The artful Codger - What of John’s jewels?

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The confirmation of the discovery of King Richard III’s remains under a car park in Leicester makes me wonder if we may soon be any closer to a solution to a more local Mystery from History – the whereabouts of King John’s Treasure.

We are now getting near to the 800th anniversary of the loss of the treasure in 1216, when the king’s baggage train, reputed to contain the crown jewels and much else, was engulfed by the incoming tide as it attempted to cross The Wash.

The geography of the land surrounding The Wash has changed considerably over the centuries and there are possibly several points which could be the site of the ill-fated crossing attempt.

But one of the more popular theories is that the baggage train tried to cross the Welle Stream, which fed into The Wash, at a point between Walpole Marsh and Tydd Gote, now on the other side of the River Nene.

The wagons are reputed to have been trying to follow a causeway through the quicksands in the area, when the tide began to surge in rapidly, causing panic which resulted in the heavy vehicles drifting off the causeway into the clutches of the quicksands, where they rapidly disappeared.

There have been a number of searches for the lost treasure over the years, including a sortie by two professors from Nottingham University in the 1960s.

They are understood to have found evidence of a clay causeway in the area between Walpole Marsh and the River Nene, and to have made drillings into the soil – one of which resulted in traces of gold and silver being found.

Quite why they did not pursue the drilling results further are not made clear – although it would have involved digging down 20 or more feet into unstable silty soil.

The depth at which the baggage train may be situated means that conventional metal detectors would not be any use in locating it.

But one wonders if modern geological survey instruments might be any use in this case.

I have always pondered why Tony Robinson and the Time Team boys and girls, with their fascination for unearthing the past, have not been on the case of King John’s Jewels.

The wagons of the baggage train would probably have all been close together.

They would have been heavily-laden slow-moving vehicles, so none could have raced ahead, and if their contents were valuable then it would have been important to keep together for security reasons in the Badlands of The Fens.

If the stories handed down through the ages are true, then they will all be sitting there under 20 feet or more of marshland silt, waiting to open a fresh page of history.

On the other hand, bearing in mind the politics and intrigue of John’s reign were as murky and treacherous as the forbidding waters of The Wash, it could all be a myth, with the fate of the king’s treasure being in the hands of the less than trustworthy entourage surrounding this unfortunate monarch.