Monday Mystery: The Lost Treasure of King John

Jul 20, 2015
Monday Mystery: The Lost Treasure of King John

We’re back with another installation of Monday Mystery! Today we’re focusing on the mysterious disappearance of the treasure of King John- reputed to be a monumental loss of gold, jewels, and gemstones. Get your metal detectors out, because this one has yet to be found…

King John came to power when his brother, the famed King Richard the Lionheart, died in 1199. John is one of the more controversial figures in the English monarchy- today he’s mostly remembered for his connection to the Magna Carta. In popular culture, King John is the dramatized subject of the Shakespeare play by the same name and the greedy villain in the Robin Hood stories who levied high taxes against the poor for his own personal gain.

In reality, King John faced a multitude of problems almost immediately after taking the throne. His rule was plagued with conflict. England was locked in a bitter war with France in an effort to maintain control of Normandy, barons were revolting against unfair treatment, and an argument with the Pope left John excommunicated from the Church. Not easy tasks to handle on their own, let alone as a group.

“Bad” King John had a reputation for collecting both taxes and expensive jewels and for toting both around with him. In October of 1216, he and his entourage traveled to Lynn with the Crown Jewels in tow. Almost immediately after arriving, John fell ill and decided it would be best for him to travel to Lincolnshire. The journey required the King’s caravan to cross the Wash, a large bay fraught with quicksand and quickly changing tides. While it is believed King John elected to take the long route which avoided the dangerous marshlands, he demanded that his soldiers and the wagons carrying the treasure take the more direct route- straight through the Wash.

The accounts of the events that followed vary. King John’s party was able to safely cross the Wash, but the larger caravan of soldiers and jewels were slow moving over the hazardous terrain. It is believed that the caravan was unable to cross before tide came in and the soldiers, horses, and wagons carrying priceless jewels were overcome in the waves and lost. Within a few days of this disaster, King John had died of dysentery.

Historians often debate the validity of the legend. Still, there is compelling evidence that at least some significant pieces from the Crown Jewels were in fact present during that fateful crossing of the Wash.

King John inherited the imperial regalia from his grandmother, Empress of Germany, which were added to the Crown Jewels of England. While these pieces are listed in inventories dated prior to the event at the Wash, they disappear from record after the incident. It’s possible that these pieces were being carried in one of the wagons that was lost that fateful October.

To this day, King John’s lost treasure has never been found. As of this year, efforts to find it were ongoing. Time to grab a metal detector and a shovel- the treasure would be worth millions today! Stay tuned for our next mystery- in the meantime, explore other mysterious jewels and treasure by checking out the rest of our Monday Mysteries!


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