The Magna Carta Project

John moves towards Pontefract

by Professor Nicholas Vincent

27 December 1215 - 2 January 1216


27-28 Dec 1215

Langar (Nottinghamshire)

RLC, i, 243b-4; Wendover, Flores, ed. Coxe, iii, 350

Wendover, Flores, ed. Coxe, iii, 350, dates the King's removal to Langar to 26 December.

27 Dec 1215

Belvoir (Rutland)

Wendover, Flores, ed. Coxe, iii, 350

27-30 Dec 1215

Newark-on-Trent (Nottinghamshire)

RLP, 162; RLC, i, 244

30-31 Dec 1215

Hodsock (Nottinghamshire)

RLP, 162b; RLC, i, 244b

31 Dec 1215

Eelpie Bridge (in West Drayton, Notts.)

RLP, 162b

For the place-name form here, 'Merieldebrig', now Eelpie Bridge, in the parish of West Drayton, where the Great North Road crosses the rivers Maun, Meden and Poulter, all flowing here into the river Idle, see J.E.B. Gover, A. Mawer and F.M. Stenton, The Place-Names of Nottinghamshire, Survey of English Place-Names xvii (1940), 48.

1 Jan 1216

Hodsock (Nottinghamshire)

RLP, 162b; RLC, i, 244b

1-2 Jan 1216

Doncaster (Yorkshire W.R.)

RLP, 162b; RLC, i, 244b

2 Jan 1216

Pontefract (Yorkshire W.R.)

RLC, i, 244b; Histoire des ducs, 163

Pontefract Castle

Pontefract Castle, by Alexander Keirincx, c. 1640

Leaving Nottingham immediately after his Christmas festivities, the King made his way via the bishop of Lincoln's manor of Newark-on-Trent, reaching Doncaster on January 1 (traditionally a day of festivities and gift giving, spent on the road in this exceptional year). If the details reported on the chancery roll can be trusted, there was a probe towards Doncaster as early as 31 December, meeting with a temporary halt at Eelpie Bridge, where the Great North Road crosses various tributaries of the river Idle. By Saturday 2 January the King was nonetheless eighteen miles north of Doncaster, at the castle of Pontefract, chief bastion of John de Lacy, constable of Chester, and a leading member of the baronial twenty-five. The intention was clearly to intimidate De Lacy and his fellow rebels into making peace. To this end, throughout the week, safe conducts were issued, inviting rebels to attend discussions with the King. On Sunday 27 December, letters of this kind were sent to the Lincolnshire barons Simon of Kyme, Gilbert of Benniworth and Lambert of Moulton (to last to Sunday 3 January), on Wednesday 30 December to Hugh Painel and those with him (to last to Friday 8 January), and on the following days to Maurice de Ghent, Gerard de Furnivall and William de Cressy (to the same term, with three barons serving as pledges for William, 'so that his houses be not burned provided he come to the King's peace and fealty').1 Notwithstanding these arrangements, on 2 January, Philip d'Aubigny (a Breton kinsman of the Aubigny lords of Belvoir) was granted custody of the lands of Maurice de Ghent, including the Yorkshire manor of Leeds.2 Robert Bardulf was granted safe conducts 'to discuss our peace' before 8 January, with an additional clause recognizing his status as a vowed crusader immune from harm 'by fire or other means'.3 On Thursday 31 December, three days before his arrival outside Pontefract, the King granted John de Lacy conducts to last a year from 2 January, the exceptionally generous terms here perhaps reflecting John's significance to the rebel cause.4 According to the chronicler known as the 'Anonymous of Béthune', John de Lacy surrendered Pontefract, following mediation by the earl of Chester.5 At about this time, another of the earl of Chester's men, John d'Orreby, offered three palfreys for the King's benevolence, with the earl himself standing as pledge.6

As early as 27 December, from Langar, the King had opened negotiations for the surrender of Belvoir Castle, the chief but poorly defended stronghold of William d'Aubigny, himself recently captured at Rochester. Roger of Wendover, who as one-time prior of Belvoir had privileged sources of information, claims that the King himself visited the castle on 27 December (the feast of St John the Evangelist and in all likelihood King John's own birthday), granting it in custody to Geoffrey and Oliver de Bouteville, described by Wendover as 'Poitevins', in reality from those parts of the Angoumois where John ruled by virtue of his wife, Isabella of Angoulême.7 In compliance with the arrangements made for its surrender, on 29 December, Belvoir's entire garrison of thirteen knights and twenty-eight serjeants (all of them named in the record) was to be allowed to go free, carrying away arms and harness that had previously deposited in the local Benedictine priory.8 Simon of Pattishall, the former royal justice, who seems to have made his peace with the King for the second time this year, having attended court at Northampton on 21-22 December, was promised restoration of his estates, as was Roger de Montbegon, who by 2 January, when the King was at Pontefract, had returned to fealty and been promised the restoration of his estates in seven counties.9 Later testimony confirms that both John de Lacy and Roger de Montbegon returned to fealty on 1 January, the feast of the Circumcision and in normal years an occasion for feasting and generosity at court.10 They thus became the second and third of the twenty-five barons of Runnymede (after William d'Aubigny) either to be captured or to surrender to the King. On his way northwards, the King continued to extract punitive fines from rebel manors: 100 marks each in 'tenseria' from the men of the Nottinghamshire vills of Retford and Laxton, and (independent of the King's own itinerary) 80 marks from William of Mowbray's men of Thirsk in Yorkshire, in the two last cases to guarantee against the burning of houses, payable within only a week or two.11

