The Escape of the King by Jane Lane

The Escape of the King cover

The Escape of the King by Jane Lane was first published in 1954. I read some of her historical fiction back in the 1970s, but hadn’t read any which were aimed at children as this wee one is. It’s a quick but fairly entertaining read at just 156 pages. Jane Lane started writing books for children when her young son asked her to tell him stories from history.

In The Escape of the King she fills in the gaps between the known history of King Charles II’s flight after his army was defeated at the Battle of Worcester when the much larger rebel army of Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads trounced the Royalist Cavalier army. Apparently all the events in this book are true and the characters are real. Jane Lane says that she just invented the conversations thoughts and feelings of the people involved.

All the Roundheads are looking for Charles, and when a £1,000 reward is put up for Charles alive or dead it seems like his escape from Worcester is an unlikely prospect, but well disguised as Will Jones – a peasant – and walking by night from safe house to safe house, when necessary hiding in holes that had previously been used by Catholic priests in houses owned by people who had been sticking to the ‘old religion’. He had some very close calls but of course did manage to reach the coast and hitch a ride on a ship to France and safety.

I must admit that I only recently realised that I had imagined his escape wrongly, as in that well-known part of the story when Charles II hid in a tree to avoid capture, I had assumed that it was a hollow tree he was in as it was supposed to be an oak tree, and they can be hollow. Now of course I realise that he was hiding up a tree, within the branches! It’s a mystery to me why teachers always said he was in a tree. In fact I’m sure I even asked a teacher about that at the time and she was the one who thought it might have been a hollow oak – oh well – you live and learn!

Glamis Castle grounds

The long driveway which leads to Glamis Castle is flanked by fields of cattle, if you have to be a cow this is one of the best places to be one I think. Good grass, lovely trees to hide from the sun, when we get it, not a bad life – for a while anyway.

cows at Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

This fountain is just beyond the field of cows and if you’re in the castle you would be looking out on to it from the front windows, unfortunately it wasn’t up and running, which is a pity because I love fountains and for some reason there aren’t enough of them in Britain. Nice trees though, the whole area is well planted tree wise. As you can see from the blue rope there was some sort of festival going on at Glamis and they were busy preparing the grounds for it.

A fountain at Glamis Castle

Going beyond the castle you come to this dinky wee bridge which I just had to have a look at, bridges being something else I’m keen on. We never did find out what was over the bridge as you can see you aren’t meant to go over it. There were a few cars coming over it in the other direction, belonging to the Strathmore family I suppose.

Stone bridge at Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

These two statues are of Stuart kings. This one is James VI of Scotland – he was Mary, Queen of Scots’ son and when Elizabeth I of England died with no heir, he was next in line for the English throne. He’s known as James I in England and he is probably best known nowadays as the man who had the bible translated into English – hence it being known as the King James bible.

King James VI of Scotland

This one is King Charles I (Stuart)

King Charles I

He was a bit ‘thrawn’ as we say and his determination to hold on to all of his power led to him having his head chopped off which more or less ended the English Civil War (which actually spread all over Britain.) It was about fifteen years later the Restoration brought his son, Charles II, back as king.

Captain Hook from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is traditionally modelled on Charles I.

King Charles II by Antonia Fraser

It’s quite a while since I read a proper history book so when I spotted this one recently in a second-hand bookshop it was just perfect timing for me. During our recent road trips we’ve been visiting lots of English towns which were heavily involved in the action of the English Civil War. It’s not a subject which I knew an awful lot about, I certainly didn’t get much about it at school, not surprising as I obviously went to Scottish schools. Mind you, Scotland does feature a lot in the book and apparently Charles II really disliked Scots, which is a laugh given who his ancestors were and that he was a Stuart.

Anyway, in Warwickshire and Worcestershire it was all go and it made the book all the more vivid for me as just a couple of days after visiting Worcester Cathedral I was reading about all the fighting which went on in the streets there, they were running with blood apparently!

If you want to find out a bit more about Charles II have a look here. But if you want the detail then you’ll enjoy reading this book. I had no idea that Charles had such a bad time of it when he was in exile for years after his father was executed. He literally went without food as there was no money and he had already borrowed from everyone.

At one point I did become a bit dissatisfied because I wasn’t getting enough historical detail but I came to the conclusion that as the book title isn’t The Life and Times of Charles II – I was being a bit unfair. But it has made me want to find out more, for instance, when Charles came back to England and he was restored as monarch, his behaviour and attitude helped a lot with the healing of the nation and peace. He wasn’t determined to ‘get’ the men who had signed his father’s death warrant and indeed some of them were even given very important positions in the government. However, on leafing through another history book I discovered that some of them were hunted down and even brought back from abroad to be executed. I want to know why the disparity in treatment, more reading is required obviously.

I think Antonia Fraser did her best to be impartial as far as religion is concerned, but given the fact that she herself is from an aristocratic Roman Catholic family, who were all converts, she doesn’t always quite manage it. She seems to be quite certain that Charles became a Catholic on his death-bed but I’m sure others don’t agree. It’s common even nowadays for RC priests to ‘claim’ folk for their brand of Christianity at death-beds.

Inevitably the Catholic/Protestant religious problems feature in the book and at one point Fraser says that John F. Kennedy made it clear that he drew a distiction between his role as President of the US and as a private member of the Catholic church; as the former for example he was not subject to the authority of the Papacy.

It’s all very well to say that but I read just a few weeks ago that during the Bay of Pigs crisis JFK was on the phone a lot to the then Pope, apparently taking advice from him. It’s that sort of thing which really worries some people about religion and it’s just one of the many theories about JFK’s assassination, that it was done because of his percieved allegiance to the Pope rather than to America.

I don’t think it’s all Henry VIII’s fault as all the world religions have schisms and factions who are at loggerheads with each other. Maybe the Buddhists all get on with each other, I’d like to think so anyway.

Well I’ve gone off track a bit but I’ll just finish off by saying that there’s more to Charles II (Stuart) than the facts that he had loads of mistresses and a dozen or so illegitimate children. This book is a painless way of learning more history.

If you want to see some images of him, look here.