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Stories of the Stuarts: Oak Apple Day

Oak Apple Day was a formal public holiday celebrated in England on the 29th May in recognition of the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 following ‘The Commonwealth’ of England and rule of Oliver Cromwell from 1649. It is so named ‘Oak Apple Day’ because of King Charles II’s escape from the Roundheads following the Battle of Worcester in 1651, in which he hid in an oak tree in the grounds of Boscobel Hall in Staffordshire.

Oak Apple Day celebrations in Castleton in 2011.

Oak Apple Day celebrations in Castleton in 2011.

King Charles II was crowned on 29th May 1660, which in turn was his birthday, and for centuries to come this day was celebrated as Oak Apple Day. The wearing of a sprig of oak on the anniversary of Charles’s crowning showed loyalty to the newly restored King while those who chose not to wear the sprig of oak were often set upon. Children challenged each other to show their sprig or have their bottoms pinched, consequently the 29th May became humorously known as ‘Pinch-Bum-Day’.

Celebrations of Oak Apple Day continue to this day where it is common for Royalist family’s to decorate their houses with oak branches or wear a sprig of oak like their ancestors once did. In Northampton a garland of oak-apples is laid at the statue of King Charles II whilst in Salisbury at first light, a procession takes place accompanied by the sound of horns.

The Royal Hospital Chelsea, founded by Charles II on 29th May, also holds special celebrations on this day each year where it is a must to consume copious amounts of beer and plum pudding.

Some of the biggest celebrations on Oak Apple Day come in Castleton, where the Garland King rides through the streets of the Derbyshire town at the head of a procession. His head and the upper part of his body are covered by a wooden garland of flowers and greenery. On top of the garland is the ‘queen’, a small posy of flowers that is eventually placed on the town’s war memorial at the end of the procession.

The Oak Tree, as well as having a public holiday named after it, is also a symbol of England with the image of the Royal Oak having been pictured on various stamps and coins as well as numerous naval ships, trains and even a London Underground station taking the name ‘The Royal Oak’.

One wonders if Charles II knew whilst hiding in that ‘Boscobel Oak’ that centuries later the day would continue to be commemorated in true British fashion!

Photo Credit: Somewhere in the world today