The Battle of Lincoln Fair (2)

The Second Battle of Lincoln – or the Battle of Lincoln Fair– took place during the First Barons’ War on the 20th May 1217 at Lincoln Castle in Lincolnshire, England. As 2017 marks the battle’s 800th anniversary, it is being commemorated by reenactments of the battle itself together with accompanying activities for locals and visitors to enjoy. One of these extra attractions is the Knights’ Trail, which involves people finding 37 very colourfully painted models of mounted knights, all placed at prominent spots around central areas of the city.

Last Sunday (21st May) we went along to have a look at preparations for the battle and a general potter about at the castle. This Sunday (28th May) we headed off to watch the re-enactments of the different engagements involved. Needless to say the castle and surrounding areas were packed, particularly in the afternoon.

This was understandable for several reasons. Firstly, it was Bank Holiday weekend and the start of the half-term break for schools. Consequently, many families were out and about keeping children entertained as they usually are at such times. Secondly, people came to Lincoln over this particular weekend because the Domesday Book (compiled 1085-86) and Charter of the Forest (1217) were both on display along with the Magna Carta – which is resident there anyway, on loan from Lincoln Cathedral – inside the Old Prison which is in the castle bailey:

Both are incredibly important and precious documents, and although no photography was allowed, it was still wonderful to see them. The two documents will be in Lincoln throughout the summer.

The weather was pleasant with bursts of sunshine, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. We got there around 10.30 am and had a walk round the bailey, generally ‘having a look’ at the encampment of the reenactors and various items and activities going on before the first part of the battle began. These are a few photos from around the camp. Lots of knights were about at this point, too:

The events leading up to this battle are very much linked to King John, who had died the previous year (October 1216). John had been a very unpopular king for many reasons, most of which were based on his inability to rule wisely, as well as his questionable personality traits. When he died he left his son as king – the nine-year-old Henry – with the formidable William Marshal, the earl of Pembroke, as his regent.

Some of the barons who had rebelled against John during his reign and forced him to sign/seal the Magna Carta, had already taken steps to put the French Prince Louis (the future Louis VIII) on the English throne. On John’s death, a few of the barons returned to the loyalist side whilst others pushed on with their intentions of crowning Louis in order to stop John’s son from ruling. The kingdom was deeply divided over this.

Twenty-year-old Louis and his French armies had been in England since May 1216 and by May 1217, aided by the rebel barons, controlled half the country: only Lincoln and Dover castles had not surrendered. At the time of the battle at Lincoln Castle, the city itself was occupied by forces fighting for Louis, led by Thomas, the Comte du Perche. But the castle was steadfast. Lady Nicola de la Haye, the castellian, remained true to the royalist cause and was determined to keep this castle, with its strategic position, out of rebel hands.

Constable of Lincoln Castle, Lady Nicola de la Haye.

During the day, we watched three different events that took place at Lincoln. The first showed the arrival of the French at Lincoln and their attack on English defenders beneath the castle walls. The English are pushed back and those still alive flee up to the safety of the castle. The Comte du Perche, conspicuous with his shield displaying three chevrons, warns his men to be nice to the citizens of the city and pay for all their food and drink. It’s important to keep the people ‘on their side’!

The second reenactment showed the attack on the Lucy Tower/Lincoln Castle using two different siege engines. One of these was the perrier – one of the least complicated of medieval siege engines  It consisted of a simple frame with a huge 17 foot throwing arm with a sling. Some perriers are recorded as needing as many as 16 men to pull the ropes. It was the forerunner of the trebuchet, which has a large swinging arm to hurl missiles at the enemy and a counterweight to swing the arm. This very short clip shows the two siege engines being used on the day. The first we see is the trebuchet:

The Comte du Perche sees the bombardment as a great success, as parts of the castle walls begin to crumble.

