The Queen Elizabeth Oak

Greenwich Park is blessed with an array of aged oak trees (among many other types). They have stood the test of time, wars, rebellions, storms, battles and monarchs. However, there is one oak, in particular, now tucked away behind protective iron railings, that holds a history perhaps more interesting than many of us are aware of. 

Placed in isolation for its safety, and at the centre of Greenwich Park, the Queen Elizabeth Oak was named so because rumour has it, she took her refreshments beneath it.

Why Queen Elizabeth I?

Childhood of Elizabeth I by John Hassall / Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

Elizabeth Tudor was born on 7th September 1533 at Greenwich Palace to Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Although sources suggest that Anne adored her new baby, both she and Henry were disappointed that Elizabeth was a girl. Henry, oh King Henry, desperately needed and wanted an heir to the Tudor dynasty; he was so desperate that he lopped off the head of his second wife so he could make way for a third who might just have been able to birth him a son. 

On 10th September, just four days old, Elizabeth was christened with great pomp and ceremony at the Observant Franciscan church within the Palace walls, where her father, Henry, had also been christened. All the aldermen of Greenwich and the council of the City of London were there. Princess Elizabeth was not only named as an heir to Henry’s throne (later to be rebuked as illegitimate) she was also named after her much-loved grandmother, Elizabeth of York (1466-1505).

Although Greenwich wasn’t her primary residence throughout her life as princess and queen, Elizabeth spent a great deal of time at the Palace and in its surrounding grounds, especially in the summer months and during times when the navy or army were preparing for war.

The Oak – Facts

The Queen Elizabeth Oak being held up by ivy

When we take a pleasant stroll around the beautiful Greenwich Park and walk past the oak, it is hard to imagine precisely how old it is or how big it was. Instead, we only see the ragged bark of something once grand and mighty. Perhaps some of us even wonder what history it could tell us – if only it could speak.

Yet in 2014, something of particular interest to us all happened, which enabled the oak to finally have a voice, albeit a limited one.

The English Heritage published its tree-ring analysis (scientific dating report) on the oak. Samples were taken during 2012-2013 from the main trunk and bits that were broken and found under the fallen tree. Other samples were taken from nearby oak trees so comparisons could be made. 

The scientific dating team concluded that the Queen Elizabeth Oak, with a 233-year mean tree-ring series, could be dated to between 1569–1801. Although this seems like quite a broad time period, the oak tree was hollow, which meant no exact date could be determined. 

Therefore, it was finally confirmed that the tree was alive during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. 

But that’s not all. The scientists gave us some other and more unexpected news. 

They went on to propose that the tree was actually germinated in the latter part of the thirteenth century or possibly the early part of the fourteenth century. If we think about that for a moment, it means the oak was planted around the time of Richard the Lionheart (Richard I) and the Crusades. Imagine what it has seen – this tree of medieval standing. 

Interestingly, the oak must have been of great importance to Queen Elizabeth because, during 1550 and 1560, numerous trees were felled to be used for the Royal Navy in the English-Spanish wars, which included the Spanish Armada’s attempt to invade England in 1588. 

The First Edition OS map recorded the oak as an ‘Old Chestnut Tree’.


Credit: the National Library of Scotland

The Downfall

English Heritage established that (from the interpretation of sapwood) the oak had died between 1827– 1842. Yet the oak remained standing for at least another hundred years. It even survived the infamous storms of 1987 – the poor thing being held up by a sturdy army of ivy that hid its earlier death. 

In June 1991, there was 88.6mm of rainfall, according to the Met Office , and this 88.6mm wasn’t evenly spread out across the month; instead, it all seemed to fall in the latter half. Sadly, the Queen Elizabeth Oak lost its battle to the elements and eventually fell to the ground. It’s believed to have fallen because the rain washed away so much of the surrounding soil, and the ivy couldn’t hold it up any longer. Nevertheless, nature did its best for such a long time. 

The Oak – Myths and Legends

It’s hard to find the original sources for some of the stories surrounding the oak, but Angus Webster, the once Superintendent of Greenwich Park, wrote some interesting accounts in his 1902 book, Greenwich Park: Its History and Associations. 

He stated:

“The old oak referred to, beneath which Royalty have frequently congregated, must, in its heyday, have been a tree of giant proportions, the hollowed trunk in which Queen Elizabeth oft partook of refreshments, and where offenders against the Park rules have been confined, being fully twenty feet in girth, while the internal cavity is six feet in diameter. A door was at one time placed on the entrance, and a window cut through the shell in the direction of One Tree Hill. The interior is paved, and a rustic seat placed around, on which fifteen persons can sit with comfort. The tree is quite dead (the last living shoots having been noticed about twenty-four years ago) and is mainly supported by a thick coating of ivy; but although every attention has been given to lessen the wind-pressure by reducing the surface of ivy, it is hardly likely that this ancient and honoured monarch of the forest will remain intact for many years.”

In Trees of the British Isles in History & Legend, James Howard wrote that Elizabeth I was known to have ‘danced below the bows of this tree’.

Other legends include Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn dancing around the oak during their courting days, although their love of dancing and romance didn’t last anywhere near as long as the oak being held up by the ivy.

Once flourishing and magnificent, the oak certainly seems to have been a centre point of entertainment for the Tudors and their time in Greenwich. It would be wonderful to know whether its use as a park prison was done with tongue in cheek humour or seriousness. 


Although the Queen Elizabeth Oak died over a hundred years ago, it still remains with us today, protected and loved, even if it is now horizontal. Many locals and tourists stop to read the commemorative plaque and to imagine one of the most famous royal dynasties enjoying their refreshments beneath it or dancing around it. 

In 1992, the Duke of Edinburgh made a dedication to the old fallen oak and its legacy, with a plaque and a new baby oak planted near it. The Greenwich Historical Society donated the new English oak to mark forty years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Another oak to commemorate another Queen Elizabeth.

Julie Pinborough 2022