2015 is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, which led us to wonder about the many references to King John in these parts. Did the illustrious King John actually visit Heaton? Why would he? There are no real clues in the street names, King John Terrace and King John Street. You can ascribe them to Victorian and Edwardian romanticism: it used to be common to name all manner of things after King John to give an allusion of antiquity. There are many examples all over England but there again, why here and not in Jesmond, Byker or Benton? Did a long-held folk memory come into play?
The same explanation could be used to account for ‘Ye Well of King John’ in Armstrong Park. Although the spring is natural and so presumably known to a few locals and passers-by back when the Magna Carta was signed, the structure and inscription we see today are the work of Lord Armstrong’s nineteenth century landscapers and we don’t know for sure whether the association with King John predates them. But did the Armstrongs have specific reasons for cementing the association? Most of the family archives were destroyed so we don’t know.
As an aside, note the drinking cups in the photograph above. Who remembers them?
King John’s Palace
But the so-called King John’s Palace, also known as the ‘Camera of Adam of Jesmond’ was built much nearer to the reign of the king known as John Lackland.
There is documentary evidence that it was in existence by 1267 and there were apparently other buildings including a medieval manor house in the vicinity even earlier, so we asked Heaton History Group member and author of ‘Castle on the Corner’, Keith Fisher, to dig a little deeper. Over to Keith:
It was during my determined attempt to establish the existence of Heaton Hall as a medieval baronial manor-house, that I came face to face with our illustrious King John – a man vehemently but, in my view, wrongly maligned in the minds of a public familiar only with Shakespeare and the Robin Hood myth – and it was only then that I realised that Heaton really had been associated with King John back in the 13th century, when we had a fortified baronial manor-house on the doorstep.
John was crowned on the 26 May 1199 and reigned until his death on 19 October 1216. He was another example of our peripatetic monarchs; but unlike his predecessors, every letter that he ever sent (and obviously there were many: see the link below) was diligently and publicly recorded by the Chancery, and still exists to this day – so we know exactly where he was, and when. While in England, and not fighting in France (he spent about five years over there during his brief reign – but then he was French after all), he rarely sojourned for too long. Principally, because powerful barons, countrywide, needed to be constantly kept in check and paying their taxes: never popular with the locals. Up here John was yet another foreigner; we’d already had enough trouble with Vikings and Scottish kings, then William the Conqueror who sent his prissy son Curt-hose to build a castle and try to subdue us unruly elements; stuck between the Geordies and the Scots he wouldn’t stand a chance nowadays: one sad fop of a Frenchman would be found in the gutter on his first Friday night up here.
I did find medieval mention of Heaton Manor: in 1135 Henry 1st gave it [as part of the Barony of Ellingham] to Nicholas Grenville (a trusted Yorkshireman, by all accounts; quite probably related to Ralph de Glanville, who was Sheriff of Yorkshire and scourge of William the Lion of Scotland) and he passed it to his nephew William; they appear to have lived in Jesmond – presumably at Jesmond Manor. Both those Grenvilles died without issue, so after William Grenville it descended via the marriage of his sister Mabel into the hands of Ralph de Gaugi. Ralph’s old man, Sire de Gaugi, allegedly fought alongside William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings. I say allegedly, because the original Battle Abbey Rolls were lost (before and after lists of participants) so copies had to be made by monks – after the fact – when it is said that many noblemen ‘persuaded’ these monks to include their names on the list in order to reap the considerable rewards.
Because the seignory of a barony was not partible, but the manors were, Ralph’s eldest son, Ralph II, became baron and took the manor of Heaton, while his brother Adam got Jesmond Manor. Ralph II had a son, Robert, who inherited the title from his father and lived in the manor of Heaton. It is at all events certain that this Robert de Gaugy had special trust reposed in him by his sovereign John, who made him Constable of the castles of Lafford in Lincolnshire, and Newark in Nottinghamshire, and obtained for him the hand of an heiress, Isold Lovel, who brought him a considerable estate in the Bishopric of Durham.
