4 Sept 1651 / Nameless Souls

Charles followed Richard out the narrow postern door at the rear of Whiteladies House. The first vestiges of dawn just barely colored the sky and cool fog still snuggled within the small garden behind the house and not even the birds stirred yet. A flagstone walkway lead through a neat arrangement of mist strewn herb beds, rambled among them and finally ended at a small green gate. Beyond this hedge began the wilderness of Brewood Forest. Here the trees seemed large and near, their closely grown trunks forming a wall of coarse wild wood, their branches reaching upwards only to vanish into the low hanging fog.

Richard gave a silent wave, then cut to his left and Charles followed slowly through the unshorn and dew strewn grass, the ankles of his stockings quickly becoming damp. They stopped at the end of the hedge and considered the silent ruins before them, then crept across a short open expanse of yard and ducked into what remained of the ancient Priory of Whiteladies. Charles remembered that Giffard had told him it was called such because several hundred years ago the Cistercian nuns who had inhabited the old chapel had worn habits of white.

A line of headstones from centuries past stood close against one wall of collapsed stone, the words upon them far too worn or obscured with lichen to read. Nameless souls, known only to God, Charles thought vaguely. He saw Richard furtively make the sign of the cross, from head to breast and shoulder to shoulder as they skirted the grave markers and then they ducked through a high broken archway and into what had once been a large room.

Here lay the larger flat expanse where bits of broken stone flooring still fought off the vastly encroaching wild grass in places here and there. The remains of a fountain lay toppledd in its’ center, the arm and leg of a stone figure jutting out of the pile of rubble and Charles realized this had once been the courtyard of the monestary. The coursed sandstone wall to one side towered over their heads, the raised arched windows empty of glass. Thick masses of vines and ivy wound their way up the lofty walls and smothered a nearby corner of stonework. In many places it had transformed parts of the structure into what seemed like walls built only of the greenery.

The horses of those who had come with the King stood casually inside the remains of the courtyard, still saddled and happily munching on the long grass that had grown up within the collapsed walls. Several of the beasts looked over at them, pricking their ears forward curiously, then went back to their breakfast.

Charles considered the silent space as he moved slowly along the wall behind the man. They were almost at the next archway when he heard chanting of some sort coming from just beyond. Richard froze with a soft gasp at the sound. He turned back to the king, his features suddenly pale. The faint chanting continued as if from a group of women on the other side of the wall.

Silently Charles crept past his guide, one hand brushing the weather scarred stones. Richard grabbed at his arm with a claw of iron to keep him back and urgently shook his head, but Charles moved stealthily to the archway, determined to see whom else was there. He paused and listened. There was no doubt now, the soft chanting was coming from whatever was on the other side of this archway.

4 Sept 1651 / At Whiteladies

Having escaped from the Battle at Worcester and ridden all night with a group of 40 men, King Charles has ended up at the secluded Whiteladies, a home in Brewood Forest occupied by George Penderel and his family......

Charles looked at the grimy, muck and blood smeared men swarming into the little room, all whispering and conniving together like a flock of crows bickering over the rights to scavenge a corpse… his corpse if the bits and pieces of conversation he caught led him right.

“The King has to make for Scotland! There is no other way – we can still catch up with Leslie’s cavalry!” ___________ said emphatically to Buckingham, pressing rudely right up in George’s face. Charles caught George’s abrupt frown in his direction and then Buckingham scowled at the man with measurable distain. Lauderdale with his considerable height and weight shoved his way in front of _________________.

“You’d trust the King’s life - all our lives - t’ those traitorous cowards after they sat in t’ field all day and watched their own countrymen be slaughtered by Cromwell’s butchers and never so much as took a step forward to help? I’m a Scotsman myself and I wouldn’ trust that fool Leslie t’ safeguard a turd, much less th’ King, not with what I’ve seen of th’ yellow livered son of a - ” he swore, bespeckliing the man with flecks of spit such as Lauderdale was apt to do when especially excited. A much louder argument over the behavior of the Scots cavalry broke out amongst the tattered and bloodied soldiers, some of whom were Scots themselves and of course deeply resented the accusations, even if they were made by a fellow countryman.

Now was hardly the time to relive past mistakes on the battlefield, Charles thought; the results of those mistakes were seared into his memory, and worse yet loomed the thought that he had lost everything – crown and kingdom both, and would very possibly lose his life within the next few hours if Cromwell caught up with him. And so would all of these if they were caught with him.

