Thursday, 13 May 2010

Boscobel House

Following on from the previous post regarding Powick Bridge, the defeat at Worcester in 1651 saw Charles begin his long journey into exile and eventual safety. One of the better known episodes on this voyage was the night Charles spent hiding up an oak tree.

This event took place at Boscobel (meaning 'beautiful wood') which lies in the Shropshire/Staffordshire border (literally, the house itself is in Shropshire and grounds are in the county of Staffordshire).








Without signs Boscobel would be difficult to find today so during the 17th century you would have thought that Charles would be relatively safe. Even so Parliament forces still came within a whisker of capturing the future King. Charles sought refuse with the numerous Catholic families in the area; however these were naturally the first target for the pursing soldiers. The families faced the very real risk of death by simply helping Charles and in fact the descendents of his helpers, the Pendrell family, still receive a small pension from the State as a reward for their loyalty - such was the risk. Although the house and surrounding vicinity have changed over the years, it is still easy to picture the events that took place here in 1651.

The attic -the priest hole where Charles hid is directly under the window.












The property is now looked after by English Heritage and the guides (one of whom is a spitting image of John Cleese) give detailed and very informative tours pointing out features normally overlooked if you wondered around alone, including several priest holes. One of these hiding positions is located in the attic were it is known that Charles actually stayed.

Son and Grandson of the Royal Oak









Close up view of the older, badly damaged, oak.












The famous oak stood in a nearby a field. Reportedly Parliament troops passed right underneath the tree during the night but the fugitives remained hidden from view. The tree seen today is the offspring of the original as that was killed off by storm damage and souvenir hunters. Another oak now stands, more or less isolated, in the same area although in the 17th C it would have been part of a large forest. Yet another tree nearby is an offshoot taken from the second oak (therefore the grandson of the original?) and was actually planted by the current Prince Charles.

Interestingly, even today this event is still remembered in a particular British way. If you’ve ever drank in any pub named the Royal Oak this harks directly back to Charles’s adventure at Boscobel.

Eight ships called the Royal Oak have served in the Royal Navy, including one that was sunk by a German submarine at Scapa Flow during the Great War.

If you want, it is possibly to do a mini re-enactment of the journey of Charles II through the midlands, as there are several other sites associated with the escape. One,White Ladies Priory, is down the road from Boscobel but very little of this remains and is only worth seeing if you are a die-hard fan of the story. Another house used of Charles is nearby. Moseley Old Hall is an Elizabethan property owned by the National Trust just a few miles to the south east. Charles later recalled that he watched his Scottish soldiers retreating back along the ‘main’ road towards the north from the defeat at Worcester from an upper window. It’s still very evocative site looking down towards the narrow country lane.

If you fancy something a little more modern then RAF Museum Cosford is also nearby. It is worth visiting to see the excellent Cold War display.