Escape of Charles II
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The fugitive king
Charles had lost to Cromwell's New Model Army at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651 and was a wanted man. A reward of £1,000 was offered for the capture of the King, and it is likely that the King and anyone helping him would have been executed for treason, if caught. The King had a distinctive appearance: very swarthy and 6' 2" tall (1.88 metres), at a time when average male height in England was 5' 6". Furthermore, there were cavalry patrols whose specific task was to find the King. Fortunately for Charles, the Catholics had an organisation with 90 years of experience in keeping secrets and hiding people. However, it was also illegal for Catholics to travel more than five miles away from their homes without a pass from the sheriff of the county, increasing the hazards faced by those who helped him.
Flight from Worcester
Late on 3 September 1651, Charles fled the city of Worcester by the northern gate in the company of Lord Wilmot, Lord Derby, Charles Giffard (or Gifford) and many others. While some of the party elected to try to flee to Scotland, Charles rejected the idea on the basis of its difficulties; the journey would cover hundreds of miles and expose him to many dangers. Instead, Charles planned to make for London; as it was such a large city, he could easily disguise himself and find a ship to the Continent. Charles told only Wilmot of his plan, telling him they would meet at the Three Cranes Tavern. Charles attempted to persuade the others in his party to leave, though as he later remarked: "though I could not get them to stand by me against the enemy, I could not get rid of them, now I had a mind to it." By now night was falling and shelter was urgently required; decisions would have to be made without delay.
Lord Derby was a committed Cavalier and a prominent Catholic nobleman. The previous week, left wounded and pursued after the disastrous Battle of Wigan Lane, he had been sheltered by a Catholic tenant family, the Penderels, at Boscobel House in Shropshire before rejoining the royal party. He now suggested Boscobel House to Charles as a safe place of refuge. Shropshire remained a Catholic stronghold with many hiding places. The owner of Boscobel, Charles Giffard, was himself accompanying the group and agreed to the plan; however, he suggested another house, White Ladies Priory, as being safer than Boscobel.
The royal party then headed into Shropshire, stopping after five miles at an inn in Ombersley (now the Kings Arms) for refreshments. Charles continued on towards Stourbridge through the parish of Chaddesley Corbett and past the parishes of Hagley and Pedmore. Stourbridge was garrisoned by Parliamentary troops but Charles was able to pass without the alarm being sounded, (it has also been suggested that Charles took a slightly different route and did not cross the Stour at Stourbridge but near a village called Wolverley after passing through a dell below Lea Castle and over Hay Bridge). Tradition has it the King halted at Whittington Manor, now the Whittington Inn on the A449. From there he passed through Kinver into Staffordshire. The party stopped again at Wordsley before arriving at White Ladies Priory on Giffard's estate at Boscobel in the early hours of 4 September.
Boscobel to Bentley
The houses on the estate were looked after by servants. Five Catholic brothers called Pendrell (also Pendrill or Penderel) lived on the Boscobel Estate. At White Ladies, the King was met by George Pendrell who called his brother, Richard, from his farm, Hobbal Grange, at Tong. They disguised the King as a farm labourer, "in a coarse noggen shirt, with breeches of green coarse cloth and a doeskin leather doublet." Charles was then given a pair of patched stockings and a "greasy, long, white, steeple-crowned hat" to wear, and Richard cut the King's hair, leaving it short on top but long at the sides. However, a significant problem now arose; as Charles was an unusually tall man, the shoes provided for him were far too small and had to be slit all around to make them fit. The coarse leather irritated his soft feet and made them bleed, causing the King excruciating pain. It was now felt that it would be safer for the King to travel almost alone and so all his followers apart from Lord Wilmot were persuaded to leave. Those who struck out on their own attempted to reach Scotland, but the majority, including Lord Derby, were captured and later executed.
At sunrise and in a pouring rain, Charles was moved out of White Ladies into the nearby Spring Coppice on the estate, hiding there with Richard Pendrell. Shortly after the King had left the Priory, a company of local militia stopped at White Ladies and asked if the King had been seen. The soldiers were told he had journeyed on some time before; convinced, they passed on, but were seen by Charles as they rode by.
