Boscobel or, the Royal Oak

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Was it not enough to madden the irritable and jealous Urso? The by-standers, who were staunch Royalists, laughed at him, and this exasperated Urso beyond all endurance. He broke out against the king, called him the chief of the malignants, and the favourer of heresy and profaneness, and would have gone on in the same strain if he had not been soundly buffeted on all sides. Mary Rushout and her grand-dame screamed, and their cries attracted the attention of an aide-de-camp, who was waiting his majesty's return.

It was Major Careless. Seeing a pretty girl in distress he pushed forward his steed, and quickly extricated her and the old dame, while Urso took advantage of his interference to escape. A Cavalier so gallant as Careless we may be sure did not retire after such an introduction, and he found Mary Rushout very willing to flirt with him.

BOSCOBEL HOUSE AND THE ROYAL OAK - Picture of Boscobel House, Stafford

He soon learned all about her and about Urso Gives, and that they both dwelt in the Trinity, and continued chatting with her till Charles came forth from the Guildhall. The place was now filled with people, but the assemblage was no farther disturbed than was necessary to allow the troops to form a square round it. The mayor and the sheriff having made their way to the cross, trumpets were sounded, and, amid the silence that ensued, the mayor, in a sonorous voice, proclaimed Charles King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland.

Tremendous acclamations followed, and guns were fired from the top of the Foregate. Trumpets being again sounded, a Manifesto was published in the king's name, declaring a general pardon to all the inhabitants of the city as should henceforward conform to his authority; and also announcing that warrants had just received the royal sign-manual in the Guildhall, whereby his majesty summoned, upon their allegiance, all the nobility, gentry, and others, of what degree and condition soever, of the county of Worcester, from sixteen to sixty, to appear in their persons, and with any horses, arms, and ammunition they had or could procure, at Pitchcroft, near the city, on Tuesday next, being the 26th of August, , "where," pursued the king, "ourself will be present to dispose of such of them as we shall think fit for our service in the war, in defence of this City and County, and to add to our marching army.

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On the king's return to the city, the mayor ceremoniously conducted him to his private residence, where a grand collation had been prepared, of which his majesty and his suite partook. The ancient episcopal palace— which had been prepared, as well as circumstances would permit, for the reception of the king and his suite—was a large and stately pile, and, from its size, grandeur, and the number of apartments it contained, was well fitted to be the temporary residence of a monarch—even had that monarch been firmly settled on the throne—and, indeed, it was again occupied by royalty at a later date, when George III.

The roof was lined with battlements, towers, and belfries, and on the highest of these towers the royal standard now floated, while sentries were stationed at the river gate, and at the upper gateway. The palace was surrounded by high embattled walls, within which was a garden laid out in the old formal style, and boasting a broad terrace.

The garden had been utterly neglected by the Roundheads, and the terrace was covered with grass. Internally, the mansion, which was erected probably about the beginning of the sixteenth century, contained a noble hall, with a richly carved screen, an exquisite chapel, a carved oak staircase of great beauty, conducting to a long gallery, the deeply embayed windows of which, while they embellished the exterior, commanded fine views of the country, and the broad intermediate tract once known as Malvern Chase, but now a most fertile district, through which, as Dyer sings,. Considerable damage had been done to the gallery and the rooms opening from it by the Roundheads, who had torn down the fine old tapestry once adorning the oak panels, and injured the carvings.

Most of the old furniture, being of oak, had withstood a great deal of barbarous usage, and an immense ponderous bedstead, in which many a bishop had reposed, was prepared for his majesty. A good many other beds had to be provided for the king's suite, and for his large retinue of servants, but this was satisfactorily accomplished, and luckily there were rooms enough to accommodate all. Fortunately, also, the mansion possessed a vast kitchen, having no fewer than three large grates, whence hospitality had been dispensed by the worthy prelates in the olden [Pg 22] time.

At these three grates cooks had been at work, roasting and boiling, throughout the day. The first persons presented to the king on his arrival at the palace were Lord Talbot, Sir John Pakington, and Colonel Mervin Touchet, who had been kept prisoners by the commandant of the garrison. Lord Talbot and Sir John said they had only waited to see his majesty, and were about to depart instantly to raise recruits for his service, but Charles would have them stay and dine with him.

