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King Edward I in Heaton

On 7 December 1299, Edward I is said to have visited a chapel in Heaton and given 40 shillings to a boy bishop, who had said vespers for him, and to choirboys, who had sung to him, to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas. 

The incident gives rise to a number of questions including:  Why would King Edward come to Heaton? Where was the chapel? What’s the evidence? And, not least, what on earth’s a boy bishop?  So we decided to dig a little deeper and try to put the visit into context.

On Route

In 1299, King Edward was aged 60 and had been on the throne for 27 years. In case you get your Edwards mixed up, you might also know him as Edward Longshanks – he was said to have been 6’ 2” and a strong, athletic, imposing man. He has also been nicknamed, with good reason, the ‘Hammer of the Scots’. 

Earlier in his reign, Edward had conquered Wales and he is known to have visited Newcastle in September 1280. But, from 1290, when he became involved in disputes around the succession to the Scottish crown between John Balliol, Robert de Brus and others, the king’s visits became more frequent.

King Edward I spent at least six days in Newcastle over Easter 1291 on his way to Norham to inform the Scots that HE would decide who their next king should be and then another night or two in August on the way home after a decision on the fraught matter had been adjourned. 

He was back again briefly in May 1292 on his way to sort out the Scottish succession to his own, but not necessarily most Scots’, satisfaction. And it was in Newcastle on 26 December of the same year that the new king, John Balliol, knelt before Edward to declare his loyalty and a week later absolved the English king of any requirement to maintain Scotland’s freedom and independence. This understandably did not please many of his countrymen.

Edward’s next visit was in March 1296. Relations with Scotland had continued to deteriorate. Edward had demanded that an army comprising 1,000 men at arms and 60,000 infantry meet him in Newcastle. It’s estimated that, in the event, around 25,000 men materialised. He had ordered the Scots to present themselves too but unsurprisingly they didn’t turn up, so he marched on Berwick upon Tweed via Wark (where the English lord, Robert de Ros, had joined the opposition because, it is said, he was in love with a Scottish woman, showing how complicated and fluid things were in this border region at that time). Edward attacked Berwick with ferocity, inflicting an estimated 11,000 military and civilian casualties on the Scottish side. Having taken the town and won the subsequent Battle of Dunbar, Edward famously confiscated the Stone of Destiny or Stone of Scone, the Scottish coronation stone, and took it to Westminster Abbey. He spent another night in Newcastle on the way south that October, presumably stone in tow. 

But the Scots weren’t done for yet. In September 1297 a Scottish army,  led by William Wallace, defeated an English force at the Battle of Stirling Bridge and followed it up with a series of violent raids across Northumberland. Edward was away fighting another military campaign in Flanders at the time but preparations for retaliation started immediately. Again, Edward called for a huge force of 30,000 infantry to muster at Newcastle on 6 December. A sizeable army did gather but in the event, shortage of provisions and other difficulties caused Edward to order the attack to be delayed.

As soon as Edward returned from the continent, he headed for Scotland, stopping over at Newburn and at Brunton near Gosforth in June 1298.  On 21st July, his army defeated Wallace’s at the Battle of Falkirk.  The long return journey south included an eleven day stopover in Newcastle in November. 

This account doesn’t pretend to give the full story of the prelude to Edward’s visit to Heaton but it hopefully at least makes clear why Edward spent so much time in the north-east during the 1290s and how important this area was to him. 


It was mid-February 1299 before the king arrived back in Westminster following his victory at Falkirk. Although he had defeated William Wallace and strengthened his garrisons north of the border, Edward was under no illusions that peace would be permanent. He immediately began to plan for another summer offensive.

However, political issues, including negotiations around his forthcoming marriage to Margaret of France, forced a change of heart. The Scots, unsurprisingly, took advantage. English garrisons were attacked and, in Stirling, 90 Englishmen faced starvation in a siege. Robert Bruce, who was to be crowned King of Scotland a few years later, was among the besieging army. Bravely, some might say foolhardily, Edward ordered a winter offensive.

