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King John on a stag hunt. (1300-1400)

Will New Technology Help Relocate the Long Lost Treasure of King John?


King John of England (1166 – 1216 AD) is one of the most infamous kings in English history. In an article written in conjunction with the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, King John was described as “one of the worst kings – arguably the worst king – ever to sit on England’s throne.” King John is known to have committed numerous wrong-doings during his life. For instance, when his older brother, Richard the Lionheart, was on a crusade in the Holy Land, he attempted to seize the English throne for himself.

Additionally, he was said by many scholars to have been a lecherous man, and it is reported that several nobles rebelled against him due to the fact that the king had forced himself upon their wives and daughters. Furthermore, he is reputed to have been extremely cruel, and instead of just capturing his enemies, he preferred to kill them. Due to John’s incompetency, much of his territory in continental Europe was lost to the French. Less well-known, perhaps, is the loss of his treasure.

The Signing of the Magna Carta - The Law is for Everyone

The story of King John’s lost treasure may have its beginnings in 1215. This is an important year in English history, as it was in this year that the Magna Carta was signed. The charter is said to be the first formal document stating that the king was not above the law, and in fact, was as much under the rule of law as his subjects. In addition, the charter disallowed the sovereign to trespass on the rights of the individual. In other words, a free man could not be imprisoned, exiled, deprived of his property or destroyed just because the monarch wished it. It was due to John’s signing of the Magna Carta that the rebellion of the barons ended.

One of four known surviving examples of the Magna Carta signed by King John and the Barons in 1215.

One of four known surviving examples of the Magna Carta signed by King John and the Barons in 1215. (The British Library/Wikimedia Commons)

War Begins

This peace did not last long, as John claimed that he signed the Magna Carta under duress. The Pope sided with King John, and the First Barons’ War began in 1215. John’s campaign against the rebels was successful in the beginning. But to even the odds, the rebel barons decided to request help from the French.

As Prince Louis of France had a claim to the English throne as well, he decided to invade England, and landed on the coast of Kent in May 1215. John’s fleet was badly damaged by storms and the way was cleared for Louis’ forces. Meanwhile, John returned from the north, where he pushed the Scots (who were allied with the rebel barons) out of England in January. Using Corfe Castle in the southwest as his base, John planned his campaign against both the rebel barons and the French.

King John and England battling the French (left) and Prince Louis of France on the march (right)

King John and England battling the French (left) and Prince Louis of France on the march (right) (Wikimedia Commons)

In October 1216, King John arrived in the port town of Lynn (known also as King’s Lynn). This was one of the few places in England that was still loyal to the king. It was in this town that John kept a kind of court, and entrusted its inhabitants with the care of his crown, regalia and valuable treasures for a time. However, soon after the king arrived in Lynn, he began feeling ill, and on October 11th he decided to head to Lincolnshire. It was whilst crossing the Wash, an estuary on the east coast of England, that King John lost his valuables.

King John's military campaigns from 1215-1216.

King John's military campaigns from 1215-1216. (Wikimedia Commons)

Theories on the Loss of the King's Treasure

There are three main theories as to what happened on that fateful journey and the location of the treasure. The first one, which is also the more accepted belief, is that John’s baggage train travelled separately from the king, and was lost somewhere on the western side of the Wash. According to this theory, the treasure should be located somewhere near Sutton Bridge.

The second theory suggests that the baggage train travelled with John, as it was too precious for the king to allow it to travel alone. If this was true, then the treasure would have been lost somewhere between Wisbech and Walsoken.

The third theory speculates that the treasure was lost in the region between Walpole and Foul Anchor, a crossing point to the north of Wisbech. Fewer scholars support this theory than the previous two.

There are, of course, a number of more fanciful theories as well. For example, according to one legend, John’s entourage stopped at a Cistercian abbey to the west of Boston at Swinehead, where the king’s illness became more severe. According to this theory, it was at this abbey that the king was poisoned by a monk named Brother Simon. This monk is also said to have been connected to the Templars. Thus, Brother Simon saw this as a good opportunity to help John's enemies and the order - so he took the king’s treasure, sold it around Europe, and sent the money to the Templars.

Portrait of King John with a church.

Portrait of King John with a church. (Wikimedia Commons)

Can LIDAR Help to Find the Lost Treasure?

Until today, the treasure of King John has never been foud. One major obstacle for the would-be treasure hunter is the changes that have happened in the physical landscape over the centuries. The land of the area that one sees today is said to be very different from that which was seen by King John and his men in 1216.

King John's tomb. King John died in October 1216. Worcester Cathedral, England.

King John's tomb. King John died in October 1216. Worcester Cathedral, England. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nonetheless, with the use of LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a technology that utilizes a combination of lasers and GPS data, it is now possible to show the way the landscape has changed over time. Using this new information, researchers may be able to recreate the route taken by King John, and perhaps even find his lost treasure.

Featured image: King John on a stag hunt. (1300-1400) (Wikimedia Commons)

By: Ḏḥwty


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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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