The Royal Oak





There is in Shropshire a fine oak-tree which the country people there

call the "Royal Oak". They say it is the great-grandson, or perhaps the

great-great-grandson of another fine old oak, which more than two

hundred years ago stood on the same spot, and served once as a shelter

to an English king. This king was Charles II, the son of the unlucky

Charles I who had his head cut off by his subjects because he was a weak

and selfish ruler.



On the very day on which that unhappy king lost his head, the Parliament

passed a law forbidding anyone to make his son, Prince Charles of Wales,

or any other person, king of England. But the Scottish people did not

obey this law. They persuaded the young prince to sign a paper, solemnly

promising to rule the country as they wished; then they crowned him

king. As soon as the Parliament heard of this they sent Cromwell and his

Ironsides against the newly-crowned king and his followers, and after

several battles the Scottish army was at last broken up and scattered at

Worcester.



Charles fled and hid in a wood, where some poor wood-cutters took care

of him and helped him. He put on some of their clothes, cut his hair

short, and stained his face and hands brown so that he might appear to

be a sunburnt workman like them. But it was some time before he could

escape from the wood, for Cromwell's soldiers were searching it in the

hope of finding some of the king's men. One day, Charles and two of his

friends had to climb into the tall oak to avoid being caught. They had

with them some food, which proved very useful, for they were obliged to

stay in their strange hiding-place for a whole day. The top of the

oak-tree had been cut off some few years before this time, and this had

made the lower branches grow thick and bushy, so that people walking

below could not easily see through them. It was a fortunate thing for

Charles, for while he was in the tree, he heard the soldiers beating the

boughs and bushes in the wood as they searched here and there, and even

caught glimpses of them through the leaves as they rode about below.



When they had gone, without even glancing up into the tall oak-tree, he

came down, and rode away from the wood on an old mill-horse, with his

friends the wood-cutters walking beside him to take care of him as best

they could. The saddle was a poor one, and the horse's pace jolted

Charles so much, that at last he cried out that he had never seen so bad

a steed. At this the owner of the horse jestingly told him that he

should not find fault with the poor animal, which had never before

carried the weight of three kingdoms upon its back. He meant, of course,

that Charles was king of the three kingdoms of England, and Scotland,

and Ireland.



Carried by the old horse, and helped by the poor wood-cutters, Charles

at last reached the house of a friend. Here he hid for a time, and then

went on to try and escape from the country. This time, so that he might

not be discovered, he was dressed as a servant, and rode on horseback,

with a lady sitting on a cushion behind him, as was then the fashion.

After several more dangers he managed to get on board a ship and sailed

away to France.





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