Sculpture of King Charles Hiding in an Oak Tree

Earlier in February I was able to spend some time in the beautiful Cotswolds. Not for a holiday though! Rather, I was working in lovely Gretton where I created a sculpture of King Charles hiding in an oak tree.
No, not King Charles III!
Rather, a sculpture telling the story of the time King Charles II hid from his enemies during the civil war…

A photo of a sand coloured brick pub with a dead oak tree outside and a sign bearing the name 'The Royal Oak'. The dead tree is significant as it is the 'before' of a sculpture of king charles hiding in an oak tree made by simon o'rourke.
The Royal Oak in Gretton and the dead oak that I transformed into a sculpture of King Charles hiding in an oak tree

Background to the Tree

The Royal Oak is a lovely little pub in the village of Gretton. Outside the typical Cotwsold building stands the remains of a 200-year-old oak tree outside that sadly died. It’s obviously sad to see the demise of any great tree, and nobody wants to cut down something so majestic. However, in the case of The Royal Oak, the name wouldn’t make sense any more after the tree was gone! Their tree surgeon (Meadowside Tree Care) suggested they contact me though, as I might be able to give life back to the tree as a sculpture. I’m glad they did!

The Royal Oak pub in Gretton. Simon O'Rourke is using a cherry picker to carve a sculpture into the oak tree that stands outside in the centre of the photo. His van is to the right.

The Royal Oak??!!

I’m going to backtrack here though because I know some people may be wondering what all this ‘Royal Oak’ stuff is about! If you’ve never studied the Stuarts, the reference won’t make sense at all!

1642-1651 saw civil war in England. Basically, a series of battles over the governance of England between the Roundheads (Parliamentarians) and the Cavaliers (Royalists). It’s said that after King Charles was defeated at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, he fled and ended up at Boscobel House. The Peverell family hid him in their priest hole then disguised him as a woodsman so he could get away. Apparently, King Charles II then hid up an oak tree for a full day to hide from the Roundhead soldiers searching for him below!
Quick ‘aside’! While I was working on this sculpture, I found out I’m actually related to the Peverell family!

sculpture of king charles hiding in a tree

Back to the oak tree though! The 412 British pubs (yes, I googled it!) with the name ‘Royal Oak’ all refer to this story. That reference is why it was important for The Royal Oak to keep its tree if they could. It also led very naturally to the subject: a sculpture of King Charles hiding in an oak tree.

Simon O'Rourke using a Stihl chainsaw to create a sculpture of King Charles hiding in an oak tree
Using the Stihl MS 362 while making the sculpture of King Charles hiding in an oak tree.

Creating my Sculpture of King Charles Hiding in an Oak Tree

The entire sculpture took me about six days to complete. Admittedly, I did spend a good chunk time sharpening and re-sharpening my saws after hitting nails in the tree! As usual, I used bigger petrol saws for the bigger cuts, stripping the bark, and outlining the figure. I was then able to use smaller saws for getting in close and creating greater detail before adding a few refinements with tools like the Milwaukee M12 angled die grinder, and Saburrtooth burr bits on a rotary tool. I added plenty of texture to the trunk of the tree so that it tied in with the sculpture and looked like… well, a tree!!!

oak tree trunk with a sculpture carved into it of king charles II hiding from the roundheads

Thinkng About the Details…

When I started looking for reference photos, I found there are lots of variations on King Charles II features. Not surprising really, given cameras weren’t around during his lifetime! This was both good (freedom!) but challenging (how do I make sure people know it’s him?!). A few consistencies though were his nose, slightly sunken eyes, and, the big thing that gives away it’s King Charles II… his hair. Partly for this reason (but others too), I decided to carve him without his hat. I did stick to the other clothes that are documented as part of his ‘woodsman disguise: a coarse short, leather jerkin, breeches and ill fitting shoes.

That isn’t to say the hat isn’t in the sculpture though! I still wanted the sculpture to reflect ‘what‘ we knew about his clothing but took a bit of artistic license with the ‘how‘. Rather than being on Charles’ head, the hat has been stolen by this cheeky fellow!

oak tree with a squirrel carved into it. The squirrel is holding a stuart hat.

The last thing I added was the relief carving of the Roundhead soldier. It was actually a last-minute decision by the client. If you’ve commissioned a sculpture and want to make changes or additions, never be afraid to ask me about it!

roundhead soldier o'rourke

The Finished Piece

We love the scuplture and feel that it depicts the scene and story exactly.  We hope it gives pleasure to many visitors to the pub and it has given new life to the dead oak that has been in situ for a couple of hundred years.” – client

This sculpture started out as a way of overcoming the sad demise of a tree. However, it’s a great example of how a sculpture can enhance your business by helping to tell a story, share the history and create a point of interest. Apparently it’s already a popular photo spot with customers!

I’m going to leave you with a few more photos of the sculpture below. As always, if you would like to chat to me about restoring life to a dead or diseased tree by turning it into a sculpture contact me at