Sunday, 30 March 2014

King John: Nottinghamshire and the Magna Carta

By Stuart Reddish

King John had very close associations with Nottinghamshire. He was the great-grandson of William the Conqueror. William gave to his bastard son William the Honour of Peverill (Perlethorpe) in Nottinghamshire. This was a fiefdom that could make its own laws and raise its own taxes. He became known as William Peverill.

Clearly William the Conqueror saw Nottinghamshire as a strategic area in his plans by giving it to his son and rebuilding the castle. As did John's father Henry II, who gave his son titles and manors in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, and in 1174 King Henry II gave the castle of Nottingham to his favourite son. John was known as the Earl of Mortain, he was also given the Great Manor of Mansfield.

Nottingham Castle remained John’s chief and most frequented residence until he was ejected in 1194 by the return to England of his brother King Richard 1 (Richard the Lionheart). It was in this year that Richard discovered the suitability of Sherwood Forest for a Royal hunting ground and April 17 1194 he met the King of the Scots at Clipstone. The King's Houses at Kings Clipstone had already been built by his father Henry but were now extended and renovated by both Richard and John.

In 1189 when Richard became king he settled on John the whole estate of William Peverill – the Honour of Peverill, also the Earldoms of Nottingham, Lancaster and Derby and several other places. Richard then left England for the Holy Land and left John in charge. 1193 Richard returns to England from his religious crusades. He is dissatisfied with how John has ruled in his absence. John retreated to Nottingham Castle, and Richard gathered forces and laid siege to Nottingham and the castle at Tickhill. Both castles and the surrounding area held fast to John. But eventually John was overcome and the charges laid were treason. But the brothers became reconciled and Richard once again left England for France.

In 1199 King Richard died and John finally became king. King John was generally despised as a weak and cowardly man, but during his reign there was a decline of animosity between the Saxons and Normans and they became unified in their hatred of John.

In Nottinghamshire and his other manors John appears to be thought of more fondly – he was the Lord of the Great Manor of Mansfield and appears to have had many friends and treated his tenants and followers with respect and generosity. He spent time at his favourite place the King's Houses in Clipstone, this being one of the places he enjoyed the most, entertaining and hunting in the Deer Park and the Royal Forest of Sherwood. It was a palace fit for a king - indeed extensive recent investigation has shown a vast site of high status.

In 1212 while John was residing at Clipstone he was informed that an insurrection was planned by Welsh nobles. King John summoned his Barons, who were enjoying the chase with him, to a parley under the bows of an oak tree on the boundary of the Deer Park of Clipstone. That oak tree became known locally as the Parliament Oak and is named as such in an 1816 Perambulation Document describing the boundary walk in that year. Parliament Oak is still growing on the boundary. With the consent of the Barons and in a rage he had 28 young Welsh 'princes' hung on the walls outside Nottingham Castle. This was seen universally as a cruel and despicable act.

There followed a general uprising in England against John. General unrest amongst the Barons against the burden of rising taxes began to cause unrest. The feudal Barons demanded the king be subject to the rule of law. In 1215 he met with the Barons at Runnymede and signed the Magna Carta. This Charter required John to proclaim certain liberties and accept that his will was not arbitrary by explicitly accepting that no "freeman" could be punished except through the law of the land, a right that still exists.

John then returned to the Kings Houses at Clipstone Sherwood Forest and resumed his hunting!

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