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The Story of Richard Penderell

Updated: Jul 29, 2022

The Story of Richard Penderell, who risked his life to save King Charles II

In 1739 stonemasons would have been busily engaged in the churchyard of St Giles in the Fields under royal command of King George II to ‘repair and beautify’ the tomb of a simple west country Yeoman, Richard Penderell of Hobbal Grange, who had risked his life to save King Charles II in 1651.

After defeat at the battle of Worcester at the end of the second Civil War Charles II was forced to flee the field in disarray. The King who had stood at the head of an army of 16,000 loyal men now wandered, seemingly friendless and almost alone, as Cromwell’s scouts and spies scoured the country wide with a warrant for the arrest of that ‘tall black man’ they simply called ‘Charles Stuart’.

On the Shropshire border of Staffordshire the beleaguered king found a brief refuge with the old knightly family of the Giffards of Chillington. The Giffards however were known Royalists and recusant Roman Catholics and thus it was only a matter of time before Cromwell’s troopers would arrive looking for Charles. It was for this reason that Richard Penderell was suddenly summoned to Whiteladies Priory, a Giffard property deeply ensconced within the Brewood Forest. There, in the dead of night, this modest yeoman was brought in and charged with the protection of the life of his king.

‘Trusty Richard’ was a woodsman on the Giffard estate and knew the land well. He and his five brothers would help transform Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, into a simple country labourer clad in thin leather shoes, broad grey hat and his own ‘noggin’ shirt of hemp fibre. It was Richard himself who cut the kings flowing black Cavaliers’ locks into a short crop with his pruning shears.

King Charles II at Whiteladies (King Charles II; Richard Penderel) by Isaac Fuller National Portrait Gallery. Used with permission.

King Charles II at Whiteladies (King Charles II; Richard Penderel) by Isaac Fuller National Portrait Gallery. Used with permission.

The king would stay with the Penderells at their cottage of Hobbal Grange overnight (where he dandled Richard’s daughter Anne on his leg) before first attempting to escape to Wales with Richard and then doubling back towards London. Passing back through Boscobel the King was forced to take refuge in the branches of a great oak tree while the parliamentary patrols galloped past, mere yards away. Richard’s sister Joan kept watch on the forest floor while pretending to gather sticks and it was Richard’s brother William who provided the ladder the king used to climb into the tree.

There would be close shaves and near misses as the King stole across ten counties in six weeks before finally taking ship from Shoreham in Sussex to refuge on Rouen but never was he so close to disaster and so utterly reliant on the faithful service of his loyal subjects as he was while at Boscobel with a £1000 reward on his head (£1000 could have bought 200 head of cattle – a life changing sum). The Penderells risked all for their King. The first man to have helped King Charles during his escape from the battlefield of Worcester, the small tenant farmer Francis Yates of Brewood, was a neighbour and brother-in-law of the Penderells. After Charles’s escape he was quickly identified, caught and summarily hanged at Oxford.

The episode in Boscobel wood and Charles’s sanctuary in the boughs of the Royal Oak was to become the defining image of the escape from Worcester and the commemoration of the restoration was to become known as Royal Oak Day and was kept as a public-holiday until the mid-nineteenth century. Many who had lived to see the staggeringly unlikely escape of the King after Worcester felt the hand of God was in it and it was openly called a miracle of God.

Upon his glorious Restoration in 1660 Charles II was only back in England for two weeks when he summoned the Penderells to London and royally rewarded their loyalty. All the surviving Penderells were given pensions off the civil list. Richard Penderell’s exceptional devotion was recognised in an annual payment of £200 in perpetuity to him and his descendants (who still receive it to this day). As a mark of especial favour the humble forester was further granted coat armour and commanded to attend upon the court at St James Palace once a year.

Richard continued to attend court once yearly at the Kings pleasure and while in London he lodged at the house of Henry Arundell in the Great Turnstile between High Holborn and Lincolns Inn Fields (demolished 1883). It was there in February 1671 that he caught the pestilential fever so common to the St Giles district that would carry him off on the 8th of February of that year. He was buried in St Giles churchyard in a splendid chest tomb under a handsome epitaph:

Here lieth Richard Penderell, Preserver and Conductor to his sacred Majesty King Charles the Second of Great Britain, after his escape from Worcester Fight, in the year 1651, who died Feb 8, 1671.

Hold, Passenger, here’s shrouded in this Herse, Unparalell’d Pendrell, thro’ the universe. Like when the Eastern Star from Heaven gave light To three lost kings; so he, in such dark night, To Britain’s Monarch, toss’d by adverse War, On Earth appear’d, a second Eastern Star, A Pope, a Stern, in her rebellious Main, A Pilot to her Royal Sovereign. Now to triumph in Heav’n’s eternal sphere, Whilst Albion’s Chronicles, with matching fame, Embalm the story of great Pendrell’s Name.

The tomb stood prominently in the churchyard for many years where it was annually dressed in oak leaves on Royal Oak Day to celebrate Penderell’s famous deeds and mark the royal deliverance. In 1922 the tomb slab, by now deteriorating in its exposed position, was moved inside the church and is now mounted in the west end of the church building alongside the famous Royalist hero of Edgehill, Newbury and Naseby, John Lord Belasyse.

Oak Apple Day will be celebrated at the 1100 Service of Holy Communion, where The Ven. Luke Miller, Archdeacon of London and Chaplain to HM THE QUEEN shall preach.

Words by Mr. H Amos, member of St. Giles PCC

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