The Surrender of King Charles I. to the Scots.

Read before the [Thoroton] Society. January 29th, 1920.


THE Civil War of the 17th century is full of dramatic episodes and hardly any incident in that war is so full of dramatic possibilities as the surrender of the King. There is, however, much more in it than this for the historical student for the incident is full of inconsistencies and much doubt still exists on several points.

Early in 1919, the writer was engaged on research work at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, where he found a folio of original documents bearing on this very period and incident. With the help of these and of others already in print, an attempt will be made to reconstruct the events of the 5th to the 8th May, 1646.

Charles had evidently been thinking over his plan of surrender for some time. He was not without hope that by joining the Scots he could persuade them to support him against his rebels, for he knew that there was not much love lost between the Parliamentarians and the Scots' Army before Newark. After the surrender of Newark, Lord Belasyse was interrogated and he gives his own account of what occurred1:—

"He knew that the King intended to come to the Scotch army before he came thither. Being asked how long before he came thither did he know of it, he sayth he being beseged could not have often intelligences but aboute the 8th or 10th of April was the first time that he hearde of it. The garrison of Newark knew it. My intelligence was from the King. He writte me worde that he thoughte he should be with the Scotts and intended to go to them. This letter was about the 8th or 10th of April. Being asked what directions he had from the King concerning the armies there he said the Kinge left a latitude to him and seeing himself beseged and without hope of relefe he treated."

Charles had no intention of letting the Parliament party know what he was doing, so he employed the French agent, Montreuil, who had been sent over by Cardinal Mazarin to treat between Charles and the Parliament. Montreuil was a young man of very considerable diplomatic ability, who, when he found both the Parliament and the Army intractable, tried to open negotiations with the Scotch commissioners in London. Charles sent Montreuil to Southwell to continue the negotiations which had begun in London on March 23rd. At this first meeting the Frenchman had conveyed to the Scots, Charles' offer to go to their Army and surrender Newark on receiving assurances that he would be secure in conscience and honour. Montreuil left London for Southwell on April 3rd, and took up his quarters at the King's Arms Inn, now the Saracen's Head. He is said to have occupied the large apartment of the Inn to the left of the gateway. This room was then divided into a dining room and a bedroom. The Scotch commissioners made the Palace their headquarters, and being quite satisfied with Charles' offer, arranged to send an escort to Harborough to meet the King. Charles was evidently suspicious, for in his stead he sent Dr. Hudson, who found no escort and then proceeded to Southwell. There Montreuil told him that the Scots had held back because they were afraid of creating bad feeling with the Parliament. So Hudson returned to Charles at Oxford. On April 10th Montreuil wrote:—"They tell me they will do more than can be expressed, but let not his Majesty hope for any more than I send him word of, that he may not be deceived, and let him take his measures aright, for certainly the enterprise is full of danger." This letter rather discouraged Charles, coming as it did from one who had hitherto been enthusiastic for the enterprise.

Charles' position was such that he could not afford to wait for he was short of food and afraid that if he did delay he would not be able to escape out of Oxford. In a letter to the Marquis of Ormond he gives additional reasons (April 13th). He says that he had sent many gracious messages to Parliament without effect, and having received very good security that he and his friends would be safe with the Scots, who would assist with their forces in procuring peace, he had resolved to put himself to the hazard of passing into the Scots army now before Newark.

On April 25th Charles heard again from Montreuil that everything was as satisfactory as it could be, and so, on the night of the 26th, he left Oxford secretly and in disguise accompanied only by John Ashburnham, his personal attendant, and Dr. Hudson. Charles had his hair cropped and his peaked beard clipped. At 3 a.m. the little party slipped quietly over Magdalen Bridge and proceeded towards Uxbridge, Charles pretending to be Ashburnham's servant and carrying a bag. They stopped at Hillingdon, near Uxbridge, uncertain whether to go to the Scots or to London. Charles' route was certainly a circuitous one, for he went to Downham in Norfolk, where he stayed at the White Swan, while Hudson went on to Southwell to see that everything was all right. Hudson himself describes this incident: "The business was concluded, and I returned with the consent of the Scotch Commissioners to the King, whom I found at the sign of the White Swan at Downham. I related all to his Majesty, and he resolved the next morning to go to them."

Charles changed his disguise travelling now as a clergyman, Hudson's tutor. On the evening of the 3rd May they arrived at Stamford and left there on the 4th, travelling all night. Originally the only people who had known of the King's plan were Prince Rupert and the Duke of Richmond. The latter had told his wife and she had passed on the news to her maid, and so it became public property. Charles was evidently afraid that the Parliament would get to hear of it, and perhaps this may account for his circuitous route, otherwise he would have come direct via Harborough, as Hudson had done earlier in two days. Perhaps he was expected on this route. Dr. Stukeley, the not too reliable antiquary, tells us that he learned from the grandson of the man who entertained Charles at Stamford, that they left between ten and twelve on Monday night (May 4th). "They went" he says, "by the Susten road, as most private, so through the Stennit an old Roman way by Allington. Then they passed over the Smite and Trent by Gotham, and came to Southwell." Their journey was completed by seven on Tuesday morning.

