John of England

John of England

Infobox British Royalty|majesty
name = John
title = King of England; Lord of Ireland

imgw= 180px
caption =
reign = 6 April 1199 – 18/19 October 1216
predecessor = Richard I
successor = Henry III
spouse = Isabella of Gloucester (1189–1199)
Isabella of Angoulême (1200–1220)
spouse-type = Spouse
issue = Henry III
Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall
Joan, Queen of Scots
Isabella, Holy Roman Empress
Eleanor, Countess of Leicester
titles = The King
The Earl of Gloucester and Cornwall
The Earl of Cornwall
John Plantagenet
royal house = House of Plantagenet
father = Henry II
mother = Eleanor of Aquitaine
date of birth = Birth date|1167|12|24|df=yes
place of birth = Beaumont Palace, Oxford
date of death = 18/Death date and age|1216|10|19|1167|12|24|df=yes
place of death = Newark Castle, Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire
place of burial =Worcester Cathedral, Worcester|

John (24 December 1167 – 19 October 1216) [cite book
last = Gillingham
first = John
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
publisher = Oxford University Press
year = 2004
location = Oxford, England
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
isbn =
(He died in the night of 18/19 October and some sources give 18 October as the date)
] [ Warren (1964)] reigned as a King of England from 6 April 1199 until his death. He was a Plantagenet or Angevin king and succeeded to the throne as the younger brother of King Richard I (known in later times as "Richard the Lionheart" and as the king of the fictional Saxon nobleman best known as "Robin Hood"). John acquired the nickname of "Lackland" ( _fr. Sans Terre) for his lack of an inheritance as the youngest son of Henry II, probably while supporting Phillip II against his father alongside Richard, and for his loss of the territory of the duchy of Normandy to Phillip II king of France which occurred with his signing the ill-made Treaty of Le Goulet. He also had the nickname of "Soft-sword" for his alleged military ineptitude in the twelve years long War of Bouvines [cite web
title=The 'War' of Bouvines (1202-1214)
] which followed when he broke his word concluding with the battle of Bouvines in the county of Flanders.

These events taken together led directly to his clash with the English nobility and his signing of the great charter ("Magna Carta"). [cite web
author=| year=| title=King John was not a Good Man | format= | work=Icons of England | url= | accessdate=2006-11-13

As a historical figure, John is best known for acquiescing to the nobility and signing the Magna Carta ("the Great Charter"), a document that limited his power and that is popularly regarded as an early first step in the evolution of modern democracy. He has often appeared in historical fiction, particularly as an enemy of Robin Hood. [cite web
title=The 'War' of Bouvines (1202-1214)


Born at Beaumont Palace, Oxford, John was the fifth son and last of eight children born to Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Some authors, noting Henry's stay at Woodstock, near Oxford, with Eleanor in March 1166, assert that John was born in that year, and not 1167. [cite book
last = Meade
first = Marion
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography
publisher = Penguin Books
year = 1992
location = Harmondsworth, England
pages = pp283-285
url =
doi =
id =
isbn = 0140153381
] [cite book
last = Debrett
first = John
authorlink = John Debrett
coauthors =William Courthope (ed.)
title = Debrett's Peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland
publisher =Longman
year = 1839
location = London, England
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
isbn =

John was a younger maternal half-brother of Marie de Champagne and Alix of France, his mother's children by her first marriage to Louis VII of France, which was later annulled. He was a younger brother of William, Count of Poitiers; Henry the Young King; Matilda, Duchess of Saxony; Richard I of England; Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany; Leonora, Queen of Castile; and Joan, Queen of Sicily

Early life

While John was his father's favourite son, as the youngest he could expect no inheritance, and thus came to receive the surname Lackland, before his accession to the throne. His family life was tumultuous, as his mother and older brothers all became involved in repeated rebellions against Henry. Eleanor was imprisoned by Henry in 1173, when John was a small boy.

As a child, John was betrothed to Alys (pronounced 'Alice'), daughter and heiress of Humbert III of Savoy. It was hoped that by this marriage the Angevin dynasty would extend its influence beyond the Alps because, through the marriage contract, John was promised the inheritance of Savoy, the Piemonte, Maurienne, and the other possessions of Count Humbert. King Henry promised his youngest son castles in Normandy which had been previously promised to his brother Geoffrey, which was for some time a bone of contention between King Henry and his son Geoffrey. Alys made the trip over the Alps and joined Henry's court, but she died before the marriage occurred.

