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The Merry Monarch on the Run

In the immediate aftermath of the British Civil Wars, the nation’s most fun-loving king su ered his darkest days. Julian Humphrys explains how Charles II became a fugitive in his own land, and follows his desperate flight…
VICTIM OF WAR He would go on to become Britain’s bawdiest king, but Charles II’s life wasn’t always easy-going

When Charles II fled Worcester after his defeat there in September 1651, his chances of avoiding capture were, on the face of it, not good. The entire Parliamentarian army was looking for him, while posters bearing his description offered a staggering £1,000 (at least £75,000 today) reward for his arrest. Being tall and swarthy, he would have had great di culty in trying to blend into a crowd, and any attempt to disguise him as a servant would be hampered by the fact that his privileged background had given him little idea of how to carry out menial tasks. at he did manage to escape was largely down to the loyalty and courage of those he sought refuge with (many of whom were Catholic), his own coolheadedness and quick-thinking, as well as a large slice of luck.

’ARBOURING A FUGITIVE The King dozes off on a fellow escapee’s shoulder while hiding from Parliamentarian troops in a tree

Charles was born on 29 May 1630, the eldest surviving son of Charles I, and was 12 when the British Civil Wars began. Two years later, he was appointed nominal Royalist commander-in-chief in western England but, following Parliament’s victory in 1646, he went into exile. First he stayed with his mother in Paris and later in the Netherlands where, in 1649, he learnt of his father’s execution. Charles also learned that he had been proclaimed King of Scotland in Edinburgh – on one condition. At the time Scotland was Presbyterian, and Charles would have to commit to imposing the Scottish religion in England. Seeing it as his only chance to regain the crown, he agreed to the terms, sailed for Scotland and was crowned at Scone in January 1651.

THE END OF THE WARS Charles II flees the scene after the Roundheads quash his attempt to regain the crown at the Battle of Worcester, 1651

On 31 July, he led a largely Scottish army into England. The invasion was a disaster. The Royalist uprising that Charles had been banking on never materialised and, on 3 September 1651, Cromwell caught up with him at Worcester. Charles’s outnumbered forces were no match for the Roundheads and, despite a desperate charge led by the young King himself, they were defeated. Charles was now a fugitive, with a huge price on his head.

REGAL ROOTS A descendant of the oak in which Charles II hid from his pursuers, at Boscobel House, Shropshire
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The May 2016 issue of History Revealed