When King’s Lynn’s cooking killed a king

King John ANL-160510-092557001
King John ANL-160510-092557001
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Eight hundred years ago, on October 18, ‘Bad King John’ died in Newark as a result of over-indulging in a feast of eels in Lynn nine days earlier

He was en route to Lincoln, in the middle of a rearguard action, defending his crown against the last of many assaults on his power.

He would personally go on toWisbech but, to save nine miles, sent his 6,000-strong army andwagon train on an ill-starred shortcut across the Wellstreamchannel, at what is now Sutton Bridge, sparking the legend of his treasure lost in the Wash.

Now Lynn is set to get a statue to King John? Does he deserve one?

Town historian Dr Paul Richards said: “Legend says the feast took place at the Mitre Inn in Queen Street. But it’s more likely to have been at his friend, ally and habitual host Bishop de Grey’s palace opposite St Nicholas’ chapel.

“King John came to Lynn as a haven from his many enemies.

“Low tide across the Wellstream was at noon but, as John’s wagon train stretched

for two miles, not all of it crossed safely before the tide returned.”

The wagon train wasn’t the first thing King John lost, said Dr Richards. “The much-maligned king was called ‘Lackland’ because he’d lost most of his land in France.

“Bishop De Grey was one of his few loyal friends and the Lynn merchants were grateful to him for the charter of 1204.”

Does it represent a special relationship of king and town?

“During John’s reign (1199- 1216) Lynn, which hardly existed before the 12 century, was in the top four English towns.

“European towns were beginning to flourish. Landed aristocrats still ruled but the urban middle class and the wealth they generated were becoming important. John’s royal charter – granted for a much needed £33 – established a merchant guild and meant the Sheriff of Norfolk could no longer order Lynn merchants about so much; asserted the security of merchants over the barons and meant Lynn’s merchants didn’t have to pay tolls anywhere except London. It was the making of Lynn.

“But it was Bishop De Grey – as eager to tax the revenue as John was – who persuaded John to grant it, and the port was called Bishop’s Lynn from 1204, not before.”

The name King’s Lynn came many centuries later under Henry VIII but Dr Richards said: “King John has many real links with Lynn.

“The King had connections with many other towns – but we should promote Lynn’s exceptional heritage whenever opportunities arise.”