King John: Tomb much?
As you may have read earlier in the year on this blog, I am a bit of a fangirl when it comes to King John of England. In January, I wrote ‘King John: Notts all that bad?’ (http://www.culturesyndicates.co.uk/2017/01/king-john-notts-all-that-bad/). The final line of this post was: “The debate surrounding King John may continue forever but I, for one, am still a fan. I am really looking forward to exploring the areas that played significant parts in his lifetime”. Whilst on holiday in the Cotswolds this month, I had the opportunity to do exactly that. Although, I wouldn’t say that lifetime is exactly the right word.
Alongside many of the amazing places to visit within the area, we took a day trip to Worcester. At first, I was excited to see the Royal Worcester Museum, the home of Edward Elgar, but more importantly, the Cathedral. There has been a place of worship on the site since 680. However, the current building was started in 1084 by St. Wulfstan and has undergone major restoration work since 1988. Amongst its attractions is the tomb of King John.
The man himself
Despite the contrasting depictions of Richard I and his brother John, as the Lionheart and the Bad King respectively, I prefer to look at the lengths of time that they spent in England during their reigns. Richard was often on crusade or at war during his reign and spent approximately four months total in the country between 1189 and 1199. John, however, who reigned from 1199-1216, never left England. He may not have been the greatest monarch, but he was dedicated to his country.
During his time in Worcester, John enjoyed hunting in the area. It is said that he frequented it regularly and often gave money to help with the upkeep of the Cathedral. On his deathbed in Newark Castle, he wrote a new clause into his will. It read, “I will that my body be buried in the church of St. Mary and St. Wulfstan of Worcester”. This was granted. The effigy on the tomb is one of the oldest, dating from 1232. Today, it is missing its precious stones and originally would have been on ground level, as it was later raised. The small figures either side of John’s head are St. Wulfstan and St. Oswald, leading figures in the creation of the Cathedral.
The thing that struck me the most however, was the emotion that hit me when approaching the tomb. Now, it’s worth noting that this was not my first tomb nor cathedral. I am a self-confessed history nerd who likes nothing more than seeing every historical building within walking distance of the place I’m staying in when I visit somewhere new. Moreover, I didn’t know this man, other than through pages in history books and records of his life and reign and yet I had a truly emotionally response to seeing his final resting place.
I think this highlights the power of history. It is interesting, it helps us to learn but it can be so much more. History is not just about dates, monarchs, battles and buildings, it’s about real people with real stories to tell, who can inform our lives and helps us to create our own sense of place.
I urge you, next time you see the final resting place of someone you don’t know, pause. Think about their life, their story and what reaction you have.
By Siân Fox, Resilience Syndicate Intern
(All images are author’s own, taken whilst at the Cathedral, except image with hyperlink)