Oak Apple Day
On the 29th May the UK will be enjoying a bank holiday which was introduced as a secular replacement for celebrating Whitsun in the 1970s. Formerly there was another celebration which used to exist on this day called Oak Apple Day or Royal Oak Day; a formal public holiday which was observed on 29th May to commemorate the restoration of the English monarchy.
The English civil war fought from 1642 to 1651, between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists, divided the country. It resulted in the trial and execution of Charles I, the exile of his son Charles II and a new period of rule; firstly under the Commonwealth of England and later under the Protectorate led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell died in 1658 and was buried in Westminster Abbey’s Henry VII Lady Chapel without any ceremony (in line with his religious principles). He was succeeded by his son who resigned the following year due to a lack of support; this led to the restoration of the monarchy with Charles I’s son Charles II coming out of exile. With the restoration of the monarchy Oliver Cromwell’s body was removed from Westminster Abbey and was posthumously hung and decapitated. It is not known for certain where the final resting place of his body is following this but there is a plaque within the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey which states that it was the burial place of Oliver Cromwell from 1658-1661.
In 1660 following the Restoration, Parliament declared that the 29th May (Charles II’s birthday) would be a public holiday to mark this occasion. It was known as Oak Apple Day as the oak tree was seen as the tree of kings, partly due to the fact that a young Charles II evaded capture by the Parliamentarians by hiding in an oak tree during the Battle of Worcester. As such oak leaves or an oak apple were worn by Royalist sympathisers to show support for the king. Traditionally those that were not wearing sprigs of oak on Oak Apple Day would be punished by a thrashing with nettles. The day was celebrated throughout the country with many villages having their own traditions; however it was common to see things such as Maypole dancing and Morris dancing. The formal observance of the day was abolished by the Victorians through the Anniversary Days Observance Act of 1859, although Oak Apple Day is still celebrated in some parts of the country to this day.
After his restoration Charles II went on to have his coronation at Westminster Abbey, however it took over a year to prepare for this as new regalia had to be made for the ceremony as the previous set had been melted down during the commonwealth. When he died in 1685 he was buried in the Abbey shortly after in the south aisle of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel. No monument was erected for him but there was a life size wax effigy made which stood by his grave for over a century. This figure still survives and will be displayed in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries when they open next year.