The third engagement – the actual Battle of Lincoln Fair – followed the arrival of reinforcements for the English, led by the formidable, 70-year-old William Marshal, the earl of Pembroke and regent to the young King Henry III. This was him as he delivered his his speech about his life and duties to the Crown to the crowds earlier in the day:

Marshal had roused his loyal barons from across the country and ridden to Lincoln. The arrival of his army, together with the steadfast hold on Lincoln Castle by Lady Nicola, proved to be decisive factors in the defeat of the rebels – and the end of their attempt to put a French prince on the English throne.

We attempted several videos of this battle but, unfortunately, there were so many spectators (and we got there too late after lunch!) to grab a good spot for photography. I managed to squat on the grass near the front – until these to two delightful little boys with buckets on their heads  – in reality, replica battle helms – decided to take the space in front of me:

I eventually managed a few photos during this battle, some of which show Lady Nicola taking stock of events from the gateway of the Lucy Tower:

Nick managed to film part of the battle, before people walked in front of him. It’s not too wonderful ‘ He missed Marshals’  rallying speech to his army, and the film  had to be cut before the end, but it gives a general idea of events. The English come in from the left on this one, and William Marshal is on horseback.

Following this short clip, English soldiers come up behind the French. Caught between two attacking armies, the rebels are soon overwhelmed. Thomas, Comte du Perche, is shown being cut down in the arena – contrary to the 13th century drawing by Matthew Paris which shows him being shot down by a crossbowman as he fled from the castle. But, whatever happened, the comte obviously died that day.

Following the battle, Marshal’s soldiers ransacked the city that had welcomed and supported the French. Most Lincoln people had hated King John and welcomed the possibility of a new king from France. Marshal’s army used that as an excuse to pillage at will as they celebrated their triumph over the combined armies of the French and rebel English barons.

And thus we have the name of The Battle of Lincoln Fair: a celebratory post-battle ‘free for all’ for William Marshal’s victorious army.

The Battle of Lincoln Fair (1): Preparations

I’ve written a few posts about visits and events connected to Lincoln Castle over the past couple of years, including the wonderful, German-style Christmas Market held annually in the castle grounds. But perhaps the most important events of recent years were in 2015, which focused on the 800 year anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by King John at Runneymede in 1215.

19th century coloured wood engraving of king John signing the Magna Carta. Public Domain

That Lincoln should become so involved with the Magna Carta anniversary is understandable, since one of only four of the remaining original documents from Runneymede is held at Lincoln Castle – on loan from Lincoln Cathedral. Two are held at the British Library and one at Salisbury Cathedral.

The Magna Carta anniversary involved lots of events throughout the summer in Lincoln, including the Barons’ Trail and the amazing sand sculptures displayed in the castle bailey. They all did wonders for tourism in the city and gave everything a very holiday feel.

This year, Lincoln is celebrating another anniversary, that of the Battle of Lincoln Fair (also known as the Second Battle of Lincoln) which took place in and around Lincoln Castle in 1217. This event is also linked to the infamous King John, even though he’d died the previous year.

This event is being held over two separate weekends and we went along to the first part  yesterday, Sunday May 21. This one was held in the castle bailey and presented the  preparations for battle. The second part, the actual reenactment of the battle itself, will be next weekend from Saturday to Monday, May 27-29 (Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK).

As with the Barons’ Trail of 2015, this anniversary is made fun for the city and its many visitors by having a Knights’ Trail throughout the central areas of the city. It’s a great activity for kiddies (and adults!) to hunt all 37 of the knights out. The knights are already in place, and we started photographing them yesterday. I hope to do a post about them all soon. The photo of Nicola de la Haye (or Nicholaa de la Haye, according to some sources) at the top of this post is one of them.

I don’t intend to do a full post about Lincoln Castle itself here: that’s set for a future date. But I’ll just say a little about it before I show photos of the event.

Lincoln Castle was built in 1068 on the orders of William the Conquerer. It stand on the site of the Roman fortress and settlement of Lindum Colonia (which dates from around AD60) in ‘uphill Lincoln’. This elevated position ensures the castle has commanding views of the surrounding countryside and can also be seen for miles  – as can the nearby Cathedral. It is probable that, prior to the Roman fort, a Celtic settlement once occupied the site, which I’ll discuss another time.

