King John’s Will

King John’s Will or testament is a unique artefact.

It is held in the archives of Worcester Cathedral where King John was laid to rest.

King John's Will
King John’s Tomb Worcester Cathedral

King John’s will is unique because it is the first original testament we have of a British monarch.

The will of King Alfred the Great for example exists only as a later copy.

It is a little heard of document and it’s whereabouts have not always been known. Various transcriptions were made of it in the 18th Century but is now in the safe custody of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral.

You can see an image of the testament on the cathedral website. It is a single piece of parchment just 125mm by 158mm and folded at the bottom. It contains nine seal tag slits, although none of the seals are present. The central one is larger than the others and presumably this is where the King’s seal would be. But think on this, we do not know whose seals were on the document but they would have been with the King in his last days. This is examined in an excellent article has been written on King John’s testament and how it relates to other Medieval testaments.

A transcription of the testament

I, John, by the grace of God king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, count of Anjou, hindered by grave infirmity and not being able at this time of my infirmity to itemize all my things so that I may make a testament, commit the arbitration and administration of my testament to the trust and to the legitimate administration of my faithful men whose names are written below, without whose counsel, even in good health, I would have by no means arranged my testament in their presence, so that what they will faithfully arrange and determine concerning my things as much as in making satisfaction to God and to holy church for damages and injuries done to them as in sending succour to the land of Jerusalem and in providing support to my sons towards obtaining and defending their inheritance and in making reward to those who have served us faithfully and in making distribution to the poor and to religious houses for the salvation of my soul, be right and sure. I ask, furthermore, that whoever shall give them counsel and assistance in the arranging of my testament shall receive the grace and favour of God. Whoever shall infringe their arrangement and disposition, may he incur the curse and indignation of almighty God and the blessed Mary and all the saints. In the first place,
therefore, I desire that my body be buried in the church of St Mary and St Wulfstan at Worcester. I appoint, moreover, the following arbiters
and administrators: the lord G(uala), by the grace of God, cardinalpriest of the title of St Martin and legate of the apostolic see; the lord Peter bishop of Winchester; the lord Richard bishop of Chichester; the lord Silvester bishop of Worcester; Brother Aimery de St-Maur; William Marshal earl of Pembroke; Ranulf earl of Chester; William earl Ferrers; William Brewer; Walter de Lacy and John of Monmouth; Savaric de Mauléon; Falkes de Bréauté.

It is a will written in the last days of his life, seemingly to try and ensure succession. It appears interesting that King John, the most vilified of monarchs, seems confident and content almost to allow those faithful to him to carry out his will. Having read so much about the negative aspects of King John’s character, this document seems almost out of character. Just musings on our part.