Charles recalled: "'In this wood I stayed all day without meat or drink and by great fortune it rained all the time which hindered them, as I believe, from coming into the wood to search for men that might be fled there.'"
The Pendrells quickly taught Charles how to speak with a local accent and how to walk like a labourer. They told Charles they knew no way to safely get him to London, but that they knew of a Francis Wolfe who lived near the River Severn and whose house had several hiding places. After dark, Richard Pendrell took Charles to Hobball Grange where he had a meal and then immediately set off for Madeley, hoping to cross the River Severn into Wales where the Royalists had strong support. At Evelith Mill, they were challenged by the local miller and the pair fled. (Some accounts have the miller chasing them down the lane.) It later turned out the miller was himself a Royalist who was hiding some members of the defeated army. Charles and Richard arrived at Wolfe's home close to midnight on 5 September.
At Madeley, Wolfe told Richard and the King that his house was no longer safe, but he provided a barn for Charles to hide in while Richard and Wolfe scouted the Severn crossings. They found that the Severn was very closely guarded, so Charles and Richard were forced to return to Boscobel, wading through a stream along the way and also stopping at White Ladies, where they learned Lord Wilmot was safe at nearby Moseley Hall. Though greatly hampered by Charles' sore and bleeding feet, they returned to Boscobel House close to 3 in the morning of 6 September, after which Charles' feet were tended to.
On the same day a Colonel William Careless (or Carlis), who had fought at Worcester, also arrived at Boscobel House where William Pendrell was a caretaker. At Careless' suggestion, he and the king spent all day hiding in a nearby oak tree (The Royal Oak), while Parliamentary troops searched the surrounding woodland. The exhausted king slept for some of the time, supported by Careless, whose arms soon tired of supporting the King and who was "constrained...to pinch His Majesty to the end he might awaken him to prevent his present danger." They returned to Boscobel House that evening. Meanwhile, another Pendrell brother, Humphrey, reported that while at the local militia headquarters, he had been interrogated by a Parliamentary colonel, who questioned him closely about whether the King had been at White Ladies; however, Humphrey had managed to convince the officer he had never been there. The Colonel, though, had reminded Humphrey of the £1,000 reward for information leading to the King's capture and of the "penalty for concealing the King, which was death without mercy." This further emphasized the importance of getting Charles out of the country as soon as possible. Charles spent the night in one of Boscobel's priest-holes.
Late in the evening of 7 September, Charles left Boscobel for Moseley Old Hall at the suggestion of Wilmot who was staying there. Humphrey Pendrell was the local miller and provided Charles with the old mill horse. The King was accompanied by all five Pendrell brothers and Francis Yates (servant to Charles Giffard and brother-in-law to the Pendrells). Soon after leaving Boscobel the horse stumbled, and Humphrey Pendrell joked that it was "not to be wondered at, for it had the weight of three kingdoms upon its back". The party stopped at Pendeford Mill where Charles dismounted, as it was unsafe to continue riding. Three Pendrells took the horse back, while Richard and John Pendrell with Francis Yates continued with the King to Moseley Old Hall, which was the home of Thomas Whitgreave.
At Moseley, Charles was given a meal and dry clothes, and the Whitgreave family's priest, Father John Huddleston, bathed the King's bruised and bleeding feet. Deeply touched, Charles told Huddleston, "If it please God I come to my crown, both you and all your persuasion shall have as much liberty as any of my subjects." Charles spent the night and the next two days hiding at Moseley Hall, sleeping in a bed for the first time since 3 September. Later that morning he saw some of his fleeing Scottish troops passing by.
That afternoon, Parliamentary troops arrived at Moseley Hall, and Charles was hurriedly hidden in the Moseley priest-hole, hidden behind the wall of a bedroom. The troops accused Thomas Whitgreave of fighting for the King at Worcester, which he had not done (though he had fought as a Royalist before being wounded and captured at Naseby in 1645). Whitgreave further convinced them he was too feeble to aid any Royalist fugitives. However, they were eventually convinced that Whitgreave had not fought and went away, without searching the house, but the King no longer felt safe at Moseley Hall. Shortly after midnight on 10 September, Charles left Moseley Hall and went to Bentley Hall near Walsall.
