Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Royal Dismeanours - The Crown Jewels (part I)

King John, of Robin Hood fame, a contender for the title of "Worst King of England" is attributed with losing the first set of crown jewels in the Wash 1216. (The Wash is an area of wetlands on the East coast of England, and nothing to do with personal hygiene.) This isnt quite as strange as it sounds because Medieval kings were constantly on the move about their kingdom and took their jewels with them, to impress the locals with their wealth and authority.

King John - also known as "John Softsword" after going back on his word.
The story of the crown jewels loss is connected to John trying to cross the tidal marshes with a baggage train containing his valuables. Surprised by the speed of the incoming tide, the wagons became bogged down in quicksand.

The Wash estuary.
Charles Dickens gives us an account of events in his "A Child's History of England."

"…Looking back from the shore when he was safe, he [The King] saw the water sweeping down in a torrent, overturn the wagons, horses and men that carried his treasure and engulf them in a raging whirlpool from which nothing could be recovered."

This was the beginning of the end for John, who, overcome with the magnitude of the personal disaster was taken to a nearby monastery where he drowned his sorrows with large quantities of pear cider, developed dysentery and died!

Early Hollywood portrayal of Robin Hood.

With John dead, his son, the new King Henry was crowned but he had to make do with a simple gold circlet instead of a crown. This lack of finery was perhaps the beginning of Henry III's interest in jewels and royal symbols of power. By 1230 he decided the core of his jewels - the royal crown, orb and sceptre - symbols of the monarch's temporal and spiritual power, should be kept under guard in the Tower of London. Thus began the beginning of the Tower's link to the crown jewels

Henry III had his own problems and had to put the crown jewels to work, in a different way to his father. Constantly in need of money, not least for continual building work on the Tower, he pawned the gold and precious stones to a group of French merchants. When he died in 1272, they had to be hastily redeemed and brought back to England for the coronation of his son and successor, Edward I.

The First Plantagenets.

Henry II (married Eleanor of Aquitaine)                                            R 1154 - 1189
Richard (the Lionheart - of Robin Hood legend.)                              R 1189 - 1199
John     (signed the Magna Carta in 1215 to placate his barons.)       R 1199 - 1216
Henry III                                                                                             R 1216 - 1272
Edward I                                                                                             R 1272 - 1307

NEXT post…Who melted down the second set of crown jewels and which King discovered he was wearing fake jewels?


  1. Oh my. Such tribulations. And King John died over the matter. I hope it was his MEN that he was disturbed over!

  2. Please see this page:

  3. Debra, I suspect it was the jewels and not his men John grieved over!

    I so touched Debra that you saw fit to write such lovely things about my-blog-with-no-name over at English Epochs. Sincere thanks.
    G x


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