"Lackland" “King of
John I Plantagenet: b. Dec. 24, 1166 d. Oct. 19, 1216. He is my Great (26)-Grandfather.
lifetime John acquired two epithets. One was "Lackland" (French: Sans
Terre), because, as his father's youngest son, he did not inherit land
his family's holdings, and because as king he lost English territories
entering popular legend as the enemy of Robin Hood, he is perhaps
for having acquiesced —to the barons of English
nobility— to seal Magna Carta,
a document which limited kingly power in
While John was his father's favourite son, as the youngest he could expect no inheritance. His family life was tumultuous, as his older brothers all became involved in rebellions against Henry. His mother, Eleanor, was imprisoned by Henry in 1173, when John was about 7.As a child, John was betrothed to Alais (pronounced 'Alice'), daughter and heiress of Humbert
curious painting in a
"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
John on a stag hunt, from De Rege Johanne.
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. 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.
more popular than Longchamp in
Richard died, John did not gain immediate universal recognition as
regarded his young nephew, Arthur of Brittany, the son of John's late
Geoffrey, as the rightful heir. Arthur fought his uncle for the throne,
the support of King Philip II of
Needing to supply a war across the
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.
the war, Arthur attempted to kidnap his own grandmother, Eleanor of
at Mirebeau, but was defeated and captured by John's forces. Arthur was
imprisoned first at Falaise and then at
Hubert de Burgh, the officer commanding the
Besides Arthur, John also captured his niece, Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany. Eleanor remained a prisoner the rest of her life (which ended in 1241); through deeds such as these, John acquired a reputation for ruthlessness.
John exempted the citizens and merchants of
Archbishop of Canterbury Hubert Walter died on
John expelled the Chapter in July 1207, to which the Pope reacted by imposing the interdict on the kingdom. John immediately retaliated by closing down the churches. Although he issued instructions for
In November 1209 John was excommunicated, and in February 1213, Innocent threatened stronger measures unless John submitted. 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); 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. 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.
terms with Llywelyn I, Prince of Gwynedd, following the Welsh Uprising
and settling his dispute with the papacy, John turned his attentions
his overseas interests. The European wars culminated in defeat at the
Bouvines (1214), which forced the king to accept an unfavourable peace
finally turned the barons against him (some had already rebelled
after he was excommunicated), and he met their leaders along with their
and Scots allies at Runnymede, near London on 15 June 1215 to seal the
Charter, called in Latin Magna Carta. Because he had sealed under
however, John received approval from his overlord the Pope to break his
soon as hostilities had ceased, provoking the First Barons' War and an
French invasion by Prince Louis of France (whom the majority of the
barons had invited to replace John on the throne). John travelled
country to oppose the rebel forces, including a personal two-month
siege of the
from the French invasion, John took a safe route around the marshy area
buried in Worcester Cathedral in the city of
nine-year-old son succeeded him and became King Henry
reign has been traditionally characterised as one of the most
English history, earning him the nickname "Bad King John": 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
and himself on the
verge of being forced out of power. In 1213, he made
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 first proper set of records—the Pipe Rolls. Tudor historiography was particularly interested in him, for his independence from the papacy (or lack of it) - this atmosphere produced not only Shakespeare's own King John but also its model The Troublesome Reign of King John and John Bale's Kynge Johan.
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". 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.
This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (June 2006)For a long time, schoolchildren have been told that King John had to approve Magna Carta by attaching his seal to it because he could not sign it, lacking the ability to read or write. This textbook inaccuracy ignored the fact that King John had a large library he treasured until the end of his life. Whether the original authors of these errors knew better and oversimplified because they wrote for children, or whether they had been misinformed themselves, is unknown. As a result of these writings, generations of adults remembered mainly two things about "wicked King John," both of them wrong (the other being 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 it took the clerks and scribes working in the royal offices some time after everyone went home 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 (Image) 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.
had at first intended that John would receive an education to go into
Church, which would have meant Henry did not have to give him any land.
1171, however, Henry began negotiations to betroth John to the daughter
Depictions in fiction
These reflect the overwhelming view of his reputation:
* 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 dramatises 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
with the reign of John, the development of
* John is featured in several
Elizabeth Chadwick including Lords of the
* 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 telemovie 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.
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