The castle at Lincoln was one of the finest Norman castles in the country. It consists of an outer curtain wall (with an excellent Wall Walk along the top) along which are two gates – the East and West Gates, the former having a barbican, or fortified entrance. Three towers stand along the walls, two of them built on top of mottes (mounds or small hills, often man-made for the purpose). The two towers sitting on mottes are the Lucy Tower and the Observatory Tower, the one without a motte is Cobb Hall, at the north-east corner of the wall.

Inside the curtain wall is a large bailey (courtyard) in which there are three buildings of more recent origins. The first part of the Old Prison dates from 1788 and was completed in 1848. The Court House, which is still used today, dates from 1826, and the Heritage Skills Centre is a real baby, having only been officially opened in 2013. It’s  the only new building within the castle walls for 150 years. It lies immediately behind the Law Courts:

Here are a few more photos of the castle, most taken from the Wall Walk. Some look down at the bailey, one or two at places beyond the castle, others along the wall itself:

I’ll save the detail and views inside the different towers for another time.

Tents and stalls were set up in the bailey for this event. Some of the attractions included ‘having a go’ at archery and instruction on the use and importance of  the crossbow. A  number of stalls showed foods and weapons of the time and there were birds of prey trained for hunting on display. We missed the actual presentation of the different birds of prey as we were up on top of the wall at the time. Still, we heard the falconer announce that he couldn’t allow the birds to fly at present because of the peregrines nesting on the cathedral – who would see his birds as competition and we could end up witnessing an airborne battle!

Here are a few photos of attractions and displays from around the Bailey, from ground level:

And here are a few of two of the demonstrations we watched. The fist was of knights (comically) preparing for battle.

The second was of three mounted knights displaying their skills in attacking their opponents – one of the ‘opponents’ being a cabbage, which represented the head of a Norman knight. 😀 The smaller of the three horses was included to demonstrate the type of horse/pony used prior to Norman times. It’s the type that was used by the Vikings and is the only breed to be found in Iceland today.

Finally, here are a few photos of Nicola de la Haye (the constable of the castle) and an episode with a French envoy who had come to persuade her to surrender the castle to the French invaders who intended to put their own Prince Louis on the English throne. In doing that, they would simply depose the son of King John – the nine-year-old Henry III. The French were supported in this by the barons who had rebelled against King John. Nicola adamantly refuses and, as the French have already landed in England, she prepares the castle garrison for forthcoming battle:

And absolutely lastly, the Battle of Lincoln Fair was named from the festivities that followed in Lincoln after the French were defeated in the battle. This drawing, by Matthew Paris in the 13th century, shows the death of the French commander as the French flee from the castle. It also shows the importance of the crossbow.

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain


Sherwood Through the Ages

King John's Camp ++

This is my second post about our visit to Sherwood Forest last Monday, which was mostly to enjoy the many encampments and historical reenactments there over the Bank Holiday weekend. I’d intended to do just a single post, but found that one would have been far too long. So in the first post I wrote about Sherwood Forest itself and its connections to the legendary Robin Hood.

Today, I’d like to share some of the photos of the events from this fun-filled day. The event itself was called ‘Sherwood Through the Ages’ and if you’d like to see some much better photos than mine, hop over to my daughter, Louise’s post at thestorytellersabode. Reenactment groups from several historical periods between the 12th century and the 1980s were present, as well as the odd tent with items of clothing and other period items:

The different encampments  were spread out along the main pathways so they couldn’t be missed. There were interesting things to see all day, including demonstrations  of skills and reenactments of events. But even whilst the reenactors were in their camps and carrying on their roles, they were happy to interact with visitors, answer questions and demonstrate the use of weapons and equipment.

Amongst the encampments we saw were the Bowden Retinue, a medieval group whose main theme was that of escorting ‘the lady’ on her journey, and ensuring her comfort at ever stage. This group put on a demonstration of archery which, unfortunately we mostly missed, except for the very end, when they were collecting up their arrows!

