The Magna Carta King in Geddington

“So there I was, a retired architect with an interest in history, watching a programme about King John’s lost treasure, supposedly lost in The Wash, when I saw an actor writing with a quill who mentioned the name Geddington. This, of course, caught my attention and as I had recorded the programme, I was able to replay it and find the name of Professor Stephen Church, who was involved in the investigation.”

Whilst not Vic Crouse’s exact words, they are close enough to understand where his book, The Magna Carta King in Geddington and the Rockingham Forest, was born. “I began to wonder if Geddington was named in more letters,” he said.

This comment proved to be an enormous understatement. Professor Church had, in fact, got access to over 3000 pages of documents – writs, letters and charters – all written by King John, they just needed to be translated from 13th century Medieval Latin! When translated, not only was there a date on each document, but also a location of where the letters were written, which is why Geddington’s name was mentioned.

But before Vic could find out that information, he had to find a 13th century Medieval Latin translator. With his interest in historical novels, what better action than to contact a historical novel writer? Elizabeth Chadwick was his novelist of choice and – nothing ventured, nothing gained – he contacted her and asked the simple question: Do you know of a 13th century Medieval Latin translator?”

Letter to the Bishop of Ely 18 March


Amazingly, the answer was: “Yes.” Richard Price was a jewel beyond price when it came to the translation of the dozens of documents that Vic eventually passed to him. And that’s 13th century medieval Latin taken down in medieval Latin shorthand! Vic acknowledges that without Richard’s help and Professor Church’s initial information and recourse to documents, this book would never have been written.

The book is a history based on facts assembled from letters and charters issued by King John, each one witnessed, dated and located. It centres on John’s numerous visits to the Rockingham Forest, Geddington in particular, the site of a royal lodge and falconry mews. The letters convey a fascinating insight into the everyday life and concerns of John.

The text revel as much about medieval life and John himself: the stamina required, the importance of scribes, horses, messengers, hunting, falconry, diet, the vast travelling retinues and how he ruled the realm as an itinerant king.

The book is written as a narrative, intended as a good read, rather than a text book. There are hand-painted illustrations and photographs as well as re-enactment scenes, and it also contains a number of illustrated letters handwritten in the original Latin, all of which were produced by Vic and his son, Richard.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book, is the production of the sixty-three principles of the Magna Carta, in English. As Vic says: “Many of the clauses seem irrelevant to our society today, even though the document is seen as the corner-stone of our current-day laws and standards.  The detail and terminology is mostly related to 13th century life, but many of the principles can be identified for today’s concepts.”

“King John finally put his royal seal on the Magna Carta on the 15th day of June in the year 1215 at Runnymeade and four original copies of that charter were taken to different locations in England. In addition to the copy retained in London, the originals can still be viewed at Hereford Cathedral, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral. As a result of this major historic event, the king spent the next few days at Runnymeade and nearby Windsor, sending numerous letters out to nobles, sheriffs and senior clerics. Regardless of his innermost thoughts, he was confirming the importance of the Treaty, together with instructions to ensure that property and castles were generally restored to rightful owners. It is really interesting to note that Geddington was in the king’s mind during those few days, evidenced by a letter carrying the royal seal, that was issued by John. That letter was specifically addressed to the people of Geddington. It was not issued through a subordinate, but was composed and witnessed by the king himself. and it instructs the people of Geddington to understand that the civil war is over and to continue to behave and do their duty and honour the local lord of the manor. At the time, the lord happened to be Hugh de Hautville, who was the most senior falconer in the country, a position of high regard in the 13th century, and it thus underwrites the status of the falconry mews at Geddington.”

Oft seen as a tyrant, the book adds colour and an ambience of the Medieval age.  Vic comments about the king: “During his reign, John brought the country to the tragedy of civil war, a good number of his campaigns in France failed, he made laws and created taxes to suit his own purposes and, at one stage, was excommunicated by the Pope. By repute he is deemed to be a tyrant. It is, therefore, of great interest to have some real evidence to hand and have the opportunity to explore some of his activities and aspects of daily life. This text does not attempt to form an opinion, but characteristics of the man do emerge, indicating a king with huge energy and stamina, the ability to manage incredible amounts of detail, to show at times that he must have been blessed with a clever tactical brain and a king that had the ability to retain loyal friends despite his inferred greed and the ultimate rebellion that ended in civil war.”

The book questions the prevailing view of King John, as many of the stories were written by monks who disliked him and written decades, if not centuries after his reign. By reading this book and digesting the texts, imagine yourself in that age and you can make up your own mind about King John, the Magna Carta King.

To obtain a copy of the book, contact:

Vic Crouse by:
Telephone: 07388 922 323
Email: v.crouse@btinternet.com

OR

Kettering Library

The Magna Carta King in Geddington and the Rockingham Forest
Cost locally: £10
Published by The Logan Press
ISBN No: 9780946988273

PS Further research by Vic has uncovered more fascinating details of the life and times of King John: be prepared for the appearance of Book 2!

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