Angevin kings spent a lot of time on the road. Henry II travelled widely across his vast empire administering justice, fighting with the neighbours, avoiding the lady wife, seducing his wards and hunting. Richard spent most of his short reign in foreign parts – fighting someone or other- and consequentially became a hero. King John also travelled frequently. It has been calculated that he only spent 7% of his time in Westminster. In 1205 there are 228 changes of location recorded which means that he moved 19 times a month! His problem was that he didn’t have such a vast empire to travel around – essentially he had England having lost the rest of his father’s empire and gained the nickname ‘Softsword’ into the bargain. Amongst the locations he favoured were Marlborough where he’d held the castle since 1186 as a gift from brother Richard; Nottingham which he’d held since his childhood and Winchester where his son Henry was born.
King John’s itineraries can be traced through his letters which reveal his location. There are currently several interesting sites on the Internet outlining John’s jaunts. One charts John’s movements in the run up to Magna Carta whilst the other charts his location on a map throughout his seventeen-year reign. http://neolography.com/timelines/JohnItinerary.html.
This image of John’s itinerary was accessed from http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/on-the-trail-of-king-john-before-and-after-the-signing-of-magna-carta (13/10/2015 @ 23:42) and shows how extensively John travelled in comparison with his son. Interestingly John believed that the king was there to administer justice ‘even if it were to a dog’ – the same justice also happened to be a handy implement to bludgeon his barons with.
Other evidence of John’s involvement in English affairs can be seen in the charters he issued which, incidentally, offer an interesting counterpoint to the stereotype of King John with dodgy sheriffs in tow. Sheriffs undoubtedly have a bit of a bad reputation so far as the reign of King John is concerned what with all that taxation and general Anglo-Norman nastiness – oops sorry, I’ve moved out of history and into the realms of Hollywood. In reality King John sometimes did away with sheriff power and opted for ‘people power.’ Take York for example. In 1212 King John decreed that York’s citizens, rather than the sheriff, should collect and pay the annual tax to the Crown. Their charter also allowed them to hold their own courts and to appoint a mayor. John also granted a charter to Grimsby offering similar arrangements for taxation, law and administration.
Clearly if the king spent more time in England (there wasn’t a great deal of choice) then there are also more bricks and mortar locations with a link to that particular Plantagenet. In Knaresborough John took over the castle and Honour of Knaresborough on account of the fact that he was keen on the hunting. It was here that he distributed the first ever Maundy Money. John gave away forks and clothes in 1210. Knaresborough must have been one of John’s favourite castles because he spent rather a lot of time there. His accounts, another source, offer an insight into feasting, drinking, gambling and hunting.
John is known to have particularly enjoyed hunting – as did his father and before him his Norman forebears. It is not surprising therefore that the country seems to be littered with King John’s hunting lodges. Time Team did a dig a John’s hunting lodge in Clipstone. In Axbridge King John’s hunting lodge was a fourteenth century wool merchant’s house – so don’t get too excited about treading in John’s footsteps. Though in Romsey not only can you encounter his hunting lodge you can also smell the roses in his garden (a much later addition but it sounds good.)
Elsewhere in Yorkshire John visited Scarborough Castle on several occasions; made it across the county boundary into Cumbria and Carlisle where he administered justice and on to Corbridge where he did a spot of treasure hunting (without success). He received the submission of the Scots at Norham Castle ( a lovely little fortress). In a more Midlandish direction he managed to lose his jewels (of which he was an ardent collector) in the Wash allegedly near to Sutton Bridge; expired in Newark Castle and got himself buried in Worcester Cathedral.
I feel exhausted just looking at the list so I’ve no idea how John managed to travel so widely, hunt so extensively and chase, allegedly, so many women after hurtling around the English countryside in all sorts of weather with scarcely a break year in and year out.