The Magna Carta Project

John’s sea journey and landing at Dartmouth

by Professor Nicholas Vincent

12 October 1214 - 18 October 1214


13-15 Oct 1214

Dartmouth (Devon)

Southwick Cartularies, i, 101; RLC, 173; The Chronicle of the Election of Hugh Abbot of Bury St Edmunds and Later Bishop of Ely, ed. R.M. Thomson (Oxford, 1974), 112-13

Wendover dates the King's return to England to 19 October (Matthaei Parisiensis, Monachi Sancti Albani, Chronica Majora, ed. H.R. Luard (7 vols., Rolls ser., 1872–83), ii, 582).

16 Oct 1214

Exeter, Devon, England

RLC, i, 433

John's presence at Exeter on this day is uncertain.

17 Oct 1214

Dorchester (Dorset)

RLC, i, 173

17-20 Oct 1214

Corfe (Dorset)

RLC, i, 173-3b; Chronicle of the Election, 112-13

The exact date of the King's crossing remains unknown.  Roger of Wendover assigned it to Sunday 19 October, which is clearly too late.  J.C. Holt placed it on or around 7 October, which is the date on which the Fine Roll maintained in Poitou was handed into the English treasury, but which proves merely that members of the chancery had by this time returned to England, not necessarily the King himself.1  The most likely date for the King's landing is supplied by a chronicle from Bury St Edmunds, which assigns it to Dartmouth on Monday 13 October.  The Bury chronicler identifies this as the morrow of the feast day of St Wilfrid.2  But as the Bury monks would surely have known (although not necessarily been inclined to celebrate) 13 October was the feast of the greatest of all English royal saints, St Edward the Confessor, chiefly celebrated at Westminster Abbey, the Confessor's burial place.  Letters preserved both on the Close Roll and in a cartulary copy prove that the King was at Dartmouth by Tuesday 14 or Wednesday 15 October, where he granted protection to the canons of Southwick in Hampshire.3  The royal letters for Southwick Priory are preceded on their same new membrane of the Close Roll by a note of two offers made to the King, by William earl Ferrers of a good sparrow-hawk in return for the release of Bruton', and by Hugh d'Aubigny of a good hunting dog in return for one of his men.4  Hugh d'Aubigny can probably be identified as nephew and hostage of Savaric de Mauléon, one of the leading barons of Poitou.5  There can be no certainty about the nature of the offers that he and earl William made.  But they were quite possibly incurred on board ship, in either case with a potentially humorous significance.  Sea journeys were potentially dangerous affairs, particular this late in the year.  Kings were accustomed to wile away the long hours, and dissipate the anxiety, with games and jokes.6  From Dartmouth, the King almost certainly travelled on to Exeter.7  By 17 October he was at Dorchester, where he issued letters confirming the grant that he had already made, at Niort on 21 September, of a market to William of Lancaster.8  On the same day, having reached the safety of his great fortress at Corfe, he issued a series of routine instructions, governing custody of Savaric de Mauléon's nephew, and repayment for the burgesses of Wilton who had sold horses to the King.  On Saturday 18 October, still at Corfe, the King ordered respite for a debt owed by Hugh de Bernevalle.9


J.C. Holt, Magna Carta (2nd edn., Cambridge, 1992), 407n., citing Rot.Ob., 532.


The Chronicle of the Election of Hugh Abbot of Bury St Edmunds and Later Bishop of Ely, ed. R.M. Thomson (Oxford 1974), 112-13.


The Cartularies of Southwick Priory, ed. K. Hanna, 2 vols. (Winchester, 1988-89), i, 101 (dated 14 October); RLC, i, 173 (dated 15 October).


RLC, i, 173.


RLC, i, 173, noting the King's receipt of Hugh from William earl Ferrers who had previously had custody of him.


For a famous instance, see David Carpenter's account of the return voyage of Henry III from Poitou into England in September 1243.


RLC, i, 433, a much later report.


RLC, i, 173, and cf. RC, 201.


RLC, i, 173.

King John's Diary & Itinerary