Prince John and the first use of an iconic English phrase

On hearing of Richard I’s release from his German prison, Prince John wrote to the King of France, saying how ‘heureux’ he was that his brother was on his way home, and that he was going to Nottingham Castle to prepare a Welcome Home Party.

However, it seems some mischievous scribe changed the wording of the letter. By adding 3 little letters, changing the word ‘heureux’ to ‘malheureux’, he changed the whole meaning of the letter and the ‘welcome home party’ took on a sinister meaning. King Philip II Augustus of France was a master at stirring up trouble and wasted no time in alerting Richard to his brother’s, apparently, rebellious intentions.

So Richard arrived home to discover his brother was ‘holed up’ in Nottingham Castle and headed North to ‘deal’ with him.

When John saw his brother’s forces, he panicked – the party wasn’t quite ready yet, not all the guests had arrived. Richard’s heralds called on John to surrender, 220px-Nottingham_castle_reconstructionand John’s heralds shouted back that he ‘was not ready yet’.

And this is when things went a little awry.

On seeing the size of Richard’s army, John decided to go out and talk to his brother. But when he got to the castle gates, he discovered they were locked. He turned to his half-brother, Will Longspee, and asked for the key. In a classic ‘Carry On’ moment, Will responded with ‘I thought you had it’. John screamed incoherently at Will, then ordered the Castle searched – turned upside down, even (not easy with a stone castle) – to find that key.

Meanwhile, outside the gates a seething King Richard was rapidly losing patience; he ordered his siege engines brought up, and opened fire on the castle.

Inside the castle, John and his party-guests were frantically searching for the key, but to no avail.

Two days later, Richard remembered he still had a small supply of Greek Fire, which he’d brought back from the Holy Land. He ordered a huge boulder to be coated in it and loaded into a trebuchet.

Making one last attempt to settle things peacefully, he hailed his brother.

Will Longspee shouted down that they couldn’t come out as they had lost the key to the gates and he’d have to come in and get them.

Unfortunately, it being a windy day, Richard only heard part of Will’s statement, basically ‘not coming out, come and get us’.220px-Hand-siphon_for_Greek_fire,_medieval_illumination_(detail)

That was the last straw, Richard turned from the castle, shouted ‘FIRE!’, and the flaming boulder was launched towards the castle. The ground beneath their feet shook; castle gates, and walls either side, disintegrated in the huge fireball. Men leapt from the ramparts in an attempt to escape the flames. There was chaos, blood and flames everywhere. The cocophony of sound was indescribable – men cried for their mothers, horses screamed in panic and the sound of the explosion was still echoing off the castle walls.

Richard marched his men into the castle’s courtyard, John strode purposefully forward to meet him, stood in front of his brother, eyes blazing in anger, hands on hips and said, in his best Michael Caine impression:



By Jeff R Sun, still writing the wrongs of history.



Sources: of the Nile, of the Thames, of the Amazon; the Lego Ideas Book; The Italian Job (2003); The Italian Job (1969); 1066 and All That; Star Wars Character Encyclopedia (just because I love the word ‘encyclopedia)

Photos: Wikipedia



4 thoughts on “Prince John and the first use of an iconic English phrase

    1. Oh I know – he sent it back with his minstrel, Blondel, after he heard him singing outside his prison window. A milisecond after throwing it down to Blondel, Richard realised throwing it was probably a bad idea. But luckily Blondel caught it and no harm was done. He took it to Eleanor who stored it in the Treasury, hoping wistfully, that Richard would be home one day to use it. JRS


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s