Monday, March 14, 2011

Kings and Stony Stratford - 3 King John and his travelling court

John was the youngest of the children of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was born, more-or-less as an afterthought, in 1167 when his mother was 45. Eleanor showed no interest in him and he spent most of his growing years with his father and was Henry's favourite son. John adopted some of the worst characteristics of his father, namely his deviousness but seemed to be unable to sustain a coherent policy. It has been suggested that John was manic-depressive, or in modern terms, bi-polar. He would have periods of frenetic energy followed by periods of extreme lassitude.

His reign was full of difficulties, usually of his own making, and the unintended legacy of his reign is the Magna Carta. At the time of his death, possibly of a heart attack, the country was in a state of civil war and John's early death brought to an end a very troublesome reign.

John was a very mobile king.He had no permanent centre and his court was constantly on the move. The whole adminstrative structure of john's reign moved around England, Ireland, Wales and France which also meant that the treasury moved with him. The story about John losing his treasure in the Wash while crossing it is true, but it could only happen to a king who had no permanent centre.

It is possible to map John's movements over the whole of his reign and in the various places he stopped he had to conduct court business; For this reason a charter survives that was issued and witnessed at Stony Stratford. This charter considers the appeal of one Godfrey Blundus of Northampton for some rights that were his due on the death of Roger Harengus and is dated 22nd February 1215. John stayed at Stony Stratford from 19 February 1215 to 5 March 1215.

The details of this charter have little meaning for us, but the fact that John lodged at Stony Stratford during this period tells us that there were a sufficient number of inns in Stony Stratford to accommodate the Royal retnue.

In December of that year, with his army of foreign mercenaries, John set forth on a campaign of terror up to the north of England in an attempt to bring the barons to heel. We know from the rolls that he followed a route through St Albans and Dunstable, but instead of taking the road through Stony Stratford he went  to Newport Pagnell en route to Northampton. John revealed the nastier side of his character during thins campaign and did not restrain his troops from sacking and looting every town they passed through, as well as destroying crops in granaries. There is no record of what was done to Newport Pagnell, but we can assume that Stony Stratford and Wolverton had a lucky escape.

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