Family trees: The Merry Wives of Windsor

A three-quarter-length portrait of a young woman standing in a doorway, holding a tray. She wears Elizabeth costume: a pale dress with a starched collar, voluminous sleeves, a pointed bodice and full skirt; her blonde hair, however, is in distinctly Victorian ringlets on either side of her face. The silver tray bears a small wine glass and a decanter of red wine; to the left is a vine evidently framing the doorway.

The Merry Wives of Windsor has special royal connections. Set in and around Windsor Castle, it was once said to have been commissioned by Elizabeth I herself.

Historically, some royals were put off by the plot's bawdy elements. However, its local setting and vision of provincial English life - encapsulated in the character of 'sweet Anne Page' - gave it an enduring appeal.

Much royal interest focused on the identity of 'Herne's Oak', the haunted tree in Windsor Home Park that forms the backdrop for the play's final scenes. In 1863, when a possible 'Herne's Oak' blew down, Queen Victoria commissioned a series of items from its wood. In the process, she created a Windsor equivalent to the trade in relics from ‘Shakespeare’s mulberry tree’ in Stratford-upon-Avon, first established in the eighteenth century.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, and ‘Herne’s Oak’ with it, therefore inserted both the royal family, and Windsor Castle, into the popular conception of the national poet – and England's physical landscape.

Objects in this room