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Saturday 5 March 2016

The King Charles House in Worcester; a warning in a pub and a fleeing king

On a recent visit to Worcester, I went into the King Charles House on New Street. The timber-framed building looks like an old and historic pub, although it has had many uses over the years and was only recently sympathetically restored to its former glory.

A sign next to the entrance relates how the future King Charles the Second, after being defeated by Oliver Cromwell's forces at the Battle of Worcester, fled from this pub into exile in mainland Europe. The tale of his escape is pretty gripping in itself. He was eventually invited back to Britain and crowned king in the 'Restoration' of 1660, after the death of Cromwell.

The dour, joyless Puritanism promoted by Cromwell and his followers disapproved of such sinful activities as gambling, music, dancing and drinking ale so it must have been a great relief for many when the far more relaxed and fun-loving king was back. Many British pubs were opened in this time and some are still around today; the names reflecting Charles' history. Examples are the Royal Oak (from the tree he hid in while being hunted at Boscobel House) and the Black Boy, which has nothing to do with racial meanings but instead refers to Charles the Second's nickname due to his black hair.

The over mantle above the fireplace in the pub is well worth a look. It is dated 1634 on one panel, which suggests that it was carved during the reign of Charles the First. He was the father of Charles the Second and was executed in 1649 after losing the Civil War to Cromwell's forces.

The carved panels show some exuberant green men along the top, together with warnings of the perils of gambling and other vices. I like the central panel in particular. It shows Satan, carrying his pitchfork, bursting in on some men gambling (perhaps on the Sabbath?). One man desperately tries to hide under the table.

Another panel, dated 1634, shows Satan catching some drunkards by surprise.

These seem like pretty hypocritical things to have on display in a tavern, but I'd suggest that there might be a joke being played here. 

This carved date was during Charles the First's reign, when tensions with Cromwells' Parliament were increasing. The panels seem to show good old tedious religious warnings against immoral behaviour; however the people shown are wearing clothes more like those worn by Puritans than the extravagant fashions favoured by many Royalists.

Given that Charles the Second chose to hide at this tavern after his defeat in battle, I wonder if a sly jab is being directed here by Royalist owners at Cromwell's zealous followers and their hypocrisy?

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