Bowden Retinue Collecting Arrows =

Other medieval groups included the ‘Crusader’ camp of King John and his knights – which also included Robin Hood and his Merry Men, the Hospitaller Knights of St. John and even a few unfortunates who had returned from the Crusades with leprosy . . .

. . . and the camp of the Wars of the Roses troop (15th century):

Reenactment groups from later historical periods included the Redcoat Scots and Jacobites (1745):

. . . and the Highwaymen who preyed on unfortunate travellers on their journey along the Great North Road as it passed through the heart of Sherwood Forest ((17th-18th centuries):

Jumping to the 20th century, we have a group of British soldiers from WW1:

WW1 Forces A

And bringing us up to more recent times was a group of British soldiers from the 1980s:

To finish with, here are just three of the short videos we made. The first two show King John’s attempts to find a champion who was good enough to go after the ‘villainous’ outlaw Robin Hood. Several pairs of knights come head to head, and this is one of them:

And in this short video, Robert of Loxley (aka Robin Hood) – who had just stolen the Sheriff of Nottingham’s armour in order to compete – takes on the unpopular Sir Guy of Gisbourne:

The Scots Redcoats and Highland Jacobites entertained us with two reenactments during the day. One involved demonstrating how a man’s honour was satisfied by duelling. We didn’t film this, but here are a couple of photos of this event:

In this video, the Jacobites are ready and waiting to fight the approaching Redcoat Scots:


John: The Worst Ever King of England?


This is my third post about King John, and I just thought that, having written about the 800th anniversary of his signing of the Magna Carta, it could be useful to have a look at the reasons why the barons decided that such a charter was necessary. Was John really that bad…?

King John has the worst reputation of any English king. Other kings were seen as incompetent (Henry II) some as cruel (Richard III) but to his contemporaries, John was seen as both. It is true that most of the sources that condemn his actions were written by monks -and John was no friend of the Church – but his reign was obviously bad enough to lead to one of the most famous documents in history: the Magna Carta.

‘He feared not God, nor respected men.’ (Gerald of Wales)

‘A pillager of his own people.’ (the Barnwell annalist)

Just how true are these quotes?

John’s problems seem to have started on the day he was born…

John was born in Oxford on Christmas Eve, 1167, the last of the four children of King Henry II and the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine.

John's parents: Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, holding court. Anonymous. Public Domain
John’s parents: Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, holding court. Anonymous. Public Domain

As such, he lived in the shadow of his older brothers: Henry, Geoffrey and Richard. At an early age he was given the nickname of ‘John Lackland’ because, unlike his elder brothers, he received no land rights in the continental provinces and was never expected to become king.

As a young man, Prince John was notorious for events during his role of Lord of Ireland. He squandered his money and offended Irish lords by mocking their unfashionably long beards. Then, in 1189, he broke his father’s heart by siding in a rebellion against him. On Henry’s death, since his two eldest sons had died by this time, Richard became the next king. All of Henry’s lands went to Richard, thus continuing his nickname of ‘Lackland’.

John was forever in Richard’s shadow. Richard was loved and respected by his subjects and his men, and famous for glorious deeds across the known world.

19th century portrait of Richard the Lionheart by Merry-Joseph Blondel (oil on canvas). Nor in the Palace of Versalles. Public Domain.
19th century portrait of Richard the Lionheart by Merry-Joseph Blondel (oil on canvas). Nor in the Palace of Versalles. Public Domain.

John could never compete. Richard even forgave John for rebelling against him and gave him To assure Richard of his newfound loyalty, John went to Évreux in Normandy and took a castle. Unaware of John’s reconciliation with Richard, the garrison thought he was still allied to King Philip of France and accepted him. John massacred them all.

So John already had a reputation for treachery before he became king – a reputation that worsened after Richard I was killed by a crossbow wound in 1199 and John took the throne.

