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The royal escape
The course of British history was changed in 1651 during a few hours in Brighton, where the future monarch spent his last hours before escaping to France.
After his defeat by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester, Charles II was pursued by the Roundheads as he tried to leave the country.
He failed to escape at Charmouth in Devon and moved east, picking up intelligence that Brighton might be able to help.
Charles was aided by the faithful Lord Wilmot and later by a Colonel Gounter who lived at Racton near Chichester.
Gounter approached a merchant called Francis Mansel who had good trading links with France and Mansel found Nicholas Tettersell, of Brighton, who had a small coal brig called the Surprise at Shoreham.
Tettersell was offered £60 to take two friends who had to flee the country because of a duel and agreed to the price.
Meanwhile, Charles made his way to Brighton, travelling mainly along downland paths.
He was almost recognised by a Parliamentary governor at Arundel and rode past many soldiers at Bramber without being discovered.
This was surprising since Charles was unusually tall and dark with a face that was known to most people.
He was instantly recognised by Tettersell when introduced to him in Brighton and he complained he had not been paid enough for the risk involved.
Tettersell told Mansel: “He is the King and I very well know him to be so.” He reminded the royal party that a large reward was being offered for the monarch’s capture but stressed he would be loyal.
He was offered another £10 and Charles asked if they could leave that night but Tettersell said the boat was not ready. He raised many other difficulties including the need for insurance and these were agreed.
Tettersell went off to collect his crew and a clean shirt, which he wore for the occasion, while Charles and Lord Wilmot stayed at the George Inn at West Street.
At 2am, Gounter woke them and took them by horse to Shoreham where the Surprise stood waiting for them. They went aboard but had to wait several hours to start while the tide came up.
Tettersell started sailing along the coast and was watched by the anxious colonel, who was on horseback. Eventually he headed towards France and arrived the next day in Fecamp.
Gounter heard that less than two hours after Charles had left Brighton soldiers came calling for “a tall dark man two yards high”.
When Charles became King in 1660, Tettersell renamed his boat the Royal Escape and sailed it up the Thames opposite the King’s palace in Whitehall to stress the role he had played.
It worked. The Surprise was taken into the English fleet and Tettersell was made a captain although later he was dismissed for an unknown offence.
He retired to Brighton, was appointed High Constable, and acted in an unpleasant manner, persecuting Quakers and other non-conformists.
Tettersell used the money he had been awarded by the King to buy an inn, now the Old Ship Hotel in King’s Road.
He died in1674 and is buried in St Nicholas churchyard, where there is a laudatory poem on his gravestone.
Buses have been named after both him and King Charles II, while the Royal Escape race takes place annually to France, this year on June 1.
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