This ancient tree would have been a large, impressive specimen in the 16th Century. It is now called the Queen Elizabeth Oak because it is said that she lost some jewellery beneath it during a stay at Chenies Manor House.
But is this fact or fiction?
Research by volunteers Russell and Chris at the Bedford and Luton Archives and Records Service at Woburn Abbey, confirmed that Queen Elizabeth did visit Chenies with her entourage on several occasions.
Aaccording to an entry in a wardrobe book, she did lose jewellery, tiny gold fastenings called ‘aglets’, whilst there in 1570:
“Item – lost from the face of a gown, in our wearing the same at Cheynes, July anno 12 (1570), one pair of small aglets, enamelled blue, parcel of 183 pair.”
This is quoted in Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, Vol V1, pp 279-280. He goes on to say:
“The aglets were the ornamental loops of goldsmiths’ work with which all Elizabeth’s robes, according to the portraits, were very thickly besprinkled. In this case there were no less than a hundred and eighty three pairs. The aglets were movable and were changed from one dress to another.”
Given the size and considerable number of aglets on an elaborate costume it is likely that any loss would be discovered too late to establish exactly where it occurred.
In her book Family Background (1949), Gladys Scott Thomson may have fuelled the legend that the loss occurred whilst the queen was sitting under the ancient oak. She writes:
“One thing ... upon which the Queen must have looked has survived to the present day. It is a magnificent but very old oak tree. That it must have been a flourishing growth in 1570 disposes of the other tradition … that it was planted by Elizabeth in commemoration of the visit.”
She goes straight on to mention the loss of the aglets. It is therefore possible that readers may have inferred that the loss occurred in the vicinity of the tree.
There was a reference in the woods accounts, part of the household accounts, written by a steward of the estate in the 1830s which explains the policy towards the woods:
“The practice previous to 1831 was to save all the best and finest trees, and only to fall the worst and most indifferent”. Perhaps this is one reason why the old oak continued to survive even when the policy became more commercial after 1831.
The tree has attracted much attention over the years. In 1906 the tree featured on a postcard and the correspondent refers to the 'old oak'.
In 1988, in the 'Chenies & Chorleywood In Camera' book, Clive Birch displays a photo with a version of the story beneath.
Henry Moule was a prolific 19th Century artist. He often painted the landscape around Dorchester, providing a unique record of the Victorian countryside. He was the first curator of the Dorset County Museum which now exhibits many Moule watercolours. Moule also painted in Buckinghamshire and Queen Elizabeth's Tree features in a picture entitled 'Place House at Chenies'.
More of Moule's work can be seen at the Buckinghamshire County Musuem in Aylesbury.
A replacement oak stands in the grounds of the manor not far from the ancient oak. It is already a fine example with a good form and promises to be an ancient tree of the future.
A fine specimen of a weeping ash is closer still to the Manor House. It is thought to have been planted in 1740 but this has yet to be confirmed.
With a girth of 2.70metres it is a notable tree. Do you know of another mature weeping ash? If so, let us know.
Chenies Manor is a private garden open to the public