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History of King Charles II of England
Chapter III. Queen Henrietta's Flight.
by Abbott, Jacob


The brightening of the prospects in King Charles's affairs which was produced, for a time, by the queen's vigorous and energetic action, proved to be only a temporary gleam after all. The clouds and darkness soon returned again, and brooded over his horizon more gloomily than ever. The Parliament raised and organized new and more powerful armies. The great Republican general, Oliver Cromwell, who afterward became so celebrated as the Protector in the time of the Commonwealth, came into the field, and was very successful in all his military plans. Other Republican generals appeared in all parts of the kingdom, and fought with great determination and great success, driving the armies of the king before them wherever they moved, and reducing town after town, and castle after castle, until it began to appear evident that the whole kingdom would soon fall into their hands.

In the mean time, the family of the queen were very much separated from each other, the children having been left in various places, exposed each to different privations and dangers. Two or three of them were in London in the hands of their father's enemies. Mary, the young bride of the Prince of Orange, was in Holland. Prince Charles, the oldest son, who was now about fourteen years of age, was at the head of one of his father's armies in the west of England. Of course, such a boy could not be expected to accomplish any thing as a general, or even to exercise any real military command. He, however, had his place at the head of a considerable force, and though there were generals with him to conduct all the operations, and to direct the soldiery, they were nominally the lieutenants of the prince, and acted, in all cases, in their young commander's name. Their great duty was, however, after all, to take care of their charge; and the army which accompanied Charles was thus rather an escort and a guard, to secure his safety, than a force from which any aid was to be expected in the recovery of the kingdom.

The queen did every thing in her power to sustain the sinking fortunes of her husband, but in vain. At length, in June, 1644, she found herself unable to continue any longer such warlike and masculine exposures and toils. It became necessary for her to seek some place of retreat, where she could enjoy, for a time at least, the quiet and repose now essential to the preservation of her life. Oxford was no longer a place of safety. The Parliament had ordered her impeachment on account of her having brought in arms and munitions of war from foreign lands, to disturb, as they said, the peace of the kingdom. The Parliamentary armies were advancing toward Oxford, and she was threatened with being shut up and besieged there. She accordingly left Oxford, and went down to the sea- coast to Exeter, a strongly fortified place, on a hill surrounded in part by other hills, and very near the sea. There was a palace within the walls, where the queen thought she could enjoy, for a time at least, the needed seclusion and repose. The king accompanied her for a few miles on her journey, to a place called Abingdon, which is in the neighborhood of Oxford, and there the unhappy pair bade each other farewell, with much grief and many tears. They never met again.

Henrietta continued her sorrowful journey alone. She reached the sea- coast in the south-western part of England, where Exeter is situated, and shut herself up in the place of her retreat. She was in a state of great destitution, for Charles's circumstances were now so reduced that he could afford her very little aid. She sent across the Channel to her friends in France, asking them to help her. They sent immediately the supplies that she needed--articles of clothing, a considerable sum of money, and a nurse. She retained the clothing and the nurse, and a little of the money; the rest she sent to Charles. She was, however, now herself tolerably provided for in her new home, and here, a few weeks afterward, her sixth child was born. It was a daughter.

The queen's long continued exertions and exposures had seriously impaired her health, and she lay, feeble and low, in her sick chamber for about ten days, when she learned to her dismay that one of the Parliamentary generals was advancing at the head of his army to attack the town which she had made her refuge. This general's name was Essex. The queen sent a messenger out to meet Essex, asking him to allow her to withdraw from the town before he should invest it with his armies. She said that she was very weak and feeble, and unable to endure the privations and alarms which the inhabitants of a besieged town have necessarily to bear; and she asked his permission, therefore, to retire to Bristol, till her health should be restored. Essex replied that he could not give her permission to retire from Exeter; that, in fact, the object of his coming there was to escort her to London, to bring her before Parliament, to answer to the charge of treason.