Another person whom the king was delighted to see was Doctor Crosby, the loyal divine, who had suffered imprisonment for his zeal in his majesty's behalf. Dinner was served in the great hall, and what it wanted in ceremoniousness was more than compensated for by abundance of viands and excellence of wine. Not much form was observed. The mayor occupied a seat on his majesty's right, and the sheriff on the left.

Grace was said by Doctor Crosby.

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We shall not particularise the dishes, but we must mention that a Severn salmon of prodigious weight—quite a regal fish, that had allowed itself obligingly to be captured for the occasion—was set before the king. Moreover, the stewed lampreys were an entirely new delicacy to his majesty, and pleased him greatly. Charles was in high spirits, and laughed and jested in the most good-humoured manner with those near him.

Of a very sanguine temperament, he had never doubted the success of his expedition, and the events—unimportant as they were—that had occurred since his arrival before Worcester heightened his confidence. For the first time he had been victorious, and had been warmly welcomed by his subjects. He had been assured that a great number of recruits could be raised in the county before the general Muster took place at Pitchcroft, and he felt certain Lord Derby would bring him large levies from Lancashire and Cheshire.

He would then give battle to Cromwell, defeat him, and march on triumphantly to London. His confidence seemed to be shared by all the nobles and general officers present—even by the cold and cautious Lesley.

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While quaffing their claret and burgundy, they predicted the utter defeat of old Noll and the destruction of all rebels. Next day, being Sunday, was comparatively calm after the great previous excitement. Not that the city had by any means resumed its ordinary aspect—that was clearly impossible with a large army encamped outside the walls, and many regiments quartered within them—but the Scottish soldiers, being strict observers of the Sabbath, conducted themselves in a very orderly and decorous manner.

Much preaching was there in the camps at Red Hill and Pitchcroft, and officers might be heard reading the Bible and holding forth upon sacred texts to their men, who listened with the profoundest attention.

The Tree That Saved The King

All the churches—and Worcester, as we know, abounded in churches—were filled with congregations in which the military element predominated; but the cathedral—as might be expected, since it was known that the king would attend divine service there—collected within it all the principal personages of the city, all the chief officers of the army, and as many regiments as the vast pile could contain. Never, perhaps, before or since, has the interior of this grand old edifice presented such a striking sight as it did on this memorable occasion.

Its marble monuments and effigies, its chantry and lady-chapel, had been mutilated, as we have already told, by the Roundheads, but these injuries were now concealed from view by the throng collected within the aisles of the choir and the retro-choir. Owing likewise to the attention being directed to other objects, the loss of the splendid painted glass in the windows was scarcely noticed.

The majestic pillars lining the broad nave rose up amid a mass of troops that not only occupied the body of the fane, but the aisles. Stationed within the south transept, Pitscottie's Highlanders contributed materially to the effect of the picture. All the nobles in attendance upon the king, with the general officers, occupied the stalls in the choir—Charles being seated in the bishop's throne.

As this was the first time on which the service of the Church of England had been performed within the cathedral since its desecration by the Parliamentarians, it may be conceived with what satisfaction the members of that religion were enabled to resume their own form of worship within it—and this satisfaction was heightened by the circumstances under which they came back. The organ was gone, but the military music substituted seemed not inappropriate to an occasion when hymns of triumph were sung.

Certes, the drums, trumpets, and other martial instruments, resounding from the roof, produced an extraordinary effect. The sermon was preached by Doctor Crosby, and was a most eloquent and fervid discourse. The pale countenance of the venerable dean flushed, and his eyes blazed as with fire, while he denounced the murderers of the martyr king, and declared that the vengeance so long delayed would speedily fall upon them.

Rebellion, which had stalked unchecked through the land, would be crushed, and the monarchy restored. To Charles he attributed the highest spiritual authority, and spoke of him as "in all causes, and over all persons, next under God, supreme head and governor"—expressions at which his Presbyterian hearers took great offence. The earnestness, however, of his manner could not fail to impress them with a conviction of his sincerity.

