Interesting Facts and Stories about King John

Throughout English history, there is only one King John because no king after him took his name. Why would that be? Includes genealogical tables. Lots of updates!

John was considered untrustworthy, with ugly instances of treachery, frivolity and disaster. He was responsible for the loss of the Angevin (a.k.a. Plantagenet) Empire in France. In his youth he was nicknamed John Lackland, for his lack of land because his father did not assigned him any at first. During his reign he got the revealing nickname John Softsword. He taxed and controlled by the force of law his subjects too much.

The earliest forms of the legend of Robin Hood emerged out of his reign. He lost continental territories in western and southwestern and northern France. He launched failed campaigns to get back the territories. Badly weakened, he was compelled to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, which limited royal authority.

PLANTAGENET ANCESTRY

(Source)

The above table gives a good overview of the entire Plantagenet family. John is on the top far right.

W. L. WARREN’S TABLES

He was the “dean” of Plantagenet historians.

William the Conqueror and His Offspring

Wm Conqueror

Henry II and His Children and Grandchildren

H2 & Kids

John is on the far right.

Not Shown: Henry’s illegitimate child William, future earl of Salisbury and nicknamed Longsword.

A genealogical table about the Capetians, from Medieval France: An Encyclopedia:

Philip II will succeed Louis VII his father in 1180. He will be called Augustus, mainly because he was born in August (so says Bradbury), but the French will realize that his reign was august and powerful. He will make mincemeat of John’s attempts to win back lost territitories in France.

Louis VII has his own post: Louis VII.

See Philip II’s own post: Philip II Augustus.

Louis VIII has his own post: Louis VIII.

CHILDREN OF JOHN AND ISABEL OF ANGOULEME

First a few words about Isabel. She was the daughter and heiress of Adémar (or Aimar) III Taillefer, Count of Angoulême, by Alice, daughter of Pierre (Peter) de France, seigneur of Courtenay, Montargis, and Chateaurenard, younger son of Louis VI, le Brun (Brown-headed), She was born in 1188 and was previously contracted to marry Hugh IX le Brun (Nov 1219), but John took her away and married her at Bordeaux 24 Aug 1200. John had divorced his first wife Isabel of Gloucester in 1199 on the grounds of consanguinity or too closely related, before they had children. Isabel of Angoulême was crowned queen on 8 Oct 1200, while Isabel of Gloucester was kept a state prisoner. King John died testate at the Bishop of Lincoln’s castle at Newark 19 Oct 1216. Hugh de Lusignan went on a Crusade to the Holy Land in 1248. He was mortally wounded at the capture of Damieta 6 June 1249. He left a will dated 8 Aug 1248. Isabel took refuge in Fontevrault Abbey. She died there testate 4 June 1246.

Important point: Isabel was the granddaughter of Pierre (Peter) of Courtnay. Pierre is the son of Louis VI the Fat, a Capetian. Pierre is on the far right of the Capetian table, above. And yes, the Capetians descend from Charlemagne through Herbert I, count of Vermandois.

For the primary sources proving the descent from Charlemagne, please click on Herbert’s post and scroll down the the addendum:

Herbert I, count of Vermandois.

King John and Isabel of Angoulême had these children:

1.. Henry: He will become Henry III, King of England. He has his own post at this website, here:

Henry III

2.. Richard: Knight, Earl of Cornwall, Count of Poitou, King of the Romans or King of Almain. He married (1) Isabel Marshal, widow of Gilbert de Clare, fourth Earl of Gloucester, fifth Earl of Hertford and second daughter of William Marshal, Knight, fourth Earl of Pembroke. Richard married (2) Sanche or Sanchia or Senchia of Provence. She was the sister of Eleanor of Provence wife of his brother, King Henry III. She was born about 1225 at Aix-en-Provence. They had two children. She died at Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire 9 Nov 1261. Then he married (3) Beatrice of Falkenburg or Fauquemont, daughter of Dietrich II de Falkenburg, seigneur of Montjoy. They had no issue. Richard died testate at Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire, 2 or 3 Apr 1272 and was buried with his second wife at Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire, while his heart was interred in the choir of the church of Grey Friars, Oxford. His widow Beatrice died testate 17 Oct 1277 and was buried before the high altar at the Church of the Grey Friars, Oxford.

Richard and Isabel had four children:

John (born at great Marlow, Buckinghamshire, 31 Jan 1231/32 and died 22 Sep 1232 and buried at Reading Abbey, Berkshire).

Isabel was born same place about 9 Sep 1233 and died 6 Oct 1234 and buried by her brother John.