From Newark and Laxton, the King looked to the nearby city of Lincoln, where new bailiffs were appointed, and from where he commanded the dispatch of supplies, including a dozen hand-towels for his own personal use, a pound of cinnamon and four ounces of nutmeg.12 The dean of Lincoln transferred 50 marks to the constable of Newark, ultimately for the use of Philip Mark at Nottingham.13 Elsewhere, there were calls for military or defensive action, with the grant to Roger of Clifford the younger of custody over Hanley Castle in Worcestershire, and a command to Thomas of Erdington, issued on 30 January, to ensure the surrender and slighting of Robert Marmion's castle at Tamworth in Staffordshire, retaining in the King's hands all prisoners and equipment found there.14 Mountsorrel castle in Leicestershire, granted after Runnymede to Saher de Quincy, was ordered surrendered to the King's Flemish mercenary, Theodore (?alias Thierry) de Zottegem, and three knights were sent to strengthen the royalist garrison at Sauvey.15 There was the by now customary cluster of commands for rebel land to be transferred to royalists, and a smaller number of land grants that seem to have been related to inheritance or reward and only indirectly to the civil war.16

In East Anglia, meanwhile, the King's mercenaries continued their campaign of pillage.17 On Sunday 27 December, Savaric de Mauléon and his troops entered the Cistercian Abbey of Tilty north of Chelmsford, whilst mass was being celebrated, and ransacked the church. Further east, on Friday 1 January, the feast of the Circumcision, another Essex Cistercian house, Coggeshall, was attacked by twenty-two horsemen intent on pillage and the kidnapping of rebel clerks. From Coggeshall, they made their way northwards to Bury St Edmunds, and then to besiege the Isle of Ely to which a large number of refugees had fled. The outcome was to be a massacre, led by the mercenary captain Walter Buc.18


RLP, 162-2b, the pledges for William de Cressy ('ne domus ipsius Willelmi conbureretur quo(a)d ipse interim ad fidem et pacem domini regis veniet') being named here as Henry de Gray, Robert de Cardinan and Reginald de Vautort.


RLP, 162b. At the same time, Philip was restored to possession of the Lincolnshire manor of Ingleby, confiscated after 1205 from his elder brother, Ralph, who had adhered to the French following King John's loss of Normandy: RLP, 162


RLP, 162, 'nec per incendium nec alio modo'.


RLP, 162b.


Histoire des ducs de Normandie et des rois d’Angleterre, ed. F. Michel (Paris, 1840), 163.


Rot.Ob., 569, and cf. RLP, 163, letters of peace for John d'Orreby, issued on 6 January.


Roger of Wendover, Flores Historiarum, ed. H.O. Coxe (4 vols., London, 1842), iii, 350, 'natione Pictauiensibus'.


Wendover, Flores, ed. Coxe, iii, 350-1; RLP, 162, and cf. RLC, i, 244, for letters of the same date commanding the sheriff of Nottinghamshire to ensure Albreda Biset, wife of William d'Aubigny the younger, possession of the manor of 'Brugeport' (?East Bridgford, Nottinghamshire) to maintain her needs. The attack on Belvoir is also mentioned in the Histoire des ducs, ed. Michel, 163.


RLC, i, 244-4b, including restoration to Roger of Oswaldbeck and North Wheatley ('Wateleg') in Nottinghamshire, overturning an order issued as recently as 29 December, that Roger's lands be granted to Oliver d'Aubigny, another royalist kinsman of the Aubignys of Belvoir: RLC, i, 244. For Simon of Pattishall, see N. Vincent, 'Feature of the Month: December 2015 - Christ's College and Magna Carta',The Magna Carta Project.


RLC, i, 245, orders of 3 January for the lands of John and Roger.


Rot.Ob., 569, Laxton to pay by 8 January, Thirsk in two instalments due on 13 and 20 January.


