By Margaret Hall-Townley
Northamptonshire Gardens Trust - June, 1999
Continuing the series on "meetings with Remarkable Northamptonshire Trees"
There is very little left of the tree known as the Queen's Oak. The tree, situated in the fields behind Potterspury Lodge, was very badly burned during the draught haunted period of the early 1990's. One branch survived which produced fresh foliage for three years after the fire, finally dying during the blazing August of 1997.
The story of the Queen's Oak is an exceptional one. The tree is, according to folk lore, the tree under which King Edward IV met, in 1464, the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville and married her 18 days later on May 1st. Elizabeth, a commoner, became Queen and subsequently the mother of the ill-fated young Princes in the Tower, so savagely killed, according to Shakespeare, by 'wicked uncle' Richard III. The eldest daughter of this marriage, Elizabeth of York, became the wife of Henry VII, mother of Henry VIII and grandmother to Elizabeth I.
The Woodville family, whose manor at Grafton Regis was destroyed during the Civil War, suffered badly at the hands of their enemies. Elizabeth's father and brothers were murdered and, after Edward died, Elizabeth herself ended her days incarcerated in Bermondsey Nunnery. Both Edward and Elizabeth are buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor, the chapel built by Edward IV and favoured recently by his descendent, Prince Edward for his marriage to Sophie Rees-Jones.
In 1996 the Queen's Oak Society was formed to try to save the tree, to improve the ecology of the immediate area and, not least, to help keep the fantastic story alive through the Arts. Some of you may have attended one of the performances of the Queen's Oak Play written and produced by the Queen's Oak Society.
The Queen's Oak had not produced acorns for man years and there were no obviously related trees nearby. Acting on the advice of the Forestry Authority, cuttings were taken from the one live branch of the tree in 1997. These were distributed and planted in the advised manner, by several organisations and individuals, all to no avail; none of the cuttings took. The second attempt was made by a genetics firm, Advanced Technology Cambridge. Scientist Martin Maunders tried and is continuing to try trace another English Oak (Quercus Robur) related to the Queen's Oak in the hope that we will be able to grow a young tree from the acorns. The scientists have managed to extract the DNA pattern from the young leaves of the Queen's Oak, taken from one surviving branch, their success possibly due to her failing health, but have been unable so far to extract the DNA patterns from the younger trees.
The Queens Oak Society commissioned a tree survey from Southern Tree Surgeons, the company who look after The Great Oak in Sherwood Forrest. The Queen's Oak was estimated to be 340 years old. Since then a new photograph has come to light, taken in 1879. The accompanying information states that the tree then measured 22 feet 5 inches around the trunk at a height of 5 feet from the ground and it was possible to cram 18 people into the hollow trunk. Could it be that the Queen's Oak is the original 500 year old tree?
Hope continues; apart from the efforts of the Cambridge based scientists, we have gained documentary evidence that Mr Newton, of 'Windsor and Newton' fame, planted a grove of oaks grown from the Queen's Oak acorns, on his estate at Potterspury Lodge in the mid 1800's. We already have approximately 50 young trees growing which will be ready for planting out in November this year. It would however, add a final 21st century touch to the project if science could come up with some proof of lineage.
If you are interested in further information about the Queen's Oak Society or wish to make a donation towards their work, you can contact Margaret at 4 Church Lane, Alderton, Towcester, Northants, NN 12 7LP. Tel 01327 811307
September 10, 1999