He rose stiffly and they all went silent as he moved to the long table where lay the unceremonious heap of mean clothing Richard had brought.

“None of you will go with me. I am best left alone now.” He said with as much authority as he could manage in his state. They stared at him in astonishment, and then broke forth with a flood of objections, each trying to forcefully convince the other by volume if not by rationale.

A piercing whistle from the side silenced the cacophony and as a body they all turned to  Henry Wilmot and the Earl of Derby who stood together beside the long scarred table before the fireplace that served for the Penderel family’s meager dining area.

“His majesty is right. A group of men will be noticed and reported. Lesley’s troops are sure to be detected within hours if not already and the news of Worcester will travel swiftly. As soon as Cromwell realizes the King is not among the slain and captured, the hunt will be intense. Even the people will rise up on us; mark my words gentlemen. No, his only chance is to go with less, not more. Make your own plans as you will, but you will all be gone from this house within half an hour, or I will shoot the man who isn’t.” Wilmot told them harshly with heavily furrowed brow.

Wilmot was considered one of the ‘Old Cavaliers’, if one could be such at age thirty and seven. Known for his hard drinking, hard fighting and copious amounts of sheer bravado, he also had an Irish temper that matched the auburn cast of his hair and mustache. But Wilmot was no push-over, as he had proved time and again on the battlefield. The man could carouse all nght, run copious amounts of the enemy off the field in a single charge, chase after them for twenty miles with his devoted cavalry, then return to mop up the rest and be the lead madcap at the evening revel… then get up and do it all again. His men were utterly dedicated to him, and he to the barely twenty and one year old King.  'Harry' was the living embodiment of a Cavalier in every form and manner, which meant if he said he would do something, even the gods in heaven above would nod and say 'of course sir', and all those in the room knew it as well.

Considering the size and breadth of the cavalier, and considering even more the three pistols he pulled from various places and laid before him on the table with grim purpose, the crowd instantly turned to devising their own escapes. Charles gave Wilmot a look of gratitude and the man nodded.

3 Sept 1651: On The Field - Worcester

Charles headed back to his headquarters located in the two story half timber house beside the St. Martin Gate on the north side of town. The building sat close to the city wall and was the last house on the street before one came to the old stone arched gate.

The lower floor had been turned into a sort of campaign-central gathering place, the upper floor were quarters for himself and a few others. The exchange of fire between the Parliamentarians on Perry Hill and the Royalists in Fort Hill could still be heard in the streets he rode through as dull echoes.

Even the townspeople were preparing for something to happen, gathering in their children and goods and shuttering up the windows.

On the opposite side of the gate he could see a sea of men that filled the street in the last stages of putting on armor and silver helmets. Colorful battle standards waved on tall poles amidst the forest of upright held pikes. The very faint acrid scent of the cannon fire from the hill already drifted over the city walls. He jumped off his mount and handed the reins to a youth who was holding several other horses. The boy gave a short bow and grinned at him, obviously intent on the soldiers massing across the way.

“I’m old enough to fight sir! I’ll be twelve soon!” he told Charles hopefully.

“I shall keep you in mind lad, although I hope I don’t need you to.” The King said with a grin and the boy’s eyes shone. Charles crossed the street, pulling off his leather gloves and easily jumped up onto a large ammo crate so he could be seen.

He spoke to them briefly, just long enough to get them energized and eager to go, shouting and chanting and banging pike ends on the cobblestones. He leapt down from the crate to their resounding cheers and hurried across the street and into the house.

The few men who were talking in clusters in chairs before the window leapt to their feet as he strode into the room. He nodded at them and headed directly for those gathered around the long table that had been moved towards the hearth and away from any prying eyes that might make use of the windows.

It was cluttered with stubs of candles, empty tankards, maps, and letters, various hastily sketched out plans, and different diagrams of the fortifications they’d added to the city since their arrival 12 days before. The room was stuffy and warm from the press of many bodies. There was only a faint breeze coming in the back door where men were moving crates in and out the door.

3 Sep 1651 - At the River Temes Worcester

Charles rode out of the city of Worcester by the western gate. He spurred the horse and raced towards Montgomery’s regiments. The men cheered and waved their hats as he passed, their officers sending a good number of them in his wake.

