King John's Palace Ruins – Nottinghamshire, England - Atlas Obscura
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Nottinghamshire, England

King John's Palace Ruins

These bleak 800-year-old ruins were once the royal residence of choice for hunting in Sherwood Forest. 

Despite the deceptive name, it is thought that the “Bad” King John featured in the Robin Hood legends only spent nine days at this decidedly non-palatial hunting lodge. The ruins actually predate his reign by at least 30 years, first referred to in a document from 1164.

Construction likely began at the orders of King John’s father, Henry II. Recent archaeological excavation has revealed that the remaining romantic ruins are only a small fraction of what was once a large and well-equipped royal retreat, designed to accommodate the King and Queen of England and their retinue of ladies, gentlemen, dogs, and horses. The complex allowed the king’s party a rightly regal repose after a hunt.

All that remains of the former palace now are three thick walls that belonged to a Romanesque great hall used for entertaining guests. By the 16th century, hunting holidays in Nottinghamshire had fallen out of favor with the London-centric English monarchs, and the retreat had gone to ruin by 1525. By this time, no fewer than eight medieval kings had rested within its cosseting confines after a good day’s hunt.

Marked on many early maps simply as the “Kings Houses” the ruins had earned their slightly misleading modern name by the 18th century, although nobody knows exactly why. Today the three lonely but picturesque walls are listed by Historic England as being of special architectural and historic interest. They stand on private land that is frequently opened to the public for special events.

Know Before You Go

Although on private land, the remains can be viewed from the B6030 Mansfield Road. The site is open to the wider public during Frequent festivals, such as the Picnic at the Palace and the King's Clipstone Beer and Cider Festival. These offer the opportunity to get a little closer to this romantic royal retreat...and have a beer.