Gerald of Wales relates that King Henry had a curious painting in a chamber of Winchester Castle, depicting an eagle being attacked by three of its chicks, while a fourth chick crouched, waiting for its chance to strike. When asked the meaning of this picture, King Henry said::The four young ones of the eagle are my four sons, who will not cease persecuting me even unto death. And the youngest, whom I now embrace with such tender affection, will someday afflict me more grievously and perilously than all the others.

Before his accession, John had already acquired a reputation for treachery, having conspired sometimes with and sometimes against his elder brothers, Henry, Richard, and Geoffrey. In 1184, John and Richard both claimed that they were the rightful heir to Aquitaine, one of many unfriendly encounters between the two. In 1185, John became the ruler of Ireland, whose people grew to despise him, causing John to leave after only eight months.

Education and literacy

Henry II had at first intended that John would receive an appropriate education to enter the Church, which would have meant that Henry would not have had to apportion him land or any other inheritance. In 1171, however, Henry began negotiations to betroth John to the daughter of Count Humbert III of Savoy, who had no son yet and so wanted a son-in-law. After that, talk of making John a cleric ceased. John's parents had both received a good education — Henry spoke some half dozen languages, and Eleanor had attended lectures at what would soon become the University of Paris — in addition to what they had learned of law and government, religion, and literature. John himself had received one of the best educations of any king of England. Records show that, among other books, he read "De Sacramentis Christianae Fidei" by Hugh of St. Victor, "Sentences" by Peter Lombard, "The Treatise of Origen", and a history of England — maybe Wace's "Roman de Brut", based on Geoffrey of Monmouth's "Historia Regum Britanniae".

Some schoolchildren were taught that King John had to approve the "Magna Carta" by attaching his seal to it because he lacked the ability to read or write. Not so: he had a large library he treasured until the end of his life. [ [ King John and the Magna Carta] BBC, accessed 01/01/08] The authors of these errors either oversimplified because they wrote for children or were simply misinformed. As a result, generations of adults mainly remembered two things about "wicked King John", both of them wrong: his illiteracy and his supposed association with Robin Hood.

King John did actually sign the draft of the Charter that the negotiating parties hammered out in the tent on Charter Island at Runnymede on 15 June–18 June 1215. But after the meeting was dissolved, it took the royal clerks and scribes some time to prepare the final copies, which they then sealed and delivered to the appropriate officials. In those days, legal documents were made official by seals, not by signatures. When William the Conqueror (and his wife) signed the "Accord of Winchester" in 1072, for example, they and all the bishops signed with crosses, as illiterate people would later do, but they did so in accordance with current legal practice, not because the bishops could not write their own names.

Richard's absence

During Richard's absence on the Third Crusade from 1190 to 1194, John attempted to overthrow William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely and Richard's designated justiciar. John was more popular than Longchamp in London, and in October 1191 the leading citizens of the city opened the gates to him while Longchamp was confined in the tower. John promised the city the right to govern itself as a commune in return for recognition as Richard's heir presumptive. [Stephen Inwood, "A History of London", London: Macmillan, 1998, p.58.] This was one of the events that inspired later writers to cast John as the villain in their reworking of the legend of Robin Hood.

While returning from the Crusade, Richard was captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and imprisoned by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor. Eleanor was forced to pay a large ransom for Richard's release. On his return to England in 1194, Richard forgave John and named him as his heir.


Dispute with Arthur

When Richard died, John failed to gain immediate universal recognition as king. Some regarded his young nephew, Arthur of Brittany, the son of John's late brother Geoffrey, as the rightful heir. Arthur fought his uncle for the throne, with the support of King Philip II of France. The conflict between Arthur and King John had fatal consequences. By the May 1200 Treaty of Le Goulet, Philip recognised John over Arthur, and the two came to terms regarding John's vassalage for Normandy and the Angevin territories. However, the peace was ephemeral.

The war upset the barons of Poitou enough for them to seek redress from the King of France, who was King John's feudal overlord with respect to certain territories on the Continent. In 1202, John was summoned to the French court to answer to certain charges, one of which was his kidnapping and later marriage to Isabella of Angoulême, who was already engaged to Guy de Lusignan. John was called to Phillip's court after the Lusignans pleaded for his help. John refused, and, under feudal law, because of his failure of service to his lord, the French King claimed the lands and territories ruled by King John as Count of Poitou, declaring all John's French territories except Gascony in the southwest forfeit. The French promptly invaded Normandy; King Philip II invested Arthur with all those fiefs King John once held (except for Normandy) and betrothed him to his daughter Marie.

