When I was researching my post for Boscobel House a few weeks ago, I discovered the story of a very brave young woman. Her name was Jane Lane and, in 1651, this 25 year old daughter of a country gentleman was leading a fairly unremarkable life at Bentley Hall, her home in Staffordshire. No doubt, her name would have been lost to history had she not played a heroic role in the escape of Charles II, after his defeat by the Parliamentarians at the Battle of Worcester.
Jane became involved because she had managed to obtain a pass from the Parliamentarian Governor of Stafford. This allowed her to travel with a servant to the port of Bristol to stay with her cousin and to assist in the birth of her first child. At this time, Catholics and Royalist sympathisers had to obtain these “passports” in order to travel more than five miles from their home. Hoping to obtain passage to France from Bristol, the 21 year old Charles set off on horseback disguised as Jane’s servant with Jane sitting side-saddle behind him.
The journey was fraught with danger. Parliamentary troops patrolled the roads; proclamations offering a reward for Charles’s capture were posted in the villages along the way and anyone found assisting him faced the death penalty. Despite all the dangers, Jane was steadfastly brave and loyal. An account of the escape, published following the restoration of Charles II, said she “comported herself with extraordinary prudence and fidelity”, particularly in Stratford-upon-Avon where she and her royal companion were confronted by a group of Parliamentarian cavalry. It was a moment of extreme danger but Jane saved the day with her cool composure. Her bravery was even celebrated in a contemporary ballad.
In vain ye search, Bloodthirsty Men, to find
Vailed Majesty, her Virtue makes you blind;
Her faith out-acts your Malice, and your swords
Attempts to find a ship at Bristol failed and they were forced to travel south where Charles eventually obtained passage to France from Shoreham, near Brighton. Jane returned home but, after only a few weeks, she herself was forced to flee to France having been warned that the Parliamentarians knew of her involvement in Charles’s miraculous escape.
Jane was welcomed by Charles and his little court of exiles. Financially destitute, he was unable to reward Jane for all she had done for him. However, when Charles was finally restored to the throne in 1660, he granted Jane a pension of £1,000 a year (a lot of money then) together with many other gifts, including a lock of his hair and a watch given to him by his father, Charles I. Most impressively, her courage and loyalty earned for her family the right to add the three Lions of England to their coat-of-arms in perpetuity. Jane and Charles remained affectionate correspondents until his death in 1685.
In 1663, Jane married Sir Clement Fisher, 2nd Baronet of Great Packington but the marriage was childless. In later life she lived extravagantly, running up large debts so that when she died in 1689, her estate was worth but £10.