There is no doubt that King John was up in Newcastle some of the time. A visit to the spectacular website: http://neolography.com/timelines/JohnItinerary.html (a truly exemplary reference work of the 21st century) shows him to be north of Yorkshire for a total of 84 days: in 1201 he spent two weeks moving between Hexham, Newcastle and Bamborough. In 1208 he was in Newcastle for a week. 1209 he was a week in Alnwick, a week in Newcastle, and a week up on the borders. 1213 he spent two weeks on the borders. Finally, in 1216, he spent the entire month of January fighting his way up from Durham into Scotland and back again; brave soul – it’s a wonder the weather didn’t see him off.
Of the issues that brought him up here, it was generally war with the kings of Scotland; but rebellious Northern barons demanded an endless assertion of his position of power, which meant supporting those men who were loyal to him and harassing those who weren’t; so, while constantly raising money for his ongoing war with France, much of his malevolence towards rebel barons was in the form of punitive taxation.
Kings of Scotland
The two kings maintained a friendly relationship until it was rumoured in 1209 that William (The Lion of Scotland) was intending to ally himself with Philip II of France. John invaded Scotland and forced William to sign the Treaty of Norham. This effectively crippled William’s power north of the border and, by 1213, John had to intervene militarily to support the Scottish king against his internal rivals.
In January 1216, John marched against William’s son Alexander II of Scotland who had allied himself with the rebel cause. John took back Alexander’s recent possessions in northern England in a rapid campaign that pushed him back as far north as Dunbar over a ten-day period; definitely saw him off – though-but!
The Northern Barons
The barons had seen their local powers much hindered through laws put in place by Henry II, then strengthened by Richard the Lionheart, that made everyone (except the crown – of course) subject to an independent justice which utilised local bailiffs, coroners and judges – and ultimately, the crown – rather than a judicial system administered by themselves. As I said: ultimately, the King could deal out justice – but was himself immune to it. A system of ‘Ira et malevolentia’ or ‘anger and ill will’ was a trend much used by John to punish those who did not wholeheartedly support him. Consequently, many accusations made against John during the baronial revolts are now generally considered to have been invented for the purpose of justifying said revolts; but there was no doubt that many of the barons rightly felt that if they had to come under the jurisdiction of the law – then so should the crown, which gave rise to one of the more crucial aspects of the Magna Carta.
However, John had his very strong and loyal ally in the North, and he lived in Heaton manor-house – when he was at home. It has been stated by historians in the past, and there is no doubt in my mind, that the king would have stayed at Heaton Manor when he was up here. The Keep in Newcastle was both uncomfortable and unsafe – he was constantly surrounded by English or Scottish enemies – and there is also the fact that his retinue and army was enormous, and could not possibly have camped within the city perimeter, so his marra’s gaff in Heaton was a perfect choice. It wasn’t the building we call King John’s Palace today – that was built between 1255 and 1265, 50-60 years later – but the manor house was a stone’s throw away. It was later incorporated into Heaton Hall by the Ridleys. The Hall, of course, as you can read in ‘Castle on the Corner’ stood approximately where Tintern Crescent is now.
In return for John’s trust and generosity, Robert de Gaugy remained faithful to his king right till the end – and beyond: King John died of dysentery at Newark Castle: protected by ‘Heatonian‘ Constable Robert de Gaugy. Very soon, ex-rebels and native loyalists were working easily together and finding a common interest and a common bond in unseating John’s foreigners: namely, breaking the grip which Robert de Gaugy, William de Fors, and Faulkes de Breauté still had on the sovereign’s administration. As Henry III tried to bring order to the country, Robert de Gaugy refused to yield Newark Castle to the Bishop of Lincoln, its rightful owner, leading to the Dauphin of France laying an eight day siege on behalf of the king in 1218. The siege was finally ended by an agreement to pay de Gaugy £100 to leave… and go back home with this booty; a true Geordie to the last!
Considering that the remains of a medieval manor-house were incorporated into Nicholas Ridley’s rebuild in 1713, I think it is telling that when, in 1778, Matthew Ridley decided to embellish this recent but distinctly unprepossessing squat, brick house – to give an appearance of feudal heritage – he ended-up with what looked exactly like a medieval, fortified, baronial manor-house.
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