The good vs the bad

The good

  • Under the rule of King John, Magna Carta was established in 1215. This treaty between France and England at Runnymede founded new laws concerning freedom of the Church, rectifying grievances of landowners and tenants, the prevention of unjust taxation, the control of the behaviour of royal officials and to prevent delays in the course of justice. The latter being the most important: the introduction of habeas corpus meaning 'you have the body'. Therefore, no one shall be imprisoned expect by due process of law and that 'to no one will we refuse or delay the right or justice'. 
  • John had to cope with being given a terrible nick-name after his father's death. As a child, John was overshadowed by his older brother Richard. When his father, Henry II, died he left him no land, instead leaving all his land and territory to his oldest son, Richard. this led to John being given the nick-name John Lackland.
  • King John was betrothed to be married at the age of nine. His father attempted to improve his son's prospects by engaging him to be married to his second cousin, Isabella of Gloucester. The marriage went ahead when John was 21 years old but the marriage failed to produce any children and was declared invalid on the grounds that the couple were related within the prohibited degrees.
  • King John was known for his playful sense of humour. He mocked his Irish Chieftains for their choice of clothes and often pulled their beards. Needless to say, this alienated John as King of Ireland and resulted in rebellion against his rule.
  • King John didn't measure up to his brother. Standing at 5 feet and 5 inches tall, he looked rather short when standing next to his brother Richard the Lionheart who stood at 6 feet and 4 inches. He compensated for his lack of height with expensive clothes and mass jewellery.
  • Although King John had a rough and unscrupulous start to his reign, he ruled for many years. Up to his death on 18 October 1216, he had reigned for 17 years, 6 months and 13 days (unlucky?!)
  • As a result of King John's womanising ways, he had several children. He fathered 2 sons, 3 daughters and several illegitimate children.

The bad

  • As a child, John was already known for his fits of rage. After being surpassed by his older brother for many years, John burst into violent rages often foaming at the mouth. Resulting in a reputation for being just like his father.
  • King John already had a bad reputation as a leader. In 1185, Henry II sent him to Ireland to rule, which turned out to be a disaster and he was subsequently sent home six months later.
  • He became just a jealous brother. After his violent outbursts as a child, then losing land to his older brother, John attempted to seize the crown from King Richard in 1192 but failed. His brother forgave him upon his return.
  • King John's succession to the throne did not start in a fortunate way. Richard was killed in France meaning John succeeded to the throne. Henry II had wanted Richard's nephew Arthur to become King after Richard, not John. Arthur was murdered in Brittany causing many to look to King John as the culprit, resulting in rebellion.
  • King John taxed the poor to give to the rich. The rebellion in 1204, caused by the murder of Arthur, steered John's army to defeat, resulting in a new nick-name, John Softsword. This was a costly defeat that John made up for by increasing taxes, making a very unpopular King to all except his treasurers.
  • John had many enemies - from the rebels in France, the supporters of Richard, the heavily taxed taxpayers to the Church... In 1207, John quarrelled with the Pope over who should be Archbishop of Canterbury resulting in a fall out between Church and Monarchy and the excommunication of King John in 1209. The Pope put England under a Church law stating that no person could be married or christened legally until the Pope agreed. The Pope stated that only christened people could get into heaven and children born out of wedlock would be doomed to hell. This caused immense strain and financial pressure on people, consequently they blamed King John.
  • King John was well-known for his womanising ways. His infatuation with women even stretched to 12 year old Isabella of Angouleme. She was betrothed to Hugh de Lusignan, although the marriage had been delayed due to her young age. King John stole Isabella from Hugh and married her, triggering a war. Hugh joined forces with Philip Augustus of France resulting in the transfer of Normandy, Maine, Anjou and Touraine to the French crown in 1204
  • John seized Nottingham Castle in 1191. In an attempt to overthrow his brother King Richard from the throne whilst he was away on a crusade, Prince John attempted to take the castle along with his supporters. This failed, however, as King Richard took the castle back using siege tactics in 1194.
  • King John held hostages at Nottingham Castle. He held 28 sons of Welsh noble families, some as young as 12, hostage within the castle in 1212. The boys lived there for some time and had free rein within the castle walls until King John ordered their execution.
  • King John died at Newark Castle in 1216. The Barons' war began in 1215 with a march on London demanding the barons' rights to be laid down in Magna Carta. The King agrees to Magna Carta which lays out feudal obligations of the barons and sets limits on the powers of the monarchy. The Pope then decrees that King John does not have to adhere to these conditions resulting in the break out of civil war. The barons call upon the French for support consequently the Tower of London is seized. King John flees North, arriving at Newark Castle in a very ill state. He died of dysentery at the age of 49.

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