Royal palace or hunting lodge, built in the mid C12, and operational until the close of the C15. Visited by every English king from Henry II until Richard II.
Reasons for Designation
King John’s Palace, built in the mid C12, and operational until the close of the C15, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Historic importance 1: for its association with the highest echelons of medieval society, specifically eight named monarchs;
* Historic importance 2: for its role as an administrative centre of Medieval government, including its role as a venue for greeting foreign monarchs and as the site of a meeting of Parliament;
* Documentation: for its documentary record, which catalogues royal visits, new buildings, modifications and repairs ordered, together with the financial accounts for works to the site;
* Archaeological importance: the site has considerable potential to illustrate the phasing, layout and use of the site throughout its history (including its dissolution);
* Potential: for its potential to provide an important insight into the lives and characters of a group at the apex of medieval European society.
Royal palaces can be defined as large residential complexes accommodating the household or retinue of a sovereign. Such sites were built for the dual purpose of residence and the exercise of administration. Palaces usually comprise a suite of buildings including an open hall, chambers, service rooms and kitchens and a gatehouse. They may be enclosed by walls, but are thought to have possessed little capacity for defence. Commonly, especially from C14, they were arranged around one or two courtyards. Originally, they would have been distinctive for the high quality of their architecture and the opulence of their furnishings. Hunting lodges were designed to accommodate the king and his entourage while they hunted, or while they observed hunts. While some of these functions overlap with the ostentatious display associated with palaces, hunting lodges were smaller, simpler structures.
The so-called King John’s Palace functioned from C12 until C15. The true function of the site is unclear, as it has been interpreted as both a royal hunting lodge and a royal palace (it is possible that it functioned as both). The name “King John’s Palace” is a misnomer, as the site was visited by all three Angevin kings (Henry II, Richard I and John) and all five Plantagent kings (Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III and Richard II), with Edward III being the most frequent visitor. Prior to 1774 the site was known as the King’s Houses, the King’s Manor, Mannorgarth and the Manor Yard. It first appeared as “King John’s Palace” in 1774, on John Chapman’s Map of Nottinghamshire. After the death of Richard II, the site was maintained but not visited by the Lancastrian kings, and fell out of use during the Wars of the Roses. It was described as a ruin in 1525. The site was associated with a large deer park and fish pond.
The first mention of a royal property at the site of King John’s Palace is in the Pipe Rolls of 1164-5, where £20 was noted for work on “the King’s house at Clipstone”. The first major building phase appears to have been between 1176 and 1180, when £500 was released for the construction of a chamber, chapel, fish pond and deer park. The King’s chamber and its undercroft were rebuilt in 1233, and a hall, kitchen and wardrobe for the queen added in 1243. A chapel followed in 1246, then two new chambers and two further chapels in 1279. A large stable was added to the complex in 1282.
The site was substantially repaired and rebuilt a number of times, most notably after a fire in 1223, and in 1348 and 1349. Buildings listed in the Patent Rolls include the knights’ chamber, the great hall, the queen’s hall, the king’s kitchen, the queen’s kitchen, the great chamber, Rosamund’s Chamber, Roger De Mauley’s Chamber, the treasurer’s chamber, the chamber of Lionel the king’s son, the great chapel, the chapel next to the king’s chamber, the king’s long stable and the great gateway.
Despite an absence of records of royal visits throughout the C15, two substantial programmes of repair and construction took place, in 1434 and 1446, including the construction of a tower. There are no known records of construction or repair after this date. Henry VI gave the manor to the Earls of Richmond and Pembroke in 1453, but they were deprived of it by Edward IV, who gave it to George, Duke of Clarence. The fate of the site after the death of the Duke of Clarence in 1478 is unknown. Certainly by 1525, the high chamber, chapel and kitchens were described as being roofless and in ruins.
Several formal political events occurred at Clipstone: In 1194, King Richard I met William the Lion, King of Scotland at Clipstone; Edward I held a parliament there in 1290; and Edward III held a tournament at Clipstone in 1327.
There are no contemporary illustrations of the site while in use and so the construction of the site must be inferred from Pipe Roll accounts and archaeological remains. Several records of the site mention both timber and stone buildings, with “Mansfield slate” roofs. One privy constructed for Henry III was described as being built from timber, with shingle roofs and glazed windows. Many of the buildings were glazed. Much of the stone was robbed and reused elsewhere in the early post-Medieval period, as a number of illustrations by Samuel Grimm, dated 1773 and 1775, show the upstanding fabric in a similar condition to its present state. The last recorded instance of stone recovery was for a series of water meadows in 1812.