19th century drawing of a scene from 'King John' by Thomas Nast. Folger Shakespearean Library. Commons.
19th century drawing of a scene from ‘King John’ by Thomas Nast. Folger Shakespearean Library. Commons.

His reign started reasonably well, although many incidents soon occurred. War broke out with France again and King Philip supported 16-year-old Arthur of Brittany against John.  As the son of John’s elder brother, Geoffrey, many believed Arthur was the rightful heir.

Chateau de Falaise, where Arthur was imprisoned by John. Uploaded by Ollamh. Commons
Chateau de Falaise, where Arthur was imprisoned by John. Uploaded by Ollamh. Commons

There are sources that suggest that John was responsible for Arthur’s death. Some maintain that John killed him in a drunken rage and dumped his body in the River Seine; others say that Arthur died after being castrated. However the boy died, it is believed to have been at John’s hands.

The Murder of Pronce Arthur by Thomas Welly, 1754. Source: Hulton Archive. Public domain.
The Murder of Prince Arthur by Thomas Welly, 1754. Source: Hulton Archive. Public domain.

John was always at loggerheads with the Church, one incident being particularly noteworthy. This was over John’s protest at Pope Innocent III’s choice of Cardinal Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1208, the pope placed the whole of England under papal interdict. Church services and sacraments were suspended across England (except for baptism and extreme unction). Bodies were buried in woods, ditches, and by the side of the road. Only two bishops remained in England. The following year, the pope excommunicated John from the church.

John raked in money during the interdict, exploiting the weakened Church and amassing the huge sum of over £65,000 (£30 million in modern money). But the interdict also encouraged John’s enemies. King Philip of France planned an invasion in 1213 with papal blessing. As John wanted Rome on his side, he dramatically submitted to Rome and accepted Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. And a surprise attack by English naval forces in May, 1213, ended Philip’s threat.

Coronation of Philip Auguste in the presence of Henry II of England. Uploaded by Jan Arkensteijn. Public Domain
Coronation of Philippe Auguste in the presence of Henry II of England. Uploaded by Jan Arkensteijn. Public Domain

During the interdict, John had been free to impose his dominance over the British Isles. He made the old Scottish king accept costly and humiliating terms. In 1210, he led a force of 800 men to Ireland to quell an open rebellion against him led by powerful lords such as William Marshal, William de Braose and the de Lacy Brothers – who were protesting at John’s financial and political demands for funds in his campaigning in France. The barons submitted or fled. In Wales, Llywellyn the Great also rebelled, but faced with John, he retreated into the hills of Snowdonia and agreed to harsh terms.

Statue of Llywellyn the Great in Conwy. Uploaded by Rhion. Public Domain
Statue of Llywellyn the Great in Conwy. Uploaded by Rhion. Public Domain

The act that one historian described as ‘the greatest mistake John made during his reign’ involved John’s heinous treatment of the family of William de Braose.

The rebellion in Ireland gave John the excuse he needed to go after a personal enemy. De Braose had been John’s right hand man for years. In 1201, John offered him the honour of Limerick in Ireland for 5,000 marks. Six years later, de Braose still owed most of the money.  After the rebellion in 1210, de Braose fled to France, but his lands and his wife, Matilda, and his son were still in Windsor Castle. John moved them to Corfe Castle in Dorset and threw them in the dungeon, where he let them starve to death … perhaps his most notorious and malicious act. One chronicler reports that the bodies were found with the mother slumped across her son, with her head lying on his chest. She had been gnawing at his cheeks for food. Rumours circulated that John had killed them because they knew the truth about Arthur of Brittany’s death. William de Braose had been with John at the time of the boy’s disappearance.

Many of the barons did not feel safe after the de Braose affair. They also had many, accumulated grievances regarding financial burdens, the nature of John’s rule and penalty system and personal grievances about his notorious womanising and taking mistresses – even the wives and daughters of powerful men. The final straw came after John’s long-awaited attack on France ended in defeat and John returned, demanding even more scutage from them…

In 1215 the barons broke homage to John and formed the Army of God and the Holy Church – a declaration of war on the king. They offered the crown of England to Prince Louis of France, King Philip’s son and heir, if they would cross the Channel with an army to help them. On the 17th May, the barons seized the capital of London and drew up their demands in a document originally called the Articles of the Barons.  It was the first draft of what later became known as the Great Charter – the Magna Carta.