This was the context in which Edward and his followers arrived back in Newcastle on 5 or 6 December 1299 and where, for the first time, Heaton itself is mentioned in the ’Wardrobe Book for Edward I 1299-1300’, which gives a day by day account of the king’s ‘receipts and expenditure’.

In Latin the paragraph reads:

‘Septimo die Decembri cuidam episcopo puerorum dicenti vesperas de Sancto Nicholao coram Rege in capella sua apud Heton juxta Novum Castrum super Tynam et quibusdam pueris venientibus et cantantibus cum Episcopo predicto de elemosina ipsius Regis per manus Domini Henrici elemosinari participanti denarii inter pueros predictos 40s’

The ‘Wardrobe account of 28 Edward I’ held by the Society of Antiquaries of London, has been digitised. You can view it here. The document may take a few minutes to load and you have to scroll through to page 31 (written in ink) and 16 (in pencil) in the top right hand corner. The paragraph about Heaton is about a third of the way down where ‘Epis Puer’ is written in the margin.

There is no official translation but it means something like:

‘On the seventh day of December, to a certain boy bishop who said the vespers of Saint Nicholas before the king in his chapel at Heaton near Newcastle upon Tyne and to some children who came and sang with the aforementioned bishop, the king shared alms of 40 shillings through the hand of Lord Henry.’

It was the payment of 40 shillings to the choirboys which necessitated the inclusion of the visit among the incomings and outgoings detailed in the ‘Wardrobe Book’ and ensured that this piece of Heaton history is on the record.

But there’s quite a lot more to unpick.

Boy Bishops

6 December, which in 1299 fell on a Sunday, was and is the feast day of St Nicholas. The saint is, of course, nowadays associated with Father Christmas, aka ‘Santa Claus’. Father Christmas hadn’t been invented in the 13th century but, among other things, St Nicholas was the patron saint of children, which is why, centuries later, it was convenient to merge the two.

In medieval England, there was a tradition that on St Nicholas’s feast day, one or more choirboys in cathedrals, and sometimes ordinary churches up and down the country, would be appointed ‘bishops’. They would dress up in episcopal regalia, lead processions, give a sermon and sing. A boy bishop’s reign traditionally lasted three weeks until Holy Innocents Day on 28 December, during which time they would also be given money, sweets etc. 

Besides Edward I, there are also records of Henry VII presenting money to a ‘St Nicholas bishop. The tradition was widespread until the time of Henry VIII, and beyond that in a few cathedrals. (It was recently revived in a number of places, including Newcastle). So, it just happened that Edward was up here on this important feast day. Wherever he was, he would have been likely to engage with the tradition of boy bishops if at all possible.

The Lord Henry mentioned as the hands through whom the 40s passed? We don’t know for sure but he seems to have been a member of King Edward’s treasury team.


‘Sue cappella’ (‘his own chapel’) appears to mean King Edward’s chapel. This could mean that there was a chapel in Heaton of which Edward claimed some kind of ownership. We know, for example, that permission of the king had to be sought before fortifying a manor house and indeed that an Adam of Jesmond had to seek such permission when seeking to fortify his house in Heaton in the reign of King Henry III, Edward’s father. We also know that in 1135 King Henry gave land at Heaton to Nicholas Grenville with certain conditions. Were either of these enough for the royal accounts to refer to a chapel in Heaton to be referred to as the king’s chapel?

Also, although there are many mentions in history books and newspapers of there having been a chapel in Heaton, these tend to be from the nineteenth century and seem to be based purely on the reference to ‘sua capella’ in Edward I’s Wardrobe Book. There are even mentions of a ruined chapel still standing but they seem to be based on the above reference plus the existence of an old ruin which looks like a chapel.

Another theory is that there was some sort of mobile chapel, which travelled with the king. King Edward I spent most of his time on the road. Occasionally, he would stay in one place for a week or a fortnight, perhaps to hold a parliament or to recuperate after a battle, but mostly the royal household was on the move. It’s hard to envisage the size of the operation. There would have been upwards of 250 people in the party and at least one to two hundred horses. 

