Jane Lane: The Woman who Helped Charles II to Escape

The English Civil War, fought between the Parliamentarians and Royalists, had started as a direct result of grievances about the way in which Charles I had ruled, largely without Parliament, as well as fears about the Catholics, most notably his wife, Henrietta Maria, he had become associated with. Whilst there are many more reasons for the Civil War, these are most commonly cited. When Charles I was executed at Whitehall in January 1649, England became a republic led by Oliver Cromwell. Still, Royalist hopes were kept alive in Charles, the Prince of Wales. Scotland had been horrified and proclaimed the young Charles as their king. On 1 January 1651, Charles was crowned as Charles II, with the promise that Scottish forces would follow him to England to help him reclaim his throne.[1]

The forces led by Charles met with Parliamentary resistance at the battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651. It was not the Royalist victory that was hoped for as the Parliamentarians defeated them. Despite reports that Charles had been killed in the fighting, he had managed to escape and had gone into hiding. A huge £1,000 reward (around £103,000 in today’s money) for his capture was given. This reward would make his escape even harder. Whilst in hiding, the famous incident of Charles hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel House when Parliamentarian soldiers came looking for him happened.

Plan showing the route Charles took on his escape from England following the Battle of Worcester in 1651, from Fea, Allan, The flight of the king : a full, true, and particular account of the miraculous escape of His Most Sacred Majesty King Charles II after the battle of Worcester, (1908), p. 2

This, as well as other close shaves, made him realise a better plan was needed to get him out of the country and away from danger. Lord Henry Wilmot, a close confidant of Charles, who had also been at Worcester, was also in hiding, but was staying at Bentley Hall, the home of John Lane. John Lane was a known Royalist sympathiser who had been a Royalist cavalry officer during the Civil War. He had led a band of Royalists who made the journey to Worcester but didn’t get there in time for the battle.[2] The original plan was to use John’s sister, Jane, to help Wilmot escape, as she had been granted a pass to visit a pregnant cousin in Bristol so she could help with the birth. This pass covered her, a servant, and her cousin Henry Lascelles. As both Royalist and Catholic, the family needed these passes to be able to move further than 5 miles away from their home.[3] This was the perfect excuse to help Charles, rather than Wilmot to escape to the safety of the continent.

Charles was to pretend to be Jane’s manservant, taking on the name Will Jackson. Only a few, including Jane, know the true identity of this man. Charles’ acting skills really had to be excellent to pull off this disguise as he was easily noticeable with his dark complexion and 6 ft 2 stature. Despite many dangers along the way, including a horse losing a shoe and a brush with Parliamentarian soldiers, the gang, which included John and Jane Lane, as well as their sister Withy and her husband, John Petre, arrived at the home of Ellen Norton, their pregnant cousin. Whilst there, a butler recognised the king but rather than think of taking the £1,000 reward, offered his silence and assistance.[4] It was decided that Charles wouldn’t be able to take a boat from Bristol, as had originally been planned, but that it was best to try the south coast. To be able to do this, the party needed some sort of excuse to leave, which was now harder when Ellen had suffered a late-term miscarriage. Jane herself forged a letter saying her father was seriously ill and she had to return home.[5]

Isaac Fuller, King Charles II and Jane Lane riding to Bristol (1660s), NPG 5251, © National Portrait Gallery, London

The ruse worked and the group managed to get to Dorset, where Wilmot and Charles were safely reunited. Despite all the dangers they had faced in their journey to get to this point, Jane and her family had to return to Bentley Hall to make their plan appear real, leaving Charles to escape to France. It’s quite possible that Jane and Charles thought that would be the last they saw of each other. However, fate had other ideas. News of a woman matching Jane’s description had helped Charles in his escape began to spread. Her life was now in danger and it was her turn to take on a disguise. She walked all the way to Yarmouth in Norfolk and escaped to France, where she was warmly welcomed by Charles.[6]

In return for saving his life, Charles offered Jane many personal gifts, including miniature portraits of himself, a lock of his hair, and a gold pocket watch, which had been a gift given to him by his father.[7] The pair remained firm friends and even continued corresponding together when in 1652, Jane became a part of the household of Charles sister, Mary of Orange, in Holland.[8] Following the Restoration of Charles as King in 1660, Jane was given a £1,000 a year pension for her services to the monarchy.[9] The pair continued their friendly correspondence, even after Jane became Lady Fisher after her marriage to Sir Clement Fisher in December 1662, right up until Charles death in 1685.[10]

The bravery of Jane in helping the young Charles is evident. What is most remarkable is the platonic nature of her relationship with Charles, an open and well known philanderer. He was less than subtle when it came to his womanising ways and yet, with Jane, it appears that it never went beyond a friend-like relationship. However, he did admire Jane and was always keen to tell everyone that it was her who had saved his life.


[1] ‘Charles II’, https://www.royal.uk/charles-ii#:~:text=On%201%20January%201651%2C%20the,Worcester%20on%203%20September%201651.

[2] Beardsley, Martyn R., Charles II and His Escape into Exile (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2019), p. 55

[3] Lawless, Erin, ‘Hidden historical heroines: Jane Lane’, https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid; Whipp, Koren, ‘Jane Lane, Lady Fisher’, https://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-lane-lady-fisher/

[7] Ibid

[8] Lawless, Erin, ‘Hidden historical heroines: Jane Lane’, https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/

[9] Whipp, Koren, ‘Jane Lane, Lady Fisher’, https://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-lane-lady-fisher/

[10] Ibid