The King's Smuggler: Jane Whorwood, Secret Agent to Charles I

The King's Smuggler: Jane Whorwood, Secret Agent to Charles I

by John Fox

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ISBN-13: 9780752469034
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 08/26/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

John Fox is the author of a number of history books and contributed fifty history articles to the Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia.

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The King's Smuggler

Jane Whorwood Secret Agent to Charles I

By John Fox

The History Press

Copyright © 2011 John Fox
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-6903-4


1612–84: Finding Jane Whorwood

A tall, well-fashioned and well-languaged gentlewoman, with a round visage and with pock holes in her face.

Derby House Committee, 1648

She was red haired, as her son Brome was, and was the most loyal person to King Charles I in his miseries of any woman in England.

Anthony Wood, Oxford, 1672

No known portrait exists of Jane Whorwood, but they remembered her height and figure, her fine speech and the flame-hair. Pockmarks spoiled a girl's marriage prospects, but they made her actions, not her complexion, her measure. Diana Maxwell, Jane's half-sister, sat for Lely, the court painter, and was celebrated for her looks, but they only remembered her greed. Jane's marriage broke up violently, publicly, and after three of her four children had died. No Whorwood staircase or great parlour would have hung her portrait, and given the tempo of her life she would hardly have sat still long enough to be painted. John Cleveland of the Oxford garrison wrote To Prince Rupert, a tribute to ideal beauty, male or female,

Such was the painter's brief for Venus' face,
Item, an eye from Jane, a lip from Grace.

All others named in his poem are real and Jane Whorwood was Cleveland's Wartime contemporary in Oxford. A Titian-haired Scot with green or hazel eyes, a painter's convention, turned heads in a small city; Anthony Wood and Elias Ashmole also remembered her from there years later. Red hair was an obstacle in life, but it was memorable, like the pocks.

The failure of her cause helps explain Jane Whorwood's obscurity. Jane Lane succeeded in helping Charles Stuart II escape after his defeat at Worcester in 1651; she sat for Lely, had a pension from the king and a valuable jewel from Parliament. Flora McDonald was painted onto the popular mind (and shortbread tins) for assisting another Charles Stuart, self-styled 'III', to flee his failed uprising in 1746. Jane Whorwood, despite several attempts in 1648–9, failed to free her Charles Stuart I. There was nothing to celebrate, except her courage in the trying, and the occupational secrecy of a clandestine agent hid that, along with the rest of her service record. Conspirators were often hidden, even from each other. 'What other private agents the king had at London, I do not well know,' wrote John Barwick, clerical spy and secret correspondent with King Charles I: he knew fellow-conspirators only 'as it were through a lattice and enveloped in a mist'.

The Stuarts were always fugitives, Scottish, but aliens at home as much as in England, although they had ruled unruly Scotland for 200 years. South of the border they were married to queens from Denmark, France and Portugal, and ruled England for only eighty-five years (eleven of those from exile), little more than Jane Whorwood's lifespan. King James's mother, Mary of Scots, fled in and out of her own country; as a child James was carried in flight; Charles I fled London for Oxford, and Oxford for Newark, from where in defeat he was conveyed like a caged bird to Newcastle, then back to Hampton Court, from where supporters led him to the Isle of Wight. After a failed uprising, botched escape attempts and futile talks, the Army put him on trial.

Charles II, the fugitive king-in-waiting, returned in 1660, but not to the land he left. Parliament, Nonconformists, generals, the Irish and the Scots had discovered their strength. His brother, James II, fled the country with his successor a babe in arms, but Dutch William and his Stuart wife stepped to the throne by invitation and broke the direct Stuart line. Pretenders pretended, but the battle of Culloden in 1746 terminated the Stuart threat (if not the pretence) to the two kingdoms, now united. The last pretender, Cardinal 'Henry IX', styled himself humbly in Italy, King of England by the Grace of God, but not by the Will of the People. After the battle of the Nile, Nelson exchanged gifts with Henry, George III healed scars and finally moved on with a pension to the cardinal and Canova's monument to the pretenders in St Peter's, Rome.

