Kings Clipstone, UK - King John's Palace; East Haddam, CT - Gillette Castle (Entry in Progress)
Kings Clipstone, UK - King John's PalaceKing John’s Palace is located in Kings Clipstone in the county of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Six successive Plantagenet kings from Henry II to Edward II used and visited it. As with any other architectural structure, it was built up, neglected, added on to, and burned at regular intervals throughout its history. In the book A Palace for Our Kings: The History and Archaeology of a Medieval Royal Palace in the Heart of Sherwood Forest by James Wright, he cites the Oxford English Dictionary to define a palace as “a large and impressive building forming the official residence of a ruler, pope, archbishop, etc.,” which is what he calls a “pleasingly malleable definition” (5). Later, he provides what is perhaps a more inclusive and useful description: “Palaces were used in remarkably elastic fashion by the monarchs. Their purposes varied according to a wide variety of circumstances not just from king to king but even within individual reigns. The personal preferences of a king might lead to a combination of reasons to visit a particular palace which may have involved sport, recreation, councils, parliaments, building campaigns, impressing magnates and dignitaries, retreating from plague, or as a resting point on a longer journey” (17). The Palace at Clipstone was one of the more impressive and maintained residences over the course of several reigns. The scale of Clipstone “lifts it to an entirely different level [than manor houses]” as it “stretched to seven and a half acres of enclosed land” (6).
There are as always several dates involved when considering the multi-century history of a location like Clipstone. I found it useful to mark when kings first visited the site (chart below). Although a manor had been there prior to the Norman invasion and there is evidence of repairs and construction on the site, Henry II in 1181 is considered the first documented royal visitor to “his palace and deer park” (Wright 27). It is interesting that he visited Clipstone after the wars with his sons, wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and other political leaders that they recruited. When he won, he set about essentially strengthening his hold over castles and forests, including Sherwood. Richard I first visited Clipstone immediately after he returned from his imprisonment. I like to imagine this as a much-needed respite before setting about punishing John and the other rebels. Wrights claims that it was to make sure Clipstone was in order for a later meeting with the Scottish king William the Lion (39). Citing Roger de Hoveden, Wright comments that Richard traveled to Clipstone and Sherwood, “which he had never seen before, and they pleased him greatly” (39). John seems only to have been at the palace, at least according to any remaining official records, nine days in total over seven visits (41), but he was in the area quite frequently so there could be many unrecorded visits as well. Henry III is the one who really took an interest in the architectural design of the Palace and ordered quite a bit of construction, particularly in response to the comfort of his queen Eleanor. Edward I held parliament at Clipstone in 1290, where he announced the plans for another Crusade (68). Edward II differed greatly than his predecessors in that he spent more time at each of the locations he visited, including Clipstone. This is probably due to the changing nature of centralized government and the perceived security of the times.
A major fourteenth-century Middle English text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, includes several scenes of medieval hunting, but what is less clear until you understand the setting is that the author is actually describing a medieval hunting park. A medieval park was a place dedicated to entertainment, but it was not a well-defended location. The deer and the other animals essentially belonged to its owner, and he had ultimate control and operated under a different set of laws than in an alternative location.
East Haddam, CT - Gillette Castle
Wright, James. A Palace for Our Kings: The History and Archaeology of a Mediaeval Royal Palace in the Heart of Sherwood Forest. Nottingham: Triskele, 2016.