Most people associate the British parliament with the Palace of Westminster, the iconic home of the green benches and Big Ben. While the palace on the Thames has hosted parliaments since the 12th-century, it’s not an exclusive host.
Long before the United Kingdom existed, medieval England was ruled as an absolute monarchy, and parliament was convened at the pleasure of the king in whatever location was convenient. Times of crisis led to parliament being convened in some unusual locations.
Sherwood Forest is of course best known for the legend of Robin Hood. Thanks to Sir Walter Scott’s classic Ivanhoe, as well as Hollywood, King John has become a major character in the Robin Hood story. John and his villainous henchman the Sheriff of Nottingham are the renowned antagonists in the modern version of the legend. However, King John does have a real association with Sherwood.
A 12th-century royal hunting lodge at nearby King’s Clipstone is now known as King John’s Palace, and served as the residence of English royalty within Sherwood for centuries, being visited by at least eight kings. While John was in residence in 1212, he was informed about a rebel uprising in Wales. To respond to the situation, it’s believed that John hastily-convened parliament under the branches of an oak tree near his palace in the forest.
Parliament was again convened at the same location in 1290 during the reign of John’s grandson, King Edward I. Historians are more certain about this parliament, and it’s likely that the name Parliament Oak stems from this occasion.
Like its neighbor, the Major Oak, the tree itself is believed to be at least 1,000 years old. While it’s not as big as it was at its peak, an impressive 25 feet in diameter, it has undergone a resurgence thanks to the efforts of conservationists. It remains an impressive sight to this day, as well as a location of historic political importance.
Know Before You Go
There is a small space for parking right next to the oak. If you prefer, it's walkable from the main Sherwood Forest visitor center and only three miles from the Major Oak.