Up a tree in the name of liberty

Charles II of England was up a tree after the Battle of Worcester. No. Really.

The battle, on September 3 1651, was a decisive defeat for the last intact Royalist army, mostly Scottish, by Cromwell’s New Model Army, mostly Puritans. And the king watched it from the spire of Worcester Cathedral which I suppose is as good a place as any from which to watch your army and hopes be crushed unless, of course, you wanted to be among them and risk sharing their fate. (And no, Charles II in 1651 is not a typo – he claimed the throne as soon as his father was beheaded in 1649, even if he didn’t sit in it until Cromwell had died and his son “Tumbledown Dick” had tumbled off the stage (see the May 25, 2016 It Happened Today.)

As for the tree, he climbed it later, during his flight first north and then to France where he spent nearly a decade. It was a massive oak called the Boscobel Oak or more often The Royal Oak, popular in pictures including on plates and yes, that does explain why so many pubs have that name. But let us return to Worcester, a suitable place for a Royalist last stand because the region had been firmly pro-King since the days of King John and Magna Carta. And we actually were at the site on Fort Royal Hill where the battle ended and seen the spire of the cathedral.

We also saw a plaque that quotes the words future U.S. President John Adams wrote after visiting in 1786 along with another future president, Thomas Jefferson, back when they were friends before they became bitter enemies and then in old age friends again.

“Edgehill and Worcester were curious and interesting to us, as scenes where freemen had fought for their rights. The people in the neighborhood appeared so ignorant and careless at Worcester, that I was provoked, and asked, ‘And do Englishmen so soon forget the ground where liberty was fought for? Tell your neighbors and your children that this is holy ground; much holier than that on which your churches stand. All England should come in pilgrimage to this hill once a year.’ This animated them, and they seemed much pleased with it. Perhaps their awkwardness before might arise from their uncertainty of our sentiments concerning the civil wars.”

I am no fan of Cromwell, who disposed of one tyrant with the aid of an army before making himself another using the same instrument. It was much better that the ancient institutions be restored and refurbished, as they were after 1660 and especially 1689. And I think Adams spoke a bit slightingly of English churches. But he was right that when they have been trampled, the people must recover and restore them. And then remember, as the English then did.

It is from such people that Canada claims its political descent. So we should remember it too. As our Right to Arms documentary (www.arighttoarms.com) will remind people when it is finished later this fall. Complete with footage from Fort Royal Hill.