Earl John's Double Dealing

As soon as Earl John heard of his brother's capture in Austria, he immediately crossed the channel to meet King Philip.

Inside Castle Gate
  • On his way to see King Philip, Earl John sought the support of the Seneschal of Normandy but the Seneschal swore fealty to King Richard and even begged the Earl to come to a council to discuss means of setting King Richard free.
  • Earl John bluntly told him: "If you receive me as your lord and swear fealty to me then I will go with you and defend you before the King of France. If not, you are on your own."
  • Steadfastly loyal to King Richard, the Norman Seneschal would have nothing to do with Earl John who journeyed on alone to meet King Philip.
  • It is now becoming clear what treachery was afoot.
  • This page reports on Earl John's Double Dealing and the Fools of Gotham.
Double Dealing

Whilst King Richard languished in prison, Earl John was telling everyone that his brother would never return and that he himself was going to seize power. And cheek-by-jowl with Earl John, King Philip was taking his opportunity to invade King Richard's lands in Normandy. All this, while Queen Mother Eleanor was doing her utmost to get King Richard released.

To counter Earl John's treachery, the Great Council ordered everyone to swear oaths of fealty to King Richard though they were uncertain when, or even if, he would return from Germany.

Queen Eleanor herself called out the fyrdmen in the South-West when she heard that Earl John and King Philip were mustering a fleet at Wissant to invade England. "By order of Queen Eleanor, who rules England. At Passiontide and Easter and thereafter, nobles and common people, knights and peasants, fly to arms and guard the sea coast that looks towards Flanders." After learning that the coastal defences were on alert, the would-be invaders from Wissant dallied and lost heart.

Earl John secretly landed back in England and invited the Scots and Welsh to join him in rebellion. The Bishop of Coventry and a number of Welsh mercenaries joined him but King William of the Scots refused to be disloyal in any way. So Earl John installed his troops in the castles of Wallingford and Windsor, told the King's justiciars in London that his brother King Richard was dead and demanded that they hand over the kingdom to him. They indignantly refused but made no move against him.

Easter had passed when the justiciars received news that Emperor Henry would release King Richard on payment of a ransom, and taking heart, prepared to lay siege to Windsor Castle commanded by Earl John. The besiegers transported three shiploads of stones from Kent for their catapults and intended to try out a new technique brought back by the crusaders to counter the opposition's catapults - Greek fire made from sulphur and pitch. Recruiting 500 Welsh mercenaries, 66 sergeants with 2 horses apiece, 67 slingers and a further 500 foot-soldiers commanded by the famous knight William Marshal, the besiegers intended to show Earl John that they meant business.

In the north Archbishop Geoffrey of York, helped by the Sheriff of Yorkshire, fortified Doncaster against attack from Earl John's men who had occupied Tickhill castle 10 miles further south. Nottingham Castle (pictured from inside gate - top right) was once again in the hands of Earl John's men and made it awkward for the citizens of Nottingham - their fealty belongs to both Earl John as their lord earl and King Richard as their lord king.

In a tense situation, good sense eventually prevailed when the King's justiciars and Earl John made a truce - to last at least until All Saints Day. Earl John agreed to hand his castles of Windsor, Wallingford and the Peak over to Queen Mother Eleanor whilst still retaining Tickhill and Nottingham castles.

Earl John is still holding Nottingham and Tickhill castles but King Richard the Lionheart, now released from captivity in Germany, will surely not allow his brother to hold them for very much longer.

Fools of Gotham

Earl John, heading his great train and entourage travelling towards Nottingham, decided to take a diversionary route to avoid the village of Gotham situated ten miles west of the town. The Earl's advance party had come upon three fools in the village. One was trying to rake the reflection of the moon out of the pond by repeating: "Its a cheese! Its a cheese!"

Another was erecting a fence around a wood. "If I can keep the cuckoo in the wood then it will always be Spring in Gotham," he explained.

The third was sending his cheeses to market by rolling them down the hill towards Nottingham, explaining: "Its downhill all the way and it will save me a journey."

The Earl's men erred on the side of caution and decided on a different route to Nottingham to avoid this village of fools.

Later, one of the fools pointed out with a wink. "Don't you think our meadow is looking exceptionally lush and green? We shall have a good crop of hay this summer." And true enough it was. The path to Nottingham lay right across their meadow but was hardly trodden down and was fresh full of daisies.

Wise fools of Gotham, it seems.

Ed's View

'I will strive at all times to be a wise, fair and just ruler, only gaoling those who question my authority'

King Richard Sets Off
Two Kings in Sicily
Siege of Acre
Marriage Arranged
King Richard Weds
Arrival at Acre
Acre Falls
Battle of Arsuf
Retreat from Holy City
King Richard's Crusade


Saladin Defeated at Jaffa
King Richard Captured
Eleanor of Aquitaine
William Marshall
Earl John
Chancellor Longchamps
Double Dealing
Attack on Nottm. Castle

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