We know that in 1279 ‘the wardrobe [had] three long and three short carts, the pantry, buttery and kitchen one long and one short each.’ By 1285, the scullery and the larder also had carts and the total then stood at seven long and five short. By the end of  Edward’s reign, ‘there were six long and seven short, each looked after by one carter and one fore-rider.’ Parking must have been a nightmare!

According to historian Michael Prestwich, former Professor of History at the University of Durham, in addition to the carts, there were also 41 pack-horses: ‘the king’s personal plate, his robes and bed were all transported in this manner, as was the furniture of the royal chapel.’

So perhaps there wasn’t a permanent chapel in Heaton at all, just whatever King Edward brought with him set up in a room in the manor house – or even outdoors, albeit in December.

Heaton Manor

But if there was a chapel in Heaton, where might it have been and where did the royal party stay, if indeed, they did spend the night in Heaton? 

King Edward I and his entourage often stayed in castles where there was one handy, but not always. He also stayed in monasteries or in smaller houses.

Although we don’t know for sure that Edward stayed in Heaton overnight, it seems inconceivable that the king’s party would have returned downhill to Newcastle in the midwinter dark after evening prayers, only to have to climb all the way up again in the morning. Remember that this journey was considered arduous right up until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. They surely stayed overnight.

The most likely place for him to have stayed was in Heaton Manor, which stood approximately where Heaton Hall stood later and Tintern Crescent stands now. There is no doubt that this substantial fortified house would have been considered appropriate. Documents, admittedly dating from over 100 years later, record the site of ‘a capital messuage, an orchard, a garden, 1200 acres of demesne land, 30 acres of wood, 6 husband lands‘ (in 1421).

According to the Tyne and Wear Historic Environment Record for Heaton Manor, the Lord of the manor in 1298, just a year before Edward’s visit, was one Robert de Ryal (also spelt Ryhill). But we can’t be sure if he was still the lord in 1299. 

And there are other people (according to 19th century historian FW Dendy) recorded as owning land in Heaton at around the same time. William Trewick had inherited land from his mother, Margery. Emma Stikelowe had inherited from her brother, William. These bequests had originally come from an Adam of Jesmond, who according to Heaton History Group’s Keith Fisher in ‘Castle on the Corner’ was the second son of the Adam of Jesmond who was sheriff of Newcastle in the 1260s and a great supporter of Edward’s father, King Henry III as well as a friend of Edward himself. (He had joined a crusade, led by Edward, to the Holy Lands in 1271 and did not return). Keith found records, including a reference in ‘The Baronage of England’ that a further Adam (deduced by Keith to be Adam the crusader’s second son) was a leper and had no children, hence his estate passing to cousins and eventually to William and Emma.

There are also records of Adam the crusader’s wife, Christina, claiming a dower from her husband’s estates following his non-return from the Holy Land. Interestingly, and further evidence of how complex allegiances were at this time, Christina remarried. Her new husband was Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale, one of the claimants to the Scottish throne rejected by Edward and grandfather of Robert the Bruce, soon (in 1306) to be King of Scotland, and already its ‘Guardian’. There is also much that we don’t know.

Adam’s Camera

Keith believes that the building we know as Adam of Jesmond’s Camera or King John’s Palace (estimated date of building 1255-1260) and very close to the manor was lived in by Adam the leper, who would have been unable to live in the main house (rather than Adam the crusader), that it was he who, due to his unpopularity and his illness, had need for a fortified house close to the manor. Keith discovered that, at that time, lepers, who had money were often looked after by monks and so it would stand to reason that this house, a little bit of which we know so well 770 years or so later, would have contained a chapel.

Although, the ruins in the park aren’t extensive, there is evidence that this house, built in the shadow of the grand manor, itself used to be much more imposing. Indeed, key documentary evidence of it standing before 1267 is a licence being granted by King Henry III for Tarset Castle near Bellingham in Northumberland to be ‘fortified in the manner of the Camera of Adam of Jesmond’. Unfortunately, there is even less of Tarset Castle remaining than of Adam’s Camera – it was destroyed by the Scots shortly after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 – but we know that it had four square corner turrets and was built on a steep slope, enhanced by a ditch.