The queen perceived immediately that nothing but the most prompt and resolute action could enable her to escape the impending danger. She had but little bodily strength remaining, but that little was stimulated and renewed by the mental resolution and energy which, as is usual in temperaments like hers, burned all the brighter in proportion to the urgency of the danger which called it into action. She rose from her sick bed, and began to concert measures for making her escape. She confided her plan to three trusty friends, one gentleman, one lady, and her confessor, who, as her spiritual teacher and guide, was her constant companion. She disguised herself and these her attendants, and succeeded in getting through the gates of Exeter without attracting any observation. This was before Essex arrived. She found, however, before she went far, that the van of the army was approaching, and she had to seek refuge in a hut till her enemies had passed. She concealed herself among some straw, her attendants seeking such other hiding places as were at hand. It was two days before the bodies of soldiery had all passed so as to make it safe for the queen to come out of her retreat. The hut would seem to have been uninhabited, as the accounts state that she remained all this time without food, though this seems to be an almost incredible degree of privation and exposure for an English queen. At any rate, she remained during all this time in a state of great mental anxiety and alarm, for there were parties of soldiery constantly going by, with a tumult and noise which kept her in continual terror. Their harsh and dissonant voices, heard sometimes in angry quarrels and sometimes in mirth, were always frightful. In fact, for a helpless woman in a situation like that of the queen, the mood of reckless and brutal mirth in such savages was perhaps more to be dreaded than that of their anger.

At one time the queen overheard a party of these soldiers talking about her. They knew that to get possession of the papist queen was the object of their expedition. They spoke of getting her head and carrying it to London, saying that Parliament had offered a reward of fifty thousand crowns for it, and expressed the savage pleasure which it would give them to secure this prize, by imprecations and oaths.

They did not, however, discover their intended victim. After the whole army passed, the queen ventured cautiously forth from her retreat; the little party got together again, and, still retaining their disguises, moved on over the road by which the soldiers had come, and which was in the shocking condition that a road and a country always exhibit where an army has been marching. Faint and exhausted with sickness, abstinence, and the effects of long continued anxiety and fear, the queen had scarcely strength to go on. She persevered, however, and at length found a second refuge in a cabin in a wood. She was going to Plymouth, which is forty or fifty miles from Exeter, to the south-west, and is the great port and naval station of the English, in that quarter of the island.

She stopped at this cabin for a little time to rest, and to wait for some other friends and members of her household from the palace in Exeter to join her. Those friends were to wait until they found that the queen succeeded in making her escape, and then they were to follow, each in a different way, and all assuming such disguises as would most effectually help to conceal them. There was one of the party whom it must have been somewhat difficult to disguise. It was a dwarf, named Geoffrey Hudson, who had been a long time in the service of Henrietta as a personal attendant and messenger. It was the fancy of queens and princesses in those days to have such personages in their train. The oddity of the idea pleased them, and the smaller the dimensions of such a servitor, the greater was his value. In modern times all this is changed. Tall footmen now, in the families of the great, receive salaries in proportion to the number of inches in their stature, and the dwarfs go to the museums, to be exhibited, for a price, to the common wonder of mankind.

The manner in which Sir Geoffrey Hudson was introduced into the service of the queen was as odd as his figure. It was just after she was married, and when she was about eighteen years old. She had two dwarfs then already, a gentleman and a lady, or, as they termed it then, a cavalier and a dame, and, to carry out the whimsical idea, she had arranged a match between these two, and had them married. Now there was in her court at that time a wild and thoughtless nobleman, a great friend and constant companion of her husband Charles the First, named Buckingham. An account of his various exploits is given in our history of Charles the First. Buckingham happened to hear of this Geoffrey Hudson, who was then a boy of seven or eight years of age, living with his parents somewhere in the interior of England. He sent for him, and had him brought secretly to his house, and made an arrangement to have him enter the service of the queen, without, however, saying any thing of his design to her. He then invited the queen and her husband to visit him at his palace; and when the time for luncheon arrived, one day, he conducted the party into the dining saloon to partake of some refreshment. There was upon the table, among other viands, what appeared to be a large venison pie. The company gathered around the table, and a servant proceeded to cut the pie, and on his breaking and raising a piece of the crust, out stepped the young dwarf upon the table, splendidly dressed and armed, and, advancing toward the queen, he kneeled before her, and begged to be received into her train. Her majesty was very much pleased with the addition itself thus made to her household, as well as diverted by the odd manner in which her new attendant was introduced into her service.