The English War and Republic prompt many 'what if?' questions. What if the king had won, or abdicated? What if Richard Cromwell had been stronger? If Ireton had lived longer, would the English Republic have been 'the Consulate' not the Protectorate? Similarly, what if Jane Whorwood had freed Charles I? In the summer of 1648, as the king's escape committee grew weary of repeated failure and Jane emerged from a naval mutiny and county uprising on the Medway, the Marquess of Hertford wrote from London to Jane's brother-in-law, William Hamilton, Earl of Lanark, in Edinburgh: 'Had the rest done their parts as carefully as Wharwood [sic], the king would have been at large.'

Her mother's two marriages and her own wrapped her in family surnames like a fog. She was Ryder from her German-born Scots father. Her mother, born de Boussy in Antwerp, changed Ryder to Maxwell on remarriage. Jane married into the Staffordshire and Oxfordshire Whorwoods, spelled variously Whorewood (pronounced 'Horrud' in the nineteenth century), Horwood (as pronounced now), and Harwood. Jane was London-Scottish-Brabanter, and Scottish tradition recognised the maiden name after marriage. Her Ryder and Maxwell sisters took on more surnames – Hamilton, Cecil and Bowyer. To complicate further, her mother and stepfather were ennobled in 1646 as Earl and countess of Dirleton, on the Forth. While Jane was the quintessential Royalist and an Oxfordshire squire's wife, her red hair and given names 'Jeane' and 'Ginne', remind that she was more than nominally Scottish. Her Charing Cross home was in 'Little Edinburgh'; her father's will named her his 'bairn Jeane'; her service to Charles I was to a Scot in an English court bitterly resented as 'scottified'. Her younger sisters married aristocratic dynasts in both countries, and Jane named her daughters after them.

Jane left no will or last words, although some of her letters survive. She died in genteel poverty, possibly mentally damaged. No Whorwood ever mentioned her in a will; her three sisters predeceased her and ignored her, as did most of those who once conspired with her in the king's cause. Her mother, however, and members of the Hyde-Clarendon family, remembered her generously. The evidence for her early life at Whitehall is unusually focused because of the court roles of her parents, her stepfather, and her sisters' husbands. The site of her childhood home at the top western side of Whitehall is occupied (appropriately for 'Little Edinburgh') by the old Drummond Bank, now Royal Bank of Scotland. The nearby equestrian statue of Charles I marks the site of Charing Cross, Jane's waking landmark in life. Her first married home, Sandwell Park, Staffordshire, is now a golf course; her second at Holton Park, Oxfordshire, is campus to a university and a comprehensive school; her final decades were spent in Soho and Holborn. All her homes have gone, but at least the atmospheric moated site of Holton House survives as a hidden Oxfordshire gem.

Other buildings she knew still stand, if slightly modified: Carisbrooke Castle, Passenham Manor, Oxford's colleges, Hampton Court Palace and the Banqueting House, Whitehall, on which Rubens was working as Jane left home for married life in Oxford. Only a fraction remains of Holdenby House, 'pulled down [in 1649] two years after [the king's stay], among other royal houses, whereby the splendour of the kingdom was eclipsed'. No record suggests Jane visited Scotland, but her father died after organising the royal visit there in 1617, and her stepfather hosted travelling kings at his Innerwick mansion near the Forth. His castle at Dirleton is a tourist draw, but the Maxwell Aisle in Dirleton kirk lacks the ambitious marble monument Jane's mother planned for his tomb. Lambert and Monck took the castle with a token mortar salvo after Dunbar in 1650. The chamber where Maxwell died at Holyrood Palace disappeared in the rebuilding by Charles II, but the successor to his coal-fired lighthouse on the island of May in the Firth of Forth still guides ships and can be seen from Edinburgh and Dirleton.

Family life suffered more in the War than bereavement, destruction and confiscation. Insecurity reshaped morality, making for odd bedfellows and intense working relationships. Psychological and marital casualties surfaced afterwards. Whorwood, Milton and Gardiner marriages in the same small area of Oxfordshire were all casualties of the War. Cromwell, Milton and Oglander families were split in their loyalties. Of the Hammonds, Uncle Hammond was the king's chaplain, nephew Hammond his jailer, and another uncle his judge. The Royalist Whorwoods entertained the Puritan wedding of Bridget Cromwell and Henry Ireton, Cromwells and Whorwoods both blood cousins to the iconic John Hampden. The Committee of Both Houses (it exhausted several names) at Derby House which brokered intelligence on Jane's activities throughout 1648, included her brother-in-law Lord Cranborne. Another brother-in-law, the second Duke of Hamilton and the king's cousin, to whom Jane was close, died at Worcester after invading England in 1651. When did you last see your father? is a romantic cliché, but it reminds of the separation and insecurity of parents, siblings and children in civil war, which made contemporaries yearn for peace, or at least neutrality. When did you last see your husband? or much more aptly, When did you last see your children? could have been put to Jane Whorwood when she came out of imprisonment in 1651. Childcare is fundamental and Jane's mother-in-law gave legacies to her grandchildren which jar with the silence she accorded their mother.

