1670, Robert Bird, who aided Charles II in his escape after the Battle of Worcester, pleads for financial help

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1670s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, Robert Bird of Tonge in the county of Salop. SP 29/272 f. 74 (1670).

Peticion of Robert Bird

for releife. Read 31th December 1669

To the Kings most excellent majestie

The humble peticion of Robert Bird of Tonge in the county of Salop

Most humbly sheweth unto your majestie

That your peticioner did most faithfully serve your majestie according to the certificate annexed, for which (during the late usurped power) your peticioner was many times plundered, and imprisoned to his utter ruine, and is now (being aged) deprived of all meanes of subsistance both for himselfe and children

In tender consideration whereof, your petitioner humbly beseecheth your majestie will be gratiously pleased to allow your peticioner something out of your majesties privy purse, towards his maintenance in this his great necessity.

And your peticioner, as in duty bound shall ever pray etc.

[Paratext:] At the court at Whitehall January 13 1669/70

His majesty is graciously pleased to referre it to the right honourable the lordes commissioners of the Treasury to consider of a way to gratify the peticioner, by makeing some provision for him suitable to the merit of his service and loyalty, in that [great?] occasion of his majestys blessed escape. And to give such order in it as their lordships shall find fitt, or otherwise to report their opinions to his majesty, who will then declare his further pleasure.


Report by Julia Fidler

Robert Bird, of Tong in Shropshire assisted Charles II in his escape from the Parliamentarians after the Battle of Worcester (1651). By the time of the petition in 1670, he was in financial difficulties after being imprisoned by the Parliamentarians. He was seeking money from the King’s Privy Purse.

Robert Bird

From the Parish Records of Tong we know that Robert Bird (Burd) was living in Tong 28 years before his petition to the King in 1670. His son Rupert was baptised on 12 January 1642 in St Bartholomew Collegiate Church. His wife is stated to be Anne Bird, and Rupert was the first of their four sons baptised in Tong between 1642 and 1649.

The fact that Robert and Anne named their son Rupert, which was the name of King Charles’ I nephew, Prince Rupert, at a time when Shrewsbury and Shropshire were Royalist strongholds, perhaps already tells us how much they supported the Royalist cause.[1]

The Village of Tong

The name Tong derives from old English Tweonga which means a spit of land, and dates from 1004. Tong sits between two tributaries of the River Whorfe (Werf) which run into the River Severn. The Collegiate Church of St Bartholomew was rebuilt in 1409 and awarded a Royal charter in 1421.[2] It has been called the Westminster Abbey of the Midlands and contains many monuments to the families living in the area at that time. The church was in the demesne (land owned) and patronage of Tong Castle. There was a College and a hospital, for thirteen poor people, on the south side of the church.[3]

Shropshire and the Civil War

Robert lived at a pivotal point in English History. Charles I was on the throne, there was conflict between King and Parliament, and by 1641 a rebellion in Ireland.[4] On 23 August 1642, the English Civil war began and by September 1642 the Royalist Headquarters were in Shrewsbury.

So, Robert Bird lived in a village within an area that was to be central in the story at the beginning of the Civil War in 1642, and nine years later to the very survival of the future Kings Charles II after the last battle of the Civil War, in 1651.

Geographically Tong is about 14 miles from Shrewsbury and less than three miles from Tong Norton, where, on 10 August 1651, the future Charles II encamped with his army before the Battle of Worcester. White Ladies Priory is near the Boscobel Estate, which features in the escape of Charles II in 1651.

So, while at present we know little of Robert himself in 1642 we can place him, his wife and nine-month old son Rupert in Tong, just as the Civil War began. In 1642, Tong church was the site of minor skirmishes ‘and the north side of the church has many musket ball holes and at least one cannon-shot hole in its outer wall’.[5] It has been suggested that the musket ball holes may have been from the execution of prisoners as on the north side of the Church, but this was later disputed.[6]

Tong church was on the road between Newport and Wolverhampton and ‘it regularly featured in fighting’.[7] Also, the two warring factions were trying to win control of Tong Castle and it changed hands, though some dates are contradictory. William Careless, the Royalist Governor, defended the Castle, but on 28 December 1643 it was captured by the parliamentary forces.