Bentley to Trent
Colonel John Lane lived at Bentley Hall. He had been an officer in the Royalist Army since 1642. His sister was Jane Lane. At Moseley, Wilmot learned that Jane had obtained a permit from the military for herself and a servant to travel to Abbots Leigh, Somerset to visit Mrs. George Norton, a friend of Jane's who was having a baby. Abbots Leigh also lay just across the Avon Gorge from the important seaport of Bristol. Lord Wilmot saw the opportunity of escaping through Bristol in the guise of the servant. On learning of the King's failure to reach Wales, Wilmot decided that the King should take advantage of the military pass and travel to Bristol as Jane Lane's servant, and then find a ship to take him to France.
When the King reached Bentley Hall in the early morning of 10 September he was quickly dressed as a tenant farmer's son and adopted the alias 'William Jackson' for the next part of his journey. The party then set out, Charles riding the same horse as Jane Lane. They were accompanied by Withy Petre (Jane Lane's sister), her husband John Petre, and Henry Lascelles, another related Royalist officer. Lord Wilmot refused to travel in disguise; he rode openly half a mile ahead of the party and if challenged he said he would claim to be out hunting. This was a brave and useful decoy. The party rode through Rowley Regis then Quinton to Bromsgrove. When they arrived at Bromsgrove they found that the horse ridden by Charles and Jane had lost a shoe. The King, playing the role of servant, took the horse to a blacksmith.
The King, when he later told his story to Samuel Pepys and others said, "As I was holding my horse's foot, I asked the smith what news. He told me that there was no news that he knew of, since the good news of the beating the rogues of the Scots. I asked him whether there was none of the English taken that joined with the Scots, He answered he did not hear if that rogue, Charles Stuart, were taken; but some of the others, he said, were taken. I told him that if that rogue were taken, he deserved to be hanged more than all the rest, for bringing in the Scots. Upon which he said I spoke like an honest man; and so we parted".
The party reached Wootton Wawen where cavalry had gathered outside the inn. Here John and Withy Petre went ahead of the party. The King, Jane and Henry Lascelles with great coolness rode through the troops. The party then continued through Stratford-upon-Avon, and on to Long Marston where they spent the night of 10 September at the house of John Tomes, another relation of Jane's. Here, in keeping with his outward guise as a servant, the cook of the house put him to work in the kitchen winding up the jack used to roast meat in the fireplace. Charles was very clumsy at this, and the cook angrily asked him, "What countryman are you that you know not how to wind up a jack?" Charles explained his clumsiness by saying that as the son of poor people, he so rarely ate meat that he did not know how to use a roasting jack. Given the state of the economy at the time, his story was accepted and he was not identified.
On Thursday 11 September they continued through Chipping Campden and then to Cirencester, where it is claimed they spent the night of 11 September at the Crown Inn. The next morning they travelled on to Chipping Sodbury and then to Bristol, arriving at the Nortons' home, Abbot's Leigh late on the afternoon of 12 September. The Nortons were unaware of the King's identity during his three-day stay at Abbot Leigh. However, the butler, Pope, who had formerly been a Royalist soldier and had often seen Charles as a boy, immediately recognised the King. Charles soon confirmed his identity to Pope, who later slipped Lord Wilmot into the house unobserved. Pope also attempted to find a ship for the King at the port of Bristol, but discovered none would be sailing to France for another month. While staying at Abbots Leigh, Charles deflected suspicion by asking a servant, who had been in the King's personal guard at the Battle of Worcester, to describe the King's appearance and clothing at the battle. The man looked at Charles and said, "The King was at least three fingers taller than [you]".
Since no ships were to be found, Pope suggested the King find refuge with the Wyndham family, who lived 40 miles away in the village of Trent on the Somerset and Dorset border. The Wyndhams were known to Wilmot and to Charles, as the daughter of the King's old nurse had married the elder Wyndham brother Edmund. Charles and Wilmot therefore decided to make for the south coast with Jane. However, Mrs Norton suddenly went into labour and bore a stillborn infant. As Jane could not now leave Abbots Leigh without raising suspicion, the butler Pope forged a letter to Jane informing her of her father's serious illness and that she was immediately required at Bentley.