Extraordinary public actions often command an unrecorded personal fee. Towards the end of her life 'poor Mistress Whorwood', as the bishop of London called her, was an embarrassment, bowed, if not quite broken, and poor. Her husband, MP for Oxford for twenty years and a threat to Charles II, hated her publicly. Jane in turn apologised to the king for his Whig disloyalty. By the end of her life the adventures of her younger years were irrelevant, forty years old, in their day a Wartime secret necessarily kept from co-conspirators and Parliamentarians, yet as forgettable as yesterday's news. This seventeenth-century secret agent survived England's civil war physically unscathed, only to be seriously injured afterwards by her manic husband. Failure, divorce and a Whig husband dulled her halo and prevented a legend.

Most of Jane's close collaborators predeceased her. Life and death rolled on. Rewards to others for service to the dynasty were generous, but thinly spread. Either she did not qualify for, or more likely she did not request, a reward. She was also a woman back in conventional peacetime, the roles and freedom reversed which the War had afforded her. Around her, old courtiers fell out, 'all at daggers drawn' as Pepys described them, in haste to reinvent and justify their contribution to the lost royal cause. None blew Jane's trumpet on her behalf, even former close colleagues. John Ashburnham died still fighting Clarendon's accusation that he had connived with Cromwell to trap the king on Wight. Henry Firebrace highlighted his liaising of intelligence and escapes for the king but, like Ashburnham, never mentioned Jane Whorwood (though he kept her letters). Silius Titus ('I have ten times ventured my life in His majesty's service when his affairs were desperate') was promoted, rewarded financially and entered Parliament. Thomas Herbert admitted Jane's role, then took pains to deny it before he died. Sir Purbeck Temple told the wildest tales, with Jane in the background and himself prominently heroic. Outside the restored Prayer Book, Charles I quickly became history as Restoration took over. Jane drew a veil over her activities. In the summer of 1684, just before she died, leading figures at court, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, began to quiz Sir William Dugdale about exactly who had been involved in those daring attempts to liberate the old king.

Dugdale, a chronicler, had tapped Firebrace and Herbert, Jane's fellow conspirators, for their memories, in order to document the attempts. The letters Firebrace and others preserved, all from 1648, are a small fraction of hundreds of secret messages, written, oral and hand-signalled, from the period. No letters survive from Jane directly to the king out of nearly twenty she is known to have written to him in the last six months of 1648. Two have been saved in Charles's hand to Jane, from almost three dozen he is known to have written to her. Seven can still be read from her to Henry Firebrace, page of the bedchamber and coordinator of intelligence to the king between London and Wight, but they exchanged many more. A single letter, now in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, from Jane (as 'Hellen') to William Hopkins of Newport for the king's eyes also, and two letters in the National Archives of Scotland, from her to her brother-in-law William Hamilton, Earl of Lanark, signed as '409', are all unquestionably in Jane's handwriting.

That any letters survive at all from the conspirators and the prisoner-king is remarkable, given the danger of writing and receiving them, their regular interception by Parliament, and their routine burning by recipients. The shredder had not been invented, but the Oxford garrison burned almost all its records before surrendering and Secretary Nicholas even ordered King Charles on Wight: 'For God's sake, burn them!' It is all the more remarkable that the two intimate letters from the king to Jane of July 1648 (we cannot judge whether they were the most intimate) should have been preserved at all, when more than fifty others between them were not. Somehow, either they passed from her (or her daughter's) possession to Firebrace and others, or they may have been left behind at Carisbrooke and cleared by friends like Firebrace after the king's arrest in Newport in November 1648. They would have made welcome black propaganda for Parliament, more explosive than the letters between king and queen captured after Naseby. Someone also risked treasuring them in the dangerous Republican years up to 1660. Their re-deciphering in 2006 was still able to spark prurient press interest in the martyr-king's private life.