Needing to supply a war across the English Channel, in 1203 John ordered all shipyards (including inland places such as Gloucester) in England to provide at least one ship, with places such as the newly-built Portsmouth being responsible for several. He made Portsmouth the new home of the navy. (The Anglo-Saxon kings, such as Edward the Confessor, had royal harbours constructed on the south coast at Sandwich, and most importantly, Hastings.) By the end of 1204, he had 45 large galleys available to him, and from then on an average of four new ones every year. He also created an Admiralty of four admirals, responsible for various parts of the new navy. During John's reign, major improvements were made in ship design, including the addition of sails and removable forecastles. He also created the first big transport ships, called buisses. John is sometimes credited with the founding of the modern Royal Navy. What is known about this navy comes from the Pipe Rolls, since these achievements are ignored by the chroniclers and early historians.

In the hope of avoiding trouble in England and Wales while he was away fighting to recover his French lands, in 1205, John formed an alliance by marrying off his illegitimate daughter, Joan, to the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great.

During the conflict, Arthur attempted to kidnap his own grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Mirebeau, but was defeated and captured by John's forces. Arthur was imprisoned first at Falaise and then at Rouen. No one is certain what ultimately happened to Arthur. According to the Margam Annals, on 3 April 1203::After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time in the castle of Rouen... when [John] was drunk he slew [Arthur] with his own hand and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine.

However, Hubert de Burgh, the officer commanding the Rouen fortress, claimed to have delivered Arthur around Easter 1203 to agents of the King who had been sent to castrate him. He reported that Arthur had died of shock. de Burgh later retracted his statement and claimed Arthur still lived, but no one saw Arthur alive again. The supposition that he was murdered caused Brittany, and later Normandy, to rebel against King John.

In addition to capturing Arthur, John also captured Arthur's sister, his niece Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany. Eleanor remained a prisoner until her death in 1241. Through deeds such as these, John acquired a reputation for ruthlessness.

Dealings with Bordeaux

In 1203, John exempted the citizens and merchants of Bordeaux from the Grande Coutume, which was the principal tax on their exports. In exchange, the regions of Bordeaux, Bayonne and Dax pledged support against the French Crown. The unblocked ports gave Gascon merchants open access to the English wine market for the first time. The following year, John granted the same exemptions to La Rochelle and Poitou. [ Hugh Johnson, "Vintage: The Story of Wine" p.142. Simon and Schuster 1989 ]

Dispute with the Pope

When Archbishop of Canterbury Hubert Walter died on 13 July 1205, John became involved in a dispute with Pope Innocent III. The Canterbury Cathedral chapter claimed the sole right to elect Hubert's successor and favoured Reginald, a candidate out of their midst. However, both the English bishops and the king had an interest in the choice of successor to this powerful office. The king wanted John de Gray, one of his own men, so he could influence the church more. [cite book
last =Haines
first =Roy Martin
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: John de Gray
publisher =Oxford University Press
year =2004
location =
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
] When their dispute could not be settled, the Chapter secretly elected one of their members as Archbishop. A second election imposed by John resulted in another nominee. When they both appeared in Rome, Innocent disavowed both elections, and his candidate, Stephen Langton, was elected over the objections of John's observers. John was supported in his position by the English barons and many of the English bishops and refused to accept Langton.

John expelled the Chapter in July 1207, to which the Pope reacted by imposing the interdict on the kingdom. John immediately retaliated by seizure of church property for failure to provide feudal service. The Pope, realizing that too long a period without church services could lead to loss of faith, gave permission for some churches to hold Mass behind closed doors in 1209. In 1212, they allowed last rites to the dying. While the interdict was a burden to many, it did not result in rebellion against John.

In November 1209 John was excommunicated, and in February 1213, Innocent threatened England with a Crusade led by Philip Augustus of France. Philip had wanted to place his son Louis, the future Louis IX on the English throne. John, suspicious of the military support his barons would offer, submitted to the pope. Innocent III quickly called off the Crusade as he had never really planned for it to go ahead. The papal terms for submission were accepted in the presence of the papal legate Pandulph in May 1213 (according to Matthew Paris, at the Templar Church at Dover); [ [ Knights Templar Church at English Heritage website] ] in addition, John offered to surrender the Kingdom of England to God and the Saints Peter and Paul for a feudal service of 1,000 marks annually, 700 for England and 300 for Ireland. [See Christopher Harper-Bull's essay "John and the Church of Rome" in S. D. Church's "King John, New Interpretations", p. 307.] With this submission, formalised in the Bulla Aurea (Golden Bull), John gained the valuable support of his papal overlord in his new dispute with the English barons.

