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.
|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 ....
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