19th century wood engraving of King John signing the Magna Carta. Public Domain.

By October 1215, after the signing/sealing of the Magna Carta at Runneymede in June – a treaty that John had no intention of keeping – war with the barons resumed. In May 1216, Prince Louis of France invaded with a powerful force in support of the English barons who had wanted him crowned king in place of John. John spent the rest of his reign trying to regain control of his kingdom. At Lynn (now King’s Lynn) in October he fell ill, possibly of dysentery. On October 11th he led his army on a short cut across The Wash at low tide – a disastrous move. Whether due to the returning tide or the quicksand there, his baggage train and treasure were lost beneath the waves. This was the last disaster of a disastrous reign.

John’s health rapidly deteriorated and he headed for Newark Castle on a litter, reportedly ‘moaning and groaning’ that the journey was killing him.


On arrival he confessed his sins and received Communion for the last time. He died on the night of 18/19 October in the middle of a great storm.

Drawing of the effigy of King John in Worcester athedral from 'History of England'Gy Samuel R. Gardiner. Public Domain
Drawing of the effigy of King John in Worcester Cathedral from ‘History of England’ by Samuel R. Gardiner. Public Domain

*Note: The header image shows John of England (John Lackland) by Matthew Paris from his Historia Anglorum, 1250-59. British Library royals MS. Public Domain.

King John is at Newark!


008 Newark Castle (Header)

I intended to write this post before I headed off to Hadrian’s Wall a couple of weeks ago but, as usual, I didn’t manage to fit it in. I particularly wanted the post at that time, as it was to be a ‘follow up’ to the one on the Magna Carta I’d done the week before (here). Still, the Magna Carta celebrations in Lincoln will continue into October, and I suppose any information about King John could be shared at any time. So here it is now…

Over the weekend of July 22, about forty members of the re-enactment society, Regia Anglorum, presented a living history ‘encampment’ in the grounds of Newark Castle to demonstrate  to visitors how people would have fed and clothed themselves at the time of King John and demonstrate use of their weaponry skills. The society was invited to Newark by the castle warden as part of the region’s celebrations to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

Newark is about 18 miles away from Lincoln, and the castle at that time belonged to the Bishop of  Lincoln, who was also present. Here are a few photos of what is left of the castle today. Some are of the outside from across the River Trent and others are views of the inside of the curtain walls and gates:

And here are is a photo of King John as he looked on this occasion. John is the one in the decorative blue tunic, enjoying a snack:

015 King John (2)

And this is the Bishop of Loncoln, inside his tent:

044 Bishop of Lincoln (2)

Medieval characters were milling about enjoying the day or gossiping around the camp:

Throughout the day, display tents were set up to demonstrate the different roles in 13th century society – from shoemakers, leatherworkers, metalworkers, chainmail and jewellery makers to those carving a variety of everyday goods from deer antler, such as combs, needles and gaming dice. Other stalls displayed common foods eaten and demonstrated cooking methods:

The highlight of the day was a tournament put on by twenty members of Regia Anglorum. Warriors came from all ranks of society – peasants, sergeants and knights – to entertain King John and the Bishop of Lincoln, the Right Rev Hugh de Wells, with their skills – some of them hopeful of being selected as future knights. The king and bishop put on jovial faces for the tournament, when in reality (according to the actor who played the bishop) relations between the two were never easy. At one time he had been banished by John.

