Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Great Escape of 1651

Most of us do not expect to find ourselves unexpectedly playing a role of national importance but that is the situation that Nicholas Tettersell found himself in.

Tettersell lived in the small fishing village of Brigthelmstone in Sussex and was the captain of the coal brig 'Surprise'. In 1651 he was asked to help two men who were escaping the country after a duel, after agreeing a fee Tettersell arranged to take the two men to Fecamp in France. However when the men arrived Tettersell recognised one of them as Charles II, recently defeated at the battle of Worcester and with a price on his head much higher than the fee he had agreed. But Tettersell didn't hand the king to the authorities, although he did negotiate a higher price for the trip before he took the king to France safely.

After the Civil War and Commonwealth period Charles returned to England to be welcomed as king. Feeling he had played a significant role in the kings survival Tettersell took his ship which he renamed the 'Royal Escape' and sailed down the Thames to remind Charles that he had had a part in making sure Charles had lived long enough to be restored to the throne. Charles acknowledged his role, he made the Royal Escape part of the Navy as well as giving Tettersell a £100 a year pension and all the kudos he thought he was worth.

Tettersell returned to Brighton where he is also remembered for his role as High Constable (he enjoyed persecuting non conformists especially the Quakers) and for his purchase of the Old Ship Hotel which boasts it "was closely linked with the escape of Charles II in 1651".

Tettersell died in 1674 and is buried in a tomb in the graveyard at St Nicholas in Brighton along with his wife Susanna (nee Cooke, married 1638), his son and his grandson - both also named Nicholas Tettersell.

The Tettersell tomb at St Nicholas, Brighton (to the left of the red door)
His role in saving the monarchy has not been forgotten;  Brighton and Hove buses have had a bus named Nicholas Tettersell since 1999 and there is an annual yacht race between Brighton and Fecamp known as the Royal Escape.  And just in case anyone forgets what Nicholas Tettersell did...all they need to do is read the inscription on his tomb:
When Charles ye Greate was nothing but a breath
This valiant soule stept betweene him & death.
Usurpers threats nor tyrant rebells frowne
Could not afright his duty to the Crowne;
Which glorious act of his Church state,
Eight princes in one day did Gratulate
Professing all to him in debt to bee
As all the world are to his memory
Since Earth Could not Reward his worth have given,
Hee now receives it from the King of heaven