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Press release

17th-century royal souvenirs tell the story of Charles II's dramatic escape after the Civil War

Release date: Thursday, 7 December 2017

On 15 October 1651 Charles II paid one Nicolas Tettersell £60 to carry him from Shoreham to France in a Brighthelmstone coal-brig called the 'Surprise'. After this ignominious flight the King returned in triumph from Scheveningen in 1660 bringing with hi

The 'Royal Escape' in a Breeze ©

A new exhibition Charles II: Art & Power, opening tomorrow (8 December) at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, explores the colourful reign of Charles II, who came to the thrones of England and Ireland in 1660 after over ten years of Commonwealth rule.  The exhibition begins with a number of works that record the famous episodes in the King's escape to Europe after his defeat by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.

After the final, decisive, engagement of the English Civil War, Charles fled to Boscobel House in Shropshire.  He later recorded the details of his escape in An Account of the Preservation of King Charles II after the Battle of Worcester. The King recalls how Colonel William Careless, an attending Royalist officer, advised him that it was too dangerous to take refuge in the house or nearby woods.  There was only 'one way how to pass the next day, and that was, to get up into a great oak'.

Charles continues: '…we (that is to say, Careless and I) went, and carried up with us some victuals for the whole day, viz. bread, cheese, small beer, and nothing else, and got up into a great oak, that had been lopt some three or four years before, and being grown out again, very bushy and thick, could not be seen through, and here we staid all the day.'  The King later told Samuel Pepys that a Parliamentarian soldier had passed directly beneath the tree while he was concealed within its branches. This celebrated event is recorded on an English faience charger, 1680, a typical example of a royal souvenir of the day. 

After his successful concealment, Charles began his journey to France. On the way he lodged at Bentley Hall, the home of Colonel Lane, a Royalist officer. With the help of Lane's sister, Jane, he travelled to Dorset disguised as a servant. A reward of £1,000 was offered for Charles's capture, and anyone caught assisting the King risked execution for treason. In recognition of her bravery and resourcefulness, Charles subsequently presented Jane with a rock crystal and silver-gilt fob watch by Henry Grendon, a well-known watch-maker.

After making his way to the south coast, Charles paid £60 to the captain of the coal brig Surprise to take him from Shoreham to Fécamp in Normandy.  He later purchased the vessel, converted her into a yacht and re-named her Royal Escape.  Thought to have been commisoned by Charles II, The 'Royal Escape' in a Breeze, 1685, by Willem van de Velde the Younger hung 'In Store above staires over the New Lodgings' at Whitehall.  

Reunited with his mother, Henrietta Maria, in France, Charles spent much of the 1650s moving around Europe to form alliances that would help him retake the British thrones. With his royal status in question, the King understood the importance of magnificence, ritual and ceremony in the expression of his authority. How he put this into practice following his triumphant return to London on 29 May 1660 is explored in the exhibiiton Charles II: Art & Power. The story of Charles's escape from England became part of the King's personal mythology and was recounted throughout his reign as evidence of his ingenuity and bravery, and divine protection.       


Charles II: Art & Power is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 8 December 2017 – 13 May 2018.  The accompanying catalogue Charles II: Art & Power is published by Royal Collection Trust at £29.95, from Royal Collection Trust shops and www.royalcollection.org.uk/shop.

Press release