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As our school days recede, one of the few bits of history that sticks in the mind must be that of how King Charles II evaded the clutches of Cromwell and his troops by hiding up an oak tree. But where is this oak? And where did the events that led up to Charles taking this unusual means of concealment occur? Many people and counties make claims to having the actual tree that he hid in, but the truth is that most of the events took place in the County of Shropshire. To set the scene for these events it is necessary to go back in time to the 17th century when the country was in a turmoil and still recovering from the effects of civil war. Charles I had been executed and Cromwell had declared the country a common-wealth. The young Prince Charles sought refuge in France and then later in Holland. It was merely a matter of time, though, before he attempted to regain his father's throne, and shortly after his 20th birthday he set sail from Holland and landed in Scotland on the 23rd June. Together with his loyal Scottish troops he made his way south, reaching Worcester virtually unopposed where he was proclaimed 'King of Great Britain, France and Ireland'. Cromwell reached Worcester four days later and camped to the south-east of the city. After preliminary skirmishing, a huge battle took place on the 3rd of September, 1651, and by the end of the day Charles had been soundly beaten. The dejection and confusion of this moment are best reflected in Charles' own account which he dictated to Samuel Pepys some thirty years later.
"After the battle was so absolutely lost as to be beyond hope of recovery, I began to think of the best way of saving myself, and the first thought that came into my head was that if I could possibly, I would get to London as soon as possible, if not sooner than the news of our defeat could get thither. And it being near dark I talked with some, especially my Lord Rochester who was then Wilmot, about their opinions of which would be the best way for me to escape, it being impossible as I thought to get back to Scotland. I found them mightily distracted and their opinions different of the possibility of getting into Scotland, but not agreeing with mine, for going to London, saving my Lord Wilmot, and the truth is I did not impart my design of going to London to any but my Lord Wilmot."
Even though Charles had decided to make for London, they were forced to flee northwards, and together with a guide, Charles Giffard, they made their way into what is now the Telford area, and this is where I decided to take up the trail and follow in the footsteps of His Royal Highness King Charles II. Now, with me trying to retrace his path some 335 years later, things had obviously changed. Housing estates, developments, in fact a complete new town had sprouted up and consequently his exact route was hard to follow. mmm Charles and his group were heading for a house called Boscobel, as their guide was related to the owner. However, it was to a former Priory called White Ladies that Charles and his party were initially taken. It was explained in this way.
"Upon further consideration by His Majesty and council, and to the end of the company might not know whither His Majesty directly intended, Mr Giffard was required to conduct His Majesty to some house near Boscobel, the better to blind the design of going thither. Mr Giffard proposed White Ladies, lying about half a mile beyond Boscobel."