John’s last days

king-john-of-england-grangerJohn’s worst fault perhaps was that he was an unlucky king.  The mercenaries he’d amassed to challenge his barons in 1215 were scatted and drowned during autumn storms at sea.  Things went from bad to worse for him after that.  By the following year John was fleeing from castle to castle with King Louis VIII in hot pursuit. He’d lost London and Winchester.  The french seemed to be everywhere and it was the fact that they pursued John into Cambridgeshire that sent John north to Lincolnshire where he followed a scorched earth policy and relieved Lincoln which was being besieged by the revolting barons.  John chased them off but failed to intercept King Alexander `ii of Scotland who was making the most of the chaos in England.  John’s letter record the fact that he was in Lincoln on September 22nd.  He inspected the castle and made its custodian, the indefatigable Nichola de la Haye Sheriff of Lincolnshire in her own right (I feel a post on her coming on even as I type).

From Lincoln John travelled back towards East Anglia via Grimsby, Louth, Boston and Spalding.  He arrived in Bishop’s Lynn on October 9th.  Historians cannot be sure what John was planning but Lynn was an important port and John arranged to have supplies sent to his northern castles.  It is reasonable to assume that he was planning a campaign in the north.  John was taken ill whilst in Lynn.  Ralph of Coggeshall assumed it was gluttony.  Morris makes the very good point that at 49 the king had been setting a ferocious pace.  He could simply have been exhausted.

In any event John set out once again for Lincolnshire on the 12th October. He travelled via Wisbech whilst his baggage appears to have taken a different and rather more disastrous route near Sutton Bridge.  He spent that night in Swineshead Abbey where famously he ate rather too many peaches, pears and cider becoming ever more ill.  Bereft of his household belongings and his treasures he arrived at the Bishop of Lincoln’s castle at Sleaford  on the 14th October where he stayed overnight.  On the 15th he wrote to Pope Honorius III (Innocent had died in July) that he was suffering from an ‘incurable infirmity.’  John took the opportunity to put his kingdom under the Church’s protection.  This was a stratagem that he hoped would save England from Louis for Prince Henry who would shortly become King Henry III.

By then he was too ill to ride, so John was carried by litter to Newark – a journey of some twenty or so miles.  He arrived at Newark on the 16th of October.  He wrote his will and that night the king died having given Margaret de Lucy who was the daughter of William and Matilda de Braoze, permission to found a Hospital of St John along with land for its foundation in memory of her mother and brother who’d starved to death in Windsor. John’s will along with his tomb can be seen in Worcester Cathedral.

3 thoughts on “John’s last days

  1. Excellent read Julia. I must admit I did not know that much on John. His father ,yes and Richard as a soldier. One interesting fact is that he was also Sheriff of Nottingham. Was Robin Hood the outlaw his enemy? Probably not as Robin was employed by King Edward 11 as oastler. He served one year and returned to the forest without trace. I am under the impression that Robin of the Hood was just a villain named Robert of Annisley who lived at Annnisley Hall near Nottingham and within the known forest of Sherwood that extended into Cumbria Eden Valley then. Robin Hood and his job as groom was sadly missed and searched for by the Kings head servants but was never found. Eventually all sorts of robbers became part of that legend and perhaps the real Robin Hood never lived to hear his name so badly called. Robert of Annisley was a thief in the forest with a vicious name but he did rob the rich and once fed the poor namely his servants.

    • Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ve warmed to John. He’s a much more complex character than history initially presents.

      I must admit that Robin Hood is my all time favourite hero and has been since I was four-years-old when my father first read me the story. It was a fairly comprehensive reworking of the gyste as I recall and opened In York. I still have the book, currently in storage but much loved. Consequently I tend to steer well clear of the snippets of fact that history tempts us with. Robin Hood is a legend so somewhere in all the stories is a real man or possibly several real men who ranged from Nottingham up through Barnsdale into Cumbria with a sidestep to Staithes and Hathersage- who very probably weren’t heavily into stealing from the rich to give to the poor. They possibly weren’t as sartorially elegant as the black and white illustrations suggested either but for me Robin Hood will always be the hero of the green wood.

      • Dear lady you are so romantic.Robin Hood lives in the minds of the good. I also had that book with all its lovely pictures of Robin and Marion in a greenwood setting. Childhood love of innocent tales and noble hearts combined. I am a romantic too it seems. Marion did not exist they insist and no place could I find her. Now that hurt one when aged ten. Today, inside it hurts me still.For the tales of Robin Hodd go on forever.I must thank Richard Greene who played Robin so very well in the 1950s version on BBC Childrens Hour for giving me extra exposure to Robin and his gang, including fat Friar Tuck. Under the Greenwood Tree, I use this from Hardy to illustrate the pull of the legend to show the feeling when hearing his name; Robin Hood. It show something inside of all of us that is fine and noble in mankind I think. If Robin Hood did not exist we would have invented him as nothing is so good as legend is it?

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