The youthful dwarf was then only eighteen inches high, and he continued so until he was thirty years of age, when, to every body's surprise, he began to grow. He grew quite rapidly, and, for a time, there was a prospect that he would be entirely spoiled, as his whole value had consisted thus far in his littleness. He attained the height of three feet and a half, and there the mysterious principle of organic expansion, the most mysterious and inexplicable, perhaps, that is exhibited in all the phenomena of life, seemed to be finally exhausted, and, though he lived to be nearly seventy years of age, he grew no more.

Notwithstanding the bodily infirmity, whatever it may have been, which prevented his growth, the dwarf possessed a considerable degree of mental capacity and courage. He did not bear, however, very good- naturedly, the jests and gibes of which he was the continual object, from the unfeeling courtiers, who often took pleasure in teasing him and in getting him into all sorts of absurd and ridiculous situations. At last his patience was entirely exhausted, and he challenged one of his tormentors, whose name was Crofts, to a duel. Crofts accepted the challenge, and, being determined to persevere in his fun to the end, appeared on the battle ground armed only with a squirt. This raised a laugh, of course, but it did not tend much to cool the injured Lilliputian's anger. He sternly insisted on another meeting, and with real weapons. Crofts had expected to have turned off the whole affair in a joke, but he found this could not be done; and public opinion among the courtiers around him compelled him finally to accept the challenge in earnest. The parties met on horseback, to put them more nearly on an equality. They fought with pistols. Crofts was killed upon the spot.

After this Hudson was treated with more respect. He was entrusted by the queen with many commissions, and sometimes business was committed to him which required no little capacity, judgment, and courage. He was now, at the time of the queen's escape from Exeter, of his full stature, but as this was only three and a half feet, he encountered great danger in attempting to find his way out of the city and through the advancing columns of the army to rejoin the queen. He persevered, however, and reached her safely at last in the cabin in the wood. The babe, not yet two weeks old, was necessarily left behind. She was left in charge of Lady Morton, whom the queen appointed her governess. Lady Morton was young and beautiful. She was possessed of great strength and energy of character, and she devoted herself with her whole soul to preserving the life and securing the safety of her little charge.

The queen and her party had to traverse a wild and desolate forest, many miles in extent, on the way to Plymouth. The name of it was Dartmoor Forest. Lonely as it was, however, the party was safer in it than in the open and inhabited country, which was all disturbed and in commotion, as every country necessarily is in time of civil war. As the queen drew near to Plymouth, she found that, for some reason, it would not be safe to enter that town, and so the whole party went on, continuing their journey farther to the westward still.

Now there is one important sea-port to the westward of Plymouth which is called Falmouth, and near it, on a high promontory jutting into the sea, is a large and strong castle, called Pendennis Castle. This castle was, at the time of the queen's escape, in the hands of the king's friends, and she determined, accordingly, to seek refuge there. The whole party arrived here safely on the 29th of June. They were all completely worn out and exhausted by the fatigues, privations, and exposures of their terrible journey.

The queen had determined to make her escape as soon as possible to France. She could no longer be of any service to the king in England; her resources were exhausted, and her personal health was so feeble that she must have been a burden to his cause, and not a help, if she had remained. There was a ship from Holland in the harbor. The Prince of Orange, it will be recollected, who had married the queen's oldest daughter, was a prince of Holland, and this vessel was under his direction. Some writers say it was sent to Falmouth by him to be ready for his mother-in-law, in case she should wish to make her escape from England. Others speak of it as being there accidentally at this time. However this may be, it was immediately placed at Queen Henrietta's disposal, and she determined to embark in it on the following morning. She knew very well that, as soon as Essex should have heard of her escape, parties would be scouring the country in all directions in pursuit of her, and that, although the castle where she had found a temporary refuge was strong, it was not best to incur the risk of being shut up and besieged in it.

She accordingly embarked, with all her company, on board the Dutch ship on the very morning after her arrival, and immediately put to sea. They made all sail for the coast of France, intending to land at Dieppe. Dieppe is almost precisely east of Falmouth, two or three hundred miles from it, up the English Channel. As it is on the other side of the Channel, it would lie to the south of Falmouth, were it not that both the French and English coasts trend here to the northward.

