King John and Newark Castle

Newark Castle

Since Tudor times, King John has been portrayed as a ‘bad’ king. Although in more recent times there have been some attempts at historical revisionism, decades of films and television productions have reinforced this negative image. From movies like ‘Ivanhoe,’ ‘The Lion in Winter’  and of course the many Robin Hood productions, including Ridley Scott's recent blockbuster. But even though, like his brother Richard, King John does not appear in the early medieval Robin Hood ballads, this Plantagenet king has always fascinated me.

It was at Newark Castle, in Nottinghamshire on 18th (possibly 19th) October, 1216 that King John died of Dysentery, brought on by too much hard riding and over-eating. Six days earlier his baggage train, carrying his treasure and jewels, had been trapped in the quicksands crossing the old River Ouse. The wagons had lost their way in the autumn mist, got stuck in the whirlpools and were overwhelmed by a rush of 'waters retuning from the sea'. After this King John is said to have worsened his fever by supping too greedily on peaches and new cider, probably to try and drown his sorrows.

King John's Tower

The sick and distressed King John eventually dragged himself along to the Bishop of Lincoln’s castle at Newark where he lay for three days, tended by the Abbot of Croxton, who had a reputation for medical skill. But he could do nothing for the King except perform the last religious rites. Many legends claim that King John was poisoned.

One in particular states that Friar Tuck poisoned ‘the ‘evil' king in revenge for the murder of Maid Marian.  Also that during the night a terrific thunderstorm was said to have swept over Sherwood Forest and was later described in it's ferocity as 'the Devil himself coming to claim King John's soul'.

I was very pleased to receive this latest instalment from Albie on his visit to Newark Castle. Albie has included once again some of his great pictures. This time of the surviving parts of Newark Castle and information on its amazing history:

"Originally this was the site of an Anglo-Saxon fortified manor house. A motte and bailey castle was erected shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1066 replacing the house. The 1st stone castle was built by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln between 1125 and 1135. The castle was heavily modified during the next 500 years and eventually became more a palace than a fort in the late 1400’s.

It was heavily involved in the English Civil War between 1642 and 1646 and was garrisoned by Royalist troops loyal to King Charles I. Newark was strategically important as it stands on the River Trent and on the Great North Road (London-York-Edinburgh road) which passed in front of the gatehouse. The king visited several times during the Civil War and rode out from there in May 1646 to surrender to Scottish troops in nearby Southwell. The castle suffered badly after being laid siege to by Parliamentary soldiers. It was slighted after the war with just the curtain wall and gatehouse being left standing – the demolition would have been complete had not a worker been killed and destruction stopped as it was seen as a bad omen.

Norman Gatehouse

Being so close to Sherwood the castle has associations with the Robin Hood legends. It was certainly standing during these times. The closets association is with King John. He died in the castle on October 18th 1216 from dysentery whilst en route to his hunting lodge at Clipstone. It was thought he died on a chamber in the so-called King John’s Tower. This is the oldest surviving part of the castle and dates back to 1135. However, many scholars now believe John died in an apartment in the gatehouse, which is the finest of its type in England. The castle was mentioned in at least one Robin Hood film and many TV series including Robin of Sherwood in the 1980’s.

It would have been a brave force trying to get into the castle in John’s day. Although there was no moat, to cross the gatehouse would have been heavily defended. It survived all attacks in both the English civil war and from the wars of King Stephen between 1135 and 1154.

There are several dungeons and a vaulted under croft (hall) below the ground. These can be entered via the river walk but are only open on certain days of the year. The castle was renovated in the early 1980’s and rooms in the North West and King John’s towers can be accessed. There are no surviving drawings or paintings showing how the castle looked before its destruction took place.


(Pictures taken - Saturday 29th May 2010)

Many thanks Albie!


Clement of the Glen said...

King John and Newark Castle

Albie's pictures taken Saturday 29th May 2010

Avalon said...

Interesting post;
That is sad that there are not any surviving paintings of the castle from before. It always bothers me when a piece of history is lost because one can never get it back once it is gone.
Speaking of the thunderstorm, I have often heard similar stories when an evil one passes or after evils deeds prevail and I very much believe God is revealing his wrath.
I would love to have the opportunity to visit and tour the castle, especially the creepy dungeon.