The Royal Oak

The following is from True Stories of Wonderful Deeds - Pictures and Stories for Little Folk by Anonymous:


King Charles in the Oak

There is in Shropshire a fine oak-tree which the country people there call the "Royal Oak". They say it is the great-grandson, or perhaps the great-great-grandson of another fine old oak, which more than two hundred years ago stood on the same spot, and served once as a shelter to an English king. This king was Charles II, the son of the unlucky Charles I who had his head cut off by his subjects because he was a weak and selfish ruler.

On the very day on which that unhappy king lost his head, the Parliament passed a law forbidding anyone to make his son, Prince Charles of Wales, or any other person, king of England. But the Scottish people did not obey this law. They persuaded the young prince to sign a paper, solemnly promising to rule the country as they wished; then they crowned him king. As soon as the Parliament heard of this they sent Cromwell and his Ironsides against the newly-crowned king and his followers, and after several battles the Scottish army was at last broken up and scattered at Worcester.

Charles fled and hid in a wood, where some poor wood-cutters took care of him and helped him. He put on some of their clothes, cut his hair short, and stained his face and hands brown so that he might appear to be a sunburnt workman like them. But it was some time before he could escape from the wood, for Cromwell's soldiers were searching it in the hope of finding some of the king's men. One day, Charles and two of his friends had to climb into the tall oak to avoid being caught. They had with them some food, which proved very useful, for they were obliged to stay in their strange hiding-place for a whole day. The top of the oak-tree had been cut off some few years before this time, and this had made the lower branches grow thick and bushy, so that people walking below could not easily see through them. It was a fortunate thing for Charles, for while he was in the tree, he heard the soldiers beating the boughs and bushes in the wood as they searched here and there, and even caught glimpses of them through the leaves as they rode about below.

When they had gone, without even glancing up into the tall oak-tree, he came down, and rode away from the wood on an old mill-horse, with his friends the wood-cutters walking beside him to take care of him as best they could. The saddle was a poor one, and the horse's pace jolted Charles so much, that at last he cried out that he had never seen so bad a steed. At this the owner of the horse jestingly told him that he should not find fault with the poor animal, which had never before carried the weight of three kingdoms upon its back. He meant, of course, that Charles was king of the three kingdoms of England, and Scotland, and Ireland.

Carried by the old horse, and helped by the poor wood-cutters, Charles at last reached the house of a friend. Here he hid for a time, and then went on to try and escape from the country. This time, so that he might not be discovered, he was dressed as a servant, and rode on horseback, with a lady sitting on a cushion behind him, as was then the fashion. After several more dangers he managed to get on board a ship and sailed away to France.

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