On the morning of 16 September Charles set out and reached the Manor House, Castle Cary. The next day they reached Trent, near Sherborne. They stayed at Trent House, the home of Colonel Francis Wyndham, another Royalist officer. The King spent the next few days hiding at Trent while Wyndham and Wilmot attempted to find a ship from Lyme Regis or Weymouth. It was while he was at Trent that the King witnessed a bizarre event where the local villagers were celebrating, believing that he had been killed at Worcester. It was also this point that Jane Lane and Lascelles returned home. Now faced with the task of getting Charles out of England, Colonel Wyndham contacted a friend in Lyme Regis, Captain Ellesdon, one of whose tenants, Stephen Limbry, was sailing for St. Malo the following week. Charles and Wilmot, it was decided, could board the vessel in the guise of merchants travelling to recover money from a debtor.
On 22 September Charles rode with Juliana Coningsby, a niece of Lady Wyndham to Charmouth, pretending to be a runaway couple. Charles waited at the Queen's Arms Inn while Wilmot negotiated with Captain Limbry to take them to France. Limbry was prevented by his wife from turning up, having (according to him) been locked into his bedroom by his wife, who was afraid for his safety. Charles and Wilmot then travelled to Bridport, Dorset, to discover to their horror that the town was filled with Parliamentary troops about to be sent to Jersey. Charles boldly walked through the soldiers to the best inn and arranged for rooms. The ostler then confronted the King, saying "Sure, Sir, I know your face," but Charles easily convinced him that he and the ostler had both been servants at the same time for a Mr. Potter of Exeter.
Meanwhile, Wilmot had been separated from the King and had gone to the wrong Bridport inn. Moreover, while at the Queen's Arms Inn, Wilmot had discovered his horse had lost a shoe, so he called for the ostler and told him to take the horse to a blacksmith's. The inn's ostler, a Parliamentary soldier, wrongly supposed Juliana to be the King in disguise. The blacksmith told the ostler that one of the horse's shoes had been forged in Worcestershire, confirming the ostler's suspicions. Learning the "eloping couple" had departed for Bridport, the ostler informed his commanding officer, who rode to Bridport but narrowly missed the royal party, as Wilmot had rejoined Charles and the pair were attempting to return to Trent. The next day, Charles narrowly escaped capture by hiding in Lee Lane at Bridport. A memorial stone, erected at the spot, commemorates the event.
After leaving Bridport, Charles and Wilmot lost their way and soon reached the village of Broadwindsor that evening, spending the night at The George Inn owned by Rhys Jones. The royal party were given rooms on the top floor. Later that night, the local constable arrived with 40 soldiers en route to Jersey, who were to be billeted at the inn. Fortunately one of the women travelling with the soldiers went into labour. The locals feared that the parish would be forced to pay for the child's upbringing and this caused a row which diverted attention. As a result, the soldiers left the inn at dawn, allowing the King to escape. On the evening of 24 September the King returned to Trent House.
Trent to France
Charles spent the next few weeks in hiding at Trent House while his friends tried to arrange a passage to France. The night he had returned to the house, he had met a cousin of Edward Hyde's who knew one Colonel Edward Phelips of Montacute House. Wyndham himself suggested the aid of his friend John Coventry, son of the former Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Once contacted by Wilmot, both Phelips and Coventry pledged themselves to Charles's service. Passage was booked on a ship from Southampton on 29 September, but the ship was commandeered to transport troops to Jersey. Phillips, Coventry and a Doctor Henchman of Salisbury Cathedral then decided to try the Sussex coast, and contacted Colonel George Gunter of Racton between Havant and Chichester.
On 6 October the King, Julia Coningsby and Henry Peters, Colonel Wyndham's servant, left Trent for the home of Mrs Amphillis Hyde at Heale House between Salisbury and Amesbury. Though sleeping at Heale, Charles spent his days at Stonehenge, returning to the house each evening after dark. On 7 October Wilmot visited Colonel Gunter, who found a French merchant, Francis Mancell, now residing in Chichester. Together they made arrangements with a Captain Nicholas Tattersell to carry the King and Wilmot from Shoreham near Brighton in a coal boat called Surprise for £80.
