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The Oak That Saved a King – Exploring the Royal Oak’s Historic Roots

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Written By Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

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Home » Ancient & Remarkable Trees » The Oak That Saved a King – Exploring the Royal Oak’s Historic Roots

Nestled within the leafy embrace of Boscobel House’s estate, lies not just any English oak, but a living legend steeped in royal history – a descendant of the famed Royal Oak.

The original Royal Oak was no ordinary botanical specimen; but a key player in a thrilling chapter of England’s past, involving none other than the future King Charles II.

Portrait of King Charles II
Portrait of King Charles II

Our tale begins in the tumultuous days of 1651, amidst the ashes of the Battle of Worcester. With Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army hot on his heels, a defeated Charles II made a daring escape.

Guided by the loyal Penderel family and a series of ad hoc disguises, Charles’s flight from the battlefield is the stuff of spy novels.

However, the plot thickens when Charles, alongside Major William Careless, decided that the safest hideout was not a room or a cellar, but up in the boughs of an oak tree.

For an entire day, this arboreal refuge shielded the royal fugitive from the searching eyes of Parliamentarian soldiers—a scene so picturesque it later inspired pottery and pub signs across Britain.

A Thomas Toft signed charger, c. 1680, with decoration of Charles II in the oak tree
A Thomas Toft signed charger (pottery plate), c. 1680, with slip-trailed decoration of Charles II in the oak tree – Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This original Royal Oak, unfortunately, did not survive the souvenir hunters of the 17th and 18th centuries, who chipped away at its legacy quite literally.

Today, a descendant of that heroic tree, affectionately dubbed the ‘Son of Royal Oak,’ stands proudly near the original site.

Despite being a victim of both stormy weather and overzealous tourists, this lineage bearer is protected by a perimeter fence, ensuring that history does not repeat itself too destructively.

Son of the Royal Oak by Gordon-Griffiths
‘Son of Royal Oak’

The legacy of the Royal Oak is deeply rooted in British culture. It has given its name to pubs, warships, and numerous places across the nation.

Each year, the tree’s tale is celebrated on Royal Oak Day, highlighting its lasting significance in England’s historical landscape.

Nearby, three more oaks, each a descendant of the original, have been planted on significant anniversaries, tying past glories to present day.

Visitors can even take home a piece of this storied heritage, with saplings grown from the Son’s acorns available for purchase—though, hopefully, these will be spared the fate of their forebear.

Son of Royal Oak
Son of Royal Oak showing storm damage

Thus stands the Son of Royal Oak: part historical monument, part botanical celebrity, and a full-time symbol of resilience and refuge.

It’s a tree who’s progenitor not only witnessed history but bent the arc of it quite literally towards survival, making it perhaps the most famous piece of natural woodwork in British lore.

Digging Deeper

Location

The Son of Royal Oak is set in the serene surroundings of Boscobel House, part of a historically rich estate in Shropshire, England. This is also the site of the original Royal Oak.

Boscobel House Rob Farrow
Boscobel House

Type of Tree

This legendary tree is an English oak (Quercus robur), famed for its robust size and longevity.

Is The Royal Oak Still Alive?

The original Royal Oak no longer stands; it was destroyed in the 18th century by souvenir collectors, but its story lives on through its descendants. The Son of Royal Oak still stands and is estimated to be 200-300 years old.

Descendants

Several descendants of the original Royal Oak thrive nearby, including those planted to mark significant anniversaries and royal events.

Can You Visit It?

Yes, the public can visit the current Royal Oak, which is accessible via a path from the garden of Boscobel House, although it is on privately owned land.

Conservation

The present tree, a descendant of the original, is protected by a perimeter fence to prevent damage and ensure visitor safety, reflecting ongoing conservation efforts.

Legacy

The Royal Oak’s rich history has cemented its status as a cultural icon, influencing names of pubs, ships, and places across Britain, and continuing to inspire commemorative traditions.

Want More?

Intrigued by the Royal Oak?

Discover other unique trees that spark wonder across the globe.

Explore the ancient Jōmon Sugi on Yakushima Island, a majestic cedar that has stood for thousands of years.

Take a look at the ethereal landscape of Lake Kaindy to see its Ghostly Sunken Forest, where trees rise eerily from crystal-clear waters.

Marvel at the grandeur of the Sunland Baobab in South Africa, famous for its cavernous trunk that once hosted a pub.

Contemplate the Moon Trees, which sprouted from seeds that traveled around the moon aboard Apollo 14, exemplifying life’s tenacity.

And don’t miss the Tree of 40 Fruit, a living sculpture with branches from forty different fruit trees, crafted by an innovative artist.

Source: Wikipedia

Note: The first image shown in this article does not depict the original Royal Oak, which was destroyed in the 18th century. Instead, it features a mature English Oak, selected to illustrate the likely appearance of the Royal Oak in its prime.

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Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

Lakeisha grew up in East Africa, literally surrounded by nature which sparked her interest in learning more about trees and plants from a very young age. She belongs to a family of gardeners, so for her, gardening is a way of life, a tradition she’s proud to uphold. As a self-taught gardener, Lakeisha has successfully grafted trees to produce hybrids for gardens and landscapes. When she’s not gardening, she’s writing about her experience with nature or watching baking fails!