A glance at the map is quite sufficient to show that there is some error in Stukeley's account. To travel via Gotham, which is south west of Nottingham, is to make a journey which is almost impossible, and if we follow Stukeley over the Smite we find that the road leads to Cotham, a village within two miles of the crossing over the Trent at East Stoke. To mistake a C for a G is a feat our antiquary was quite capable of performing.

Charles went straight to Montreuil and before dinner sent for the Scotch Commissioners, who supplied him with an escort. Charles' haste to proceed to headquarters seems to have been due to the fact that Lord Lothian, who came to Charles directly it was known he was at Southwell, denied all knowledge of any arrangements Charles had made with the Scotch Commissioners in London. This gives the action of the Commissioners at Southwell a curious appearance, for it was they who made all the later arrangements. It has been suggested that the affair had been conducted so secretly that the Scotch army had not been informed. This seems to be a very weak solution and the facts give a very sinister appearance to the action of the Scots.

The rest of the story will best be studied in the following letters among the Tanner MSS at the Bodleian Library.


"For the honoble. Wm. Lenthall Esq.
Speaker of the House of Commons Westminster


We were this morneing about ten of the Clock credibly informed that the King wth three others came in great speede this morneing about seaven of the clocke to Southwell and went to the House of Monsr. Montrell the French Agent. About twelve this day two of the Scotts Comrs. brought us a letter, a Copie whereof is here inclosed: the two Comrs. presently returned and in this surprize wee could not for the present thinke further then to desire of them he might not remove, wch. they approved of, and that wee might speedily meete the rest of them att Farnton wch. was consented unto, and wee are now goeing thither accordingly and shall immediately advertise you of our further proceedings and doe beseech to know your pleasure wth. all possible speed how we shall direct and guide our selves herein. Your humble servants,

From Coll. Rosseters Tent att the Leaguer before Newarke 5th of May 1646




"For the Comrs. of the Parliament of England."
Right Honoble.

The dischargeing of our selves of the duty wee owe unto the Kingdome of England and unto you as Comrs. from the same, moves us to acquaint you wth. the Kings comeing into our Army this morning; wch. haveing overtaken us unexpectedly hath filled us wth. amazemt., and made us like men that dreame, wee cannot thinke that he would have beene soe unadvised in his resolutions, to have cast himselfe upon us wthout a reall intention to give full satisfaction to both Kingdomes in all their just and reasonable demands, in all those things that concerne religion and righteousnes. Whatsoever be his disposition or resolution, you may be assured that wee shall never entertaine any thought nor correspond wth. any purpose, nor countenance any intention to give full satisfaction to both Kingdomes in all their just and reasonable demands, in all those things that concerne religion and righteousnes. Whatsoever be his disposition or resolution, you may be assured that wee shall never entertaine any thought nor correspond wth. any purpose, nor countenance any indeavors that may in any Circumstance encroach upon our League and Covenant or weaken the Union and Confidence betwixt the Nations. That Union unto our Kingdome was the matter of many prayers; and as nothing was more joyful to us than to have it sett on foote; soe hitherto have wee thought nothing too deare to mainetaine it: And wee trust to walke wth. such faithfullnes and truth in this particular that as wee have the Testimony of a good Conscience wthin ourselves: Soe you, and all the world shall see, that wee minde your interest wth. as much integrity, and care as our owne, being confident you will entertaine noe other thought of us.

Southwell 5th May 1646.
Signed by Warrtt. and att Comand of the Comrs. of the Parliamt. of Scottland by Your Lods. most humble servant


To the Speaker.


The most moment and weighty relation I have to communicate and that wch. almost blotts out all other proceedings here is, that ye King came this morning to Southwell and is since conveyed by a Troupe of the Scotts, but wch. way we cannot as yet finde out, I have sent out parties for yt. purpose And as occasion happens I shall be further troublesome if this Business proves not a hinderence I shall send you the Newes of this Towen surrendered within few dayes.

In ye meane time I conceive it of high consiquence to give you this relation and remaine

Your most true servts.
The Leaguer                         SEDNHAM POYNTS
5° May 1646


To the Noble Wm. Lenthall Esqr.
speaker of the Howse of Commons.


I sent you this day notice of a Relation of the Kings comeing to the Scotts Quarters, the confirmation whereof I conceive to be a buysienes of that Consequence that I poasted away my secretary to assure you that he is safely secured att Kelham by the Scotts. Our Processe in the Treaty was in very good forwardnesse, but wee now rather expect his Maties. Commands for a surrendour then the Prosecution of the Parley, however within few dayes I shal be able to give you satisfaction therein, in the meane tyme this wth. my humble service and the Bearer I desire may be represented to the Howse from 5° May 1646 Sr. your most humble servant


The Bearer will give you our Condition more particularly if you please to Command it.

As a matter of fact Charles had been taken first of all to General Leslie's headquarters at Edinburgh, the name given to the earthwork on the island between Kelham and Newark. Afterwards he was moved to Kelham House as a virtual prisoner. This house was the old Kelham House which was on a site to-day unknown. The first Kelham Hall on the present site was not built until after the war.

(1) Portland MSS.