Henry was knighted (at Aachen 18 May 1257) and styled Henry of Almain, Constable of Crofe Castle, born at Haughley Castle, Suffolk 2 Nov 1235. He married Constance of Béarn, Countess of Bigotte, Vicomtesse of Marsan, on 15 May 1269. They had no issue. Henry was murdered while attending Mass in the church of San Silvestro (now the church of Chiesa de Gesu at Viterbo, Italy 13 Mar 1270/71, by his cousins Simon and Guy de Montfort. His viscera were buried in the Cathedral church of Viterbo, between to two popes. His bones and heart were conveyed to England.  His heart was encased in a costly vase and deposited in Westminster Abbey, where it became an object of veneration. His bones were buried before the high altar at Hailes Abbey Gloucestershire.

Nicholas was born and died at Berkhampstead Jan 1240.

Richard and Sanchia had two children:

Unnamed son was born July 1246 and died 15 Aug 1246.

Edmund was usually styled Edmund of Almain, Knight, Earl of Cornwall (etc). He married Margaret de Clare, daughter of Richard of Clare, Knight. They had no issue.

Richard of Cornwall (the original child in this section) had four illegitimate children by an unknown mistress:

Philip was a clerk and may be the Archdeacon of Llandaff, canon of Glasney Cornwall. He died before 23 Jan 1319/20.

Richard’s descendants have been traced.

Walter’s descendants have been traced.

Joan married twice: Richard de Champernoun and Peter de Fissacre or Fishacre. Thelatter marriage produced no issue.

3.. Joan: She was born at Gloucester 22 July 1210 and married King Alexander II of Scotland, at York, Yorkshire 19 June 1221. They had no issue. She died at York, 4 Mar 1237/38 and was buried in Tarrant, Keynston Abbey, Dorset. He remarried.

4.. Isabel: She was born at Gloucester in 1214 and married at Worms 15, 20 or 25 July 1235 Friedrich or Frederick II, King of Romans, 1212-20, Holy roman Emperor 1220-50l King of Jerusalem and Sicily, Duke of Apulia, Prince of Capua, son and heir of Heinrich VI, Holy Roman Emperor (etc.). He was born at Jesi 26 Dec 1194. They had two children. Joan died in childbirth at Foggia 1 Dec 1241 and was buried at Andria Cathedral. He died at Fiorentino Castle in Lucera 13 Dec 1250.

They had four children:

Margaretha of Hohenstaufen was born in Feb 1237 and married before Feb 1254 by contract dated  1245 Albrecht II of Meissen, nicknamed the Degenerate. He was born in 1240. They had three sons Heinrich, Friedrich I, and Dietrich or Dietzmann; and two daughters Margaretha and Agnes (married wife of Heinrich I, Duke of Braunschweig-Gruebenhagen). Margaretha died at Frankfurt 8 Aug 1279 and was buried in Frankfurt. Albrecht II died at Erfurt 13 Nov 1315.

Heinrich was born at Ravenna 17 or 18 Feb 1238. He never married and died without issue in Sicily in Dec 1253-Jan 1254.

Friedrich died young.

Unnamed child was born at Foggia 1 Dec 1241 and died at birth.

5.. Eleanor: She was born in Gloucester in 1215 and married (1) William Marshal, Knight, and fifth Earl of Pembroke, by betrothal dated 23 Apr 1224. William was hereditary Master Marshal. He died 6 Apr 1231 and was buried 15 Apr 1231 in the Temple Church, London. On 7 Jan 1237/38 in the King’s chapel at Westminster Abbey Eleanor married (2) Simon de Montfort, Knight and Earl of Leicester. He was born in 1208. He was killed in the Battle of Evesham 4 Aug 1265 and was buried at Evesham Abbey. His tomb once became a shrine where miracles were done. He left a will dated 1 Jan 1259. Eleanor went into exile about Nov 1265 and retired in the convent of the sisters of saint-Dominique near Montargis in France. She died there testate 13 Apr 1277.

JOHN’S ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN

Fitzroy means son or daughter of king (Fitz means son or daughter and roy means king), usually implying illegitimacy.

By Clemence, an unmarried woman:

1.. Joan: She married Llwellen ap Iorwerth, Prince of Wales, Prince of Aberffraw, Lord Snowdon. Her descendants have been traced.

By an unnamed mistress de Warenne, daughter of Hameline, 5th Earl of Surrey by Isabel, daughter and heiress of William of Warenne, third Earl of Surrey:

1.. Richard Fitzroy married Rose de Dover: Their descendants have been traced.

2.. Oliver Fitzroy: He was involved in political life of the king. He died at Damieta in 1219, whether by disease or in battle.

