Founder's Day is the highlight of the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s calendar, an event attended by all Chelsea Pensioners, which celebrates the founding of the Royal Hospital by King Charles II.

The event has taken place almost every year since the Royal Hospital opened in 1692. Below, we celebrate the history of this very British ceremony.

Please note that general attendance is not possible and is strictly by invitaition only.

Founders Day at Royal Hospital Chelsea

The Royal Hospital Chelsea’s Founder's Day, also known as Oak Apple Day, is always held on a date close to 29th May – the birthday of Charles II and the date of his restoration as King in 1660. The Oak reference commemorates the escape of the future King Charles II after the Battle of Worcester (1651) when he hid in an oak tree to avoid capture by the Parliamentary forces, and is expressed through all Chelsea Pensioners wearing oak leaves on their famous scarlet uniforms (pictured below).  

The gold statue of Charles II that stands in the centre of figure court is also adorned in oak leaves for the occasion. Over the years the statue oak leaf dressing has varied from a large wreath at the base to a wreath worn on the head, and from total covering where the statue is not even visible to a discreet skirt of oak branches around the base.

A member of the Royal Family attends the ceremony each year. Her Majesty the Queen has reviewed the parade four times.

Every year the official visitors book gets prepared with the Royal Coat of Arms ready for the member of the Royal Family to sign.

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Grinling Gibbons statue of Charles II
The story behind the statue

On 3 August 2021 it will be 300 years since Grinling Gibbons’ death. Gibbons is celebrated as arguably the greatest decorative wood carver in British history. However, at the Royal Hospital we know him as the artist responsible for the striking gilded statue of our founder that stands in Figure Court – named in its honour. 

HRH Duke of Gloucester meeting Pensioner Tony Judge
Hope and happiness as Chelsea Pensioners celebrate the return of Founder’s Day

Founder’s Day is the highlight of the Royal Hospital’s calendar. Ever since 1692, it has been held on or close to 29 May – the birth of King Charles II and the date of his restoration to the throne. 

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