The word ‘camera’ in this context just means ‘room’. In the case of Adam’s Camera, it’s taken to mean a main hall on the first floor where feasts would have been held. This hall would have been reached via a stone staircase. 

The ground floor is thought to have been used mainly for storage and had narrow slits for windows.  On the first floor, as well the main hall, there are thought to have been living quarters. Despite historians’ and archaeologists’ best efforts,  Adam of Jesmond’s Camera remains a property about which much is unknown. The mysteries include whether there was a chapel in the house or in a separate building.


What we do know is that although it was likely considered fit for a king, there certainly wouldn’t have been room in the manor house or the ‘camera’ for the whole entourage. Some of the party may have slept in tents or outbuildings on the estate, others under carts or wherever they could find some shelter from the December winds Heaton knows only too well.

So there were almost certainly a lot of cold, stiff bodies among the king’s retinue the next morning as they packed up ready to accompany Edward to either Tynemouth or Stannington (There is confusion in the record books), both feasible one day journeys from Heaton, before heading on to Alnwick, Embleton, Bambrough and Berwick. Here, plans for a winter campaign were abandoned due to Edward’s difficultiy in mustering a large enough army both because of the weather and what we might now call inflation. (Forged foreign pennies with a low silver content had flooded the market, devaluing  soldiers’ wages). By the turn of the year, the king was heading south again. He’d not return to Newcastle for another four years but that’s another story!

Meanwhile in Heaton, the clean-up operation continued and the boy bishop and his friends had memories to treasure. Little would they have thought that, some 725 years later, people in Heaton would still be trying to piece together as best they could what happened on and around the feast of St Nicholas in 1299, let alone where and why.


Researched and written by Chris Jackson of Heaton History Group. Thank you to Keith Fisher for his help and guidance; the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne for permission to photograph the 1839 drawing; the Society of Antiquaries of London for help finding the relevant reference in the Wardrobe Book; The National Portrait Gallery for permission to use the image of Edward I by unknown artist, 1597-1618; Dan Jackson, Chris Goulding, Dave King and North East Heritage Library for responding to an appeal on Twitter for interpretations of the Wardrobe Book’s Latin text.

Can You Help?

If you know any more about King Edward I’s visit to Heaton or have evidence about the characteristics or ownership of Heaton Manor or King John’s Palace, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the speech bubble immediately below the article title (to the right) or by filling in the box right at the bottom of this page or by emailing


‘An Account of Jesmond’ / by Frederick Walker Dendy in ‘Archaeologia Aeoliana’ series 3 no 1 p 48

‘The Camera of Adam of Jesmond, popularly called King John’s Palace’ / by W H Knowles read on 25 November 1896 in ‘Archaeology Aeoliana’ Series 2 Vol XIX p 29-38

‘Castle on the Corner: Heaton Hall and King John’s Palace’ / by Keith Fisher, nd.

‘Customs and Traditions: the boy bishop’ / by Lucas Viar; Liturgical Arts Journal, 5 January 2012

‘Edward I’ / by Michael Prestwich; Methuen, 1988

‘English Society and the Crusade 1216-1307’ / by Simon Lloyd; Clarendon Press, 1988

A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain’ / Marc Morris; Hutchinson, 2008

Historic Environment Record 116 Heaton, Camera of Adam of Jesmond / King John’s Palace‘ (and the items listed as its sources)

‘Itinerary of King Edward the First Throughout his Reign, AD 1272-1307” Volume 2 1286-1307’ / by Henry Gough; Alexander Gardner, 1900”

‘Local Historian’s Table Book’ Volume IV p121

‘Vestiges of Old Newcastle and Gateshead’ by WH Knowles and JR Boyle; 1890

‘A View of Northumberland with an Excursion to the Abbey of Mailross in Scotland’ / by W Hutchinson 1776 Volume 2

‘Wardrobe Book for Edward I 1299-1300’ / held by The Society Of Antiquaries of London.

‘Wikipedia’ (various articles)



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