Image by Rosalind Atkins. Please contact me if you are unhappy with its use.
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

6. The Ankerwyke Yew

You might notice a bit of a pattern emerging with yew trees. Because of their potential to live to a great age (in fact greater than any other plant in Europe), it's almost inevitable that they become intertwined with local legends.
Even with the difficulty in accurately aging them (since the boughs of ancient yews are often hollow, making a ring count impossible), there are usually contemporary reports that can help us to make an educated guess. The fact that yews often predate any nearby dwelling (and can often be the reason any such dwelling is sited there) means they are naturally bound to local history and folklore.

Having established all that, when I tell you that the Ankerwyke Yew sits on an island in the Thames opposite Runnymede, you'll know what's coming next: there are rumours that King John signed the Magna Carta under its boughs. As the one landmark that has survived since 1215, it's inevitable that people try and tie the two together. And who's to say King John didn't admire the grand old tree - which could well have been 1,000 years old even then - as he dipped his seal in the wax on completion of England's first constitution?

But it doesn't end there. We're also told that King Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn beneath the tree's branches. If that sounds a little more far-fetched, surely it's not unreasonable to think that the young Henry would find it a romantic spot, fitting for the King of England to impress his future queen?

1 comment:

james emmans said...

Like your neural style, to think most people in London have never seen this tree. I live and grew up near this tree, and my school never talked about the tree or my family. I only 'discovered' by reading a book called 'The Sacred Yew' - a highly recommended reading.