King John's Palace at Clipstone

On the road from Edwinstowe to Mansfield, 19 miles from Nottingham, in the heart of what was once part of the royal forest of Sherwood, is the village of King’s Clipstone. Standing in what is known as Castle Field at grid reference SK605647 is the enigmatic ruins known today as ‘King John’s Palace’ or ‘the Castle’.

It is a site I have wanted to visit for a very long time. According to my notes this place was first documented in 1164 when ‘£20 was spent on repairs to the king’s houses’. The buildings were originally constructed in timber and later replaced Mansfield and Kingshaugh as the principal royal accommodation during the monarch’s hunting parties in Sherwood. For over 200 years this ‘palace’ was the main royal residence in the area and Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II all stayed for weeks or even months at a time. Ideally situated at the heart of ancient Sherwood, and only a day’s ride from Nottingham, they could enjoy the pleasures of the beautiful countryside and rich hunting away from the main royal residences. Situated on the high ground above the River Maun with the Great Pond of Clipstone to the east, the site would have been fairly secure and very pleasant.

The excavation in the 1950’s and field walking revealed numerous small Roman remains. It seems the site was probably first occupied by the Romans, later becoming first a Saxon, then a royal manor. The Plantagenet kings transformed the building into a royal palace. Excavations in 1956 showed that the palace consisted of a number of buildings, some timber framed and some stone, including a great hall, knights' hall, queen's hall and kitchen, king's kitchen, great chamber, great chapel and long stable, surrounded by a ditch.

The owner of historic ‘King John's Palace’, Mickey Bradley, is hoping to raise the profile of the site to save the ruins, which are in urgent need of work to stabilise the crumbling walls and recently the site was added to the English Heritage's Buildings 'At Risk Register', which highlights important sites that are in 'grave danger of irretrievable decay'. With the backing of local group the ‘Kings Clipstone Project’ –– Mr. Bradley is hoping that once the site is made safe, it can be opened up to visitors.

The group, which is working in partnership with Nottinghamshire County Council, Greenwood Community Forest, Sherwood Forest Trust, Newark & Sherwood Council and the Forestry Commission, wants to make the whole area more accessible to ramblers and cyclists.

Stephen Parkhouse, of the ‘Kings Clipstone Project’ said, "This area is like a jigsaw puzzle and all we need to do is put the pieces together. We're keen to make this a part of the Nottinghamshire tourist route.

"The things we are talking about –– for example a footpath up to Sherwood Forest Pines –– are not going to cost a lot of money, but will give people better access to what is a major royal site."

And Mrs. Bradley, the wife of the owner, believes all the work going on behind the scenes to ensure the survival of the ruins is worthwhile because of the great importance of the site.

"Everybody that comes here is floored by the amount of history and can't believe we have a royal palace," she said.

"People talk of it as a ‘hunting lodge’, but there were a whole series of buildings on a large scale and we know from documentary evidence it had stables for 200 horses –– it was a very important location. The remains are very much in danger and there are bits falling off all the time, the way things are going I don't think it will be here in 10 years time.”

A condition survey carried out by Nottinghamshire County Council found the palace to be in a 'dreadful state', but thanks to the rich history of the site the council views it as a priority. James Wright, of Nottinghamshire Community Archaeology said, "King John's Palace is a tremendously important site, it's a medieval royal palace and you don't really get much more important than that. It was used as a meeting place for the kings of England to meet other royalty and as such it is of national and even international importance."

The 4th Duke of Portland was known to have robbed the foundations in 1816. The buildings are said to have covered two acres with stables for two hundred horses which gives some idea of the scale of building on the site.

Six generations of Plantagenet Kings’ were recorded as delighting in the pleasures, Clipstone had to offer. Its grandeur can be summarized by the fact that Richard Lionheart visited it on Palm Sunday 1194. It was shortly after his return to England after being ransomed by the Duke of Austria and the siege of Nottingham Castle.

“……….he set out to see Clipstone and the forest of Sherwood, which he had never seen before and it pleased him much.”

Roger of Hoveden (fl.1174-1201)

Richard I chose to return on April 2nd to meet King William of Scotland. We can only imagine the entertainment’s planned. No king of Richard’s standing would choose to meet a fellow monarch particularly when greater houses were within reach. Maybe less formality and the pleasure of the hunt were the reason for this choice.

