The English have had some unique holidays. One in particular celebrates a day when someone tried to blow up Parliament (Guy Fawkes Day). Another, Royal Oak Day, or Oak Apple Day celebrates the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. There is a reason it is called Royal Oak Day, though it is not particularly heroic.
King Charles II and his army was defeated for the final time in the English Civil War at the Battle of Worcester in September 1651. Oliver Cromwell leading Parliament’s New Model Army finally drove the king and his allies out of England. It was a monumental day as Parliament and the people had triumphed in overthrowing their hated Catholic-convert of a king. Charles fled from the battlefield looking for sanctuary. He first found refuge at the White Ladies Priory and then disguised as a woodsman moved to the Boscobel House in Shropshire.
While hiding there he met William Careless, an officer in his army and one of the last soldiers to escape from the battlefield. Careless told Charles that the home was not safe and recommended that they both hide in a large oak tree on the property. While in the tree they observed Cromwell’s patrols that were searching (unsuccessfully) for the king. They spent the night in the tree and then Charles moved on the next day disguised as a servant. He avoided capture several times and was able to escape to Normandy about six weeks later.
The English found that living under the monarchy really wasn’t really so bad, in fact by the time Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell died in 1658 they preferred it. It seems Parliament and the Cromwell family wasn’t much better. Charles was eventually restored as the English king and ruled until his death in 1685 and the monarchy remains in place to this day.
The Boscobel Oak or the Royal Oak became a tourist destination. It was so popular that tourists began cutting off parts of the tree as souvenirs in the 17th and 18th century thereby killing the tree. A descendant of the Royal Oak, called the Son of Royal Oak was planted in its place and is between 200 and 300 years old and the tree is accessible to the public at the Boscobel House. A fence was placed around the tree in 2011 to prevent souvenir hunting and to protect the public as the tree has been severely damaged from several wind storms and was beginning to develop cracks. Saplings grown from the Son of Royal Oak’s acorns are available at the Boscobel House for sale.
On May 29 the English observe Royal Oak Day to celebrate the restoration of the monarchy and it was a national holiday until 1859 though some places do still celebrate the day. People wear oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves and when it was a national holiday those who did not wear oak were liable to be pelted with birds eggs or pinched. Today some statues of Charles are wreathed on this day, toasts are given at Oxford and Cambridge and a reenactment of Charles hiding in the Royal Oak is performed.
Several towns in both England and the United States have been named Royal Oak. The Royal Navy had an entire class of 74-gun ships of the line called the Royal Oak class and eight ships have been named in its honor. One of them also had the dubious distinction of being the first Royal Navy battleship lost during World War II. On a more positive note Royal Oak is the third most popular name for a pub in the United Kingdom behind Crown and Red Lion. Cheers to that!