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The escape of King Charles II from Cromwell's army after his disastrous defeat at Worcester is a tale told many times and in many versions, most of them wrong; in this brief, delightfully written and meticulously documented book an English author ""for his own satisfaction"" retells the story as it actually happened. In 1651 Charles II, hoping to regain the English throne after the execution of his father, Charles I, led a ramshackle army into England from Scotland, where it was routed by Cromwell at Worcester on Sept. 3rd. Charles, with a price of 1000 on his head, barely escaped capture, which most of his followers did not; six weeks later Charles was safe in France. The story of these six weeks is a true ""chase"" thriller, complete with trimmings: devoted strangers who risked death for their king and an ostler who tried to betray him; a brave and charming girl, Jane Lane, with whom Charles did not fall in love, and his constant, comic-opera companion, Lord Wilmot, whose ""awe-inspiring incompetence"" nearly brought death to them both. The book also gives a pleasant portrait of Charles at 21, courteous, humorous, generous, the man he might have become, not the libertine he turned into. ""To be a hunted man concentrated the mind wonderfully,"" Charles told Pepys years later; it also turned him into a skilled actor whose coolness in danger saved him many times. Hiding in priests' holes and for a day in an oak tree, passed from man to man, from house to house, Charles made his way southward, disguised as a tenant farmer with Jane Lane riding pillion behind him, facing soldiers and suspicious servants, while Wilmot got drunk at inns. Early in October Charles, still encumbered with Wilmot, reached Brighton and on the 20th embarked for France in a coal barge, reaching it safely while Cromwell's men searched the coast for a ""tall, black man six feet two inches high.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 1967
Publisher: Scribners