Dispute with the barons

Having successfully put down the Welsh Uprising of 1211 and settling his dispute with the papacy, John turned his attentions back to his overseas interests. The European wars culminated in defeat at the Battle of Bouvines (1214), which forced the king to accept an unfavourable peace with France. (Not until 1420 under King Henry V of England would Normandy and Acquitaine come again under English rule.)

The defeat finally turned the largest part of his barons against him, although some had already rebelled against him after he was excommunicated by the Pope. The nobles joined together and demanded concessions. John met their leaders at Runnymede, near London on 15 June 1215 to seal the Great Charter, called in Latin "Magna Carta". Because he had signed under duress, however, John received approval from his overlord the Pope to break his word as soon as hostilities had ceased, provoking the First Barons' War and an invited French invasion by Prince Louis of France (whom the majority of the English barons had invited to replace John on the throne). John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, including a personal two month siege of the rebel-held Rochester Castle."


Retreating from the French invasion, John took a safe route around the marshy area of the Wash to avoid the rebel-held area of East Anglia. His slow baggage train (including the Crown Jewels), however, took a direct route across it and was lost to the unexpected incoming tide. This loss dealt John a terrible blow, which affected his health and state of mind. Succumbing to dysentery and moving from place to place, he stayed one night at Sleaford Castle before dying on 18 October (or possibly 19 October) 1216, at Newark Castle (then in Lincolnshire, now on Nottinghamshire's border with that county). Numerous, possibly fictitious, accounts circulated soon after his death that he had been killed by poisoned ale, poisoned plums or a "surfeit of peaches".

He was buried in Worcester Cathedral in the city of Worcester.

His nine-year-old son succeeded him and became King Henry III of England (1216–72), and although Louis continued to claim the English throne, the barons switched their allegiance to the new king, forcing Louis to give up his claim and sign the Treaty of Lambeth in 1217.


King John's reign has been traditionally characterised as one of the most disastrous in English history: it began with defeats—he lost Normandy to Philip Augustus of France in his first five years on the throne—and ended with England torn by civil war (The First Barons' War), the Crown Jewels lost and himself on the verge of being forced out of power. In 1213, he made England a papal fief to resolve a conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, and his rebellious barons forced him to agree to the terms of the Magna Carta in 1215.

As far as the administration of his kingdom went, John functioned as an efficient ruler, but he lost approval of the English barons by taxing them in ways that were outside those traditionally allowed by feudal overlords. The tax known as scutage, payment made instead of providing knights (as required by feudal law), became particularly unpopular. John was a very fair-minded and well informed king, however, often acting as a judge in the Royal Courts, and his justice was much sought after. Also, John's employment of an able Chancellor and certain clerks resulted in the continuation of the administrative records of the English exchequer - the Pipe Rolls.

Medieval historian C. Warren Hollister called John an "enigmatic figure":

...talented in some respects, good at administrative detail, but suspicious, unscrupulous, and mistrusted. He was compared in a recent scholarly article, perhaps unfairly, with Richard Nixon. His crisis-prone career was sabotaged repeatedly by the halfheartedness with which his vassals supported him—and the energy with which some of them opposed him.

Winston Churchill summarised the legacy of John's reign: "When the long tally is added, it will be seen that the British nation and the English-speaking world owe far more to the vices of John than to the labours of virtuous sovereigns". [Humes, James C. (1994). "The Wit & Wisdom of Winston Churchill": p.155]

In 2006, he was selected by the BBC History Magazine as the 13th century's worst Briton. [ [ 'Worst' historical Britons list] , "BBC News", 27 December 2005. Accessed 24 May 2008.]

Marriage and issue

In 1189, John was married to Isabel of Gloucester, daughter and heiress of William Fitz Robert, 2nd Earl of Gloucester (she is given several alternative names by history, including Avisa, Hawise, Joan, and Eleanor). They had no children, and since her paternal grandfather was the illegitimate son of Henry I of England, John had their marriage annulled on the grounds of consanguinity, some time before or shortly after his accession to the throne, which took place on 6 April 1199, and she was never acknowledged as queen. (She then married Geoffrey FitzGeoffrey de Mandeville, 2nd Earl of Essex as her second husband and Hubert de Burgh as her third).

