Full Name and Titles
John, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou and Maine
He was also Earl of Gloucester and Cornwall prior to his accession to the English throne. The former title pertained to him only by marriage.
He was made Lord of Ireland by his father in his father's life time, and retained that title until his death. He was made Earl of Cornwall in 1189, and at the same time, through his marriage to the heiress, became Earl of Gloucester. The latter title was lost through divorce ten years later. Upon the death of his brother Richard in 1199, he inherited both England and his brother's French titles. Most of the latter - notably Normandy, Anjou, and Maine - were lost within a few years, but he retained his mother's lands in Aquitaine, as well as England, until his death.
John was considered to be his father's favorite son, but he was also the youngest and as such would have no inheritance from his parents despite the prodigious amount of land and properties they both owned.
In the evolved state we find our society today, it is hard to imagine arranged marriages of children. Nevertheless, as a child, John was betrothed to Alys, the daughter and heiress of Humbert III of Savoy. As all royal marriages were, this marriage was to be a political alliance. Henry II hoped his son would gain land in the Alps through this marriage. Humbert III promised Savoy, the Piemonte, Maurienne, as well as some other of his possessions in return for this marriage. Alys was sent from the Alps to live in Henry's court, but unfortunately, she died before the marriage could take place.
Although it had already been promised to Henry II's son Geoffrey, he promised some of his castles in Normandy to John. This caused trouble between Geoffrey, John and their father.
Gerald of Wales wrote that King Henry had a painting in one of his chambers in Winchester Castle. I depicted an eagle being attacked by three of its chicks, while a fourth one crouched waiting for a chance to strike. Someone asked Henry what the meaning of the picture was, he reportedly said, “The four young one 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.
CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY
John married Isabelle of Gloucester in 1189. She was his second cousin as they were both descended from Henry I. Apparently this didn't bother him for about 10 years, but just before his ascension to the throne, he had the marriage annulled on the basis on consanguinity. The probably reason was that she had not born him any children and he needed a wife who could provide heirs.
Long before he was crowned king, John had already acquired a reputation for treachery. Sometimes he conspired with his brothers and sometimes against. In 1184, John and Richard both claimed to be the rightful heir to Aquitaine. This was but one of their many disputes. In 1185, John became the ruler of Ireland and the people so despised him, that he was forced to leave the country after eight months.
Everyone knows that in the Robin Hood legend, John was a despotic ruler. While Richard was absent, John tried to overthrow William Longchamp, who was Richard's justiciar. As justiciar, he was left in charge when Richard went on the Third Crusade in about 1190. Although this was partly how he became the villain in legend, the people of London opened the gates and welcomed him in, as he was more popular with them than William Longchamp was. In return for recognizing him as Richard's heir apparent, he promised the city the right to govern itself.
While Richard was gone, he was taken prisoner by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor. It was believed that John wrote to him and asked him to keep Richard away from England as long as possible. Whether he did or not, Richard's supporters raised and paid his ransom because they did not want John as their king. Upon Richard's return to England, he named John as his heir out of political necessity. The other contender for the throne was John and Richard's nephew Arthur, who was the son of their brother Geoffrey II. Arthur's mother was apparently allying herself with Phillip II of France.
John's reign began in 1199 and lasted until 1216. Upon the death of Richard, John's right to the throne was disputed by some. They believed that his nephew Arthur as son of his older brother Geoffrey, should have been next in line of succession. With the aid of Phillip II of France, Arthur fought for the throne.
In May 1200, John signed the Treaty of Le Goulet with Phillip II. The terms of the treaty were that he would give up his claim to overlordship of Normandy in return for Phillip's recognition of him as King of England. He also paid Phillip 20,000 marks sterling to maintain his previous recognition of him as suzerain of Anjou and the Duchy of Brittany. The treaty made John a vassal of Phillip II and required that he answer summons, give support of troops and funds and pay feudal dues to him, which had never been paid before. John's right to the Duchy of Aquitaine was not in dispute since he was the heir to his mother Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine and she was still living. In keeping with long held tradition, the treaty was sealed with a marriage joining the two families. John's neice, Blanche, daughter of his sister Leonora and her husband Alfonso VIII of Castile, was to marry Phillip's son Louis VIII of France. This alliance did not benefit John, but did help assure heirs for the throne of France.
