1190 to 1216
we come to perhaps the most well known aspect of the history
of Bere Regis, that of its association with King John, although
this village is by no means alone in this respect. Due to his
somewhat restless nature combined with a fondness for hunting,
he spent comparatively little time at Westminster, the official
seat of government, but continually traveled around the country,
staying for only a day or two at a time in any one of his royal
manor houses. He was usually accompanied by his courtiers and
officials together with all the official documents and other
items necessary for conducting state business entailing, no
doubt, a veritable convoy of horses when traveling from one
manor to another.
John is known to have stayed at 21 different places in Dorset
alone, and Gillingham seems to have been his favourite manor
in this county where he stayed 25 times. Corfe Castle comes
second with 23 visits, Cranborne third with 20, and Bere Regis
fourth with 16. He stayed at Bere on the following dates:
- June 27-29.
1205 - January 7-8, June 25-27, August 18-21.
1206 - January 5-7, December 13-14.
1207 - March 28, September 4-5.
1209 - July 1, September 18.
1210 - January 13, October 3.
1213 - June 26-27, July 4-5.
1215 - February 4.
1216 - June 19-20.
houses at this period consisted not of one large building, but
a group of smaller ones arranged around a central court, and
enclosed by a boundary wall and sometimes a moat, with a gate
house at the principal entrance. Those royal manors at which
the king habitually stayed appear often to have been adapted
and enlarged to suit his particular requirements, and in such
cases they seem usually to have been called 'the kings houses'.
They comprised a hall, king's chamber, queen's chamber, chapel,
cellar, kitchen, granary and stables together with a garden
and vivarium (fish pond). These buildings were not always of
stone, and the less important sections were often constructed
largely in timber.
its name implies, the site of King John's houses at Bere was
Court Green, where the still remaining sections of brick wall
on the south and east sides mark the site of the original enclosing
wall. Near the south east corner the lower part of this wall
is of stone and flint which may well be part of the original
work. Also in the south east corner is a sunken area with an
arched opening and culvert leading to the river, and although
this would have undoubtedly been associated with some form of
drainage from the later Turberville house, it could well have
originated as the vivarium or fishpond referred to above.
kings houses themselves would have consisted basically of the
Saxon manor house which Queen Elfrida used in 978, some 230
years earlier, repaired, altered and enlarged in 1202 and 1203,
when over £100 was spent on them, presumably in readiness
for King John's first visit in June 1204. This work must have
been extensive, as £100 was a very considerable sum in
the thirteenth century-even in the fifteenth century anyone
who could "dispend £IO per annum" was considered
a wealthy man. In later times when the manor ceased to be a
royal demesne, the buildings reverted to their original use
as a manor house and probably formed the nucleus of the later
Turberville house which remained on the site until about 1800.
early documents were rolled for storage, and the exchequer accounts,
kept in this way are known as "pipe rolls," and state
letters and other documents as "patent rolls" and
"close rolls". The following extracts are from the
pipe, patent and close rolls of King John's reign relating to
£47 13s, 2d. (£47.66) was spent on the king's houses
at Bere, and three `viewers' (surveyors) were appointed to supervise
the work-John de Turberville, Gilbert Calin and Walter de Mora.
This was a very large sum in the thirteenth century and probably
indicates that the work consisted of extensions to bring the
manor house up to the required standard for the king's intended
visit. It must also have been of sufficient importance to warrant
the appointment of three viewers.
£56 17s. 7d. (£56.88) was spent on the king's chamber
when Elijah de Eere and Gilbert Calve were appointed as viewers.
Again a very large sum by thirteenth century standards particularly
as it seems to have been expended on the king's chamber alone,
and may therefore denote that this portion was an entirely new
E7 17s. 4d. (£7.87) was spent on some unspecified works
to the king's houses, and £8 13s, lOd. (£8.69) on
repairs to the king's houses, stables and smithy. The Sheriff
of Somerset was to order sheep for restocking the manor of Uphaven
at the same price that they were valued when restocking "our
manor of Bere". Wine was ordered to be sent from Southampton-3
barrels to Cranborne, 8 to Dorchester, 8 to Gillingham, 5 to
Bere and 3 to Sherborne.
The king's tailor, Randolf Parmentarius, was delayed at Bere
for some time due to the illness of his horse, and it cost 13s.
4d. (£0.67) for treatment, board and lodging and other
expenses for the horse and its attendant. The king's tailor
was a v.i.p. and presumably his horse ranked as a v.i.h. On
25 June, 1205 the king gave an order to the Bailiff of Bere
to purchase a "handsome cross for placing in our chapel
at Bere", and the pipe roll gives the cost of it as 5s.
(£0.25). This does not refer to any part of the parish
church, but to the private chapel which formed a part of the
king's houses. It cost 5s. 5d. (£G.27) to provide shutters
for the windows of the king's houses. The Sheriff, Peter de
Schidimar rendered account of "£12 of the issues
of Bere for the whole year". Wine was ordered to be sent
from Southampton-5 barrels to Bere and 5 to Dorchester, and
Alexander of Wareham was to be paid for the carriage of wine
from Southampton to Wareham, Bere and Dorchester.
Among the entries relating to tallage, a form of tax, is the
item-"The town of Bere renders account of 7s. 4d. (£G.37)
for the same". Wine was ordered to be sent from Southampton-1
barrel each to Cranborne, Bere, Powerstock and Gillingham, and
2 to Dorchester. Whilst the king was at Bere on 13 December,
1206, he wrote orders to the Sheriff of Southampton instructing
him to procure and send to Winchester, where the king proposed
to spend Christmas, 1500 fowls, 5000 eggs, 20 oxen, 100 pigs
and 100 sheep.
Wine was ordered to be sent from Southampton-2 barrels to Bere,
3 to Gillingham, 2 to Sherborne, 1 to Dorchester and 1 to Powerstock.
On 3 March, 1207 the Sheriff of Dorset was ordered to arrange
to have a kitchen built `for our use at Bere' and from an entry
in the pipe roll it would appear to have cost 30 shillings (£1.50).
Even by 13th century standards this must have been a relatively
low cost structure, and if, in addition, it was expected to
have been completed in time for the king's intended visit on
28 March, very rapid construction would have been necessary.
It was probably therefore, a basically timber building.
were normally paid, in the form of present day rates, on fixed
items such as buildings and land, but King John introduced a
new and unpopular tax whereby a thirteenth of the value of all
movable goods had to be paid. It is known that £20,000
was raised in this way and was made over to the king whilst
he was staying at Bere. In a letter dated 2 July 1207, written
from Westminster and addressed to the Barons of the Exchequer,
he directed "account to be taken of £20,000 paid
by Geoffrey fitz Peter, our justiciary, into our chamber at
was at one time thought that the payment of this sum had some
particular connection with this parish, and that some of it
was used for the building of the south aisle and arcade of the
church, where the capitals bear symbols which it was thought
were associated with King John. Apart from the fact that the
arcade in question dates from about 1140, some sixty years before
the beginning of King John's reign, it is purely incidental
that this particular piece of state business was transacted
whilst he was staying at Bere.
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