John remarried, on 24 August 1200, Isabella of Angoulême, who was twenty years his junior. She was the daughter of Aymer Taillefer, Count of Angouleme. John had kidnapped her from her fiancé, Hugh X of Lusignan.

Isabella bore five children:

* King Henry III of England (1207-1272).
* Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall (1209-1272).
* Joan (1210-1238), Queen Consort of Alexander II of Scotland.
* Isabella (1214-1241), Consort of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor.
* Eleanor (1215-1275), who married William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, and later married Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester.

John is given a great taste for lechery by the chroniclers of his age, and even allowing some embellishment, he did have many illegitimate children. Matthew Paris accuses him of being envious of many of his barons and kinsfolk, and seducing their more attractive daughters and sisters. Roger of Wendover describes an incident that occurred when John became enamoured of Margaret, the wife of Eustace de Vesci and an illegitimate daughter of King William I of Scotland. Eustace substituted a prostitute in her place when the king came to Margaret's bed in the dark of night; the next morning, when John boasted to Vesci of how good his wife was in bed, Vesci confessed and fled.

John had the following illegitimate children (unless otherwise stated by unknown mistresses):

*Joan, Lady of Wales, the wife of Prince Llywelyn Fawr of Wales, (by a woman named Clemence)
*Richard Fitz Roy, (by his cousin, Adela, daughter of his uncle Hamelin de Warenne)
*Oliver FitzRoy, (by a mistress named Hawise) who accompanied the papal legate Pelayo to Damietta in 1218, and never returned.
*Geoffrey FitzRoy, who went on expedition to Poitou in 1205 and died there.
*John FitzRoy, a clerk in 1201.
*Henry FitzRoy, who died in 1245.
*Osbert Gifford, who was given lands in Oxfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Sussex, and is last seen alive in 1216.
*Eudes FitzRoy, who accompanied his half-brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall on Crusade and died in the Holy Land in 1241.
*Bartholomew FitzRoy, a member of the order of Friars Preachers.
*Maud FitzRoy, Abbess of Barking, who died in 1252.
*Isabel FitzRoy, wife of Richard Fitz Ives.
*Philip FitzRoy, found living in 1263.
*William de Forz(A Son of the wife of Baldwin de Bethune)

(The surname of FitzRoy is Norman-French for "son of the king".)


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boxstyle_3=background-color: #ffc;
boxstyle_4=background-color: #bfc;
boxstyle_5=background-color: #9fe;
1= 1. John of England
2= 2. Henry II of England
3= 3. Eleanor of Aquitaine
4= 4. Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou
5= 5. Empress Matilda
6= 6. William X of Aquitaine
7= 7. Aenor de Châtellerault
8= 8. Fulk of Jerusalem
9= 9. Aremburga de la Fleche of Maine
10= 10. Henry I of England
11= 11. Matilda of Scotland
12= 12. William IX of Aquitaine
13= 13. Philippa of Toulouse
14= 14. Aimery I de Rochefoucauld, Viscount of Châtellérault
15= 15. Dangereuse de l'Isle-Bouchaard
16= 16. Fulk IV of Anjou
17= 17. Bertrade de Montfort
18= 18. Elias I of Maine
19= 19. Matilda of Chateau-du-Loire
20= 20. William I of England
21= 21. Matilda of Flanders
22= 22. Malcolm III of Scotland
23= 23. Margaret of England
24= 24. William VIII of Aquitaine
25= 25. Hildegarde of Burgundy
26= 26. William IV of Toulouse
27= 27. Emma of Mortain
28= 28. Boson II de Châtellérault, Viscount of Châtellérault
29= 29. Aenora of Thouars
30= 30. Bartelmy de l'Isle-Bouchaard
31= 31. Gerberg

ee also

*Cultural depictions of John of England



* "King John", by W.L. Warren (1964) ISBN 0-520-03643-3
* "The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042–1216", by Frank Barlow ISBN 0-582-49504-0
* "Medieval Europe: A Short History" (Seventh Edition), by C. Warren Hollister ISBN 0-07-029637-5

External links

*Genealogics name|id=00000807
* [ of family tree of the children of John]
* [ King John at Find-A-Grave]

F=Henry II
Ftitle=King of England
FF=Geoffrey V of Anjou
FM=Matilda of England
Mtitle=Duchess Regnant of Aquitaine
MF=William X of Aquitaine
MM=Aenor de Châtellerault

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