John married Isabella of Angouleme as his second wife, and this angered Hugh De Lusignan. Some sources say John kidnapped her, but the History of England says that her father secreted her away in order that she marry the king. Hugh appealed to Louis, who summoned John to appear before him. When John did not appear for a summons given by Phillip II in 1202, he was declared in forfeit of his territories and war broke out again. Phillip II immediately seized John's Norman lands, which effectively ended English influence on the continent and greatly enlarging France's territory, although England continued to claim right to those lands. In an act of apparent spite, Phillip II gave almost all of the lands previously belonging to John to his nephew Arthur and betrothed Arthur to his daughter Marie.
One of the legacies of John's reign due to his warring with France, was a reworking of the English Navy. He needed to supply the war on the other side of the English Channel. In 1203 he required all shipyards to provide at least one ship. Some places like the newly built Portsmouth were responsible for several more. Portsmouth became the home of his navy. At the end of 1204, he had 45 large galley ships and an average of four new ones each year. He created an Admiralty of four admirals, who were responsible for different parts of the navy. Major improvements were made in ship design during John's reign. These achievements were largely ignored by the early historians and the evidence now known comes from the Pipe Rolls, which were the financial records kept by the English Exchequer or Treasury.
John needed to avoid fighting between England and Wales while he was away in France. To achieve this peace, he married his illegitimate daughter, Joan, to the Welsh prince Llywelyn The Great.
During the war, Arthur tried to kidnap his grandmother and John's mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. But he was defeated and captured by John's forces. Arthur's final fate is uncertain. He was imprisoned at Falaise and then Rouen. It is recorded in the Margam Annals that while drunk, John killed Arthur, tied a heavy rock to his body and then threw the body into the Seine.
In other sources, Hubert de Burgh, who was the commanding officer of the fortress of Rouen said he delivered Arthur about Easter in 1203 to agents of the king in order that he be castrated, during which Arthur died of shock. At a later date, Hubert said that Arthur was still alive. The speculation that he was dead caused Brittany and Normandy to rebel against John. These lands having been given to Arthur by Phillip II. Castration of one's rival for a throne was a tradition that went all the way back to the time of Charlemagne and before that the Merovingian kings. It was commonly believed that a man incapable of producing heirs was unfit to rule. One could speculate that a man thus castrated would not want to appear publicly again. In addition, Hubert De Burgh may not have been the most reliable witness. He married John's first wife Isabella, as her third husband, several years later, probably at John's behest, and he was probably complicit in whatever Arthur's demise was. This would give him a good reason to keep the exact details to himself.
In addition to removing Arthur as a political opponent, he also took Arthur's sister, Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany, captive. Eleanor remained a prisoner until her death in 1241. It was as a result of acts such as these that John gained a reputation for ruthlessness.
In 1203, in order to make a political alliance against France, John made the citizens and merchants of Bordeaux exempt from their export taxes. There were two results of this. Bordeaux, Bayonne and Dax allied with him against France and secondly, the unblocked ports gave the merchants access to the English wine market.
On July 13, 1205. Hubert Walter, Archbishop of Canterbury died. The religious house of Canterbury Cathedral believed that they had the sole right to elect his successor and they preferred a man named Reginald, who was from among them. However, King John had an interest in the choice of successor to this office. Since it was a powerful position, John hoped to influence the choice, and thereby influence the church. His choice was a man named John De Grey. He was the Bishop of Norwich and had been in the king's service and keeper of his seal prior to John's accession to the throne. After John was crowned, De Grey was promoted to Archdeacon of Cleveland in March of 1200 and Archdeacon of Gloucester early in 1200. He served as John's secretary. He had gone on diplomatic missions to France.
