Thursday 24 December 2015

KING JOHN'S CHRISTMAS EVE by Elizabeth Chadwick

The first Christmas I joined The History Girls, I posted a piece about where King Henry II spent every Christmas of his reign.  IF IT'S CHRISTMAS IT MUST BE CHINON

My monthly spot always falls on the 24th, so I thought I'd write a variation on the above and post, in this year of Magna Carta commemorations,  the whereabouts of King John on December 24th for each year of his reign between 1199 and 1215 - where it is known.   Where it isn't, I have plumped for the closest date.
John's reign ended in October 1216 at Newark Castle.

1199.  In 1199, John was off the map on December 24th, but there is a chance he was at Bures in Normandy, because he was certainly there on the 26th, and Bures had a tradition of hosting Angevin family Christmases.  It was from Bures in 1170 that the four knights of Henry II's household set out on their journey that would culminate in the murder of Thomas Becket.

1200.  In this year John was in transit on the way to the Angevin hunting lodge and palace at  Woodstock which had been a favourite of his family for several generations.  His great grandfather King Henry I had kept a menagerie of exotic animals - and mistresses here!  Possibly he was starting out from Farnham or Guildford.

1201  John was across The Channel at Argentan where he spent 6 days of the Christmas period. During this time he paid 25 shillings to the clerks who chanted 'Christus Vincit' for him.  Christus Vincit

1202  Caen in Normandy was the venue this year.  He had spent the 6 days Prior to this at Bures - see  the entry for 1199.

1203  There's a blank in the itinerary for 1203, but Christmas Day was spent at Canterbury, so it's safe to assume he was either travelling or had arrived in Canterbury on the 24th.  John was a highly itinerant monarch who spent much of his reign in the saddle travelling from castle to castle, manor to manor, lodge to lodge, typically covering anything from 15 to 35 miles in a day.  He stayed at 13 different places throughout December 1203, including a Channel crossing in early December.

1204  John was at Marlborough in 1204 and Christmas Eve  his 3rd day there. He would spend Christmas Day at Tewekesbury, for which he had  ordered in four thousand plates and five hundred cups as well as four hundred yards of linen for napkins and table cloths.

1205  Woodstock was the Christmas Eve venue for 1205, on the way to Oxford for Christmas Day.  See the entry for 1200 for more on Woodstock. Here's a black and whie illustration of the palace in its grandeur, but post the Angevin monarchy. It was knocked down in the 18th century and now lies under the environs of Blenheim Palace.

1206  saw John at Winchester on Christmas Eve for the first of 3 days. At one time Winchester had been England's major city but by now had been overtaken by London.

1207   On December 24th, John was in transit and heading for Windsor, another favourite royal castle.

1208  Bristol was the venue for Christmas this year.  John arrived on the 24th and spent three days in the port city.  He may have been waiting for news from Ireland concerned with political difficulties there involving his great magnate William Marshal.  The latter was at court during this period but not in favour.  As it happened the seas were so rough that no news was forthcoming, for no vessels would dare the crossing.

1209 Windsor was the venue again in 1209 for two days.  Again, John had been on the move all month and had made 13 different overnight stops altogether.

1210  John spent 5 days in York in this year.

1211  John was at Windsor again on this date. For the Christmas feast, the constable ordered in 60 pounds of pepper, 18 pounds of cumin, half a pound of galingale, 3 pounds of cinnamon, 1 pound of cloves, half a pound of nutmeg, 2 pounds of ginger. Also bought in were 24 towels, 103 yards of canvas, 1500 cups, 1200 pitchers, 10,000 herrings, 1800 whiting, 900 haddock and 3,000 lampreys (despite their deadly reputation for causing digestive upset!).

1212  saw John at the royal palace of Westminster for 3 days.  His father Henry II had had the buildings refurbished when he came to the throne and later, John's son Henry III would remodel and upgrade it extensively, building the famous 'painted chamber.'

1213  John was back at Windsor

1214  John was  riding between Hereford and Worcester on Christmas Eve,  a distance of about 26 miles.

1215  In this, the final time in his life when he would celebrate Christmas,  John was travelling on Christmas Eve between Melton Mowbray and Nottingham, a shortish distance of around 20 miles.  He would stay in Nottingham for one night before moving on to his hunting lodge at Langar, and then onto Newark, the place where he was to die 10 months later of an unspecified but perhaps gastric illness while fighting a war to prevent the son of the French King and the rebellious barons backing him, from taking the crown over which John had schemed and fought all of his life, almost from the day of his birth.
Newark Castle

Elizabeth Chadwick is an award winning historical novelist.  Her latest book, THE WINTER CROWN, tells the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II and their children between the years 1154-1174. 


Sue Purkiss said...

Goodness - he certainly got about!

Marie Otigba said...

I read this book a month ago - absolute classic

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