King John has gained an unfavourable reputation since his death in 1216, one that has only escalated as legends, tales and plays have been created about the tyrannical king.
And much of that legend and history is intertwined with Newark and Sherwood.
The Guardian of the Trent
Newark Castle has sat on the banks of the River Trent for centuries and has earned herself some fond nicknames including ‘Old Grey Lady, ‘The Guardian of the Trent’ and ‘Gateway to the North.’
However the castle we see and love today is not the original; she had many incarnations. A Danish fortification called a Burr (or Burh), a Motte when the Normans arrived and then in 1135, after King John’s Grandfather, Henry I of England granted Bishop Alexander of Lincoln permission, a stone structure was built.
Bad King John
As Lord of Nottingham, during his brother Richard I’s reign, John would have visited Newark Castle numerous times, however after a troubled reign which led to the contempt of many barons in his kingdom, the disastrous signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede and the Baronial War, John was forced to stop at Newark Castle.
On the way, at Kings Lynn, John contracted dysentery and when he reached Newark Castle he was in quite a substantial amount of agony. John died on the night of the 18/19th October in the Private Chapel located in the Great Gatehouse during what was described as the worst storm of the 13th century…what rotten luck!
Currently Newark Castle is in the process of undertaking a Gatehouse Project on the nationally important 12th Century Norman Gatehouse. The project will enable repairs to the historic fabric of the Gatehouse and even restore the room it is believed King John died within. It will also include a stimulating interpretive experience centring on the life and times of the infamous King John.
This is truly only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the history of Newark Castle; the Old Grey Lady is filled to the brim with exciting history. If you wish to find out more then I highly recommend you take one of the fantastic guided tours around the Castle and the dungeons. They run on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting 2nd March 2018, please visit the Newark and Sherwood District Council website for more details.
King John’s Palace in Clipstone is named after the infamous King, who visited the former medieval royal residence during 1200-1215. The purpose of the Palace was to be a hunting retreat for the monarchy in the heart of Sherwood Forest.
Whilst the Palace is a ruin you can still see and experience the fabric of the once grand palace that would host the monarchy on their famous hunting trips. You can enjoy a walk around the ruins and indulge in a picnic if the weather is nice.
Everyone’s favourite vigilante – Robin Hood
We’ve all heard the tales and seen the movies; King John is the ultimate enemy of Robin Hood. Robin Hood was actually a character that was conceived in the early 1260s, over 40 years after King John’s death! Along with his band of merry men he stole from the rich to give to the poor. King John features in a number of tales that arose from the 16th Century, in which he played the antagonist whilst his good and noble brother was away on Crusade.
Newark and Sherwood obviously played host to a large amount of the legend, after all Robin did supposedly live in Sherwood Forest at the site of the Major Oak. It is even rumoured that St Mary’s Church in Edwinstowe is the location where Robin Hood and Maid Marian were married! The church is often open during the summer months for those who wish to see the location of perhaps one of the most famous weddings in history. You can then take a trip around Sherwood Forest and see the beautiful Major Oak.
Written by Rebecca Firmin (BA) Hons in History
Apprentice Projects Assistant, Newark and Sherwood District Council
Previous posts 2017