By an unnamed mistress:

1.. Geoffrey Fitzroy: In 1205, he led an expedition into Poitous and died the same year.

2.. John Fitzroy: Apparently a cleric, he was presented to the church of Chesthunt, Hertfordshire in 1215 by his father, and in 1216 his father presented him to the church of Tredington, Worcestershire. What happened afterwards is not known.

3.. Henry Fitzroy: He became a King who oversaw various towns and areas. He married before 1236 Eve de Blanchminster or Whitchurch. They had no issue. Henry died before 8 Apr 1245. She remarried.

4.. Osbert Gifford: His name appears in the records, but not much is known about his life. Or he could have married Isabella de Freville.

5.. Eudes or Ives Fitzroy: In 1240 he joined Earl Richard on a Crusade to the Holy Land. He died there testate shortly before 21 Jan 1241/42.

6.. Barthlomew Fitzroy: He was a clerk and papal chaplain, member of the order of Friars Preachers, and was living Aug 1254.

7.. Unnamed Fitzroy, unknown daughter. She married unnamed de Meulan, with whom she had one son, roger, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. Their son became a clerk and papal chaplain, king’s “nephew.” He was unsuccessfully proposed for the See of Ely in 1254 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall. He was elected Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield 31 Jan 1256/57. He appears in numerous records. He died testate 16 Dec 1295.

8.. Maud Fitzroy: She became a nun and was elected Abbess of Barking 5 Aug 1247. She died shortly before 6 Feb 1252.

Alleged child by an unknown mistress:

1.. Isabel Fitzroy: She married Richard Fitz Ives, Knight. They had children but they are untraced. He died before Michaelmas 1211.

Possible illegitimate child by an unknown mistress:

1.. Philip Fitzroy: He married Lavina. They appear in only a few records, and their possible child was Henry.

CHILDREN OF ISABEL OF ANGOULEME WITH HUGH DE LUSIGNAN X:

1.. Hugh (XI): He was Count of La Marche and Angoulême (etc.) and married Yolande of Brittany. He was born in about 1221 and was the uterine half-brother of Henry III, King of England. He and Yolande married in Jan 1236. He died in Egypt n 1250, probably at the Battle of Mansourah 8 Feb. She died at Chateau Bouteville in Angoumos 16 Oct 1272 and was buried in the church of the Abbey of Villeneuve near Nantes.

They had these children:

Hugh XII married Joan of Fourgères on 29 Jan 1253/54. They had two sons: Hughes (XIII) and Guy; Hugh and Joan also had four daughters Yolande (wife of Helie Ridel and Robert de Matha; Marie (wife of Etienne II, Count of Sancerre); Joan; and Isabel (nun at Fontevrault). Hugh XIII’s descendants have been traced.

Mary married by contract dated 26 July 1249 Robert de Ferrers, Knight, sixth Earl of Derby of Tutbury, Staffordshire. She was born about 1242. Of course they appear in numerous records. She was alive in 11 July 1266, but he remarried 26 June 1269, so Mary died between those two dates (no divorce recorded). Robert died shortly before 27 Apr 1279. Apparently Mary and Robert had no issue.

2.. William de Valence was lord or earl of Pembroke and married Joan de Munchensy on 13 Aug 1247. He oversaw various towns and castles. Of course they appear in various records. William died at Brabonne, Kent, 16 May 1296 and was born in the chapel of St. Edmund and St. Thomas the Martyr in Westminster Abbey. She died before 30 Sep 1307.

They had seven children:

John died in Jan 1276/77 and was buried in the Confessor’s chapel in Westminster Abbey, so was he twin to Margaret?

William was slain by the Welsh near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, 16 June 1282.

Aymer was born about 1270 and appears in numerous records and married (1) Beatrice de Clermont, though she died before 14 Sep 1320 and was buried in the conventual church of Stratford. Before then he had a son by a mistress. He remarried to Mary of Chatillon at Paris on 3 or 5 July 1321. Apparently they had no issue. William, Earl of Pembroke, died at Compiègne 23 June 1324 and was buried at the north side of the choir and has a burial monument as Earl of Pembroke in Westminster Abbey.

Agnes married Maurice Fitz Gerald, third baron of Offaly, but had no issue;

Isabel married John de Hastings, first lord Hastings, whose ancestors have been tracked back to Alice, sister of William the Conqueror, and so have Isabel’s and Maurice’s descendants;

Margaret died Mar 1276 and was buried in the Confessor’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey, so she may have been twin to John, above.

