tree, Carlis with a pockets full of provisions and a pillow for Charles to rest his head on. Being a pollarded oak, and not yet Autumn, the tree was dense with foliage and provided adequate cover for two men to be hidden in. It can’t have been particularly comfortable perched on the knobbly boughs of an oak tree, as this account demonstrates:

they continue there the whole day; where his Majesty, by reason of long watching, is suprised by sleep, and resteth in the Armes and Lapp of this Loyal Colonel. But whilst his Majesty was thus sleeping, he chanc’d so to rest his Head upon one of the Armes of the Colonel, that by compressing the nervous parts of it, it caused such stupor or numness in the part, that he had scarcely strength left in it, any longer to support his Majesty from falling off the Tree, neither durst he, by reason of the nearness of the Enemy (now hunting greedily after him) speak so hard, as to awake him; nevertheless, to avoid both the danger of the fall and surprise together, he was (though unwillingly) constrained to practice so much incivility… as to pinch his Majesty, to the end he might wake him, and prevent this present danger.

Miraculum Basilicon, 1664

At nightfall it was decided that Charles should be brought back into the house to receive some supper. The great oak had done its job, but once down from its protective embrace Charles decided to risk a night in Boscobel house rather than suffer the discomforts of a rough bark bed.

Oak trees played an important role in country life, but by ‘protecting’ Charles from ruin they became intimately associated with the monarchy. Despite what we now think about the hyper religious, or ‘puritan’, folk of the 17th Century, the myths and traditions of the countryside were still integral parts of how they celebrated life. May Day and Christmas both included elements of nature being brought into the house, spring growth and the holy tree. A new tradition sprung up around the Boscobel oak, nurtured by Charles and his supporters, keen to tie the monarchy back into the old order off things. On 1 June 1660, the day after Charles’ triumphant return to England, Parliament declared:

the 29th of May, the King’s birthday, to be for ever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny, and the King’s return to his Government, he entering London that day

Samuel Pepys Diary, 1660

This was known as Royal Oak Day, or Oak Apple Day. An oak apple is a red coloured swelling that appears on the branches of oak trees in late Summer, caused by burrowing, parasitic wasps they look a little like rosy red apples. In some areas of the country, if you were caught not wearing a sprig of oak on this day, it was customary to be beaten with nettles. Pepys’ diary shows how quickly the Royal Oak became enshrined as a popular, patriotic cultural reference, Royal Oak pubs spring up all over the country (and still remain in most English towns), Pepys refers to one as early as 1663. The navy named a ship ‘the Royal Oak’, and the tradition of having a ship bearing that name carried  on until 1938.

Charles ‘ statue on Oak Apple Day

Oak Apple Day was officially discontinued as a holiday in 1859, but still continues to be celebrated in pockets around the country to this day. Notably, the Chelsea Pensioners celebrate it as Founders Day, wreathing the statue of Charles II in a garland of oak leaves.

Son of the original Boscobel Oak as it stands today

The oak that stands in the grounds at Boscobel house today is a sire of the original oak. I was surprised at how close it stands to the house. Somehow, I expected them to have wanted to put the King as far away from the house as possible. It now stands in a scruffy field, its only company being two young grandsons and some rather unimpressed sheep. Its location and current state don’t particularly help us in imaging what it was like for the King, on that downcast Saturday. The original oak would have been a different shape and would have been lost amongst a crowd of other trees. If it had stood on its own as it does now, it surely wouldn’t have served as much of a hiding place. As such, when imagining the King in the tree, my mind tends to wander to Issac Fuller’s depiction of Charles’ of the episode (above).

It’s not surprising that this part of the King’s tale became the so popular, oak trees grew to be an even more prestigious symbol of British national identity in the following centuries. The wood from managed oaks soon built the Great British navy, and with it an Empire. Just outside my window is a mature, thriving oak tree and at this time of year it’s sprawling arms are laden with acorns, its leaves constantly whispering in the wind. I can quite see how it lodged itself in our national consciousness as the stubborn, bountiful symbol of the countryside. Whether I’d want to spend a day on one of its branches though, is quite another thing. Next Post

The oak outside my window

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A Humble Home: Hubbal Grange and a Bid for the West

Ruins of Hubbal Grange

Following on from ‘An Unexpected Guest’

Hubble Grange

The King … left the wood, and betook himself to Richards house…  the King held on his knee their daughter nan: after he had eat a little, he asked Richard to eat, who replied, yea Sir I will, whereto his Majesty answered, you have a better stomach then I, for you have eaten five times to day already.