Some time before they arrived at their port, they perceived some ships in the offing that seemed to be pursuing them. They endeavored to escape, but their pursuers gained rapidly upon them, and at length fired a gun as a signal for the queen's vessel to stop. The ball came bounding over the water toward them, but did no harm. Of course there was a scene of universal commotion and panic on board the queen's ship. Some wanted to fire back upon the pursuers, some wished to stop and surrender, and others shrieked and cried, and were overwhelmed with uncontrollable emotions of terror.

In the midst of this dreadful scene of confusion, the queen, as was usual with her in such emergencies, retained all her self-possession, and though weak and helpless before, felt a fresh strength and energy now, which the imminence itself of the danger seemed to inspire. She was excited, it is true, as well as the rest, but it was, in her case, the excitement of courage and resolution, and not of senseless terror and despair. She ascended to the deck; she took the direct command of the ship; she gave instructions to the pilot how to steer; and, though there was a storm coming on, she ordered every sail to be set, that the ship might be driven as rapidly as possible through the water. She forbade the captain to fire back upon their pursuers, fearing that such firing would occasion delay; and she gave distinct and positive orders to the captain, that so soon as it should appear that all hope of escape was gone, and that they must inevitably fall into the hands of their enemies, he was to set fire to the magazine of gunpowder, in order that they might all be destroyed by the explosion.

In the mean time all the ships, pursuers and pursued, were rapidly nearing the French coast. The fugitives were hoping to reach their port. They were also hoping every moment to see some friendly French ships appear in sight to rescue them. To balance this double hope, there was a double fear. There were their pursuers behind them, whose shots were continually booming over the water, threatening them with destruction, and there was a storm arising which, with the great press of sail that they were carrying, brought with it a danger, perhaps, more imminent still.

It happened that these hopes and fears were all realized, and nearly at the same time. A shot struck the ship, producing a great shock, and throwing all on board into terrible consternation. It damaged the rigging, bringing down the rent sails and broken cordage to the deck, and thus stopped the vessel's way. At the same moment some French vessels came in sight, and, as soon as they understood the case, bore down full sail to rescue the disabled vessel. The pursuers, changing suddenly their pursuit to flight, altered their course and moved slowly away. The storm, however, increased, and, preventing them from making the harbor of Dieppe, drove them along the shore, threatening every moment to dash them upon the rocks and breakers. At length the queen's vessel succeeded in getting into a rocky cove, where they were sheltered from the winds and waves, and found a chance to land. The queen ordered out the boat, and was set ashore with her attendants on the rocks. She climbed over them, wet as they were with the dashing spray, and slippery with sea weed. The little party, drenched with the rain, and exhausted and forlorn, wandered along the shore till they came to a little village of fishermen's huts. The queen went into the first wretched cabin which offered itself, and lay down upon the straw in the corner for rest and sleep.

The tidings immediately spread all over the region that the Queen of England had landed on the coast, and produced, of course, universal excitement. The gentry in the neighborhood flocked down the next morning, in their carriages, to offer Henrietta their aid. They supplied her wants, invited her to their houses, and offered her their equipages to take her wherever she should decide to go. What she wanted was seclusion and rest. They accordingly conveyed her, at her request, to the Baths of Bourbon, where she remained some time, until, in fact, her health and strength were in some measure restored. Great personages of state were sent to her here from Paris, with money and all other necessary supplies, and in due time she was escorted in state to the city, and established in great magnificence and splendor in the Louvre, which was then one of the principal palaces of the capital.

Notwithstanding the outward change which was thus made in the circumstances of the exiled queen, she was very unhappy. As the excitement of her danger and her efforts to escape it passed away, her spirits sunk, her beauty faded, and her countenance assumed the wan and haggard expression of despair. She mourned over the ruin of her husband's hopes, and her separation from him and from her children, with perpetual tears. She called to mind continually the image of the little babe, not yet three weeks old, whom she had left so defenseless in the very midst of her enemies. She longed to get some tidings of the child, and reproached herself sometimes for having thus, as it were, abandoned her.

The localities which were the scenes of these events have been made very famous by them, and traditional tales of Queen Henrietta's residence in Exeter, and of her romantic escape from it, have been handed down there, from generation to generation, to the present day. They caused her portrait to be painted too, and hung it up in the city hall of Exeter as a memorial of their royal visitor. The palace where the little infant was born has long since passed away, but the portrait hangs in the Guildhall still.

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