The Roundheads under Cromwell and the Cavaliers under Charles I, have fought a bloody Civil War: the defeated King has escaped south towards the New Forest.
The Parliamentry troops believe he will hide in the home of Colonel Beverly, a famous Cavalier - they surround the house believeing they will smoke him out. No King is found and they are told that they have killed the four children who were in the house - but they escape with the old forester, Jacob Armitage, who must now teach them to lose their lace, and velvet manners and behave and look like Puritans. He must also teach them how to hunt, farm and survive in the magnifiecent New Forest, first laid out by William the Conquerer. Edward, the oldest, Humphrey and their sisters, Alice and Edith will find a new life, and for Edward, new love with the Superintendents' daughter, Patience Heatherstone. Captain Marryat tells this story with loving attention to the details of living in the forest and to History where the balance between King and Parliament has changed forever.