By Gillian Bagwell
The defeat of Charles II by Cromwell’s forces at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651 set off one of the most astonishing episodes in British history – Charles’s desperate six-week odyssey to reach safety in France, which came to be known as the Royal Miracle because he narrowly escaped discovery and capture so many times.
Charles and his ragged and outnumbered army knew that all their hopes rested on the outcome of the day. Their bloody rout ended the Royalist cause. Once Charles had been convinced that the best he could do was survive, he fled as his supporters made a last ferocious stand, and legendarily dashed out the back door of his lodgings as the enemy entered at the front, slipping out the last unguarded city gate.
From that disastrous night until he finally sailed from Shoreham near Brighton on October 15, he was on the run, sheltered and helped by dozens of people – mostly simple country folk and very minor gentry – who could have earned the enormous reward of £1000 offered for his capture, but instead put their lives in jeopardy to help him.
For most of the time Charles was traveling, he was riding with a woman, and disguised as a servant. It was an improbable scheme. He was a noticeable man, six feet two and very dark, yet time after time he rode right under the noses of Cromwell’s soldiers without being recognized.
He was in grave danger of capture and death throughout his 600-mile journey (which can be recreated by following the Monarch’s Way footpath), but the experience was strongly formative. After his restoration to the throne he told the story frequently for the rest of his life, and the hardships he endured gave him an understanding of the common people such as no other king had had. If he hadn’t escaped, England’s history would likely have come out quite differently.
Gillian Bagwell’s novel The September Queen, the first fictional account of Jane Lane, an ordinary Staffordshire girl who risked her life to help the young Charles II escape after the Battle of Worcester, will be released on November 1. Please visit her website, to read more about her books and read her blog Jane Lane and the Royal Miracle, which recounts her research adventures and the daily episodes in Charles’s flight to freedom.