The Fair of Lincoln
This year is the 800th anniversary of a battle that changed the course of English history. Some of its events can still be located in the streets of Lincoln, as John Goodall explains
IN the early hours of October 18, 1216, as a great storm blew portentously, King John died at Newark Castle. He left England in chaos. The political crisis that had forced him to endorse Magna Carta two years previously had matured into fullblown civil war. It was prosecuted on both sides with men and resources from the Continent. John himself had called on the services of mercenaries from Flanders and placed the kingdom under the protection of the Papacy. Indeed, from May 1216, a Legate, Guala, had personally represented the Pope in England. He worked energetically in John’s support and excommunicated his opponents.
Meanwhile, the rebel barons offered the crown of England to the son of the French king, Prince Louis. The Prince’s army, carried on the same wind that brought Guala, landed in a fleet of 800 ships at Thanet on May 21, 1216. Louis’s cause initially enjoyed enormous success and, within two weeks, he had secured Canterbury, Rochester and London. Winchester, the second city of the kingdom, fell soon afterwards.
His chief problem was to manage the tensions between his English followers, who expected support in their existing interests, and his French followers, for whom the expedition was an adventure with rich potential prizes.
When King John died, his son and heir—a politically inoffensive nine-year-old boy—was immediately