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.

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