The Royal Miracle – the Flight of Charles II

The defeat of Charles II by Cromwell’s forces at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651 set off one of the most astonishing episodes in British history, writes Gillian Bagwell, Charles’s desperate six-week flight to reach safety in France, which came to be known as the Royal Miracle because he narrowly eluded discovery and capture so many times.

Charles had been forced to flee England in 1646 during the Civil War and had lived in exile since then, bouncing between France, Holland, and Jersey, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France. When his father, Charles I, was executed in 1649, he had no country to rule, as England was in the hands of Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. But in 1650, Scotland offered an army to help him take back his throne, and he readily agreed, hoping that Royalists in England would rally to his cause.

The 21-year-old Charles marched across the border into England on August 8, 1651 at the head of a mostly Scottish army and was proclaimed king at Penrith and Rokeby. But Carlisle did not surrender to his call and he failed to gain as many English supporters as he had hoped. By the time he and his exhausted troops limped into Worcester on August 22, he had lost many men to desertion. Cromwell’s New Model Army, which was converging on Worcester, outnumbered the Royalist forces almost two to one and had an overwhelming superiority in artillery.

“A crown or a coffin”

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James I – a summary

Charles James Stuart was born on June 19th, 1566 at Edinburgh Castle.  He was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and her second husband Lord Darnley.  James’s arrival into the world coincided with a period of extreme religious and political unrest in Scotland.  His mother’s Catholic faith had brought her into conflict with the powerful Protestant Presbyterians. After James’s birth, Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son, who became James VI of Scotland at the age of one.  A succession of regents acted as caretaker rulers until 1581 when, at the age of 15, James took control in his own right.

After the enforced abdication of his Catholic mother, James’s guardians ensured that he was educated in a strict Calvinist tradition.  This move was calculated to further alienate the young King from his mother’s religious beliefs, while at the same time securing the success of the Scottish Reformation.

From quite early on, the King of Scotland set his sights on the English throne (as the grandson of Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret Tudor, he had a legitimate claim to it).  If Elizabeth I of England were to die childless, James was the most likely successor.  With a view to gaining favour with the ageing queen, James signed the Treaty of Berwick with her in 1586.  The treaty agreed that, should either country be invaded by the King of Spain’s Catholic forces, the other would come to its aid.  The fact that the Treaty survived intact even after Elizabeth executed James’s exiled mother the following year was indicative of the extent of James’s ambitions for the English crown.

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Guy Fawkes – a summary

Guy Fawkes was executed on 31 January 1606. Sinead Fitzgibbon offers a brief summary of his life, the Gunpowder Plot and his death.

Guy Fawkes was born in York around 13 April 1570. Although there is some uncertainty surrounding the exact date of his birth, church archives confirm that he was baptised on 16 April 1570 at the church of St Michael le Belfrey. His parents Edward and Edith Fawkes were Protestant, and as such, it is believed that Guy was raised in the Protestant faith.

When he was eight years old, the young Fawkes attended St Peter’s School in York. It was here that he first made the acquaintance of two brothers, Jack and Christopher Wright, who would become his comrades in the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament some thirty years later.

Catholic conversion

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The Gunpowder Plot – a Summary

Like all good conspiracy stories, the tale of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is one that combines elements of mystery, intrigue, suspense and of course, deception.  It is the story of a small band of disaffected Catholics who, unhappy with the constraints placed on their religion by Protestant monarchs, undertake to challenge the religious status quo by committing the ultimate act of terrorism – the destruction of both King and Parliament.

The Break From Rome

The malcontent felt by this group of would-be terrorists did not spring up overnight.  In fact, the seeds had been sown some seventy years earlier during the reign of Henry VIII.  During the 1530s Henry, in his desperation to divorce Catherine of Aragon in favour of Anne Boleyn, incurred the wrath of Rome by declaring that he, and not the Pope, was the Supreme Head of the Church in England.  This act of defiance on Henry’s part culminated in England’s break from Rome and gave the new Protestant religion, which had been sweeping the Continent, a foothold in England.

Thanks to the legitimacy afforded to it by Henry VIII and subsequent Tudor monarchs (apart from a brief interlude during the reign of the staunchly Catholic Mary I), Protestantism became England’s official religion. Catholics were forced to abandon their allegiance to the Pope and instead accept the reigning monarch as leader of the Church.  Anyone who refused to do this was viewed as a potential traitor to the Crown and was subjected to heavy fines, imprisonment or even death.  In the face of such persecution, many Catholics were forced to practice their faith in secret.  Tensions simmered and an insidious atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion and fear prevailed.  It was against this sinister backdrop that the Gunpowder Plot was hatched.

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King James Bible – a summary

2011 marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible.  Regarded by many to be a literary masterpiece, this particular version of the Bible is the most widely-published book in the English language.  The influence of this Christian text has resonated down through the centuries, outgrowing its religious origins to influence many parts of our modern secular culture. From Milton’s Paradise Lost to Handel’s Messiah and Martin Luther King’s immortal I Have a Dream speech, the spirit of the King James Bible is all around us.

Perhaps its most profound influence, however, has been on the development of English as a language. The extent of its linguistic influence is often said to be challenged only by the works of William Shakespeare.  Hundreds of phrases and idioms in everyday use owe their origins to its pages.  When we refer to a ‘broken heart’, ‘labour of love’, ‘salt of the earth’or ‘skin of our teeth’, or when we speak of ‘biting the dust’ or a ‘leopard changing its spots’, we are unconsciously referencing the King James Bible.

James I of England

The man primarily responsible for the commissioning of this Bible was its namesake, King James I of England (pictured), who ascended to the throne in 1603.  The idea was borne out of his determination to end the religious disputes and theological arguments – which plagued the reign of his predecessor, Elizabeth I — a hangover from her father Henry VIII’s break with Rome and the subsequent English Reformation.  The newly-crowned king, who greatly enjoyed philosophical and spiritual debate, convened the Hampton Court Conference in January 1604, where the future of the Church of England was to be discussed.  It was at this conference that James authorized a new English translation of the Bible, which would be acceptable to both traditionalist bishops and the new breed of Protestant puritans.

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England and the Popish Plot

In October 1678 a magistrate by the name of Edmund Berry Godfrey was found murdered at the foot of Primrose Hill near London.  Though he was in himself a figure of little importance his death was to have explosive consequences.  For the crime, never solved, marks the beginning of an episode of anti-Catholic hysteria forever known as the Popish Plot.  The roots of the ensuing crisis, by far the most serious ever faced by the Restoration monarchy, can be traced back several years.

The Cavalier Parliament

It’s one of the great ironies of history that the assembly which dominated the reign of Charles II, known for its perceived political loyalties as the ‘Cavalier Parliament’, was in its own way almost as troublesome for the crown as the Long Parliament of Charles I.  It was packed with men who were loyal to king, yes, but they were just as loyal to the established church, in some ways even more loyal.  Attempts by the government to introduce a measure of relief for Catholics and dissenters, those who refused to accept communion in the Church of England, was met with an ever growing sense of suspicion.

The events of 1678 and after have to be placed against this background, against a fear over growing Catholic influences at court, compounded by suspicions over Charles’ foreign policy, which took England into alliance with the Catholic French against the Protestant Dutch.

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