However, the king’s convoy was unexpectedly submerged in water after powerful waves destroyed and sank wagons carrying food, valuables and, allegedly, the crown jewels.
Professor Donald Olson, an astronomer from Texas State University, discovered that the king’s misfortune was not due to poor planning or poor route choice, but to an incredibly large wave called ” tidal bore”.
On that fateful October day, the Sun and Moon were aligned in such a way that their gravitational pull on the tides was greater than normal. However, the Moon was also closer to Earth than normal, which further amplified the strength of the tide.
The great perigee tide
This two-in-one combination of astronomical forces is known as the perigee spring tide, which results in widening tides for a few days and occurs only twice every 13 months.
Analysis of the orbits of the Earth and the Moon showed that October 14, 1216 was the lunar perigee, when it is at its closest point to Earth, just two days after the alignment of the moon and the sun on October 12 in a new moon.
“Astronomical and hydrographic calculations show that the tidal bore would have arrived around 4 p.m. on October 12, 1216,” Professor Olson told The Telegraph.
“King John had the misfortune to attempt the crossing of the Wash on a day of high perigee tide. The high perigee tides would have raged for a few days. A crossing a week before or a week after would almost certainly not have encountered destructive tides.
Any other day except October 12…
Professor Olson said that if the King had attempted to cross at the same time of day at a different time, the rising tide would not have been so damaging and the Crown Jewels would probably never have lost.
“King John and his baggage train attempted to cross the sands of The Wash on a day with an unusually high tidal range,” he wrote in his book, Investigating Art, History and Literature with Astronomy.
“A new moon fell on exactly that day. Moreover, this date was close to the time of lunar perigee, when the Moon is closest to Earth and exerts the greatest tidal forces on Earth’s oceans.
“This unusual lunar configuration produced perigee spring tides and the tidal bore which caused the loss of the Crown Jewels.”