RLP, 162; RLC, i, 244.


RLC, i, 244b, and cf. commands to Peter de Maulay to pay 20 marks from the cash held 'outside the treasury' at Corfe, to Ralph Gernon (RLP, 162b), and to brother Roger, keeper of the King's shipping at Sandwich, to grant money from the marshalcy of the ships, to John Cunde to buy a horse on the King's behalf (RLC, i, 244).


RLP, 162; RLC, i, 244b, and for reprisals against Robert Marmion, in train since early December, see King John’s Diary and Itinerary 29 November - 5 December and 6-12 December.


For Mountsorrel, to be released by William de Cantiloupe, see RLP, 162b, and King John’s Diary and Itinerary 21-27 June. Wendover (Flores, ed. Coxe, iii, 353) nonetheless claims that it remained in rebel hands, even after the King's return from the north. For Sauvey, apparently commanded by Geoffrey de Serland, see RLC, i, 244. Wendover (Flores, ed. Coxe, iii, 353) reports that the castles of Rockingham and Sauvey, and William de Coleville's castle at Bytham in Lincolnshire, were all entrusted by the King to William count of Aumale.


For transfers occasioned by war, see RLC, i, 243b-4b, including seizures from Ralph d'Aincourt (at Old Dalby ('Daubye'), in Broughton, Leicestershire, to William de Mesnil), William de Benniworth (in Lobthorpe (in North Witham) and Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, to Richard Monachus), Roger de Cahaignes (in Dorset, Somerset and Cornwall, to Henry de la Pomeroy), David earl of Huntingdon (£12 of land at Bozeat, Northamptonshire, to Hugh Gacelin/Wacelin and his brother, in exchange for land previously granted to them at Doddington (cf. King John’s Diary and Itinerary 13-19 December, now restored to the heir of Saher de Tenys), William of Duston (in Ranton and 'Halop', Staffordshire, to William de Harcourt, and in seven other counties to Hugh de Neville, and cf. W. Farrer, Honors and Knights' Fees (3 vols., London 1923-5), ii, 227), Robert of Everingham (£20 of land in Yorkshire, to Aimery Parvus, the King's crossbowman), Ralph de Haye (£20 of land at Middleton, Sussex, to Thomas Peverel), Hugh de la Legh (land worth less than £30 in Bedfordshire, to Bartholomew de la Huese), Serlo de Marcy (£30 of land in Stondon Massey, Essex, to William Parvus, the King's serjeant), Robert Marmion (£30 of land at Berwick, Sussex, to Robert brother of Thomas Peverel), John of Marston (in 'Tynefeld' (?Stonesfield, Oxfordshire), to William de Breauté), Walter de Mauling (land worth less than £5 in Dadlington, Leicestershire, to Walter Spigurnel), William de Montacute (held with custody of the lands of John fitz Richard in Dorset and Somerset, to Robert de Mucegros), Robert de Newburgh (in Northamptonshire, to Hugh de Neville), Peter Picot (in Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire, to Eustace de Es), William de Quatremares (in Leicestershire, to William Ruillard), Robert de Ropsley (at Broadwell, Oxfordshire, to Thomas Mauduit), Richard de Wyville (in Welford, Northamptonshire, to Robert de Yeland). See also the King's grant of the manor of 'Hanchel', apparently in Norfolk, to Thomas de Blunville (RLC, i, 244), and his exercise in favour of Roger of Essex of the advowson of Pleasley ('Plesselegh'), Derbyshire, apparently by virtue of his custody of Oliver d'Aincourt's barony of Blankney: RLP, 162b, and for the Aincourt barony, cf. I.J. Sanders, English Baronies: A Study of their Origin and Descent 1086-1327 (Oxford, 1960), 15-16; King John’s Diary and Itinerary 20-26 December. For transfers of land that seem only indirectly related to the war, see the grants to John de Turri as constable of Marlborough of £20 of land at Winfrith alias 'H'decot', Dorset (RLC, i, 244b) and to Robert de Neville of land claimed by him as of right in 'Hieton' and 'Elleswrd', Northamptonshire, held by Ascelina de Waterville and Matilda de Dive (RLP, 162b; RLC, i, 244b), and the transfer of the Braose manor of Tetbury, Gloucestershire, to Thomas de Saint-Valery and Hugh de Mortmer (RLC, i, 243b-4).


Reported with horror by Wendover, Flores, ed. Coxe, iii, 349, 351-2.


Radulphi de Coggeshall Chronicon Anglicanum, ed. J. Stevenson (Rolls ser., 1875), 177-8, and for the attack on Ely, reported in detail, see Wendover, Flores, ed. Coxe, iii, 358.

King John's Diary & Itinerary