It’s no j-oak!

AN interesting paragraph in Margaret Porter s book The Folklore of East Anglia refers to May 29 as Oak Apple Day. She describes it as the day when few East Anglian children dared go to school unless they were wearing oak leaves, for fear of being pinche

AN interesting paragraph in Margaret Porter's book The Folklore of East Anglia refers to May 29 as Oak Apple Day.

She describes it as the day when "few East Anglian children dared go to school unless they were wearing oak leaves, for fear of being pinched or stung with nettles or being called Roundheads".

I was fascinated as to why Oak Apple and why Roundhead? My hunch was a connection with the English Civil War but, with no further explanation, my Google search was soon whirring.

My guess about the period in question was spot on - well, Roundhead is a bit of a giveaway. The reason it became known as Oak Apple Day is that after the Royalist defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, The future Charles II fled and sought shelter at Whiteladies Priory at Boscobel House.

Here, the King was sheltered and dressed as a woodman by the owner, Charles Gifford and his family, the Pendrills. Charles was thwarted in his first attempt to escape to Wales and, while suspicious Commonwealth troops searched the house, the King and Colonel Carlos (who had also escaped from Worcester) hid in a Royal Oak in Boscobel Wood. Charles and his followers subsequently escaped to France. Nine years later, after the death of Cromwell, the Commonwealth collapsed and Charles returned to be declared King. Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on June 1, 1660, that Parliament had ordered May 29, the King's birthday "to be kept as a day of redemption from tyranny and the King's return to his Government, he entering London that day".

Charles II was restored to the throne on May 29, 1660 and from that day until the mid-19th century the return of the monarchy to the British throne was celebrated every year on May 29. The wearing of a sprig of oak on the anniversary of Charles' crowning was a public display that you were loyal to the King. Obviously, to be called a Roundhead for not wearing an oak leaf would have been an expression of derision. This was the nickname for the Parliamentarians, coined during the English Civil War, because of the shape of the helmets they wore. Equally unpleasant was a pinch, usually on the bottom, again if you failed to wear your oak badge. This was usually the practice amongst children and so it was also called "pinch bum day" in some places. Although the name of Oak Apple Day has a direct link with Charles and the Royal Oak in Boscobel Wood, there is also a pagan association with the oak, being the most revered of all the trees for druids, The Tree of Life.

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On his return to Britain, Charles II promised a general amnesty to those who had opposed him, but for those who had supported him there were gifts of appreciation. As a reward for their part in his escape to France, he granted the Pendrills and Colonel Carlos the honour to amend their coats of arms to depict an oak tree and three royal crowns.

May 29 is also a special day for the Chelsea Pensioners, their Founders Day, in honour of Charles II, who founded the Royal Hospital Chelsea in 1662. On May 29 each year, the pensioners honour the birthday of Charles II and the date of his restoration as King with a traditional glass of beer and slice of plum pudding.

Hope you enjoyed your Oak Apple Day and as we have now forgotten the repercussions of what might befall us for not wearing an oak sprig, I trust you are all sitting comfortably!

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