King John

Newark Castle was the scene of the spectacular death of King John in 1216.

The medieval King John is a controversial historical figure perhaps best known for his part in the Robin Hood legend. He is also known as the monarch who signed Magna Carta. He is often referred to as ‘Bad King John’ for imprisoning his former wife, starving his opponents to death, allegedly murdering his own nephew, taxing the country to the hilt to pay for his expensive foreign wars and provoking a vicious civil war with his own barons.

Magna Carta

The Barons' war, began in 1215 when two thirds of King John’s nobility marched on London, demanding that their king obey the law. King John refused. The rebel barons seized the city, insisting that their rights be laid down in writing.

King John was forced to agree, signing Magna Carta, one of the history’s most famous constitutional documents. Magna Carta laid out the obligations of the barons and set limits on the powers of the monarchy. Magna Carta was the first formal document stating that the monarch was as much under the rule of law as his people. It also stated that the rights of individuals were to be upheld, even against the wishes of the sovereign.

The Barons' War

The Pope decreed that King John did not have to adhere to the conditions of Magna Carta. The king took the Pope at his word. The result was war. The barons called upon the French for support and the Tower of London was seized. The country was engulfed in bloody conflict. At the height of the fighting, King John’s war chest and all his jewels were famously lost during an accident as his army crossed the Wash.

Death and burial

In the autumn of 1216 King John contracted dysentery. He was brought to Newark Castle to recover, where on 19 October 1216 he died. A violent thunderstorm raged above the town. Many at the time believed that the storm was the sound of the gates of hell opening to receive the wicked king.

King John was embalmed by an anonymous monk from Croxton Abbey. In accordance with his will, written in haste at Newark, his body was removed from Newark Castle and interred in Worcester Cathedral. His heart was embalmed separately and buried at Croxton Abbey.