Tuesday, January 3, 2017

King John's Lost Treasure


Many of us remember King John of England (1166-1216) as the nemesis of Robin Hood, taxer of the poor and usurper of the English crown while his brother, the rightful king Richard the Lionheart, was away fighting in the Crusades. He is considered by many to be one of the worst kings in English history.

He was also one of the richest.

John was the youngest son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1173, John's brothers Henry, Geoffrey and Richard (later Lionheart) rebelled against King Henry, along with their mother Eleanor. The rebellion failed, but John, as the only son not involved in the rebellion, became King Henry's favorite child.

Rebellion seems to have run in the family, because the brothers continued to fight among themselves over land, although Henry and Geoffrey died young. It wasn't shocking when, after Henry II died and Richard became king, John attempted a rebellion against Richard, who was rarely in England. While Richard's administrators at home held fast, Richard's reign was short, and at his death in 1199, John was crowned king.
Image result for king john of england
John, painted by Matthew Paris after 1250. Public Domain
By 1216, however, John was not considered a successful monarch. His barons rebelled against him. A year earlier, John had added his royal seal to the Magna Carta, a document that further reduced the power of the Crown, but neither John nor the barons seemed intent on keeping peace. The barons invited King Philip of France to fight John in England, and in the autumn of 1216, John had spent several months out on military campaign.

In October, John started to feel ill (he'd probably contracted dysentery). He determined to travel to Lincolnshire, which he considered to be a safe place to recover. He traveled a slower, safer route but the baggage wagons took the shorter route through the marshes. Exactly what happened next is a mystery, but one thing is clear: the baggage, which included the royal treasure, disappeared.

The baggage wagons had to cross a bay called the Wash or the Wellstream. According to legend, while crossing the bay at Wisbech, the wagons were lost. Possible reasons could include the rising tide or quicksand.

Much of the treasure was inherited by John from his grandmother, the Empress of Germany. Also lost were the Crown Jewels, an Arthurian relic called the Sword of Tristram, a golden wand, gold goblets, silver plate, and piles of coins. Today's value is estimated at seventy million dollars.
Despite search parties sent by John, the treasure wasn't recovered. Alas, John died within the week at a monastery in Lincolnshire. His grief over losing his fortune and ancestral treasures could not have helped his illness.

The treasure remains lost today. Nevertheless, fortune hunters still seek it, and in 2015 scientists used a new tool called LIDAR (Light detection and ranging) to determine how the landscape has changed in the past six hundred years, which might help archaeologists trace the route King John used. 

After six hundred years, it's difficult to imagine the treasure will ever be recovered. But one can always wonder ....

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BIO: Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she's the award-winning author of a dozen new and upcoming historical romances. A pastor's wife and mom of two, she loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, the beach, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. You can visit her on her website, www.susannedietze.com, and sign up for her newsletter for an occasional cheery hello: http://eepurl.com/bieza5


Although I'm a descendant of John and his second wife, Isabelle of Angoul√™me, the closest I'll ever get to his treasure is the role it plays in my novella, In for a Penny, in The American Heiress Brides Collection, out now.

18 comments:

  1. This was very fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, chappydebbie! I'm so glad you could come by today.

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  2. There was a BBC documentary on the subject a while back 'the last journey of the Magna Carta King'. I'm inclined to think some of the treasure was found and sold, or melted down. Indeed, some people think it was never lost, but pawned or used to pay off solidiers or some such.

    One sad aside is that the reign of John, the third Plantagenet King is marred by the disappearance and probable murder of a Nephew, just like that of Richard III.

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    1. What an intriguing idea that the treasure was never lost, or recovered and kept secret! It wouldn't surprise me at all.

      I will have to look for that documentary.

      I had no idea about the murdered nephew. What a tragedy. I will definitely be looking into this, too. Thank you for sharing the information with me! I'm eager to learn more.

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  3. Just as one Addenum. John did not technically 'sign' the Magna Carta. Nobody signed anything in those days. He attached his seal to it. The whole process, and some of the people involved are fascinating, including William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, and Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury who is sometimes also credited with diviiding the Bible into chapters.

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    2. Thank you for the info! You are right: although literature says John "signed" the Magna Carta, he did so with his seal. I will change it in the post. Very interesting about the others who were involved, too! Thanks!

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    3. You don't need to change it on my account, I'm just being pedantic. A lot of sources say signed, and a lot of artistic depictions show it.

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  4. Informative post about King John and his lost treasure. Congratulations on your novella, In for a Penny, in The American Heiress Brides Collection. Just having your ancestry traced that far back is interesting.

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    1. Hi Marylin! Thanks for the good wishes. It's a fun collection and I'm honored to be part of it!

      I enjoy genealogy, and it's fascinating to see where our families come from. It's interesting that we always thought my family members were farmers, but in that particular branch, my ancestor came to Virginia before the Revolution and within a few generations the family had lost their money. You just never know!

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  5. A very interesting post, but as a genealogist, I'm more fascinated by your being a descendant of King John. Really? I'm utterly tongue-tied. I've discovered my husband's history back to the early 1600s, but yours goes centuries farther to someone whose life played such a historic role in English history. Wow.

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    1. Isn't that an interesting tidbit, Anita? It was a shock when I was on ancestry.com messing around one day and saw an ancestor who was noted as a descendant of Charlemagne! The tracing was easy from there. We had no idea.

      My ancestors in America were farmers, tinsmiths, soldiers...folks working for their daily bread. Who knew somewhere behind them were some European members of royalty?

      We all come from some fascinating people. I'd love to learn more about all of them, but I don't have the time to spend on genealogy that I'd like right now. You and I share this passion!

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    2. You know, they say descent from British royalty is not actually that uncommon in Britain, America and the former cololnies like Canada and Australia. I once heard the figure that one third of the British population is descended from royalty or nobility. I suspect though that a fair amount are probably descended from illigitmate offspring, of which King John had a fair few.

      Its also said that there are literally millions (or it might have been tens of millions), of people descended from John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III.

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    3. Don't tell my husband those figures, English Lady. He's already dubbed himself Sir Nelson as a nickname without having credentials or family lore to back it up. LOL

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    4. Fascinating statistics, English Lady! Not too surprising, either, since many of them had so many children, legitimate and illegitimate. Each of them has a story, too! It's been fun.

      How interesting about John of Gaunt having millions of descendants...I will have to look into that! Thanks!

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  6. Fascinating bit of history, and you are related! Congratulations on "In For A Penney" and the release of American Heiress Brides! I love the Barbour collections.

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    1. Hi Andrea! Thanks for the good wishes. I, too, love the novella collections, so it was a treat to be part of one. Anita Mae Draper is also in the collection and she's giving one away today! Scroll up for the entry form.

      So glad you could come by. Thanks and have a great day!

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