During the dispute over Hubert's replacement, the chapter of Canterbury sent a delegation to Pope Innocent III trying to settle the dispute. According to some sources, they held a secret election before the delegation left and elected Reginald. Other sources say the election was held afterwards and then Reginald was sent to the pope. When John found out about the election, he forced them to elect his man John De Grey. When De Grey appeared in Rome, Pope Innocent III, dismissed both choices and had his candidate Stephen Langton elected.
In an effort to retain control, John expelled the Chapter in July 1207. The Pope reacted by imposing an interdict on England. John retaliated by closing down the churches. In 1209, the Pope gave permission for some churches to hold Mass behind closed doors, realizing that a lack of services would lead to a loss of faith and thus to a lessening of the church's control over England. And in 1212 he allowed last rites to again be performed for the dying. In spite of the problems caused by the interdict imposed by the Pope, it did not result in rebellion against King John.
During the dispute, King John was twice excommunicated, once in 1209 and again in 1213. With the Pope threatening stronger measures, Matthew Paris records that terms were accepted in 1213, within the Templar Church at Dover. 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. In return, John received the support of the Pope, as his papal overlord, in his new dispute with the English barons.
During his reign the war with Phillip II Augustus of France was renewed. He lost several of his possessions on the continent to Phillip, including Normandy in 1205.
While he was involved with the dispute with Pope Innocent III, the Wesh Uprising of 1211 occurred. Prior to 1200 Gwynedd had been divided. Upon the death of his cousin Gruffydd ap Cynan, Gruffydd's son Hywel swore fealty to Llywelyn as his lord and receiving Meirionydd as his portion by 1202. England was forced to acknowledge his rule there. This was partly due to John's strategy of trying to reduce the power of another Wesh ruler, Gwenwynwyn ab Owain of upper Powys. John had given one of his powerful Marcher Barons, William De Broas orders to take as much Welsh territory as he could, but he fell out with him in about 1208. Llewelyn took advantage of the situation and seized both southern Powys and northern Ceredigion. While expanding the territory under his control, he was careful to avoid John, who was his father-in-law.
But by 1211, John was forced by the growing threat to English authority to invade Wales.The result was that Llywelyn was forced to give Perfeddwlad to John and despite Welsh laws recognition of children born out of wedlock, he agreed to make John his heir if he did not produce any with John's daughter Joan. This was despite Llyweln having a son produced with his mistress named Tangwystl.
At this time, he turned his attentions back to the continent. He allied himself with Otto IV of Germany and count Ferrand of Flanders. The result was that Otto was defeated and Ferrand was taken captive. Philip was himself able to take undisputed control of the territories of Anjou, Brittany, Maine, Normandy, and the Touraine, which he had seized from John. Having lost possessions in Normandy, John's barons were not happy when he returned to England to face them. Some of them had been against him since his excommunication.
He met the leaders of the barons at Runnymede, near London on 15 June 1215 to seal the Great Charter, or 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.
Because he repudiated the Magna Carta, the first Barons War was brought about. It also invited a French invasion, by Prince Louis of France, who had been encouraged by the barons to take the English throne. John traveled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, including a personal two month siege of the rebel-held Rochester Castle.
While John was retreating from French troops, he had to take a route around the marshy area, called the Wash, to avoid the area held by the rebels. His baggage, including the Crown Jewels was taken directly across and it was lost to an incoming tide. This loss caused a terrible blow to John and his health and mind were affected. He developed dysentery, probably brought on from moving from place to place, he spent one night at Sleaford Castle and then moved on to Newark Castle, where he died on 19 October 1216. After his death, rumors circulated that he had been poisoned with ale or poisoned fruit.
His body was interred at Worcester Cathedral in Worcester, England.