Tantalisingly, the ninety-five per cent of letters now lost between the king and Jane included an intriguing 'careful postscript' from Charles, and a 'wise long discourse' and a 'long memorial' from Jane. The surviving notes themselves (quality cartridge paper endures) are often minute, 4cm by 15cm folded into sixteen, small enough to be concealed in a shoe, the finger of a glove, or in the crack in a wainscot panel. Others to other couriers were hidden under the edge of a chamber carpet, or passed in the act of taking the king's hand to kiss. They are usually written in cipher, a common convention among letter writers to hide confidences. Jane's signet and stamp seals on the back of her letters range from simple crest to the marital impaling of Whorwood and Ryder. They may have been useful curios in a writing box, or decoration: Dorothy Osborne carried hers on a chatelaine belt; Queen Henrietta Maria hung her signet at her wrist.

Three of Jane's autograph signatures survive, in the 1647 papers of the Committee for the Advance of Money at Haberdashers Hall, and in Chancery papers from her judicial separation. She signed enciphered notes variously as 'N', '390', '409' and '715', and unciphered or part-ciphered notes as 'JW' or with the nom de plume 'Hellen'.

She was literate and fluent, 'well-languaged', and certainly well-connected. The Scottish Hamiltons were addressed by Charles I as 'cousins', the Cecils had been the English kingmakers, although Jane's brother-in-law was strictly a Parliamentarian. Her stepfather was Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod to the Lords, the king's herald in Parliament and house-jailer to grandees arrested by Parliament. As Usher also to the Order of the Garter, he organised the dazzling liturgy of chivalry around the king. His titles formalised his real use to the Crown as fixer and financier. Sir Robert Maxwell, Jane's uncle, was Serjeant-at-Arms to the Commons; her stepfather's cousin, John Maxwell, was Bishop of Ross, Laud's religious provocateur in Scotland. Two of her in-laws, Bowyer and Cecil, were Long Parliament members, as was her cousin, Sir Christopher Lewknor.

Jane's web of cousins, in-laws and contacts was wide and can be traced through wills, court cases, church registers, state papers and Heralds' visitations. Titles honorific to modern ears were power and influence in 1640, the Garter Star being the ultimate elevation. Garter ceremonial enhanced the surviving quasi-sacrament of coronation, whereby God 'ordained' the monarch; Order members, like Jane's brother-in-law Hamilton, had to wear the embroidered Star at all times, proclaiming the king's (and God's) favour and virtual presence. Jane's stepfather derived further public authority from his service to the Order. Family ties between ruling gentry often help make sense of an action or a relationship, as the aristocracy and gentry of the seventeenth century numbered about 100,000 atop a population pyramid of perhaps five million. Family was important beyond today's understanding of its claims. 'Kinship' and 'kinsman' included distant cousins and even people of the same name; 'family' included gentlefolk attendants, servants and tenants. Ann Manwood, Captain Maxwell and Jane Sharpe, all deployed by the Countess of Dirleton to monitor Jane's imploding marriage at Holton, were 'family'. If Mrs Cromwell and Lady Whorwood really did sit down after the Naseby wedding at Holton with the genealogy charts, which we know were in the house, they would have found extensive family in common.


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Table of Contents


Title Page,
List of Illustrations,
Preface and Acknowledgements,
1. 1612–84: Finding Jane Whorwood,
2. 1612–19: Jeane Ryder, 'Bairn' in a 'Scottified' Court,
3. 1619–34: James Maxwell, Black Rod and Stepfather,
4. 1634–42: Four Weddings: Whorwoods, Hamiltons, Cecils and Bowyers,
5. 1642–46: 'Madam Jean Whorewood', Gold-Smuggler Royal,
6. 1646: The Cromwell Naseby Wedding at Holton House,
Newcastle to the Isle of Wight,
7. 1647: 'Mistress Whorwood, Committee Chairwoman?',
8. November 1647 – June 1648: '715' and a Frightened King,
9. June – November 1648: 'Sweet 390 ... Your Most Loving 391',
10. November 1648 – June 1651: The End of Service,
Oxford and London,
11. 1651–59: Divorce from Bed and Board,
12. 1660–84 'Poor Mistress Whorwood',
Plate Section,

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The King's Smuggler: Jane Whorwood, Secret Agent to Charles I 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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