[An exact Narrative]

The King had a plan, food in his belly and it seems that his spirits were on the rise. With Richard Penderel as his guide he was going to make his way to Madeley, in Shropshire, and there cross the River Severn into Wales. The King knew of men in Wales who could organise his transport back to France. On the way they stopped off at Richard’s house, where Charles experienced a slice of the farmer’s domestic life.

.Hubbal Grange sat in the woods between Whiteladies and the village of Tong. No details of the house at it stood in 1651 remain, and nothing but a few stones survive of the building itself. It is still possible to walk to the location of Hubbal Grange as it sits along a designated bridleway route, part of the ‘Monarch’s Way’. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the site myself, for all its charms the Brompton is not an off-roader.

.The Penderel brothers are referred to as being of Tong parish and it is likely that they were all brought up at Hubble Grange. The house was occupied by Richard and his family on the death of their father, who had died recently, certainly before 1651. On Richard’s death, in 1672, the house is listed in his will. It is unclear whether the house had passed to Richard on his father’s death, or when his mother Joan died, in 1662. Why was the house in the hands of Richard and not the older brother William? As William was well ensconced in service as caretaker of Boscobel house, perhaps he had no need of the ancestral base. But why not to John, the second eldest. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

.How would this humble country abode have appeared to the Royal visitor? Yeoman houses were relatively uniform in design, if not necessarily in materials, in this period. Usually a rectangular house of one and a half or two floors, the majority of Yeoman houses would have had 5-9 rooms, though it seems as if the Penderels existed at the poorer end of the scale, so perhaps only 2-3 rooms. If at some point six brothers lived under the same roof, along with their parents, it would surely have been a squeeze.

.The main living space would have been ‘the hall’, which would have taken up much of the lower floor. The fireplace would have been the focus of the room. Hung with the various accoutrements of domestic cooking, it was here that the good-wife would have cooked the family meals. Aside from the fireplace there would have been a long table, or ‘board’, as well as at least one or two benches and stools. A cupboard or chest may also have been crowded into this room, containing at least some pewter vessels and platters. The wall may have been decorated with a tapestry or painted cloth, if it could be seen by the candle and fire-light.

.The Yeomanry were proud of their homes, as the English continue to be to this day. Charles would have had warmth and comfort for the first time since he led his troops into battle. No doubt Mary Penderel had been made aware of who her guest was, but little Nan must have wondered why her parents were fussing over this tall, oddly pale woodsman wearing strangely familiar clothes.

.Madeley

After the brief respite of a warm fire and family comforts came arguably the most physically arduous part of Charles’ entire journey. Having had no sleep for over twenty four hours, the newly re-named Will. Jackson set off with Richard Penderel through the undulating countryside of Shropshire. It is clear from the accounts that exhaustion was beginning to tell, Charles was a physically active man, fond of tennis and hunting, but he struggled to keep up with his stout guide in the dark, unfamiliar terrain. The journey was made worse afer an unfortunate encounter with a suspicious Miller:

Just as we came to the Mill, we could see the Miller (as I believe) sitting at the Mill-doore, he being in White Cloathes, it being a very dark night; He called out, Who goes there? upon with Rich. Penderell answered, Neighbours goeing home, or some such-like words. Wherepuon the miller cryed out, If you be neighbours stand, or elce I will knock you downe. Upon which we believing there was Company in the House, the fellow bad me follow him close, and he Run to a Gate that went up a dirty-lane up a Hill; and opening the Gate, the Miller cryed out, Rogues, Rogues; and thereupon some men came out of the Mill after us, up the lane as long as we could Runn, it being very deep and dirty; Till at last I badd him leap over a hedge and lye still to heare if any boddy followed us. Which we did, and continued lyeing downe upon the Ground about halfe an hower…