In 1643, Rupert Bird had died at 18 months old on 16th September and it must be wondered what effect this level of fighting and conflict had on the little boy and on the family.

Parish records show that Charles, son of Robert and Anne Burd was baptised on 24 August 1644 – again, another son with a Royal name.  Another son, Henry, was baptised on 23 August 1647 but died at a week old on the 30th. A fourth son, Robert, baptised on 9 February 1648-49 seems to have survived infancy as there is no record of his death in the parish register but sadly, on 7 June 1649, just four months after Robert’s birth, Charles died at under five years old.

Reading through the Shropshire Church records provides a stark reminder of the infant and maternal mortality rates at that time. Many babies were listed as baptised only to be buried by their parents a few days later, or babies were baptised and only a few days later their mothers were listed as buried.

The Battle of Worcester

After Charles II’s defeat at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651 he became a wanted man and a £1,000 reward was offered for his capture. Anyone helping him faced the death penalty.

Charles II’s supporters in Shropshire included Lord Derby, who had been sheltered when injured by a Catholic tenant farming family, the five Pendrill brothers at Boscobel House near Tong. On the night of 3 September 1651, Charles Giffard, the owner of the Boscobel Estate, was with the escaping fugitive King and suggested White Ladies Priory as a safer hideout than Boscobel House.

Charles arrived at White Ladies in the early hours of 4 September to be met by George Pendrill.[8] Richard Pendrill, who owned a farm, Hobble Grange, cut Charles’ hair and the brothers disguised the King as a farm labourer ‘in leather doublet, green breeches and a jump-coat […] and old greasy hat, and a neggen shirt of the coarsest linen’. At sunrise the King, disguised as a farm labourer, hid with Richard Pendrill in Spring Coppice as Cromwell’s forces searched for him.

It was at this point that Robert Bird assisted the king. Reading the Certificate in the State papers, signed by Charles Gifford and William Carlos, we find that Robert Bird’s role in protecting the King was by passing information to the five Pendrill brothers about where the parliamentary troops were, and where they were searching. He ‘was diligent by constant correspondence with the Pendrills, informing them of the passing of each armies’.[9]

It was felt safer if Charles travelled on almost alone. Indeed, the large party that had travelled north at that point were mainly captured and executed.

After dark on September 5th, at Hobble Grange, the Pendrill brothers taught the King to talk and walk like a labourer and the five brothers set off to try and help the king to cross the River Severn to escape to Wales but it was too dangerous, and after a time, during which he hid in a barn and a priest’s hole, the King returned to the Boscobel Estate. Colonel Careless met him there and together they spent the day hiding high up in an oak tree while Parliamentary forces searched the woods below.

Robert Bird seems to have been the eyes and ears of the group until the King eventually left Shropshire for Bristol, disguised as the servant of Jane Lane.[10]

Robert Bird is much praised by Charles Giffard and William Carlos in the Certificate to the King for his actions in passing intelligence to the 5 Penderill brothers. One could wonder that if Robert Bird had not been brave and living in Tong in those vital days, that there might not have been a King Charles II of England?

William Carlos, who signed the Certificate with Charles Giffard was William Careless, once the Governor and defender of Tong Castle, and who had hidden with the King in the famous oak tree. The King had rewarded him with a new name and a coat of arms depicting an Oak tree and three crowns. Royal Oak Day was celebrated on 29 May 1660, the King’s birthday, and celebrated for 200 years with a prayer in the prayer book until 1859. It is still celebrated in some parts of England including at the Hospital for Chelsea pensioners which Charles founded.[11]

In the Battle of Worcester, 3,000 Royalists were killed and 10,000 injured and prisoners taken.[12]  Tong was not far north of Worcester. It seems unlikely that Robert Bird was caught in 1651 as he would surely have been executed.

