King John's Treasure

The story of King John's last days have become famous in certain circles. Yet what exactly occurred on 14 October 1216 has long remained a mystery. The prominent 13th century chronicler, Roger of Wendover, whose Flowers of History went into considerable – although at times questionable – detail of John’s demise, referred vividly to whirlpools opening up and swallowing the royal train whole. If true, this would have undoubtedly threatened the lives of those in attendance. Other contemporary accounts are more subdued, albeit broadly in agreement that the royalists did meet with some form of disaster while crossing from Lincolnshire into Norfolk. The evidence available suggests that John lost at least part of his train, but there is nothing to suggest it caused widespread death. Whether or not the lost property included the crown jewels or other items of importance also remains unclear.

The story that John was deliberately murdered due to fears he intended to raise the price of bread and reap havoc on the common folk was mentioned in the Brut Chronicle and indeed highlighted a Brother Simon in the role of assassin. Rumour that Shakespeare chanced upon this is also longstanding – his play King John, loosely based on the life of the king, picks up on the monk story and depicts John as being poisoned. Finding evidence that any of this is historical is another matter. If the majority of the chronicles are to be believed, John died from dysentery, illness and fatigue.