The Magna Carta Project

John prepares against baronial conspiracy

by Professor Nicholas Vincent

18 January 1215 - 24 January 1215


14-19, 21 Jan 1215


RC, 203-3b, 204b-5; RLP, 126b-7b, 128; RLC, i, 183-4b, 187

21-24 Jan 1215

Knepp Castle (Sussex)

RLP, 126b, 127b; RLC, i, 183-3b, 184b, 185

Knepp Castle, Sussex

Knepp Castle, Sussex

From Guildford, the King made his way south into Sussex, travelling in the general direction of Southampton Water. He passed four days this week at Knepp Castle in Sussex, a potent symbol of royal authority not least because it was one of the castles that John had confiscated from his erstwhile confident, William de Braose. At Guildford, on Sunday 18 January, John issued a charter granting John Marshal the manor of Hengham in Norfolk with the local hundred.1 At Knepp, four days later, he granted land at Havering and in London to William earl of Arundel, the most powerful secular landholder in Sussex.2 There were orders for Colchester and its castle to be placed under the authority of Stephen de Harengod, and for Stephen to be bought crossbows to defend the castle.3 The elections already anticipated at Faversham and Battle Abbey received the King's assent, the Battle election having apparently taken place in the King's own presence.4 For the first time in several weeks, there is evidence in the English chancery rolls of ongoing concern for the affairs of Gascony and Poitou. Orders were sent to the King's officials still governing there, Hubert de Burgh and Geoffrey de Neville, to ensure payment for a French knight, Theobald Crespin, whose claims to 100 marks in arrears of an annual fee were to be entertained so long as Theobald could show his intention of joining the King in England.5 As this implies, John was by this stage drafting in mercenaries from overseas, to forestall the threat of baronial conspiracy. It was to this end that he issued orders on behalf of Robert de Béthune, one of the more powerful men of southern Flanders.6 The chancellor was instructed to search the rolls of the Exchequer and the wardrobe, and the 'roll of the bishop of Worcester' (perhaps some sort of record belonging to Walter de Gray, bishop of Worcester, from his time as royal chancellor), to ensure that all fees owing to Flemings in England were brought up to date.7 There were also attempts to supply funds to Marie of Brabant, wife of the emperor Otto IV, whose dependence upon English largesse perhaps reveals the extent to which Otto's own affairs had become perilous since Bouvines.8 At Knepp Castle on 23 January, we have our earliest reference to the activities of another Sussex landholder, Enjuger de Bohon, descended from a distinguished Norman curial family, who is to be found seeking 100 planks from those that had arrived in Portsmouth from Ireland.9 Since 1213, Enjuger had enjoyed official position as one of two Norman 'marshals', set alongside two Englishmen, with a supervisory role over the King's military affairs.10 In due course, as we shall see, Enjuger was to involved in equipping what was intended as the ship with which King John pledged to embark on crusade to the Holy Land, the orders of 23 January perhaps reflecting the beginning of this commission and hence of the King's own plans to take the cross.11 According to the Pope, as early as September 1214, King John had cited the urgent need of assistance to the Holy Land as a reason for his truce with Philip Augustus. The Pope urged John to offer yet further support for the crusade.12

After a brief lull, there was the usual rash of instructions for local officials, including those in the bishopric of Durham, to offer hospitality to the King's huntsmen and hounds.13 Perhaps in another gesture intended to pacify a potential malcontent, the King stepped in to settle £100 upon a litigant in the Bench who had challenged Robert de Vaux for possession of land at Denham in Suffolk, thereby ensuring Robert's continued possession.14 By this time, Robert de Dreux was assumed to be well on the road to Winchester, with Peter des Roches instructed to find expenses for him and his gaolers in Winchester castle.15 Even more significantly, the King had by now sent an invitation to Savaric de Mauléon, one of the most powerful barons of Poitou, to cross to England and assist the royal defence.  Orders to receive Savaric and his men were sent to the sheriffs of the south western counties. Meanwhile, further work was undertaken on the defences of Corfe castle, with fourteen miners dispatched to dig a new moat.16


RC, 204b-5, and cf. RLP, 127; RLC, i, 184..


Truro, Royal Institution of Cornwall, Courtney Library ms. HZ/1/24, witnessed by Peter des Roches, Thomas de Saint-Valery, Matthew fitz Herbert, William de Cantiloupe, John fitz Hugh, (the local knight) Amfred de Dene, (the future rebel) Richard de Canville, John de Bassingbourne and Jocelin de Stewkeley.


RLP, 127-7b; RLC, i, 184b.


RLP, 127b; RLC, i, 184b, with requests to Archbishop Langton for the blessing of the abbot of Battle, RLP, 126b.


RLP, 126b; RLC, i, 183.


RLP, 127; RLC, i, 184b.


RLC, i, 183.


RLP, 126b, and cf. RLC, i, 183, and for ongoing concern for the affairs of the Empire in England, see the rumours reported by Walter Mauclerk from Rome, see January's Feature of the Month.


RLC, i, 183.


RLC, i, 164, where Enjuger and Philip de Aubigné were the Norman marshals, Ralph of Bray and Ralph de Normanville the English.


The men of Portsmouth appear to have impounded various of the King’s vessels, pending the payment of debts owing to them from the King. Hence the issue of a series of royal commands that Enjuger de Bohon be permitted to carry away tackle and equipment from the King’s ships. On 1 November 1215, for example, the bailiffs of Portsmouth were ordered to allow him the mast (malus) of the King’s great ship, with subsequent orders that he be allowed a yard-arm (virga) from each of the King’s ships, the yard-arm of the King’s great ship, the anchor and cordage (laurum) of the King’s great ship and, by February 1216, 5 cables and the big skiff from the same great ship: RLC, i, 234, 237b, 243, 246, 250. The result of all of these requisitions may have been ‘the ship which Enjuger had made to go to the land of Jerusalem’, for which royal protection was granted from May 1216: RLP, 184, 195b; Patent Rolls 1216-25 (London 1901), 16, and for these and other details, see N. Vincent, ‘A Nuns’ Priests’ Tale: The Foundation of Easebourne Priory (1216-1240)’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, cxlvii (2009), 111-23.


In papal letters of 18 November 1214: Selected Letters of Pope Innocent III concerning England (1198-1216), ed. C.R. Cheney and W. H. Semple (London, 1953), 192 no.72.


RLC, i, 183b, 184b.


RLC, i, 183b-4.


RLC, 184b, and cf. further instructions relating to prisoners still held by Philip Augustus in France, RLP, 127, in turn perhaps explaining the flurry of instructions for envoys going overseas, including Jocelin de Stukeley, Philip de Aylington and Robert fitz Durand, for which see RLP, 127b.


RLC, i, 185.

King John's Diary & Itinerary