Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On This Day in Elizabethan History: What Happened to the Original Queen Elizabeth I Oak Tree at Hatfield House?

The tree planted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1985 in the exact spot where the original oak tree was under which Queen Elizabeth I learned she was Queen of England in 1558 at Hatfield House. Picture by A.Jensen/BeingBess.

On November 17th, 1558, the fervently Catholic Queen Mary I died after a tumultuous and bloody reign. Her half-sister Elizabeth, though a Protestant, was named her successor, and learned of this news at her childhood home of Hatfield House. Elizabeth, who was fond of long walks and horse rides, was out under one of the large oak trees on the expansive Hatfield property when Mary's men from London came riding in to find her, and it was there that they notified her that she was now Queen of England. Under the oak tree, Elizabeth is recorded as saying, "this is the doing of the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

Unfortunately, this specific oak tree, like many of the other heritage trees at Hatfield House, has since fallen down. After all, it has been hundreds of years! But a new oak tree was planted in its exact place to commemorate the historic spot by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1985, and a plaque erected, as well. When I finally visited Hatfield this year, on my third trip to England, I sought out the oak tree, and, after getting lost once or twice looking for it, I asked for help from a friendly staff person (as it turns out, I was far off course). The oak is quite a ways from the palace, and you can see how Elizabeth would have found peace sitting out under it with her ladies. Standing in the spot where Elizabeth learned she was queen, after so many years of struggling through adversity, and surviving extreme danger at the hands of her own family members, was very emotional for me. And, of course, I repeated those famous words under the oak tree, "this is the doing of the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

The author standing in the spot where Elizabeth Tudor learned she was Queen of England in 1558. Picture by L.Jensen/©BeingBess.

Upon reaching the palace again, I asked a staff person if he thought Elizabeth rode out to the forest or walked, given the distance. He was of the opinion that it was part of her regular walk. That made me feel quite unaccomplished in my personal exercise routine! I also asked if he knew what had happened to the original tree that had fallen; it had always seemed strange to me that know one had bothered to save it, especially since care had been taken to mark the place where it had stood for hundreds of years. And here is one of the most wonderful things I learned at Hatfield: he actually told me that Hatfield House possesses the preserved trunk of the original oak, and that they are in the process of figuring out how to best display it for posterity! I was overjoyed to learn that it had not been lost to history, and excited at the thought that upon a future visit, I could view the original oak in person! And of course, I couldn't wait to share the good news with all of my BeingBess readers!

The plaque erected with the replacement oak tree planted in 1985 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Hatfield House. Picture by A.Jensen/BeingBess.

The anniversary of November 17th, 1558, was marked every year of Elizabeth I's reign with Accession Day celebrations, which included pageants and tournaments. You can learn more about Elizabeth I becoming queen, and read a first-hand account of one of the Accession Day jousts by German spectator Lupold von Wedel in our original BeingBess article.

Happy Accession Day, Queen Elizabeth I!