09 Oct 2020
Lying on its side within the historic Greenwich Park is Queen Elizabeth's Oak. Myths and legends surround the tree as thoroughly as the foliage which now covers it. We can only imagine what it has seen in its long past...
Greenwich and the Tudors
Queen Elizabeth I was born in Greenwich Palace in 1533. Lying conveniently on the Thames, Greenwich was popular with the Tudors, and King Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, was also born at the site. Different buildings have been constructed, added to, rebuilt and destroyed throughout Greenwich’s history. These include the Tudor Greenwich Palace, the Palace of Placentia, and Inigo Jones's Queen’s House which still stands to this day.
The tree has been here throughout this time – or at least since the 12th century which is when experts believe it was originally planted.
Why is the tree named after Elizabeth I?
Legend has it that Elizabeth picnicked near the tree. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife and Elizabeth’s mother, were also supposed to have danced around this tree during their courting days. This carefree scene can’t have lasted long - Henry had Anne arrested for high treason and beheaded three years after their marriage.
The tree in Greenwich isn't the only oak that Elizabeth has been associated with. Another myth tells the story of when Elizabeth was declared queen in 1558, she was supposedly sitting under an oak tree on the grounds of Hatfield House. A deeply symbolic tree and indigenous to this island, the oak scene was meant to show that Elizabeth had a deep-rooted right to the English crown.
Queen Elizabeth's Oak in Greenwich has been dead for over 100 years and its hollow trunk was big enough to make a small room that may have been used to lock up people who misbehaved in the park. After dying in the 19th century, the old oak was propped up by ivy until it fell over in 1991. Nowadays, you can see it lying on its side and locked up itself to give it the status it deserves and prevent the wear and tear of people climbing on it.
Ultimately, we can't be sure of the truth of the stories around this tree. But it is a remarkable, ancient husk of bark nevertheless.
Inside the tree's enclosure is a sign which reads:
This ancient tree known as Queen Elizabeth’s Oak is thought to have been planted in the 12th Century and it has been hollow for many hundreds of years.
It has traditions linking it with Queen Elizabeth I, King Henry VIII and his Queen Anne Boleyn, it may also have been a lock-up for offenders against park rules.
It died in the late 19th Century and a strong growth of ivy supported it until it collapsed in June 1991.
The English Oak alongside was planted by His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh KG, KT Baron Greenwich on 3rd December 1992
The tree was donated by Greenwich Historical Society to mark 40 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.