He arrived to find a line of musketeers on the north back of the Temes, taking shots at the still distant red coated regiment marching determinedly in their direction, pikes held upright and silver helmets gleaming in the sun.

He called to officers by name, taking off his hat so the men could recognize him and in a short time had them shouting back at him, hefting their pikes up in the air with short energetic stabs and showing muskets.

From the nearing red coats came their chanting of the a psalm of David, to which someone nearby Charles quickly made up a replying taunt. Charles laughed, and soon the entire Royalist regiment was chanting to back at the red coats with great gusto. He rode to the side and kept pace with them on his horse as they started to advance towards the riverfront without being bid, eager for the confrontation to come .

The nearly entirely destroyed Powick bridge over the river had one sole remain plank left in it that would allow a single man to cross, should he dare. It was too late now to set another charge, they would have to leave it as it was. Colonel Keith, the commanding officer of the regiment came riding up beside him, grinning widely.

“I thought perhaps we were going to be left out of things way over here on the western side!’” he said and Charles shook his head.

“No, not in the least I’m afraid. Montgomery thinks Deane is headed towards you, and Fleetwood is bringing pontoons up the Severn. If he gets those boats in position, Cromwell will be coming this way. He’s got three regiments on the bank, and Pitscottie is facing Fleetwood. Can you hold Deane back here?” he asked and Keith nodded.

“We'll by doin' our best sir!” the Scotsman said with a quick salute and Charles nodded.

“That’s all I ask Colonel. I’ll tell Dalzeil’s brigade to be ready to move up closer in support on my way back.” he said as a loud boom thundered from the east. They both looked over to see a faint puff of smoke rising from the hill above the town.

It was followed by a second and third shot as well, the sound floating across the fields as the fresh puffs of smoke drifted upwards. The New Model Army was firing artillery at the eastern side of the town, and from more than one position. That meant something serious was about to happen, Charles was sure of it.

3 Sept. 1651 - Worcester / First Light

WIP Title:‘OF CROWNS & QUILLS’–Copyright 2009 by S. M. Vickoren-All rights reserved
Category: Historical Fiction

Charles, Wilmot and Buckingham stood atop the tall tower of Worcester Cathedral, spyglasses in hand. It was barely light out but already the morning mist was dissipating. It was going to be a warm day. From this height they could see all around the walled city very well, even down the small valley to the south where the Severn River wound its way towards Worcester, the Temes River feeding into it from the west. Both of them were good sized, fast moving rivers that no horse could easily swim, and the bridges across them had been destroyed, making them obstacles now.

“Here they come Charles,” Buckingham said, his spyglass aimed at the Severn. Charles immediately swung his own in that direction and frowned. A large body of red coated figures were slowly making their way north along the west side of the river.

“That’s Fleetwood, bringing the boats. Tough fighter.” Wilmot said, also considering the scene. The men of the New Model Army struggled and tugged at the ropes they had tied to the large boats they were hauling against the current of the waterway. Pontoon boats – large enough for horse troops to cross over and there were almost two dozen of the things following the first. It was slow going, but they were making headway against the current; their method was working well.

Charles saw Pitscottie, leader of the Royalist forces closest to where the Temes and Severn met already stirring his men, several blue coated scouts at the very junction of the river. That was good; Fleetwood and his boats had already been spotted. Puffs of smoke told him the scouts were already taking shots at the red coats. He lowered the glass and noticed that three brigades of men on the hills just east of town were suddenly following one lone horseman, a man clad in grey and green, who was leading them away from the hill, obviously headed towards Fleetwood and the River.

“Cromwell’s moving men off the hill.” He said and the other two both lowered their glasses and looked surprised.

Charles thought. Three brigades was a lot to withdraw at one time. It meant there were that many less men on Red Hill and in Perry Wood just to the east of the town. He had three brigades already at those gates ready to enter the field upon hearing the word.

“Harry, it appears to me that Mr. Cromwell just expects us to sit and wait for him to finish helping Fleetwood before we act in any form. What do you say we ‘upset his expectations’?” he asked. Wilmot gave him a wicked grin and laughed lowly.

The Beginning

This Blog is begun on 3 September 2009.... which is the 358th anniversary of the Battle of Worcester where the light that had been the Monarchy of England was extinguished by Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army. The lantern was eventually re-lit, but not for years, when King Charles II was Restored to the throne on May 29th, 1660 - which also happened to be his 30th birthday.