Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1192
Following the death of King Charles I, commissioners of the usurping Oliver Cromwell were sent to destroy the royal residences of England, including the royal lodge of Woodstock, occupied by Sir Henry Lee and his daughter Alice. The old Royalist and his daughter were forced from their home by Cromwell’s soldiers and moved to a nearby hut occupied by the royal lodgekeeper, Joceline Joliffe. They arrived at the hut and found Markham Everard, Sir Henry’s nephew, whose opposite political views so enraged his uncle that the young man left the hut and moved into the lodge. There he composed a letter to Cromwell, in which he asked for the preservation of Woodstock as a personal favor. He sent the letter by his friend, Roger Wildrake. Although Roger was a Royalist, he was a trustworthy friend as well.
Cromwell hated to grant the request, but he hoped to turn it to his own advantage. Young Charles Stuart, heir to the throne, had escaped the Puritans in the company of Albert Lee, Sir Henry’s son. Hoping to capture the Prince, Cromwell ordered his soldiers to leave the lodge because he believed that Albert might try to contact his father and in that way lead the royal fugitive into a trap. Cromwell ordered Wildrake to tell Everard to detain Albert and Charles if they appeared at Woodstock and turn them over to the Puritan troops; but Everard, although he was a member of Cromwell’s party, assured Wildrake that he would not only refuse to betray Charles but would also, if he had an opportunity, help Charles to escape.
Sir Henry and Alice, accompanied by several servants, returned to Woodstock after the departure of the soldiers. Soon young Albert Lee did arrive at the lodge, and with him were the Woodstock chaplain, Dr. Rochecliffe, and a young Scottish page, Louis Kerneguy. The page was actually Charles Stuart in disguise. He had great fun acting the part of a churlish and mischievous page, and Albert and Dr. Rochecliffe worried for his safety, although they realized that Woodstock was probably the safest refuge possible for him at the time. Albert and Rochecliffe were the only two certain of the page’s real identity, but Joliffe, the lodgekeeper, suspected that the page was his monarch. He kept his eyes open for trouble, particularly from the Puritan steward, Tomkins, who had been left at the lodge by Cromwell to act as a spy. Albert also feared that Wildrake would discover the plot, but Rochecliffe assured Albert that Wildrake would not betray the Prince.
The plan was to find a ship to take Charles to safety. While they waited for arrangements to be completed, Charles became interested in Alice Lee, who was in love with Everard. Her love was a hopeless one, however, for her father would not hear of an alliance between his daughter and a Puritan.
One afternoon, when Alice and Kerneguy—for she knew him only as such—were alone, he became angry because she would not pay proper attention to him. He stalked into the woods and was confronted by a stranger who was in reality Everard. Everard accused the page of taking advantage of the hospitality offered him by making advances to Alice. The two drew their swords. At that moment, Sir Henry appeared. He reprimanded them and escorted them back to the lodge. Everard and his uncle soon quarreled again, egged on by the mischievous page, and Everard left Woodstock. Charles continued his suit with Alice and told her that he was her sovereign. Nevertheless, she would not accept him because of her love for Everard. Charles was greatly annoyed that she would prefer a Roundhead to a king, and when, a short time later, Wildrake delivered to him Everard’s challenge to a duel, he accepted with alacrity.
In an attempt to prevent the duel, Dr. Rochecliffe and Alice met the hot-blooded young men as they prepared to fight. Alice protested so violently against the duel that Everard thought she must be in love with Kerneguy. He withdrew from the duel and bade Alice good-bye. Then Kerneguy, seeing her obvious distress, revealed himself to Everard as Charles Stuart. He told the miserable lover that only Alice’s loyalty to the Stuarts made her act as she did. Everard assured Charles that his secret was safe with him, as did Wildrake, who was also present.
In the meantime, Joliffe killed the Roundhead steward, Tomkins, for making unwelcome advances to Phoebe Mayflower, a maid with whom Joliffe was in love. His rash act increased the danger to the fugitive, for Cromwell depended on Tomkins for information from the lodge. While visiting Everard, Cromwell hinted that he knew Everard had betrayed him. Unaware of Tomkins’ death, Cromwell waited for a message from him before making definite accusations. Wildrake, also present during the interview with Cromwell, sent a message to Woodstock, warning the inhabitants that Cromwell would be there soon. Cromwell waited until midnight; then, hearing nothing from Tomkins, he arrested Everard and forced him to join the Commonwealth soldiers as they surrounded the lodge in an attempt to capture the Prince.
Albert Lee, who had been away searching for a ship to take Charles to safety, also sent a letter to Woodstock. In it, he stated that he would return that night and that Kerneguy must be ready to leave at once. Albert arrived about the same time that a messenger came with the warning from Wildrake. Then Sir Henry, informed of the true identity of his guest, hastily made arrangements for Charles to escape with a trusted forester as his guide. Alice led Charles to Joliffe’s hut, where he was to meet his guide; Albert remained behind to delay Cromwell’s troops, disguised himself as Charles, and hid in a secret room to await the soldiers.
Cromwell and his men seized Rochecliffe and Joliffe as they were burying Tomkins’ body. They also captured Sir Henry. While he was decoying and confusing the soldiers, Albert caused them to blow up a part of the lodge and kill some of their own men. At last, they captured him but discovered that he was not Charles Stuart. When he refused to reveal the whereabouts of the fugitive, Cromwell sentenced him to death. Relenting, however, he changed the sentence to one of banishment from England. He also released the other prisoners, including Sir Henry, Joliffe, and Everard.
Alice returned from her mission with the news that Charles was safe and that he had asked Sir Henry to withdraw his objections to the marriage between her and Everard. Obedient to his monarch, the old cavalier gave his consent.
Years passed. Sir Henry was living near Alice and Everard; he was cared for by Joliffe, now married to Phoebe. After his release, Albert had been killed in battle. At length, Cromwell died, and his son resigned the government. When Charles returned to England, the only incident marring his triumph was the death of his old and good friend, Sir Henry of Woodstock, who had lived only to see his rightful king placed on the throne of England.
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