The Kings Account, Pepys 

It was a mud splattered, hedge bedraggled Charles that arrived just outside Madeley at midnight. Another hedge was his resting place as Richard Penderel went to the house of another Catholic Gentleman, Francis Woolfe. He was not welcomed with open arms. Two companies of militia were garrisoned in the town and Woolfe insisted that the King could not stay in the house, his priest holes and hiding places having already been discovered, being a known Catholic he had been searched on previous occasions. The King was briefly allowed in, given a dish of cold meat and then led to the barn where he and Richard were hidden behind Woolfe’s freshly harvested Corn and Hay.

Madeley proved to be no dramatic escape for Charles, it was another day spent hiding, this time in a barn, while Woolfe’s trusted servant scouted out the river crossings. The news he brought back was not good. It was impossible to cross the Severn, troops were already on guard in an attempt to capture escapees from Worcester. That night Charles and Richard agreed to return to the safest place they knew, Boscobel House. So after brief respite, they retraced their steps on foot, though they avoided Evelith Mill this time. Next Post

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An Unexpected Guest: Whiteladies and Spring Coppice

Whiteladies, as drawn in the 1660s at the King’s request, Spring Coppice is represented at the top along with Charles and Richard Penderel

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.

Whiteladies

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.

 

Whiteladies, from the South East corner

Whiteladies, as drawn in the 1660s at the King’s request, Spring Coppice is represented at the top along with Charles and Richard Penderel

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.

Spring Coppice

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

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In Pursuit of Charles II: Boscobel

800px-King_Charles_II_and_Colonel_William_Carlos_in_the_Royal_Oak_by_Isaac_Fuller

Charles II hiding in the Boscobel Oak (c) NPG 5429 National Portrait Gallery

A dashing, witty, young King takes refuge amongst his loyal subjects, the English countryside itself offering a protective arm, hiding him in an Oak tree. Meanwhile the usurper and tyrant Oliver Cromwell searches for him, high and low. How could we not fall in love with that story?

Royal history, for all its big personalities and high politics, can sometimes seem irrelevant and frivolous. Who cares what powerful and privileged men did in the Seventeenth Century? They’re only David Cameron and Ed Milliband in wigs and stockings.

Yet, what I love about the story of Charles II escape from the Battle of Worcester, is that the history of Kings makes one of its rare incursions into the lives of ordinary people, specifically the ordinary country folk of the Boscobel estate on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border.

The tale is dramatic, romantic and in some ways an anathema to the heroic model of the day. The contemporary accounts are all the better for the struggle that the authors have in trying to represent Charles’ abject humiliation as a triumph of the spirit. In their struggle suddenly we are confronted with Charles Stuart the person, the exhausted and frightened young man, not King Charles; God’s own representative on earth. This lost King is forced to interact with, and rely on, people he would never normally meet and it doesn’t always go smoothly.

In a series of posts I’m going to look at what makes this such a great tale, look at some of the places that appear early on in the story, and examine what it reveals about the common people of England that he is so rudely thrust amongst. The story of Boscobel house has been a popular one for the best part of 350 years but, aside from the Royal Oak, it doesn’t seem to be as familiar to people as it once was. So, I’ll begin with my potted history of the events.

Behold, I present you with an History of Wonders; wonders so great, that, as no former Age can parallel, succeeding Times will scarce believe them.

Expect here to read the highest Tyranny and Rebellion that was ever acted by Subjects, and the greatest hardships and persecutions that ever were suffer’d by a King; yet did His Patience exceed His sorrows, and His vertue became at last victorious.

Thomas Blount, Boscobel, 1660

The civil war was lost, King Charles had been executed for treason, prominent Royalists were either dead, in exile or trying to melt quietly back into local life. The new King, thus far crowned only in Jersey, had listened to the plans of his frustrated, conflicted courtiers and finally agreed to take up the offer to travel to Scotland, to begin there his attempts to win back the three kingdoms. In offering himself into the hands of the Scottish Kirk, the twenty year old Charles Stuart would face almost a year of humiliation, being forced to compromise nearly all his beliefs, and watch meekly as allies were betrayed, before finally being able to raise an army to march into England.

