For more than 800 years, a King's riches have lain undiscovered where they were swallowed by the tides.

Now, archaeologists are about to embark on a dig that could shed new light on the fate of King John's treasure, which vanished in the Wash during an ill-fated trip across the Norfolk countryside in 1216.

The tantalising prospect of unearthing new details about one of the most famous chapters in English history has been raised by a very modern requirement - a planning application.

Developers want to build a huge solar farm in an area of the Fens that experts believe is the most likely location where the ill-fated monarch lost his belongings.

The scheme has been granted permission, but part of the requirement is that they carry out an extensive archaeological survey of the area.

Eastern Daily Press: A portrait of King John A portrait of King John (Image: Stories of Lynn)


The enigma dates back to October 12, 1216, when King John set off from King's Lynn to Lincoln.

He was accompanied by a wagon train carrying provisions and his worldly wealth, said to include the crown jewels, silver plates, golden goblets and gold coins.

The King soon left the carts carrying his hoard behind as he rode ahead on his horse.

But while His Majesty made it safely across part of what was then the Wash west of Lynn to continue on his journey, his train and its attendants were engulfed by the incoming tide and lost amid the rushing waters.

Search parties came back empty-handed, as the King's health also failed. John died of dysentery at Newark on October 18, at the age of 49.

The exact location of the disaster remains unknown to this day, while much of what was then part of an estuary and salt marsh criss-crossed by tidal creeks has been reclaimed over the centuries for farming.

Eastern Daily Press: King John's treasure could lie between the Walpoles, near King's Lynn, and Sutton BridgeKing John's treasure could lie between the Walpoles, near King's Lynn, and Sutton Bridge (Image: Chris Bishop)


Some believe John's riches were lost somewhere between Walpole Cross Keys and Sutton Bridge - an area where preliminary works are soon to start on the new solar farm.  

Developer Enso Green Holdings won a planning appeal in 2022 after its bid to site panels on 200 acres of farmland at Walpole Marsh was turned down by West Norfolk Council.

Now archaeological consultants acting for the green power firm have drawn up plans for a survey of the site, which have been given the go-ahead by the council.

Some 20 trenches will be dug in different areas. Geophysical surveys have revealed former watercourses from when the site was a tidal marsh.

Eastern Daily Press: Archaeologist Dr Clive BondArchaeologist Dr Clive Bond (Image: Ian Burt)


Clive Bond, chairman of the West Norfolk and King's Lynn Archaeological Society (WNKLAS), said: "It's an opportunity to take a glimpse into the landscape. When you're looking at something this big it's quite exciting.

"There could be something there, absolutely, but actually getting to where it's been deposited in a changing, dynamic river system - you're looking a million to one.

"They will find stuff, that's medieval and post-medieval but I suspect the problem here is you'd need an intervention that would go deep."

Eastern Daily Press: A view across part of the site at Walpole MarshA view across part of the site at Walpole Marsh (Image: Google)

Dr Bond said material from John's time could now be 5m below the surface of a landscape which is still evolving.

WNKLAS carried out a dig with an American film crew making a documentary about King's John's treasure at nearby Tydd St Giles in 2016.

It unearthed medieval material including administrative seals and iron nails.

While aerial surveys using LIDAR (light detection and radar) technology have enabled the medieval land surface to be recreated, the actual route taken by John's baggage train has so far eluded even the eyes in the sky.

Eastern Daily Press: King's Lynn historian Dr Paul RichardsKing's Lynn historian Dr Paul Richards (Image: Ian Burt)

King's Lynn historian Dr Paul Richards does not hold out much hope the latest survey will bear fruit.

"Nothing's ever been found," he said. "The thing is, he wouldn't have been carrying much treasure as he'd spent most of it on fighting.

"No regalia has ever been found after his death - he probably flogged it to fight the barons, the French, he must have spent a lot of money."Eastern Daily Press:


Eight centuries ago the Wash was much wider than today, consisting of shifting, mud and sandbanks, rivers and reeds, saltmarsh and sea.

But there was a causeway, known as the Wellstream across its south-western end, which was accessible at low tide with help from local guides.

Up to 3,000 soldiers and servants, carrying the King’s possessions including the royal regalia and treasury, took this route to save nine miles. Perhaps a sudden surging tide engulfed them.

All that is known is that they never completed the crossing. Records show a high spring tide was predicted on the afternoon disaster struck between Walpole Cross Keys and what is now Sutton Bridge.

For centuries treasure seekers have scoured everything from ancient documents to the landscape itself, looking for clues to locate the baggage train and its priceless load.


Eastern Daily Press: A statue of King John stands in the Vancouver Quarter in King's LynnA statue of King John stands in the Vancouver Quarter in King's Lynn (Image: Ian Burt)

King John (1166 – 1216) was the son of Henry II, who had inherited a large swathe of northern France.

Crowned after the death of his brother, Richard I, in 1199, John went on to lose French lands to King Phillip II of France, while a baronial revolt towards the end of his reign led to the sealing of the Magna Carta.

The document, said to be an early written constitution, pledged to protect church rights, protect barons from illegal imprisonment, provide access to swift and impartial justice and limit taxes.

John - famed as the foe of Robin Hood and his merry men - was not a popular king and has been much maligned ever since.

Eastern Daily Press: King JohnKing John (Image: Getty)

He was said to have been an adulterer, who donated little to the church, which excommunicated him after a row with the Pope.

But he went down well in King's Lynn, after granting the port a charter which established the town as a free borough.

A statue of the King was installed in the town centre in 2016.

At the time of his visit to the town in 1216 he was dealing with a rebellion by barons elsewhere in his kingdom.

John feasted in Lynn before setting off on his ill-fated journey to Lincoln.

Afterwards, he showed the first symptoms of the dysentery to which he would succumb a few days later.