Photograph by Mr Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral Archaeologist. Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, UK.
King John died on 18 or 19 October 1216 in Newark Castle, Nottinghamshire. His will, preserved in the archives of Worcester Cathedral, was evidently drawn up in his last days, for John states that the gravity of his illness prevents him from going into detail. He left the fulfilment of his wishes to 13 named overseers. The royal seal clearly once hung at the bottom, accompanied probably by the seals of the eight overseers present when the will was drawn up. It was written in a quick, business hand, suggesting that the clerk was under pressure to complete it as quickly as possible. The document is a precious survival, being the earliest original English royal will.
John wished the overseers to send help to the Holy Land, and to make satisfaction to the Church for the injuries it had suffered during the Interdict. They were also to give alms for the benefit of John’s soul, and to see that his body was buried in Worcester Cathedral. John had originally intended to lie at Beaulieu Abbey, the Cistercian house he had founded in Hampshire. Beaulieu, however, unlike Worcester, was in an area controlled by the rebels. It also had no saint. In 1207 John had prayed beside the shrine of Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester (1008–95), who had been canonised in 1203. John now hoped, through the saint’s intercession, to find a way to heaven.
With half the kingdom controlled by Prince Louis, John was also concerned about the future of his dynasty. He begged the overseers to support his sons ‘in obtaining and defending their inheritance’. John had picked his men well. Headed by Guala (1150–1227), the new papal legate, and including the future regent, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke (1147–1219), and the royal tutor, Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester (d. 1238), the overseers played a major part in securing the throne for Henry III.