June 11, 2014

Charles II's Great Escape

Stephen Nichols
Charles II's Great Escape


On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History we have a very exciting event to talk about. We have the great escape of Charles II. Now to set the stage here we need to understand a little bit about what’s happening with Charles I, and a little bit about what’s happening with the British Reformation.

Charles II’s father was indeed Charles I, and he was no friend of the Reformation; very opposed to the Reformers, very opposed to the Puritans in England. And he used his henchmen, archbishop William Laud, to enforce his policies against the Puritans. In fact, it was under James, James I, the predecessor to Charles I, that the Puritans first settled the new world. But it was under Charles I that they came by the boatload. In fact, folks in New England would say almost every week a boat of Puritans were arriving in New England. That’s how difficult Charles I had made life for the Puritans in England.

And by all accounts he was an inept ruler and he plunged the nation into civil war. And so it was monarchy pitted against the Parliament. And of course leading the parliamentary forces is Oliver Cromwell, and Oliver Cromwell and those forces managed to route Charles I and it did not end well for Charles I. He was beheaded in 1649.

This, of course, meant that his son, Charles II would now be on the throne. And Charles II at this point is 18 going on 19. But there’s no real support for him and his life is in fact in danger and so a number of his associates and friends and those who were supporters of the monarchy tried to get him out of England.

This was no easy task—Charles II was a tall man for his day. He stood 6’ 2” in a day and age when the average height was 5’ 6.” And he was also born and raised to be a king so he didn’t necessarily blend in well with the common folks and so this was tricky. And in fact, there’s a whole series of tapestries in Westminster Palace, we know it as the Parliament Building. This is that great iconic building with “Big Ben” in London. There’s a whole series of tapestries that depict the horses that would ride Charles II to get him out, the boats that he took to leave London. There’s even a moment where Charles II is hiding out in the woods and he’s near the trail, and just by the trail go the parliamentary forces and he just barely escapes.

Well, he does manage to get out of England, and at the end of the 1650’s, once Cromwell had instituted the protectorate over England and once Cromwell had died, England wanted their King back, and so there was a move to bring Charles II back and put him on the throne. And he made a glorious re-entry if we have some subterfuge and hiding for him to get out of England as he left, and not so for his re-entry. It was very public, it was very much ceremonial—and in walked Charles II—to reclaim the throne. In fact, historians call the era “The Restoration,” because the monarchy is restored, and for our purposes the Reformation is put on the back burner and the status quo of an Anglican church, which under Charles was a very nominal church, was put into play.

One of the things that Charles II also restored were the laws against the Puritans holding religious services. And one of those laws was called the, “Conventicle Act.” It prohibited a conventicle, which is a religious meeting, without the presence of a licensed minister. And this particular conventicle was being overseen by a figure we all know; and this was a figure who was born only two years before Charles II, and this of course is John Bunyan.

John Bunyan was one of the first people to be arrested under the restoration of the Conventicle Act. And when he stood before the magistrate, the magistrate ordered him not to preach. And then he asked him, “Will you preach?” And John Bunyan stood before him and said, “If you release me today, I’ll preach tomorrow.” And so the magistrate threw John Bunyan in jail. Of course while he was in jail he happened to write a book, and maybe you know what that book is.

So there we have it. The great escape of Charles II and how that impacted John Bunyan, and how that eventually led to a book being written.