He was succeeded by his son Henry III, who was only nine years old. Prince Louis of France was still claiming the English throne, but with John dead, the barons switched their allegiance back to his son. Louis was forced to sign the Treaty of Lambeth in 1217.
|Offspring of John of England and Clementia (?-?)|
|Joan of England (1190-1236)||1188||3 February 1237|| Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (c1173-1240)|
|Offspring of John of England and Adela de Warenne (c1170-c1218)|
|Richard Fitzjohn, Baron of Chilham||1186 Chilham Castle, Kent, England||24 June 1246|| Rose de Dover|
|Offspring of John of England and unknown parent|
|Isabel FitzRoy (-bef1211)||England||1211 England|| Richard FitzIves (c1211)|
John was regarded as being suspicious and unscrupulous and was a disastrous military leader. This resulted in losing Normandy to France, and England becoming a vassal to the Pope, and brought about a war with his barons. According to some sources, the loss of Normandy was not viewed to affect the prestige of the British monarchy and was considered a personal matter of John's. The death of his mother Eleanor in 1204, was detrimental to him, as the kingdom lost her good judgement. Despite these things, John was a very good administrator.
He instituted the tax known as scutage, by which lords could make payment instead of providing knights was a financially sound law, though it was not popular with his barons. John was said to be fair minded and well informed, often acting as a judge in the Royal Courts. His justice was much sought after. He employed a good Chancellor and put clerks in place that resulted in the first proper records being kept. These were called 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 had this to say about 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".
FACT OR FICTION
Due to the popularity of the Robin Hood legend, history's view of King John have been forever altered. He has been depicted in the following:
- Sam De Grasse in Robin Hood (1922).
- Claude Rains in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).
- Donald Pleasence in the 1950s ITV television series The Adventures of Robin Hood.
- the animated Prince John in the 1973 Disney movie Robin Hood, in which he is depicted as an anthropomorphic lion voiced by Peter Ustinov, who sucks his thumb and cries for his "mummy" whenever Robin Hood (a fox) steals his gold. In one scene, he laments, "Mother always did like Richard best".
- Phil Davis in the 1980s television series Robin of Sherwood.
- Richard Lewis in Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993).
He has also been portrayed in these other works:
- King John was the subject of a Shakespearean play, King John.
- King John is a central figure in the 1819 historical romance Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott.
- Philip José Farmer, a science fiction author, featured King John as one of several historical figures in his Riverworld Saga.
- Richard Lewis in Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993).
- John was impersonated by Kamelion in a plot by the Master in The King's Demons, a 1983 serial of the British science fiction series, Doctor Who.
- John is a character in James Goldman's 1966 play The Lion in Winter, which dramatizes Henry II's struggles with his wife and sons over the rule of his empire. John is portrayed as a spoiled, simpleminded pawn in the machinations of his brothers and Philip II. In the 1968 film he is portrayed by Nigel Terry. In the 2003 film he is portrayed by Rafe Spall.
- Sharon Penman's Here Be Dragons deals with the reign of John, the development of Wales under Llewelyn's rule, and Llewelyn's marriage to John's illegitimate daughter, Joan, who is depicted in the novel as "Joanna." Other novels of hers which feature John as a prominent character are The Queen's Man, Cruel as the Grave, The Dragon's Lair, and Prince of Darkness, a series of fictional mysteries set during the time of Richard's imprisonment.
- John is featured in several books by Elizabeth Chadwick including Lords of the White Castle, The Champion and The Scarlet Lion.
- The Devil and King John by Philip Lindsay is a highly speculative but relatively sympathetic account.
- King John appeared in The Time Tunnel episode entitled "The Revenge of Robin Hood". Once again, John is depicted as a villain. At the end of the episode, John puts his seal on the Magna Carta but clearly he is not happy about it. He is portrayed by character actor John Crawford.
- King John is the subject of A. A. Milne's poem for children which begins "King John was not a good man".
- Princess of Thieves, a 2001 television movie concerning Robin Hood's supposed daughter, depicts Prince John trying to seize the throne from the rightful heir, Prince Phillip, an illegitimate son of King Richard.
- King John is one of two subjects - the other being Richard I - in the Steely Dan song Kings, from the 1972 LP release, Can't Buy a Thrill.
Namesakes of John of England (1167-1216)
Common ancestors of John of England (1167-1216) and Adela de Warenne (c1170-c1218)