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Ankerwyke Yew

nr. Wraysbury, Berkshire

About the location:

The Ankerwycke Yew is an ancient yew tree close to the ruins of St Mary's Priory, the site of a Benedictine nunnery built in the 12th century. It is near Wraysbury in Berkshire, England. It is a male tree with a girth of 8 metres (26 ft) at 0.3 metres. Various estimates have put its age at between 2,000 and 2,500 years.

On the opposite bank of the River Thames are the meadows of Runnymede, and this tree is said to have been witness to the signing of the Magna Carta.

Myth has it that Henry and Anne used to meet at the Ankerwyke Yew. Tradition says that "Henry VIII occasionally met Anne Boleyn under the lugubrious shade of its spreading branches, at such times as she was placed in the neighbourhood of Staines, in order to be near Windsor, wither the King used to love to retire from the cares of state. Ill-omened as was the place of meeting under such circumstances, it afforded but too appropriate an emblem of the result of that arbitrary and ungovernable passion, which, over-looking every obstacle in its progress, was destined finally to hurry its victim to an untimely grave.”


The author within the embrace of the ancient
Yew tree

 

 

It’s romantic and dramatic history is also captured in the following poem:

"What scenes have pass’d, since first this ancient Yew
In all the strength of youthful beauty grew!
Here patriot Barons might have musing stood,
And plann’d the Charter for their Country’s good;
And here, perhaps, from Runnymede retired,
The haughty John, with secret vengeance fired,Might curse the day which saw his weakness yield
Extorted rights in yonder tented field.
Here too the tyrant Henry felt love’s flame,
And, sighing, breathed his Anne Bolyn’s name;
Beneath the shelter of this Yew-tree’s shade,
The royal lover wood’d the ill-star’d maid;
And yet that neck, round which he fondly hung,
To hear the thrilling accents of her tongue;
That lovely breast, on which his head reclined,
Form’d to have humanized his savage mind;
Were Doom’d to bleed beneath the tyrants steel,
Whose selfish heart might doat, but could not feel.
O had the Yew its direst venom shed,
Upon the cruel Henry’s guilty head,
Ere Englands sons with shuddering grief had seen
A slaughtere’s victim in their beauteous queen!"

The few ruins that are left of St Mary’s Priory,
in whose grounds the yew tree once stood.

Which key events feature Ankerwyke Yew in the book?

Spring, 1528:

  • Anne describes how Henry and herself travelled often away from Windsor to the site of the Ancient yew tree; here they would while away the hours together away from the prying eyes of court.

Summer, 2007:

  • The modern day Anne returns here with Daniel; overcome with memories and emotion of a life and a love lost, she breaks down and confesses to him all about her adventures walking in the shoes of Anne Boleyn

The real events in history:

  • Nobody knows if the myth about the Ankerwcyke Yew is true or not. Thus, it remains a tantalising story whose roots we are unable to locate. However, it is a plausible tale and such folk-lore often contains within it at least an element of truth. What is for sure, is that it is undoubtedly a beautiful spot, and the tree has borne witness to circa 2500 years of English history. The area is now much overgrown and neglected, but it is a place full of the most wonderful energy and well worth a visit. However, as the novel indicates, it is not easy to find and requires a true and valiant heart!

Where to go / what to see / where to stand:

Ankerwyke Yew
Grid ref TQ005732

  • Park in the small car park at the end of Magna Carta Lane. You will need to walk across fields and along a track set on both side with a straight line of trees. It is not easy to find but well worth persevering.
  • When there, press your face to the trunk of this ancient as Anne did in the novel; hear it whisper its secrets to you. Sit under its branches and hear the modern day Anne tell Daniel of her adventures of another world.
  • Imagine Henry and Anne finding refuge from the court and see the now ruined Priory of Wraysbury towering up just beyond the yew tree, in the pleasant green meadows of Runneymede.

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