Today, May 29th marks the birth of our regiment's founder, King Charles II, born on 29th May 1630, as well as the date of a former celebration commemorating his return to England on May 29th 1660, his 30th birthday, after 10 years of exile in France and the Netherlands following the defeat and execution of his father, Charles I at the end of the English Civil War.
Invited to return to England upon the death of Oliver Cromwell and the political crisis that followed the collapse of his protectorate in the wake of Cromwell's son Richard, being incapable of following his father's work, Charles, while eager to return and retake the throne, was less than trusting of the Parliament that had sent his father to the headsman's block. Upon his return to England, he brought with him 500 English gentry, all veterans of the Royalist cause, all of whom had paid for the privilege of protecting him, inspired by the bodyguards of other European monarchs that he had seen during his time in exile. In answer to this, the regiments that would become the Blues and Royals were established from soldiers of the disbanded New Model Army (the force that had fought for the Parliamentarian cause during the English Civil War), both sides recognizing the necessity of protecting the King's life, but neither wishing to leave the matter in the hands of soldiers they'd spent a decade battling against.
Charles II's reign was largely viewed fondly; he was a popular and beloved king, mainly because his reign was seen as a more lively and exuberant time for England after a decade of rule by Oliver Cromwell's Puritans, as well as a return to normality for England after the turmoil and chaos of the English Civil War and the upheaval that followed. Charles was willing to pardon many of those who fought against his father during the Civil War, though he refused to extend that mercy to the men who had signed the death warrant of Charles I; nine were executed (the bodies of Oliver Cromwell, John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton were exhumed and posthumously beheaded), while numerous others were imprisoned for life. He was also generous and openhanded in rewarding old allies who returned to England with him in 1660, though like his father, he did endure conflicts with Parliament over certain matters towards the end of his life.
This date was, until 1859, traditionally celebrated as Oak Apple Day or simply Royal Oak Day, to commemorate the restoration of the English monarchy in May 1660. Parliament declared it a national holiday "to be for ever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King's return to his Government, he entering London that day".
Traditionally, celebrations to commemorate the event often entailed the wearing of oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves, in reference to the occasion after the Battle of Worcester during the English Civil War in September 1651, when the then Prince Charles escaped Roundhead soldiers hunting hum by hiding in the branches of an oak tree near Boscobel House, Shropshire. Anyone who failed to wear a sprig of oak risked being pelted with bird's eggs or thrashed with nettles.
Although the holiday was formally abolished by the Anniversary Days Observance Accordance of 1859, it is still acknowledged in certain parts of the country, and the date is still afforded some significance in local or institutional customs. It is, for instance, kept as Founder's Day at the Royal Chelsea Hospital, which was founded by Charles II in 1681.
Image copyright: National Gallery
View All Events
Open to the public 7 days a week, there’s always something to see at the museum.