King John’s “mobile phone record”

Posted on 19th December 2017 by Paul Carter

Spending the Christmas holiday period with family in Malmesbury, Canterbury, York or Oxford this year?  Or visiting friends at Winchester, Bristol, Worcester or Nottingham?  Or perhaps you are travelling further afield to Argentan or Caen in Normandy, France?  If so, you are following in the footsteps of King John of England who also spent Christmas Day at these places. But we've known about his royal itinerary since 1835 when the information was extracted from contemporary records and published for the greater good by the 6th Record Commission. Their activities led to the establishment of the Public Record Office (1838), now The National Archives, Kew (2003). So what's new?

Are you travelling with your mobile phone? Of course you are! Then forensic science can plot your exact route as it occurs in time. Likewise, new research by Dr Janet Gillespie, School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews, in collaboration with J. Jonathan  Crump, Seattle, USA, has brought King John's itinerary into the 21st century to present his "mobile phone record" online. This now shows the exact latitude and longitude coordinates of all but one of the 656 locations that he visited on 4,390 days of his 17 year reign. The webpage is free to access and intended to be an ongoing collaborative venture. (see link below)

Using this new data, it can now be calculated that King John rode an average of 10 – 14 miles per day and clocked up 68,000 – 90,000 miles during his reign. Sometimes he changed location every day but there are also 846 days when he visited two locations and 92 days when he visited three. Most places are in England and Wales (444 locations) but King John travelled in modern day France (186 locations), journeyed in Ireland (25 locations) and visited Dunbar in Scotland.  

So as you leave your air-conditioned car to visit the motorway service station, perhaps you will remember King John, riding on horseback across the same geography to his Christmas destination. Or maybe your destination is one of the 656?  Check it out at