3.. Alice married in Aug 1247 John de Warenne, Knight and seventh Earl of Surrey. John can also track his ancestry back to Hugh Capet, the namesake of the Capetian dynasty. He of course appears in numerous records. She died 9 Feb 1255/56. He died testate at Kensington, near London about 29 Sep 1304 and was buried with his wife before the high altar at Lewes Priory, Sussex.

They had three children:

William was born 15 Jan 1255/56 and married in 1284 Joan de Vere, daughter of Robert de Vere, Knight and fifth Earl of Oxford. Their ancestors and descendants have been traced.

Eleanor was born about 1251 and on 8 Sep 1268 and at York married Henry de Percy, Knight of Topcliffe, Yorkshire. He was born about 1235. They had three sons: William, John, and Henry. Henry Sr. appears in many records. He died 29 Aug 1272 and was buried at Salley Abbey, Yorkshire. She supposedly remarried to an unidentified Scottish lord. It is not known when she died, but was living in 1282. She was buried at Salley Abbey. Apparently their descendants have not been traced, except for Henry Jr. Five generations later, Henry Sr.’s descendant figures in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV Parts I and II, as Harry Percy “Hotspur.”

Isabel was born 26 Sep 1253 and married before 10 Feb 1281 (date of marriage contract was confirmed) John de Balliol, who was born about 1240. She died before 23 Oct 1295. He died at Helicourt France, about 25 Nov 1314. They had one son Edward, but apparently he has not been traced.

4.. Marguerite: She married three times. (1) She married Raymond VII, Duke of Narbonne, Count of Toulose, Marquis of Provence, about 30 June 1242. They had no issue. They divorced in 1245 on grounds of consanguinity. (2) She married before 20 July 1254 Amaury IX. Vicomte of Thouars, but he died 11 Dec 1256. (3) Then she married Geoffrey de Chateaubriant, but here the trail ends. Apparently she had no issue.

H2 = Henry II

r. = ruled or reigned

d.s.p. = descessit sine prole = deceased without issue

Names in bold letters indicate monarchs in the table and outline.

Bold font indicates direct lineage between us and them.

