Where was the must go to Christmas party for all England back in 1371?
Rather surprisingly, Kingston Lacy in Dorset. Seems unlikely but true.
John had just returned from France and had brought back his new wife to his London Savoy Palace. But where to spend Christmas? So many places to choose from, he was a king’s son after all and by his first marriage had got loads of property. As Duke of Lancaster he owned castles and manors all over the country. Now, with Constance, his new Spanish princess, he could call himself King of Castile.
He would throw a party and invite everyone who was anyone so that he could show her off. His dad Edward III of course, his sister-in-law the Princess of Acquitaine, various influential barons and his brothers. Not forgetting his ‘Household’ several hundred strong consisting of knights and retainers, esquires, grooms and valets.
The steward of sleepy KL probably had a bit of a shock when he received his master John of Gaunt’s letter, informing him of his decision. The manorial complex geared up into frenetic activity, preparing rooms and cleaning stables and outhouses. John sent other letters out, making sure that the food was in.
“We command that you take six deer and six dozen rabbits and bring them to our manor of Kingston before Christmas Eve, also the following Sunday and the Tuesday after that. Make sure they’re prize beasts and carried to us in good condition!”
He also sent his staff out to get the presents for the big day. He bought the King a pair of silver slippers, his senior advisor got a gold brooch, his Spanish knights were given silver caskets and his esquires 40s.
So, long ago, Kingston Lacy was the Christmas resort of kings and princes. Kingston is a Saxon name because the land belonged to the King up to the 12th century. By the 13th century it belonged to the Earls of Lincoln, the Lacy family. Henry de Lacy was such a powerful baron that he gave his name to the place. He tended to spend Christmas here too. Its been known as Kingston Lacy ever since.
In 1485, after the Wars of the Roses, it was given to Henry VII’s mother but she didn’t want it, so it was demolished. A new house was built at KL after the English Civil War but the site of the old house was forgotten.
Wouldn’t it be great to find it. Such a place. Where so many powerful people gathered and discussed the fashions and politics of the day. Some of the old parchment account rolls had survived and these listed the wages of named workmen who repaired the great manorial complex. By putting together the historical clues we could create a reconstruction of the buildings.
There was a storm in the park and a tree fell over. Medieval building remains were found in its roots. I walked up and down in the area north of the present mansion and measured all the humps and bumps. Then Geoffrey agreed to use our resistivity meter to see what lay beneath the grass.
It revealed the manor house twice the size of the current mansion and a range of other buildings. We needed to check so we dug a small trench 6m long and 2m wide. Beneath the turf was just a mass of yellow mortar bits. Deeper and there was the odd stone and then a wall began to emerge made of the local sandstone and over a metre wide. Suddenly at 0.8m the rubble robbing debris stopped and a band of black earth contained medieval pottery and food debris. This with fragments of glazed floor tiles alternating greenish yellow and purple brown.
Perhaps, invites to John’s Christmas party once walked across this tiled floor when it was beautiful and new.