A council of war was subsequently held within the palace, [Pg 24] and it was decided that the fortifications should at once be thoroughly repaired, so as to enable the city to stand a siege, if necessary, though no tidings had yet been heard of Cromwell. After an early repast, Charles rode forth with his retinue into the city, and was surprised to find the High-street so empty, and almost all the houses shut up; but his surprise ceased when he reached the camp at Pitchcroft, and found that the vast plain was covered with people, and resembled a fair.

The Scottish soldiers were quiet, and took no part in the profane recreations of the dissolute Cavaliers, who were everywhere swaggering about, and making love to all the pretty damsels. Charles was enthusiastically received, but he did not stay long on Pitchcroft. After riding through the principal line of tents, he returned and crossed the river to St. John's, where Dalyell's brigade was placed to protect the approach to the bridge. Lower down, on the meadows on this side of the river, Pitscottie's Highlanders were encamped, and the king passed them on his way to Powick, which he desired to see.

From the Highlanders' camp, which was almost opposite the episcopal palace and the cathedral, the finest view of old Worcester could be obtained, and he paused for some minutes, enraptured by the charming picture. A delightful ride of a mile, or somewhat more, along this bank of the Severn brought the king and his attendants to the Teme at its point of junction with the larger river, and then following its deeply-ploughed channel, and watching its swift-flowing current through the fringing trees, they rode on to Powick. Near Powick there was a woody island of some little extent, round which rushed the river—here, as elsewhere, too deep to be forded.

The island was gained by a bridge from either bank, and the importance of the point was so obvious, that the king determined to place a battery upon it. Next morning another council of war was held at the palace. No tidings as yet of Cromwell—no despatches from the Earl of Derby. After an hour's deliberation the council broke up, and the king proceeded to the Castle Hill, which was being fortified under the superintendence of Lord Rothes and Sir William Hamilton.

The city walls, in the reparation of which hundreds of men had been employed since midnight, were next inspected by his majesty, who was well satisfied with the progress made. He then visited both camps, and while riding along the High-street with his escort, attended by Major Careless, was loudly cheered. Ever since the king's arrival at Worcester the weather had been splendid—a circumstance that contributed in no slight degree to the gay and festive air that prevailed within the city.

The taverns were full of roystering Cavaliers, smoking, drinking, dicing, and singing bacchanalian songs.

Iconic / Famous Ancient Tree

On his return from the camp at Pitchcroft, Charles paid a visit to the mayor at his private residence, and had a long conference with him. Having given all the instructions he deemed necessary, and feeling that his presence was no longer required, Charles, anxious to escape from the ceaseless applications by which he was beset, crossed the river, and, still attended by his escort and Careless, rode in the direction of the Malvern Hills, his destination being Madresfield Court, an old fortified mansion, buried in the midst of thick woods of oak, beech, elm, and other trees, stretching almost from Malvern to the banks of the Severn.

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The day, as we have said, was splendid, though excessively hot, but shaded by the trees, which sheltered him with their mighty arms from the oppressive summer heat, Charles found the ride through the forest enchanting. He seemed to breathe more freely now that he was away from the crowded city and the bustling camps. A lovely sylvan scene, such as he had not for some time contemplated, was offered to his gaze.

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Madresfield Chase, which formed part of the old forest of Malvern, boasted some trees of great age and vast size. Generally the chase was flat, but occasionally a knoll could be discerned, crowned with timber.

Catalog Record: Boscobel, or, The royal oak, a tale of the year 1651 | HathiTrust Digital Library

A long and beautiful glade of some miles in extent led towards the ancient mansion, which could not, however, be distinguished. Rising in front, above the trees, appeared the lovely Malvern Hills, and their summits, bathed in sunshine, looked so exquisite that Charles wished he could be transported to one of them.

Those hills are not difficult of ascent, and command a magnificent view. The highest of them, and the nearest to Malvern, is the Worcestershire Beacon; the other is the Herefordshire Beacon. Both noble hills.

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