King John

King John

King John is known as a Medieval England monarch who went against traditions, along with the likes of William I, and is most recognised as part of the Magna Carta signing in 1215.

Born on Christmas Eve, John was Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s youngest son and was often overshadowed by Richard, his elder brother. John inherited his father’s infamous bad temper including rages where he would foam at the mouth. As Henry did not leave John any land after his death, John’s nickname became John Lackland, and in 1189 the whole of Henry’s property went to Richard I or Richard the Lionheart.

Richard ventured away from England in 1191 to set off on the Third Crusade and made John oversee the country. John’s reputation for being a leader was affected since 1185 after he had been sent to rule Ireland by Henry II - John turned out to be disastrous and was sent back home after six months.

Richard was put in prison in 1192 by Duke Leopold of Austria whilst returning from the Crusades, and John attempted to steal his brother’s crown but was unsuccessful. When Richard came back to England he forgave John.

King John portrait from the National Portrait Gallery
King John portrait from the National Portrait Gallery

Richard ended up being killed in France in 1199 so John then became England’s new king, though his reign did not start off well. In 1202 his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, was murdered and a lot of people felt he was the one responsible, so they rose up against him. John’s army saw defeat two years later in 1204 and he was forced to retreat. He lost his military reputation amongst the nobles and was presented with the new nickname of John Softsword. His northern France defeat was a significant and costly blow. In order to provide payment for the defeat John decided to increase taxes, to the annoyance of everyone apart from himself and his treasurers.

In 1207, John additionally managed to clash with the pope as they disagreed over who would become the Archbishop of Canterbury. John was excommunicated and placed England under a Church law which stated any christening or marriage would not become legal until the pope confirmed it. The law of the church claimed only those who were christened were able to enter Heaven whilst children born outside wedlock would face Hell. The nation of England felt under a lot of pressure because of this and they only blamed John.

John eventually had to give in to the pope and hand over the country’s spiritual state of affairs to him, but he never grew to trust John completely; in 1214 he declared that anyone who attempted overthrowing John would have a legal right to. John also lost another battle that year to the French at Bouvines, which led to England losing its entire belongings in France. The barons found this too much to handle so they rebelled against John.

In 1215 at Runnymede, John ended up being made to sign the Magna Carta, which was a guarantee for English rights the king was unable to take back. John tried to retreat from the Magna Carta in 1216 but it only caused the barons to declare war against him. By the same year John became unwell and suffered from dysentery during the war. His treasure was also completely lost after he attempted to cross some water via a shortcut in the Wash, Lincolnshire. When the tide was rising quicker than he anticipated, his baggage train was covered and he died only several days later before Henry III became his successor.

Though John had many faults, evidence still exists to show he was not quite the same character as he has been labelled since he died. It was common for the names of kings to be faced with a lack of respect once they were no longer alive to stand up for themselves.

See also: The Black Death of 1348 to 1350

MLA Citation/Reference

"King John". 2015. Web.

Key facts

Name: King John
Birth Date: 24 December 1166
Death: 19 October 1216
Buried: Worcester Cathedral
Reign: 6 April 1199 - 19 October 1216
Predecessor: Richard I
Successor: Henry III