The Birds after the Escape

Robert’s petition to the King mentions time in prison, and it appears that many prisoners were transported abroad and although there are some named Bird on the lists given, Robert is not listed amongst them. There are no prison records in the Shropshire Archives before 1660. Some prisoners were taken to London for trial and that may have been the lot of Robert.[13]

On November 1665, Anne the wife of Robert was buried at Tong Church. Just after Anne’s death at the end of 1665, the Church Warden of Tong Church was named Edward Bird, possibly an elder son of Robert and Anne Bird. In Robert’s petition to the king he mentions his ‘many children’ in the plural, but as only one of his four sons baptised at Tong survived, it seems likely he had other surviving children.

While Edward was the Church warden, the Parish records of Tong church list the many small gifts of money continuously made to support the poor in various places perhaps showing it to be a rich parish. A much larger gift of 23 shillings was sent on 11 January 1668 to London: ‘wee, the inhabitants of the parish of Tong, Doe aknowledge to have had an aquittance from Edward Bird of twenty three shill: collected for sufferers by the Fire of London’.

The Petition

Robert’s petition in 1670 to the King was successful. He was granted a pension of £30 a year ‘for his services in assisting his Majesty’s escape after the battle of Worcester, by corresponding with Geo Pendrell one of the 5 brothers instrumental in his escape’.[14]

There are no records of Roberts’ death in Shropshire in 1674 but a will dated 22 December 1674, states his residence county as Shropshire, and grants administration to ‘Anne B, da. of’, showing that he had a daughter named Anne.[15] A treasury subscription ‘for the execution of a money warrant dated 16 September 1674 to Ann Bird, daughter of Robert Bird, Co Salop for 1674, 24 June quarter’ implies that Robert died that year.[16] A Royal Warrant, dated 14 March 1674 granted the £30 per annum pension ‘to Anne Bird, daughter of Robert Bird of Tong, in reversion after her father’s death of the like pension granted to her father, who was instrumental in the King’s preservation after the battle of Worcester’.[17]

So, the story of Robert Bird, petitioner, concludes with his contribution to history being appreciated after his death by the continuance of his pension to his daughter.


[1] Shropshire Parish Registers. The Tong Parish Registers were copied by The Rev. Auden from the original Tong Church records, while Vicar in about 1870. Vol.1 from 1630 onwards. Pages 10-15 and 25-29. Unless otherwise indicated, all information below on baptisms, marriages and burials comes from this source or www.findmypast.co.uk.

[2] Robert Eytons: Antiquities of Shropshire. Vol 1, p. 191.

[3] T. Gregory, A Gazette of Shropshire (1824): https:/www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/sal/tong.

[4]  N. Cawthorne, Kings and Queens of England, (2009), pp. 130; 134.

[5] R. Jeffreys., Discovering Tong: Its myths history and curiosities, (2nd edition).

[6] J. E. Auden, (ed. by Joyce Frost), Notes on the History of Tong from the Parish Books (2007), p. 43.

[7] T. Brasher and R. Emmett, Shropshire in the Civil War (2000) p. 88.

[8] T. Blount, Boscopol: The History of his Sacred Majesties most miraculous preservation after the battle of Worcester (1660), p. 54. ‘Escape of Charles II’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_of_Charles_II.

[9] ‘Charles II: March 1670’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1670 With Addenda 1660-70, ed. Mary Anne Everett Green (London, 1895), pp. 95-144. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas2/addenda/1660-70/pp95-144.

[10] Hidden Historical Heroines, Jane Lane: https://erinlawless.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/hidden-historical-heroines-28-jane-lane/.

[11] Samuel Pepys Diary 1660: https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1660/05/29/.

[12] BBC ‘Battle of Worcester artefacts unearthed for first time’: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hereford-worcester-49551833.

[13] M. Atkin, The Battle of Worcester 1651, (2004), p. 129.

[14] ‘Minute Book: May 1670’, in Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 3, 1669-1672, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1908), pp. 422-437. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol3/pp422-437.

[15] Find my Past, Will of Robert Bird: https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=OR%2FCANT%2FCOURT%2F0007531

[16]  ‘Entry Book: January 1680, 21-31’, in Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 6, 1679-1680, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1913), pp. 407-419. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol6/pp407-419.

[17] ‘Entry Book: February 1673-4’, in Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 4, 1672-1675, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1909), pp. 471-486. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol4/pp471-486.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles II, 1660-1685’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.