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The Queens Oak, Huntingfield

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The Queens Oak, Huntingfield

The Queens Oak, Huntingfield by Felicity Griffin

In the 1930s in Huntingfield picture postcards of local views could be bought. One was of Huntingfield Hall, and another was of the Queen’s Oak, a huge ancient tree close by the Hall in a meadow. Any village child could tell you that Queen Elizabeth once visited the hall and shot a deer from the shelter of this tree. True or false?

The Revd Charles Davy (1722-97) described the old oak: 'It is situated in a park of the Lord Hunsdon about two bowshots distant from the old mansion house of Huntingfield Hall where Queen Elizabeth is said to have enjoyed the pleasures of the chase in a kind of rural majesty'. He describes the old building and records that the ruinous Hall was taken down by Sir Joshua Vanneck after he purchased the estate in 1752, when the present gothic fronted house was built in its place.

François de Rochefoucauld visited Heveningham Hall in 1784 and notes in his journal the story of Queen Elizabeth and the oak tree, but searching for documentary evidence before the eighteenth century proves fruitless. Speculation centres on the year 1578 when the Queen was in Suffolk: her visit to Melford Hall as guest of Sir William Cordell was recorded by the contemporary Thomas Churchyard. The same year she was at Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk. Her journeys are well documented, and it is extremely unlikely that she progressed further east. Had she done so, what would she have found at the manor house of Huntingfield?

The considerable estates of the de la Pole family centred on Wingfield and, including Huntingfield, had reverted to the Crown after the execution by Henry VIII in 1513 of the last heir, Edmund de la Pole. Later holders of the manor were Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, the Lady Anne of Cleves, and Sir Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon, son of Mary Boleyn and first cousin of Queen Elizabeth. He held the manor until 1559, leasing it to Nicholas Smith or Arrowsmith, who in maturity had married a young bride, Anne Moulton. There were no children. Anne remarried in 1564 John Paston of the Norfolk family, and within a year a daughter, Bridget, was born. Anne continued as a tenant of the manor and, surviving her husband, was a considerable heiress. Within a few years she married for the third time Edmund Bedingfield of the Oxburgh Hall family.

So in 1578 when Queen Elizabeth was at Melford Hall, her cousin Lord Hunsdon was the owner of the manor of Huntingfield, his tenant being the widow Paston with a teenage daughter. Lord Hunsdon never lived or visited there as far as is known. The lodgings would not have satisfied the Queen with her huge train of courtiers and servants.

Did the legend have a later source, when it is known that the Queen visited the Buckinghamshire home of Huntingfield’s owner? In 1583 Bridget, John and Ann Paston’s daughter, married Edward Coke in Cookley church. She bore ten children in fifteen years and died in 1598. Coke, now Lord Chief Justice, remarried Elizabeth Cecil, a daughter of Thomas Burleigh, Earl of Exeter, and went to live at her home in Stoke Poges. There they entertained the Queen in 1601. Sir Edward retained the Huntingfield lease, buying it in 1614 from Lord Hunsdon's heirs for £4500.

Does all this leave the Queen’s Oak without a Queen? Not quite: there is a very likely candidate who loved Suffolk and hunting, made her home at Westthorpe near Stowmarket, and was known for her care of her tenants. Moreover, her husband owned the manors of Wingfield and Huntingfield, and held others at Henham and Letheringham.

Her name was Mary, Henry VIII’s youngest sister, married in 1514 at eighteen to the sickly King Louis XII of France, only to be widowed within months. She hastily married her early love, Henry’s favoured companion, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, in France, before returning to England. The Princess Mary, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk, died in 1533 aged 37 at Westthorpe, and was buried in the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds, the same year that her rather tiresome one-time maid of honour, Anne Boleyn, gave birth to a daughter. Elizabeth.

Could it be that there is a confusion between the aunt and the niece?

Felicity Griffin, Southwold, March 2000
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