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Jane Whorwood: The King’s Smuggler

By John Fox | Published in
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John Fox tells the remarkable story of a dynamic Scottish woman who repeatedly risked her life in order to assist and protect Charles I.
‘My travels, accidents, dangers, more become a Romance than a letter’, wrote the royalist agent Jane Whorwood in 1648. Whorwood was a tough, genteel maverick. She was described by contemporaries as ‘red haired’ and as ‘a tall, well fashioned and well languaged gentlewoman with a round visage and pockholes in her face’. No portrait of her is known, although her stepfather, half-sister and brother-in-law all sat for court painters. Evidence of Jane’s service to Charles I (1600-49) in the Civil War is almost as scant as that for her physical appearance, partly because her role as an agent was secretive and partly because others outscrambled her at the Restoration, ‘all at daggers drawn’ as Pepys wryly observed, to reinvent themselves and their past service to the crown. Yet Jane Whorwood was much more than the ‘mistress of a martyr King’, the bit player suggested by our lack of information. The king’s final testimonial in October 1648 was clear: ‘I cannot be more confident of any.’

The recent reattribution to Jane of substantial known letters to her brother-in-law William Hamilton, Earl of Lanark, and a review of existing evidence by the author reveals the crucial part she played in supporting Charles I. She smuggled gold to the king at Oxford and established networks between Charles and royalists in the shires and in the two capitals, London and Edinburgh; she also organised several royal escape attempts. Between April and December 1648, holed up on the Isle ofWight, the king noted 33 letters he had written to Jane and 18 from her to him. Of these, the only ones to survive are two of his to her and one of hers to him through a third party.


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