There have been a number of archaeological interventions on the site, and only very brief summaries of their findings will be presented here. The Ministry of Works, under Philip Rahtz, excavated a number of trenches in 1956, revealing several phases of construction, including both timber and stone buildings. He also uncovered the bases of three columns, interpreted as supporting the roof of the undercroft in the surviving ruin. He also excavated sections of a large ditch (or number of ditches), interpreted as a palisade ditch. One of Rahtz’s key finds was a Romanesque animal head, indicating stone buildings in the earlier phases of development of the site.
Excavations in 1991 by Trent and Peak Archaeology found that the surviving ruin was faced with ashlar masonry externally, but probably plastered internally (although the only surviving ashlar on the building is on an internal elevation). One archway was shored with pre-cast concrete blocks at this time. A number of surveys of the site were undertaken in 2004, including a magnetometer and earth resistance survey and a condition and photographic survey of the standing remains. A second earth resistance survey was conducted over the site in 2010.
An episode of Time Team was filmed at the site in 2011. As part of the programme, a magnetometer and ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey were conducted, suggesting the majority of buildings were centred on the standing remains. GPR survey, confirmed by excavation, revealed a large rectangular building to the north east of the standing remains. The excavations revealed comprehensively robbed foundations for most of the structures investigated, but also indicated that the layout of the site survives as archaeological features. The finds assemblage from the excavations was sparse, but reflected the use of the site as a high status establishment. Several pieces of milled lead came were recorded, suggesting the site may have continued in part for longer than the documentary evidence suggests or that part of the site was reglazed. The Time Team investigations also uncovered possible remains of a gatehouse in cottages to the north of the site.
Between 2012 and 2017, Mercian Archaeological Services have conducted a number of geophysical surveys and test pitting exercises across parts of the site. Mercian Archaeological Services also dug a transect across a large ditch running north-west to south-east around the site. The excavation confirmed earlier interpretations of the ditch as a C13-C14 boundary ditch.
Royal palace or hunting lodge, built in the mid C12, and operational until the close of the C15. Visited by every English king from Henry II until Richard II
King John’s Palace sits on the north eastern end of a spur of land between the River Maun to the north and the Vicar Water to the south and east. Above the ground, the standing remains comprise the rubble core of the west wall of an unidentified structure, with partial remains of the cores of two other walls running east from the north and south corners. Below ground, the site survives as extensive archaeological remains, robbed out foundations and topsoil artefact spreads.
The standing remains of King John’s Palace comprise three walls of limestone rubble set in lime mortar survive, approximately 21m x 9m (external dimensions), and standing to a height of more than four metres in places. As only three walls survive, the original plan form is impossible to determine. However, the ground drops away immediately to the east of each end wall, suggesting that either the building or this wing of the building extended to that point. On the external face of the south wall is a deep recess, under a single centred arch. The arch has either a floor level scar or a shelf scar (interpreted by Rahtz as lower and upper floor levels), and the lowest three visible courses of masonry are more regular, and use larger blocks than elsewhere on the standing remains. Several timber sockets are visible on the inner face of the west wall, indicating that the structure once had an upper floor. The west wall is pierced by three openings, one now blocked with pre-cast concrete blocks. While late C18 illustrations of the ruins show four openings (the most northerly is a combination of two openings) as complete arched openings, subsequent masonry collapses have left the south two openings incomplete, with no overhead masonry. The northern openings were subject to a number of collapses, and are now shored with an unsympathetic precast concrete block wall.
Excavation evidence suggests that the outside of the structure was faced with ashlar masonry. This is slightly at odds with the standing remains, where the only remaining ashlar masonry is on the inside at first floor level, although this may, in fact, merely indicate that the upper floor was a much more high status space than the ground floor.
Geophysical survey results show a concentration of disturbance around the standing remains, suggesting that the site is roughly centred on the standing remains. Excavations by Rahtz, Trent and Peak Archaeology and Time Team in the vicinity of the standing remains have uncovered extensive remains of former buildings, primarily in the form of robbed out foundations, demolition layers and occasional in situ masonry fragments. Rahtz and Time Team also found a set of deep foundations to the north of the standing remains, suggestive of the base of a tower mentioned in C15 documents.
A large ditch, visible in geophysical survey results and investigated by trial trenching marked the western boundary of the lodge enclosure. The northern boundary was formed by the road, and included a stone gatehouse, remnants of which are incorporated into the walls of Maun Cottage, Brammer Farm House and Arundel Cottage. The eastern boundary was formed by a fish pond. The southern and north-eastern boundaries are undefined, but can be extrapolated from the existing boundaries, the line of the road and the line of the Vicar Water. The ditch was dated from excavation evidence to the late C13 to early C14, and appears to replace an earlier boundary closer in to the core of the site.