On 12 October, the King and Colonel Phelips rode from Heale House to Warnford Down, where they met Wilmot and Gunter. From there, the party set out for Hambledon, where Gunter's sister lived and at whose house they stayed. Next day, they rode to the fishing village of Brighthelmstone (now Brighton), 50 miles away, stopping at Houghton for a meal before riding to the village of Bramber, which to their horror was filled with soldiers. Gunter decided their only course of action was to boldly ride through the village in order to avoid suspicion. As they were leaving the village, a party of around 50 soldiers rode rapidly towards them before dashing past and up the narrow lane, giving the travellers a severe fright. At the village of Beeding, Gunter left the group to ride on alone to Brighthelmstone, while the rest of the party rode to Brighthelmstone by a different route, meeting Gunter at the George Inn at Brighthelmstone on 15 October.
Gunter knew that The George Inn in Brighthelmstone was a safe place to spend the night. However, once Captain Tattersell arrived, he immediately recognised the King, and realising the perilous situation he had got into, was furious. The captain's immediate reaction drew the attention of the inn-keeper, who had once been a servant in the royal household and had served Charles I. Drunk, the inn-keeper fell on his knees before Charles, who also recognised him. All the King could do was to smile and sidle away, remarking to Gunter that "the fellow knows me and I him; I hope he is an honest fellow". Meanwhile, the angry Tattersell demanded an additional £200 as danger-money. Once the King and Gunter had agreed, Tattersell unreservedly pledged himself to the King's service.
On the night of 15 October, the King and Lord Wilmot boarded the Surprise, which sailed at high tide at 7 the following morning. Two hours later, a troop of cavalry arrived in Shoreham to arrest the King, having been given orders to search for "a tall, black [haired] man, six feet two inches in height". On 16 October, the King and Lord Wilmot landed in France at Fécamp, near Le Havre. The escape from England is commemorated each year with a yacht race from Brighton to Fecamp The Royal Escape Race organised by the Sussex Yacht Club.
Next day Charles went to Rouen and then to Paris to stay with his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria. The King did not return to England for nine years. The death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 was followed by two years of political confusion, which led to the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
When he returned to England in 1660 the King granted various annuities and gifts to the people such as the Pendrill brothers and Jane Lane for their services. They were summoned to Whitehall Palace to attend the King and did so for a number of years. For Thomas Whitgreave and Richard Pendrell, Charles created annual pensions of £200 to be paid to them and £100 to the descendants of Richard Pendrell in perpetuity. At some point the Whitgreave pension lapsed (it may never have actually been paid) and so did Jane Lane's because she had no children. The other Pendrell brothers also received lesser pensions. The pensions to the Pendrells are still being paid to a number of their descendants today.
The families who helped the King were awarded Coats of Arms, or augmentations to existing arms. The Pendrill Arms are the same as those awarded to Colonel Careless, an oak tree on a gold field with a red fess bearing three royal crowns, but with a silver field and black fess. The crest is distinguished by a royal crown encircling the crossed sword and sceptre. The Lanes' Coat of Arms was modified to show the three lions of England.
In 1664 the King's birthday of 29 May was designated Oak Apple Day, by Act of Parliament and a special service was inserted in the Book of Common Prayer. For over 200 years the King's birthday was celebrated by the wearing of a sprig of oak leaves in remembrance of the events. This tradition is no longer observed, although hundreds of inns and public houses throughout the country are still called The Royal Oak after the famous escape.
A series of inaccurate paintings by Isaac Fuller was commissioned shortly after the Restoration to record the episodes such as the oak tree, the King's night ride to Moseley Hall and pillion ride south with Jane Lane. These are on display in the Banqueting House in Whitehall in London.
For much of the time without courtiers and troops, Charles had to rely on his own wits to avoid capture. He was a nerveless actor, though he made a few mistakes early in his role as a tenant farmer's son. His performance gave him the confidence in later life to be his 'own man'. For six weeks Charles also experienced ordinary life, which most kings never saw, and learned to appreciate all people, rich and poor. He became a King without 'airs and graces' and took a great interest in ordinary people as can been seen by his actions after the Great Fire of London.
The events made such an impression on Charles that in later years he loved to recount the exact details to people, including: Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, his doctor (Dr. George Bate), and to Samuel Pepys who each recorded what they were told, with few discrepancies between each version. This is why such detail, sometimes hour by hour, is known. Charles also saw that Catholics would take great risks for him and developed a great respect for them and their plight. On his deathbed, he became a Catholic.
