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King John’s final campaign in 1216 cost him his life and his crown jewels, but there is new hope the priceless treasure will be found again. Source: Charles A. Buchel / Public Domain.

Search is On to Find King John’s Lost Crown Jewels

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The year is 1216 and King John of England, made famous as the usurper who faced off against Robin Hood, faces open rebellion from his nobles across much of the country. The ailing king is forced to campaign, travelling his kingdom to fight the rebels.

With him travelled his court, his train, and his treasury, including the priceless Crown Jewels of England. King John would not survive this last campaign, and during his journey his baggage and the Crown Jewels were also lost, somewhere along his route.

King John’s infamous escapade in 1216 is said to have resulted in the misplacement of the Crown Jewels during his attempt to traverse The Wash estuary in Norfolk. One of history’s famed hidden treasures, archaeologists are now on a mission to restore and recover the lost booty of the man often thought to be one of England’s worst ever rulers.

Nestled in the Fenlands near Walpole Marsh, researchers have employed LiDAR technology. The location for the search has been carefully chosen, considering what it would have looked like 800 years ago: a vast marshland prone to flooding.

The new solar farm: do the lost Crown Jewels of King John lie beneath the site? (Yahoo! News / SNWS)

The new solar farm: do the lost Crown Jewels of King John lie beneath the site? (Yahoo! News / SNWS)

The excavation is underway as a requirement following the approval of planning permission for a new solar farm development in the vicinity. Historians and archaeologists suspect that the lost treasures of the monarch could potentially be concealed within this area, reports , reports Yahoo News.

Bad King John: A Misfit of A Ruler

King John, who ruled as the monarch of England from 1199 to 1216, faced a tumultuous reign characterized by conflicts with his barons. The barons, disillusioned with their feudal obligations, united and advanced on key English cities including London, Lincoln, and Exeter, compelling King John to seek a peace accord at Runnymede, later renowned as the site of the Magna Carta's signing.

However, King John's subsequent failure to uphold the provisions of the Magna Carta prompted him to recruit a mercenary army. In response, the barons, exasperated by John's actions, extended an offer of the crown to Prince Louis of France, ultimately compelling John to retreat.

Historically, the Magna Carta stands as the first written assertion that the king and his government are bound by the law. This was a watershed moment in history, a foundation of the principle of equality in modern democracies.

The Wash of East Anglia is a vast area of marshland, and somewhere out there are the lost Crown Jewels of King John (Richard Humphrey / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Wash of East Anglia is a vast area of marshland, and somewhere out there are the lost Crown Jewels of King John (Richard Humphrey / CC BY-SA 2.0)

John has been portrayed as a lackluster monarch overshadowed by his father, Henry II, and his brother, Richard the Lionheart. His reputation is marred by his avarice, leading to the enduring epithet "Bad King John." On top of that, he has been immortalized in folklore as a primary antagonist in the tales of Robin Hood.

In 1216, John fell ill with dysentery and passed away in October at Newark Castle in Nottinghamshire. His final resting place is in Worcester Cathedral, where he was interred in front of the altar dedicated to St. Wulfstan, reports The Heritage Daily.

During the early 13th century, King John's considerable wealth and treasure stirred fascination and envy. Historical accounts depict him as possessing a substantial collection of valuable jewels, gold and silver coins, and other precious items. This treasure not only symbolized his royal stature but also funded his military endeavors and lavish lifestyle.

Where Did the Treasure Go?

The exact circumstances surrounding the disappearance of King John's jewels remain shrouded in debate and speculation. One narrative suggests that during a military campaign in East Anglia, King John's baggage train, laden with treasure, got stranded in the perilous tidal estuary known as The Wash off the East Anglian coast. As the tide surged, the valuable cargo was engulfed by the sea, despite frantic attempts to salvage it.

In fact, in 2022, a scientist revealed that it was engulfed by the sea due to an exceptionally large and powerful tide, reports The Telegraph. Through analysis of historical astronomy records, it was determined that the king's convoy and riches succumbed to a perfect storm of celestial events.

The alignment of the Sun and Moon during a new moon phase, coupled with the Moon's close proximity to Earth, generated a formidable 22-foot (6.5m) high wave, sealing the fate of the treasure beneath the greedy waters.

An alternative version proposes that opportunistic thieves or looters targeted King John's treasure during one of his military campaigns or journeys through the English countryside. These perpetrators managed to evade capture, leaving the monarch's jewels lost to history.

Assessing the modern-day value of King John's lost jewels poses a challenge due to the uncertain composition and extent of the treasure. However, considering historical records and the value of precious materials in the 13th century, it is estimated that the lost jewels could be worth tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in today's currency. The legend of King John's lost jewels has become the obsession of numerous treasure hunters across the centuries, but they have never been found.

Clive Bond, chairman of the West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Archaeological Society (WNKLAS), said: “It’s an opportunity to take a glimpse into the landscape. When you’re looking at something this big it’s quite exciting. There could be something there, absolutely, but actually getting to where it’s been deposited in a changing, dynamic river system – you’re looking a million to one.”

Top image: King John’s final campaign in 1216 cost him his life and his crown jewels, but there is new hope the priceless treasure will be found again. Source: Charles A. Buchel / Public Domain.

By Sahir Pandey

References

Manning, E. 2024.  Excavation looks to solve mystery of King John's lost treasure after 800 years. Available at: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/excavation-looks-solve-mystery-king-195317946.html

Milligan, M. 2024.  Archaeologists search for King John’s lost treasure. Available at: https://www.heritagedaily.com/2024/03/archaeologists-search-for-king-johns-lost-treasure/151213

Moeed, A. 2024.  Archaeologists in Search of King John’s Lost Treasure. Available at: https://greekreporter.com/2024/03/28/king-john-lost-treasure/

Radley, D. 2024.  Archaeologists search for King John’s lost treasure after 800 years. Available at: https://archaeologymag.com/2024/03/archaeologists-search-for-king-johns-lost-treasure/

 
Sahir's picture

Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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