Royal Oak Day
On 29 May 1660, after almost 10 years of republican rule in England, Charles II was restored to the throne as King of England, Scotland and Ireland. To mark this occasion, parliament declared that the day, which was also Charles’ birthday, be set aside as an annual public holiday. The significance of the oak was that Charles was said to have sought refuge in an oak tree after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Traditional celebrations to commemorate the day entailed the wearing of oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves.
Restoring the liveliness of society
For many, the restoration of the monarchy was a relief, not least because of the austerity of Puritan rule during the Interregnum years, when a host of activities, from ale-houses, theatres and dancing to Christmas and Easter celebrations, were restricted or banned on the grounds of being immoral. The return of the monarchy in 1660 was seen as the return of life to normality, and it is not hard to see why Charles II quickly gained popularity amongst his subjects by lifting Puritan restrictions on entertainment.
The owner of this folding fan clearly took that view of the Restoration and its impact as it reflects both support for the monarchy and a renewed optimism for society. The fan was probably purchased by a royalist merchant or civil servant as a present for his wife to carry at events such as assemblies or at gatherings in the home. When opened, the fan would reveal its decoration and provide the holder with the opportunity to display her taste and refinement and her political and social affiliations. This fan, made in England around 1660, carries a leaf made of paper and adorned with a woodcut print of oak leaves, acorns, orbs, sceptres and crowns. Scrolls bearing the inscription ‘The Hapy Restoration’ weave in and out of the main design.
Its message of support for the monarchy could not be clearer: the crowns and orbs clearly reflect the political allegiance of the fan’s owner; the acorns and oak leaves serve as both a direct reference to Charles II’s escape and time in exile as well as being symbols of the strength and endurance of Britain; the inscription indicates the owner’s sentiment about the future.
Not merry for everyone
However, not everyone was charmed by the so-called Merry Monarch. Many of his subjects deplored his licentiousness. Although Charles was relatively tolerant in religious matters, many still feared his support for Catholicism and throughout his reign there was much hostility between himself and parliament, which continued to pursue anti-Catholic policies.
Religious and political tensions also remained in Scotland and Ireland. In Scotland, despite receiving initial support from the Covenanters after the restoration, Charles reinstated an episcopal form of government on the church. The laws against dissent in Scotland were severe, involving clerical deprivation and fines, even death for those who held Presbyterian meetings in open fields. Some historians suggest that the degree of severity was so great perhaps because Charles could not forget that it had been the Presbyterians who had initially provoked the crisis that led to the civil wars.
In Ireland, where three quarters of the population were Catholics, tension centred instead on land settlement. Many Irish Catholics, who had been dispossessed by the parliamentary and republican regimes of the earlier decades, were now angry with Charles when it emerged that they would not have their estates restored due to a lack of available land.
In matters of foreign policy, Charles alienated his subjects when, upon suffering a heavy defeat by the Dutch during the second Anglo-Dutch war of 1665 – 1667, he pursued an alliance with France, a Catholic superpower.
Comprehensive overview of Charles II
BBC History: an article on Charles II
Restoring Charles II to the throne
Article on the process of restoring Charles II to the throne.
Charles II as the Merry Monarch
Critical discussion of Charles II as the Merry Monarch.
A history of fans
A history of fans from the Fan Museum.
Charles’ escape from the battle of Worcester
Article on Charles’ escape from the battle of Worcester.
Information on Royal Oak Day