When “for ever” Is Sometimes Shorter

When, in the late 1600s, the government of England proclaimed the 29th day of May should henceforth, “be kept forever as a day of thanksgiving for redemption …” it was voicing bizarre evil.

The English Civil War (1642-1649) was fought between the royalist forces loyal to King Charles I and the parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell. The Royalist were defeated at the Battle of Naseby in 1645 and Cromwell declared Britain a republic and went on to become it’s Lord Protector. Following his death in 1658 the monarchy was restored and Charles II became king on May 29, 1660.

We can be thankful that, although it remained unchanged for 200 years, it doesn’t seem to have been more than a brief tear drop in the great clock of time. I am not referring to today’s traditional month of May holiday celebrated these days on the “Monday preceding May 25” and so ordered by Queen Victoria.

My lament is much more dramatic with a dazzle of handsome cavaliers, superbly mounted, riding through the night to protect a bonny Prince Charles from Oliver Cromwell’s hard-faced “Roundheads.”

Early morning – 3 a.m., the record keepers say – Prince Charles with a party of 60 loyalists is on the run, survivors of the Battle of Worcester hoping to find a night’s rest with sympathizers. Instead, they are advised Cromwell’s troopers are already searching for them locally.

The Prince and two officers are advised to select one of the large nearby oak trees in which they could hide throughout the dawning day before continuing what was now a dash for the coast and the safety of a ship to Europe. It was some 30 years before Charles – then King Charles II – could tell his story to the great diarist Samuel Pepys.

A local supporter led them to “a great oak in a plain place where we could see all around us. It had been lopped some three or four years before and was grown out very bushy and thick and could not be seen through. And there we sat all day …”

The only facts history can guarantee for that night of high adventure are that Charles was on the run in that specific area; that he did avoid capture; and that he found sanctuary in Europe. And, there are claims that acorns from oak trees in the geographic area of the incident provide positive genetic links.

One day, an enterprising tree specialist may track down such a link and plant a clinically proven seedling out Elk-Beaver Lake way – a bona fide descendant of King Charles II confirming the early settlers’ approval to the name given to the chosen district of Saanich on today’s map. It was known as “the lake district’ when they moved in, changed to Royal Oak by common usage as they settled in.

But, then again, there’s a “but” for everything and quite a few to attach to the Glamourous Charles II, who came back to England from exile in 1660 to finally claim the crown he was denied when he hid in the oak tree.

His nemesis Oliver Cromwell had died during Charles’ exile in 1658 and was honoured by a state funeral at Westminster Abbey equal in magnificence to any bestowed on any Monarch before him. His son Richard replaced him, but an army revolt quickly ended his leadership career, and Charles II was back home, king at last.

The new king moved fast on a fearsome journey of revenge. One of Parliament’s first decisions under Charles II was a response to royal demands that Cromwell, dead and buried in Westminster Abbey two years earlier, be disinterred and brought to trial for the murder of King Charles I.

Two of Cromwell’s advisors, John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton, followed the same Parliamentary fates. All three were found guilty. Their corpses beheaded and placed on 6.1 metres (20-feet) poles at the entrance to Westminster Hall, where the trial had been held.

And what has all or any of the proceeding to do with the opening paragraph of this piece that May 29 “be forever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny …”

It is interesting to wonder what Queen Victoria was thinking in 1859 when she authorized “the full and formal abolition” of the Bill to Celebrate the Birth of Charles II and basically replaced it with the holiday and birthday party for whoever sat on the English throne.


  1. I was taught about Cromwell and the Civil War in school but my teachers skipped the part of his being disinterred and tried. So this was news to me.

    A few years ago I read about Pope Formosus (c. 816 – 896) who was exhumed and put on trial in what is known as the Cadaver Synod. This may have given Cromwell’s prosecutors the idea.

    And more recently a Russian court tried and convicted Sergei Magnitsky for tax fraud four years after his death. Of course Magnitsky was innocent. This may be why he was spared the indignity of being present at the proceedings.

  2. Thank you very much. Interesting.

    Just for a little humour. 8th paragraph “high adventure” . . . . in the oak tree.

    Cheers, Doug


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