Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Brothers Penderel

by Cryssa Bazos

One of the most famous adventures in British history is the six week escape of Charles II following the Royalist defeat at the Battle of Worcester. This was during the 3rd English Civil War when Charles II marched his Scottish army south against Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces on September 3, 1651. With the Royalist army in shreds and his bid to regain his crown momentarily crushed, Charles Stuart managed to escape Worcester and head north. So desperate were they to catch him, Parliament offered a thousand pound reward. Even with such a fortune, the king still escaped to France. How did he do it with Parliament beating the countryside for him?

Charles Stuart only survived through the assistance of the extraordinarily brave people, many of them commoners, who helped to hide him at great risk to themselves. The Penderel brothers, servants to a middle class family, were the first to put their life on the line for their king.

At pre-dawn in the early hours of September 4th, less than twenty four hours after the battle, an exhausted Charles Stuart with his close companions (including the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Wilmot) showed up at White Ladies in Shropshire seeking shelter. White Ladies was once a priory, but after the dissolution of the monasteries (over a hundred years earlier), the site passed to private ownership, and a farm house had been built beside the crumbling priory. In 1651, the Giffard family owned White Ladies and the surrounding area, including Boscobel House, a hunting lodge several miles away. 

White Ladies arch;
by Nilfanion - Wikimedia UK, CC BY-SA 4.0

A distant cousin of the Giffards, Major Charles Giffard, happened to be one of Charles’s companions, and as dawn approached, led the party to White Ladies where they could take shelter. Major Giffard knew his kin were loyal to the King and would gladly open their doors to receive their monarch, but when they arrived there, they discovered that the Giffards were not in residence. Instead, they were welcomed by their servants, John Penderel, his wife Joan and his brother George.

It was George who answered the knock, in his night shirt and cap. I can imagine his surprise when he answered the summons only to find the rightful heir to the British throne on the door step. There was likely a great deal of gaping involved. John Penderel had more presence of mind and welcomed the weary party into the parlour, where his wife passed out refreshments of sack and biscuits.

A few hours later, John sent a lad, Bart Martin, to fetch his brothers. The oldest Penderel, William, was the caretaker of Boscobel House, while Richard (also known as Trusty Richard) lived nearby in Hobbal Grange with their mother. The last Penderel brother, Humphrey, was also fetched.

Meanwhile, Charles’s party debated what they were to do and where to go. Word had reached them that one of the King’s generals, David Leslie, had been spotted in the area with three thousand of his men. Most were in favour of joining forces with Leslie in order to reach Scotland, but Charles flatly refused. General Leslie had not committed his reserve troops in the battle which was one of the factors in their defeat. In the end, the party agreed that those who wanted to leave should go, while Charles would make his own way, to where, no one was to be told. Secretly, Charles had made arrangements with Lord Wilmot to meet him in London, should either of them make it, but the implication was that each man would be getting there on their own.

Charles remained with the Penderels while the rest of his comrades left. Good thing, because later that morning, those who had left were all captured not far from White Ladies along with Leslie’s two thousand men!

Word reached the Penderels, and there was no time to waste. They had to somehow hide the King before the dragoons made a sweep of the area, as they would surely do. The Penderels scrounged up a coarse noggin shirt, a green suit and leather doublet for Charles. William, being the tallest, cobbled together rough shoes from his own footwear, the trick being that Charles’s feet were considerably bigger than William’s. 

Charles II at White Ladies, by Isaac Fuller
National Portrait Gallery NPG 5247
via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

Hiding him would be a challenge. They couldn’t risk having Charles found at White Ladies, and they were expecting that the dragoons would insist on searching the house when they came, so Richard Penderel took Charles to a nearby coppice to hide. There the two men sat, in miserably wet weather. Richard had the presence of mind to beg blankets and provisions from his brother-in-law, Francis Yates, another Royalist.

Soon the militia arrived, and they were combing the woods looking for more of Leslie's men. In their hiding spot, they could see the militia beating the woods looking for more of Leslie’s men. By some bizarre twist (a fiction writer couldn’t get away with this), the rain only fell on the section where Richard and Charles hid. Instead of continuing their search, the poor weather chased them away.

I like to believe that it was here, soaked to the bone and having had a narrow escape, that Richard convinced Charles not to try for London and instead to ferry over the Severn and cross into Wales. From there, he could reach a port and arrange passage to the Continent.

They waited for night to descend before setting out on foot. Half-way between Bridgenorth and Shewsbury, around midnight, they came upon Evelith Mill and found a miller standing in the doorway of his mill, his white shirt visible in the dark. Richard warned Charles not to speak, as he didn’t have the manners or accents of a country fellow. When the miller heard them approach, he stepped out and challenged them:
“Who goes there?” the miller demanded.
“Neighbours going home,” Richard said.
And being disagreeable and belligerent, the miller said, “If you be neighbours, stand, or I will knock you down.”
Then from inside the mill, a burst of laughter erupted, and not knowing who the miller was entertaining, nor wanting to take any chances, Richard and Charles dashed for the gate leading to a “dirty lane up a hill.”