London was his destination, his aim; to spark a popular uprising. He failed on both accounts. Once on English soil he was pronounced King, though the setting of Penrith was hardly an orthodox coronation. They were empty actions. In truth, he was in the hands of Cromwell for the entire campaign, harried by parliamentarian forces, refused entry to important cities, Charles was corralled into the City of Worcester. The rush of Royalist support was conspicuous in its absence. It didn’t help that to most English country folk the presbyterian Scots that made up his forces were about as popular as the dreaded Catholics. This Charles Stuart, was the King of Scots, not the English.

On Wednesday 3rd September 1651, Charles was defeated by Cromwell, or as one retrospective account from 1660 rather florally puts it:

…on that Black and White day September the 3d. 1651. in the Dusk of which Fatall Evening, when the ashamed Sun had blush’t in his setting, and plunged his Affrighted Head into the depth of Luckless Severn, and the Night ready to Stain and Spot her guilty Sables with loyal Blood, was attiring her self for the Tragedy; The king… compelled to Abandon the City of Worcester.

 An Exact narrative, 1660

Night was upon him as Charles suddenly found himself fleeing Worcester, encumbered with his defeated, retreating cavalry and a host of conspicuous Lords and Gentleman. The King quickly realised that any attempt to flee to Scotland with this rag tag remnant of his army was doomed to failure and resolved privately to make for London. He managed to maneuver himself away from the main body of troops, but still found himself with sixty of his closest advisors. As he put it to Samuel Pepys in 1680:

it was then too late for us to gett to london on Horse-Back rideing directly for it; nor could we doe it, because there was yett many people of quallity with us that I could not gett ridd of.

With the countryside already swarming with Parliamentary troops and local militia intent on mopping up fleeing Scots, Royalists and the great prize of the King himself, they were in trouble. It was at this point that the King’s luck changed (relatively speaking) as Colonel Charles Gifford, sought out the King and suggested a suitable hiding place on lands owned by his relatives, the Boscobel estate, some 25 miles away. Aided by one of Gifford’s men who was local to the area, Francis Yates, the king made it to Whiteladies House by the early morning.

It was there, in the former priory turned country house, that Charles was delivered into the hands of the stout and stoical Penderel brothers, whose actions kept the King safe through the early days of hiding. The Penderel’s were husbandmen or Yeomen who worked the Gifford’s estates, and like their patrons they were Catholics. It is probably this point above all that saved Charles, the Catholic communities of Seventeenth Century England were adept at hiding; hiding places of worship, hiding priests and now hiding Kings.

At Whiteladies Charles was able to dismiss his entourage, he confided his plans to only one man, the preposterous but loyal Henry Wilmot (future the 1st Lord Rochester). Charles was then disguised in simple country clothes, his skin darkened and his hair cut. He was as Charles put it, ‘a la mode the Woodman’. In the next three days Charles spent a rainy day hidden in woodland, is chased by a miller, attempts to make it to Wales and is forced to sleep in a barn, returns to Boscobel House, the hunting lodge within the Boscobel estate, hides up an oak tree for a day (the famous Royal Oak), spends the night in a priest hole, and finally, is moved to another Catholic Gentleman’s house on the back of a busted mill horse. Some of these acts have elements of the finest of high farces and would seem so except for the fact that they represented stunning bravery, quick wittedness and devotion on behalf of these common men. Capture would probably have meant death for Charles, but it would undoubtably have meant a brutal death for those who had helped him, along with the ruin of their families.

From Boscobel the King continued on for another six weeks until he finally escaped England aboard the ‘Suprise’ a sea-coal ship, bound for France. I’ll touch on these tales in the other posts as they contain some great moments, but it’s Boscobel I want to focus on first.

Before delving into into the history in my next post I’ll talk about how the pursuit of history is aided by English Heritage and folding bicycles.

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