The Monarch's Way Long Distance Footpath
The escape of Charles II following his defeat at the Battle of Worcester is the subject of William Harrison Ainsworth's 1871 novel Boscobel, or, The Royal Oak. Georgette Heyer's novel, Royal Escape, published in 1938 also tells the tale.
Gillian Bagwell's novel The September Queen recounts the parts of Charles's escape during which he was accompanied by Jane Lane, her subsequent discovery and escape to France, the years she spent in Holland in the court of Mary of Orange before Charles was restored, and her relationship with Charles throughout. Charles recounts some of the rest of his adventures in the book, which was released in the U.S. on November 1, 2011, and in the U.K. in July 2012 under the title The King's Mistress.
The Moonraker, a 1958 British historical drama film set during the English Civil War, was directed by David MacDonald and starred Patrick Fenlon, George Baker, Sylvia Sims, Marius Goring, Gary Raymond, Peter Arne, John Le Mesurier and Patrick Troughton. The film depicts a fictionalised account of the Escape of Charles II following the Battle of Worcester.
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- Express & Star staff (19 February 2007). "Whittington Inn, Stourbridge". Express & Star.
- Google map of the route from Worcester to Boscobel
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- Coote 2000, p. 114.
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- Coote 2000, p. 121.
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- Staff (26 May 2014). "Royal Escape Race". Sussex Yacht Club 2013. Retrieved September 2015. Check date values in:
- History of Pendrell Hall, Pendrell Hall College website
- Blount, Thomas, ed. (1769). Thomas Blount: Boscobel or the History of His Sacred Majesties Most Miraculous Preservation After the Battle of Worcester, which was Fought Sept. 3, 1651. S. Gamidge. — Available in various formats at Internet Archive, this is the earliest, not entirely reliable account, of the escape of Charles II, first published shortly after the Restoration in 1660.
- Coote, Stephen (2000). Royal Survivor: A Life of Charles II. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-22687-X.
- Count Grammont (1846). "Chapter: King Charles's escape from Worcester: (The Kings own account of his escape and preservation after the Battle of Worcester as dictated to Samuel Pepys at Newmarket on Sunday, October 3d, and Tuesday, October 5th, 1680". In Scott, Sir Walter. Memoirs of the Court of Charles the Second and the Boscobel Narratives. London: Henry G Bohn. pp. 464, 466.
- Fraser, Antonia (1979). King Charles II. Weidenfeld and Nicholson.
- Hughes, John, ed. (1857). The Boscobel Tracts: Relating to the Escape of Charles the Second After the Battle of Worcester and his subsequent adventures. William Blackwood and Sons. pp. 162, 166.
- Willis-Bund, John William (1905). The Civil War In Worcestershire, 1642–1646: And the Scotch Invasion Of 1615. Birmingham: The Midland Educational Company. p. 256.
- William Matthews, ed. "Charles II's Escape from Worcester". Presents Pepys's transcription of Charles's account and his edited version side by side, as well as other contemporary accounts.
- Richard Ollard. "The Escape of Charles II After the Battle of Worcester."
- A. M. Broadley. "The Royal Miracle: A Collection of Rare Tracts, Broadsides, Letters, Prints, & Ballads Concerning the Wanderings of Charles II After the Battle of Worcester." 1912. This also chronicles the delightfully daffy 1911 reenactment of the events.
- Alan Fea. "The Flight of the King." 1897 and 1908 editions.
- Allan Fea. "After Worcester Fight."
- H.P. Kingston. "The Wanderings of Charles II in Staffordshire and Shropshire"
- Jean Gordon Hughes. "A King in the Oak Tree"
- Lady Wood (1883). "MS Harl 991, Folo 90: The manner of the King's escape from the battayle of Worcester, as the Lady Wood relates it, who heard the King tell it his mother". In Gomme, George Laurence. The Gentleman's magazine library: being a classified collection of the chief contents of the Gentleman's magazine from 1731 to 1868. London: E. Stock. pp. 288, 289.
- "Charles at Moseley". Wolverhampton History & Heritage Website. Retrieved March 2011. Check date values in:
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- "The Monarch's Way - Long Distance Footpath". 18 July 2010.
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