King John's Reign

1190 to 1216

Now 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.

King 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:

1204 - 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.

Manor 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.

As 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.

The 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.

Most 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 this parish:

1202-1203. £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.

1203-1204. £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 addition.

1204-1205. 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.

1205-1206. 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.

1206-1207. 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.

1207-1208. 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.

Taxes 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 Bere".

It 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.

Return to the Village History Page

© Bere Regis Village Website 2004 - Site by Chola Design