The newly proclaimed Charles II had mustered an army to try and take back his dead father’s throne. It marched south from Scotland in an attempt to raise troops amongst the formerly loyal counties along the Welsh border but when it paused at Worcester, Cromwell attacked and the 16,000 raw Scots were overwhelmed by the 28,000-strong New Model Army. It was exactly a year since Cromwell and his forces had defeated another Scottish army raised for the new king at Dunbar.
If you have a Royal Oak pub near you then it’s a direct reference to this moment – after the battle, Charles fled the battlefield and hid in an oak tree near Boscobel House to escape Parliamentarian patrols. From there he fled to the Continent and had to wait until the death of Oliver Cromwell and the collapse of the English Commonwealth republic in 1660.
In memory of the Charles’ ‘deliverance’ by the oak, the anniversary of the Restoration on 29th May 1660 is known as Oak Apple Day. It was both his birthday and the date he rode back into London and, in 1660, it was made a public holiday. This was abolished in 1859, but many still celebrate it as an important a date as Guy Fawkes Night.
It became a very popular name for pubs in the years afterwards and many pub signs around the country mark the event, including The Royal Oak in Oxford, which was Charles I’s capital during the English Civil War
The tree Charles II actually hid in has long since gone, apparently killed by tourists cutting off branches and chunks as souvenirs during the 17th and 18th Centuries. But its descendants remain. If you’d like to visit the Royal Oak’s offspring they’re at the lovely Boscobel House, run by English Heritage.
The National Portrait Gallery also has a great resources for kids, telling the story of Charles’ escape after Worcester using Issac Fuller’s paintings from the 1660s!