Here are some pictures of the tourney and preparations made by the combatants beforehand. Squires were on hand to assist the knights into their gambesons (padded jerkins) and heavy chain mail. King John certainly seemed to be enjoying himself:

King John has often been linked with the Nottingham-Newark-Lincoln area through the many legendary tales about Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest, which once covered much of this area. But perhaps an even greater link with Newark is that he died inside its castle:

By October 1215, after the signing of the Magna Carta at Runneymede in June – a treaty that John had no intention of keeping – war with the barons resumed. In May 1216, Prince Louis of France invaded with a powerful force in support of the English barons who had wanted him crowned king in place of John. John spent the rest of his reign trying to regain control of his kingdom. At Lynn (now King’s Lynn) in October he fell ill, possibly of dysentery. On October 11th he led his army on a short cut across The Wash at low tide – a disastrous move. Whether due to the returning tide or the quicksand there, his baggage train and treasure were lost beneath the waves. This was the last disaster of a disastrous reign.

John’s health rapidly deteriorated and he headed for Newark Castle on a litter, reportedly ‘moaning and groaning’ that the journey was killing him. On arrival he confessed his sins and received Communion for the last time. He died on the night of 18/19 October in the middle of a great storm.


Lincoln and the Magna Carta

023 Barons' ShieldsOn June 15, 1215 – or 19th according to some sources – at a place called Runneymede (near Windsor) on the River Thames, King John of England reluctantly signed a treaty with the powerful barons of the realm. The document was a series of written promises that John would govern the country and deal with its people according to the customs of feudal law. In other words, the charter was an attempt by the barons to stop John from abusing his power and the people of England suffering as a consequence. The charter became known as the Magna Carta: Latin for the Great Charter. Here are a couple of artistic interpretations of the signing:

19th century coloured wood engraving of king John signing the Magna Carta. Public Domain
Link John Magna Charta by Ernest Normand, 1900. Uploaded by william Avery. Public domain

By 1215, John had been king for 16 years, and had a series of mistakes, misdemeanours, and cruel or treacherous acts behind him and at last the barons had snapped. I intend to look at some of these in another post, but today, I want to think about the Magna Carta.

2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Several copies were originally made and delivered to religious establishments all over the country. Only four of these copies are still in existence today: two in the British Library, one in Salisbury Cathedral and one belongs to Lincoln Cathedral but is on display in Lincoln Castle. Lincoln’s copy has been in the city since it was sealed by King John – it even has instructions to deliver to ‘Lincolnia’ written on the back.

Lincoln is also the only place in the world where you can find an original copy of Magna Carta together with the Charter of the Forest, issued in 1217 to amplify the document, and is one of only two surviving copies.

Throughout the summer, Lincoln has been celebrating this momentous signing, along with several other places around the country. And since Lincoln is only 7 miles away from where we live, Husband and I decided to pop along and have a look.

Lincoln Castle is worth a post on its own – another one I have planned for later on. It’s a fine old Norman structure, unusual in having two keeps. The County Law Courts are still located inside the castle, as is the old prison – well worth a visit in itself. It is in the subterranean vault inside the prison building that the Magna Carta is on display. It’s the red brick building in the photo (bottom left) below.

Unfortunately, the controlled lighting in the vaults makes taking photographs impossible. Flash photography is a no-no. So I have no photos of the documents to show. But there are some online that can be seen.

As part of the anniversary celebrations in Lincoln, the organisers have created the Barons’ Charter Trail for children to follow. Twenty five fun ‘barons’ have been created, all painted in bright colours and given amusing names like ‘Truck Driver Baron’, ‘Wild Flower Baron’ and ‘Lincolnshire Waterways Baron’. They are spread out across the cultural and commercial areas of Central Lincoln. On finding all 25, and copied down the code for each, children collect a bag of King John’s gold – in other words, chocolate money.

We found all of these ‘barons’ and here is a selection of them:

The barons’ shields, used as the header image above, are on display on the wall outside the vault where the documents are housed.

A week after this visit to Lincoln Castle, we had a visit to nearby Newark Castle, where a  re-enactment group were putting on a display about John and medieval life in general. We have some good photos of that event, too. Needless to say, John is featured a lot this summer. He was an interesting character, and one of the most memorable kings in English history.