in search of the facts (for my fiction)

Wallingford Castle ruins

Location: Wallingford Castle
Date: March/April 1193

I’ve been on a fact-finding mission. Maybe you can help. Battle Scars II: For King and Country opens shortly after the events of the final chapter of Men of the Cross (MoTC). Castles held by Count John’s supporters are under siege by order of Queen Eleanor, acting on behalf of her son Richard the Lionheart. Richard is being held in captivity by the Holy Roman Emperor – see the recently released A King’s Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman for that tale. (In the meantime, I would recommend MoTC as a nice companion to Penman’s prequel Lionheart. MoTC and For King and Country cover some of King’s Ransom territory, too.)

Knights Henry de Grey, Stephan l’Aigle, and Robin du Louviers are sent to Wallingford Castle. I am attempting to find details of the events of March/April 1193 there. Here is a round up of the sources I have found, sources that don’t offer me much of a clue:

The Annals of Roger de Hoveden

“…the said earl of Montaigne [i.e., Count John] returned to England bringing many foreigners with him; immediately on which, the castles of Wallingford and Windsor were surrendered to him . . . On this, being repulsed by the justiciars and the other nobles of the kingdom, he withdrew, and, excited by indignation, fortified his castles and fortresses.”–p. 287

March/April – there is specific mention of the justiciars laying siege to Windsor. In early May, the justiciars sign a 6 month truce with John’s supporters. Wallingford (along with Windsor and Peak) are entrusted to Eleanor.

The Wallingford History Gateway
A wealth of resources are on the site (and I emailed them on Friday), but I haven’t pinpointed specifics of the siege except for the following:

“When Richard is at the crusades, Earl John takes possession of the castle. The king’s allies, including the Earl of Leicester, besiege it and retake it, and it is then put in possession of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Queen Dowager in 1193.”

The borough of Wallingford: Introduction and castle.” A History of the County of Berkshire, vol. 3. (1923).

“…John, however, obtained possession of the castle when he rose in rebellion against Richard. He stayed for a short time at Wallingford, which he fortified with a strong mercenary garrison. It is clear that, by the terms of the truce arranged between the king and John in 1193, the castle was handed over to Queen Eleanor in trust for the absent king.”

The history of Wallingford, in the county of Berks, vol. 1 (1881) by John Kirby Hedges.

“…his treason and deception were apparent, and [Count John] was rejected by all the barons, who raised an army against him. Castle after castle, including those of Wallingford and Windsor, fell into the hands of the royalist party, under the brave Earl of Leicester, and the traitor was obliged to beg a truce…” –p. 288

The Victoria History of Berkshire by P.H. Ditchfield (1972 reprint). London: Published for the University of London, Institute of Historical Research.

The text about John and his castles essentially duplicates the information from de Hoveden and the vol. of Berkshire history.

The Library at Wallingford
I emailed the library asking if they might have any local resources to point me to. I received a lovely response from a librarian there. She indicated that there were “some references to the event you are researching but no details of the siege.” She forwarded my question to Answers Direct (a group with more resources), but I haven’t heard from them. I’ll follow up directly with that group. She also pointed me to (who haven’t responded to my query) and to and I’ll take a closer look at those two this weekend.

Various biographies of Richard, John, and Eleanor
The biographies say little more than what I’ve found in other sources: John had paid homage to Philip of France and returned to England with foreign mercenaries. Wallingford and Windsor had surrendered to him. After Easter 1193 (March 28), the justiciars “laid siege to Windsor.” (Appleby, John, King of England, p. 65.). John’s “Welsh mercenaries devastated the region between Kingston and Windsor and took all the food they could to stock their two castles… The siege of Windsor Castle began, apparently, on 29 March.” (Appleby, England Without Richard, 1189-1199, p. 109.) Gillingham also mentions – briefly – the siege at Windsor. (Richard the Lionheart, p. 230.) Appleby references the Pipe Rolls for expenditures and supplies (including items for stone throwers!) ordered for Windsor. Hmm… the only cataloged copy (Pipe Roll 5, Richard I [in English, and ed. by Stenton, 1927]) in the U.S. is at Yale. I’ve sent a request off to Interlibrary Loan to borrow it.

So what of Wallingford, 14 miles to the west? Was there a siege, or any hostilities at Wallingford? Well, there certainly will be in Battle Scars II: For King and Country.

P.S. Did you know I have a Battle Scars locations board on Pinterest? Enjoy!

P.S.S. Update April 21, 2016: I did not end up using Wallingford in For King and Country, other than mentioning it. The opening scene moves a bit further in Sir Henry’s future in May 1193.

Image credit: Wallingford Castle ruins by Pitou250 / Public domain.

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