The Royal Oak – Why King Charles hid in a tree
A King playing hide- and-seek brings a smile to the face of our two boys, but this was no game.
Loyalty carried a tremendous burden in the 17th century. The reward for capturing Charles II was one thousand pounds, while the price for sheltering him was death.
We knew the story of Charles hiding in the oak, but we’d never visited the scene of this famous story despite living only half an hour away.
Boscobel House lies on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border, surrounded by woods and farm fields, providing a sense of space and scale with the confines of the timber-brick house and its many hidey-holes.
Sometimes when we visit historical houses there are too many plaques and too many baffling appliances for Joe and Jake to care about.
Their attention drifts and before long we’ve forgotten why we’re there and spend the next two hours keeping them away from wobbling candlesticks and precious vases.
At Boscobel there’s a ramble over to that famous oak (its descendant) and a beautiful mile-long walk down to the ancient ruins of White Ladies Priory.
Most important of all for young Cavaliers the history is wrapped in activities and the scariest game of hide-and-seek imaginable.
Battle of Worcester
When King Charles II fled after defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 Boscobel was a hunting lodge surrounded by dense forest.
Charles arrived in a desperate state – exhausted and soaked through with shoes full of gravel and feet ‘not only extremely dirty, but much galled by travel.’
As the search closed in the King took to the woods with a local Royalist officer. They spent the day in a thick, bushy oak tree as soldiers hurried past beneath them searching the woods.
When the soldiers had gone the King returned to hide in the attic. We crept up the same stairs and Joe and Jake pressed their noses to the glass plate covering a tiny, cramped space between the floorboards.
Charles would have hidden here and watched anxiously for signs of Cromwell’s militia. Another hidey-hole is reached beyond wood-panelling and down through a hatch.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of references to Charles’ famous escape. A wooden box is carved with a tiny Royal face peeking through the branches of a lush oak. The boys loved finding those faces and symbols.
After the Restoration in 1660 the story of Charles and the oak became increasingly popular.
The Royal Oak
Visitors plucked twigs and branches as souvenirs and the tree suffered for its fame. The Royal Oak that stands today grew from one of its acorns. It was badly damaged in storms and a younger oak, grown from one its acorns was planted by Prince Charles in 2001 – the 350th anniversary of his ancestor’s escape.
How different would things be today if a twig had snapped and Charles had been discovered?
The house and grounds, run by English Heritage, are beautiful and peaceful today, but their story was written in one of the most violent and turbulent chapters of English history.
For more info on Boscobel House click here.