The miller screamed, “Rogues! Rogues!” and men ran out of the mill to investigate. Not knowing if they were soldiers, Richard and Charles dove over a hedge and hid in a ditch. They waited for half an hour to make sure they weren’t being chased.

Richard had to quickly concoct Plan B. He knew of an old Catholic gentleman, Francis Wolfe, who lived not far in Madeley and who would give them shelter for the rest of the night. If you recall, Richard’s nickname was Trusty Richard and he lived up to his monicker. When Wolfe asked who his companion was, anyone else would have made up an alias, but not Trusty Richard Penderel. He blurted the truth. I imagine Charles had a few bad moments until he realized Richard’s trust had not been misplaced. Wolfe was completely overwhelmed and pledged his aid to the king. Unfortunately, the only place he could safely keep them was his barn. Madeley had a number of priest holes but they had been found out and so weren’t safe to hide a cat in them, but who would ever think to hide a king in a barn?

The next morning, while Charles rested in his loft, Richard scouted the situation ahead. Bad news. All the ferry crossings were being watched by Cromwell’s men. There was no choice than to return back to the Giffard’s estate. After a simple meal of cold meat, Wolfe darkened Charles’s hands with walnut oil to make him look more weathered. Just before midnight, Richard and Charles set out again, this time for Boscobel House. 

Boscobel House
By Oosoom at Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
They arrived at 3am and found another Worcester with William Penderel. Major Carlis (also Careless) came from the area and knew the Giffards and their servants. But now there were two of them to hide. In the morning, William came up with another creative solution. All the priest’s holes in Boscobel had been previously uncovered so the house was not safe. William’s solution was to hide the men in plain sight, and he put them up in an oak tree. William had been tending the trees for years, and besides being sturdy, they were very thick and bushy at the top. 

The Royal Oak at Boscobel
By Oosoom at Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0
Up Carlis and Charles went into the tree (thereafter known as the Boscobel tree, or the Royal Oak), and the Penderels handed up a basket full of bread, cheese and ale for them to pass the time. While the two men hid in the tree, the Penderels kept close to the area, going about their wooding duties. 

Imagine how William would have felt when the militia showed up, to once again scour the area for fugitives. The militia passed right under the Boscobel tree, not once looking up. As an aside, a descendent of the original oak still lives on the property.

The next day, being Sunday, William kept the fugitives indoors, and Charles spent his time eating mutton and reading. His poorly shod feet were blistered and sore, and he could barely walk on them. Mistress Penderel personally bathed his feet. Remembering the trouble at the mill, the Penderels also took this time to coach Charles as to how to speak with a country accent.

Later that afternoon, John Penderel came to Boscobel to say that he had made arrangements for Charles to travel to the next safe house, Moseley Old Hall in Wolverhampton, the home of Thomas Whitgreave. Since Charles was still suffering with his feet and he couldn’t walk, Humphrey Penderel fetched his mill horse for Charles.

Charles left Boscobel with all five Penderels along for company. Along the way, Charles’s horse stumbled and Humphrey quipped, it was “not to be wondered at, for it had the weight of three kingdoms upon its back.”

In the wee hours, the Penderel brothers safely delivered Charles Stuart to Moseley Old Hall, where they commended him to the care of his new host, Thomas Whitgreave. He was one step closer to freedom.


When Charles Stuart was restored to his throne in 1660, he did not forget the Penderels. To Trusty Richard, the King bestowed an annual pension of one hundred pounds to be paid to him and his descendants in perpetuity. The other Penderels also received a pension, though a lesser amount. To this day, Penderel descendants are still receiving their share of the annuity.

Oak Apple Day is celebrated on the anniversary of Charles's birthday, with sprigs of oak leaves in honour of the Boscobel tree.

Cryssa Bazos is an award winning historical fiction writer and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. Her debut novel, Traitor's Knot, is published by Endeavour Press and placed 3rd in 2016 Romance for the Ages (Ancient/Medieval/Renaissance). For more stories, visit her blog

Connect with Cryssa on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter (@CryssaBazos), Instagram and her Website.

Traitor's Knot is available on Amazon in eBook and paperback.


  1. Great post! I look forward to reading your book.
    My novel "The September Queen" ("The King's Mistress" in the UK) tells the story of Jane Lane, who accompanied Charles on much of his travels. I blogged about my research adventures, and wrote posts about the daily events of his odyssey at

  2. Thank you Gillian! Jane is an inspiring heroine. She managed to keep cool in the most difficult situations. I'm glad Charles never forgot her. Thanks for the link.


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