King John, Richard’s brother was given The Manors of Clipstone, while still Earl of Mortain. Deprived of them once because of mutinous behavior in trying to seize the crown whilst his brother was at the Crusades, they were later restored. There are actually only five recorded visits to the ‘Kings Houses’ but possibly some went un-chronicled. For some reason ‘King John’s Palace’ stuck, but not at the time. William Senior’s map 1630 refers to the building as ‘Manor Garth’ and Hoopers engraving refers to the ‘Kings Houses’ in 1784.

It seems that it was the earliest O/S Maps who started to use the term ‘King John’s Palace’. Probably this term was taken from the local people who knew other local legends about him. One in particular relates how King John whilst hunting in Sherwood was bought news of a Welsh uprising, so ordered the 28 boy hostages held at Nottingham Castle to be hung.

Nearby lays Parliament Oak, it was under the branches of this tree where Edward I is supposed to have held a parliament during a royal hunt in Sherwood. Edward, intent on proceeding to the Scottish Borders, summoned Parliament to meet him at Clipstone, in October 1290. This truly brought such a number of nobles to Clipstone that would never be seen again. During the months that followed he was near or at Clipstone, when his wife Eleanor Castille became seriously ill. She was staying at Rufford Abbey away from the bustle of Clipstone until she moved to Hardby where she died, on 28 November 1290.

Some of the additions were large and expensive. In 1279 Edward I added two chambers with chapels costing £435 12s 6d, a huge amount and two years later he built stables for 200 horses at a cost of £104 8s 5d. In 1348/49 money was spent on the rebuilding of the knights’ chamber and the repair of the great hall, the queen’s hall, the king’s kitchen, the queen’s kitchen, great chamber, Rosamund’s chamber, Robert de Mauley’s chamber, the treasurer’s chamber, the chamber of Lionel, the king’s son, the great chapel, the chapel next to the king’s chamber, the king’s long stable, and the great gateway.

The last known royal visit was by Richard II in 1393. After 1401 the palace was granted as a reward to loyal supporters (returned to the crown on death) and it fell into an increasing state of disrepair. By 1568 the ‘King’s Houses’ were virtually gone. For the next 250 years the site was plundered of its stone to build village houses and Clipstone Hall, the replacement manor house.

Whether the kings who stayed at Clipstone ever thought of the property as a ‘palace’ is debatable. What is certain is that the ‘King’s Houses’ became a high status complex of buildings, reflecting the fact that for over 200 years it was the favored residence of the Plantagenet Kings when visiting the area. The large sums being expended provide very good evidence that many of the buildings were constructed of stone and records from the 17th century indicate a Romanesque style. The three walls now remaining probably date from around 1279 when Edward I added the new King’s and Queen’s Chambers.

I will try and visit this site this year and post some pictures.


Clement of the Glen said...

King John's Palace at Clipstone Nottinghamshire
Sherwood Forest
Richard I

Jules Frusher said...

Really interesting post! Edward II stayed at Clipstone quite a lot - it appears that his second son, John of Eltham was conceived there. I must admit though, I didn't realise that anything of the place still existed - so that will be on my list for a visit soon!

Alianore said...

Fascinating details, Clement. I'd love to visit Clipstone too, as Edward II spent a lot of time there in the first half of his reign, including Christmas 1315 - though he was hardly ever there after 1316, for some reason. Maybe he just went off it! :) I'm really looking forward to seeing your pics of what remains.

According to the Calendar of Chancery Warrants, the keeper of the manor in May 1313 was one Thomas atte Merk, ordered to 'mend the defects in the paling of the manor'. In January 1317, there was a park at Clipstone called 'les Holms'.

Clement of the Glen said...

Thanks for your interesting comments Jules and Alianore.

I have visited the evocative Sherwood Forest a couple of times,but I have sadly never had time to visit King John's Palace.

Although it is just crumbling ruins, for me it would be wonderful to just stand in a place where all those legendary Plantagenet kings once stood!

Hopefully someone like the King's Clipstone Project will be able to create somekind of re-construction of how the buildings would have looked during the 12th 13th and 14th centuries!

Herns son said...

A very well written article clement , the Time Team should get involved that would be interesting.
I too will see this place this summer. Alan A Dale was heading for Clipstone in the story of Robin Hood and so will I.

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Anonymous said...

Time team visited this site in April 2011. Should be an interesting program when shown.