Ironically enough, this old coaching inn was called the King’s Head in 1647 when the defeated King Charles I arrived there following his escape from the siege of Oxford.
The monarch met up with the French envoy who was to negotiate on his behalf. The next day the king’s representative attempted to negotiate a deal with the commissioners of the Scottish Covenanters army, allies of Oliver Cromwell, who were camped at nearby Kelham.
The depressed and exhausted king agreed to surrender to the Scots, apparently hoping for better treatment from them than from Oliver Cromwell. The King was briefly held in the nearby Archbishop’s Palace, next to what is now Southwell Minster (at that time a large church under the control of the Archbishop of York), where the negotiations had taken place. He was then taken to the Scots’ encampment at Kelham, supposedly for his own security.
In fact, he was eventually handed over to the English Parliamentarians in exchange for a large sum of money which the Scots were owed for their assistance in the war. This chain of events eventually led to King Charles’ execution.
The name of the inn was changed during the Commonwealth period since all signs of royalist loyalty were frowned upon. However, the new name, “The Saracen’s Head,” is said to have been a secret symbol of support for Charles II, who, whilst heir to the throne, had acquired the nickname, “the black boy”.
Nowadays, the Inn makes much of its historical links with Charles, offering accommodation in the same room that Charles stayed in. Restoration has been done very sympathetically and the exterior certainly has the look of a 13th century inn (dated by dendrochronology) although the interior is much more comfortable.
The Saracen’s Head also claims that Cardinal Wolsey stayed there for three weeks in 1530 after being summoned by Henry VIII to face treason charges after his failure to get the Pope to annul the King’s first marriage. Wolsey certainly stayed in Southwell during his last journey south, possibly putting off what he considered the inevitable, but since the Cardinal was the Archbishop of York and had access to the nearby Archbishop’s Palace he is much more likely to have stayed there. The Cardinal was spared the ignominy of facing a trial for treason by dying of natural causes on his way to London.
For lovers of literature, there is great interest here too. The Inn is featured in two of DH Lawrence’s books, The Rainbow and Women in Love. It was also regularly visited by the poet, Lord Byron who’s mother’s home, Burgage Manor, was nearby.
Know Before You Go
The best parking can be found in the council-owned parking lot opposite the Minster. Parking is free for the two hours, and all day on Sunday.