Angevin = adejctive of Anjou

BASIC FACTS AND STORIES

  1. From 1154 to 1216 England was ruled by a man from Anjou, France and his two sons: Henry II, King Richard I, and King John.
  2. King Henry II was worried about his waistline.
  3. Through complicated oath-takings, the ruler of Paris, who had the title king, was properly called King of Frenchmen (Rex Francorum), not King of France (Rex Franciae)
  4. In Dec. 1167 John was born to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, their last child. Eleanor was forty-five when she bore John; she was full of vigor and boundless energy.
  5. Eleanor was first married to King Louis VII of France in 1137, but the marriage failed probably because she failed to give him a male heir, so important in France. But there’s another reason.
  6. Eleanor’s sister, Petronilla, was so taken with Parisian courtly life that she eloped with a married man, Louis’s brother, who was married to the Count of Champagne’s sister.
  7. The Count protested, but Eleanor talked the king into supporting the couple. It came to war, and the King’s mercenaries got out of hand and torched the cathedral at Vitry, where over a thousand women and children were sheltering. They perished.
  8. This led Louis to take the more religious path, and prompted him to go on Crusades, as penance. Eleanor didn’t like his monkish habits, so she was glad to be rid of him.
  9. At six years old, John’s father, H2, arranged a marriage for John and bestowed on him the wedding gift of three castles: Chinon, Loudon, and Mirebeau. These castles were strategically important, for they lay between Anjou and Maine, France, part of H2’s vast empire.
  10. Despite these gifts, John was known in France as Jean sans Terre (“John without Land”) or John Lackland.
  11. John’s older brother, Henry, was the only son of H2 who was popular. He was gallant, politically savvy and militarily skilled; he was tall, handsome, carefree and improvident.
  12. John never grew beyond 5’5” (1.65m).
  13. In 1183 the younger Henry and Richard, both sons of H2, fought briefly for Aquitaine, but younger Henry got dysentery and died on June 11.
  14. Then Geoffrey died on August 19, from an injury during a knightly tournament. Geoffrey left behind a posthumous son, Arthur. When John becomes king, will he accept Arthur?
  15. Only Richard, duke of Aquitaine, and John were left.
  16. In 1185 H2 entrusted John with a campaign in Ireland. Pope Lucius III refused to make John King of Ireland, so he was called Lord of Ireland instead. He was a wastrel. While Richard, his brother, had cowed the powerful barons of southern France, John showed how ineffective he was in Ireland.
  17. H2 and French King Philip II (later called Philip Augustus) fought border skirmishes, with Richard allying himself with Philip. H2 begged his son to join him, but Richard refused.
  18. In January 1189 H2 suffered from a lingering illness. He learned that John was allied with Philip, and H2 died from the shock, but not until he received communion, in a moment of clarity.
  19. H2 died embittered and embattled. He was buried at the abbey church of Fontevraud, near Chinon, France, between Anjou and the county of Poitou, the power base of Aquitaine.
  20. At Richard’s coronation on September 13, 1189, he grew impatient and took the crown from its place on the altar and motion to the archbishop to place it on his head. He was then led to his throne. John had to wait his turn, if he would even get one.
  21. Before Richard left on his Crusade to take Jerusalem back from Saladin, the Muslim sultan, his twenty-two-year old brother John had to be appeased, so he wouldn’t try a coup in Richard’s absence. Formerly known as Lackland, John was titled lord of Ireland. Richard awarded him the Norman title, Count of Mortain, and gave him the earldoms Derby, Nottingham, Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset; castles in the Midlands; and marriage to Isabel of Gloucester, heiress to Bristol, Glamorgan, and Newport. Richard never trusted his younger brother, so he gave him wealth without power, hoping the money would tame his ambitions. Richard made him stay out of England.
  22. During Richard’s absence John allied himself with their half-brother, Geoffrey, illegitimate child of Henry II and a woman named Ykenia, a prostitute;
  23. Richard indicated he wanted Arthur, son of Geoffrey, duke of Brittany, Richard’s brother, (not the half-brother), to succeed him as heir.
  24. Meanwhile, John and half-brother Geoffrey were breaking their oaths and stomped around England and bullied chancellor William Longchamp who was unpopular in England, since he was French and threw his weight around too much. Longchamp took Geoffrey out of the St. Martin’s priory, a sacred place, and John derided Longchamp as a villain. John ruined his career in England, and after a brief stint in prison Longchamp hurried off to Flanders.
  25. As Richard was heading home from the Crusades, he was captured and imprisoned in February 1193 and sold off to Emperor Henry VI, for half the ransom fee.
  26. Meanwhile, John paid homage to Philip II, King of France for the bulk of Plantagenet dominions and agreed to marry Alice, Richard’s spurned wife.
  27. In spring of 1194, Richard returned to England and consolidated his control. John prostrated himself before Richard, who forgave him: “The king lifted up by the hand his natural brother and kissed him, saying, ‘John, have no fear. You are a child, and you have had bad men looking after you. Those who thought to give you bad advice will get their deserts! Get up, and go and eat.’” Maybe Eleanor of Aquitaine brought about the reconciliation.
  28. In conflicts with Philip II along the French dominions, a man fired a bolt from his crossbow and hit Richard in the left shoulder. A surgeon had to be called to get it out. Infection set in, and Richard died of gangrene on April 6, 1199.
  29. Richard’s heart was taken to Rouen, to be interred next to his brother Young Henry. His body was taken to Fontevraud, along with the crown, and buried at his father’s feet, the exact spot where his journey as king had begun.
  30. Who would succeed? Did the son of the Richard’s older brother Geoffrey, Arthur of Brittany, have a better claim to the throne, or did John, the youngest son of H2? William Marshall, the “greatest knight,” decided for John and gradually brought more barons to his side. But John was considered to be untrustworthy because of what he did during his brother Richard’s absence during the Crusades. King Philip of France backed Arthur.
  31. John was crowned king at Westminster Abbey by Hubert Walter, on May 25, 1199.
  32. Arthur and his mother Constance paid homage to John, but then hurried off at night to Philip’s court.
  33. In 1199 Normandy was bankrupted by the demands Richard placed on it. Large-scale mercenaries reduced it to shambles. Brutality: Philip put out the eyes of prisoners, and Richard (when he was alive), then did the same. Bishop Hugh of Lincoln, journeying south to seek for Richard in Aquitaine, was warned that at Angers (south of Normandy), that the roads were not safe. Famine and pestilence raved the countryside for years. Apocalyptic preachers gained a ready audience: Anti-Christ had been born in Egypt, and the world was in its death throes.
  34. In May 1200 John and Philip King of France put their seals to the Treaty of Le Goulet, for permanent peace. The treaty implied that John held the Continental lands from the French Crown, at least as John interpreted it. John’s “sluggishness” earned him the nickname “Softsword.”
  35. Arthur kidnapped Eleanor of Aquitaine on July 29, 1202 because now Philip said the Treaty of Le Goulet ordered that John should forfeit his continental possessions. But John captured Arthur and rescued his mother on July 31, a remarkable feat, with the help of William des Roches, on condition that des Roches would have a say in Arthur’s fate. John, however, cut him out of the picture. Arthur’s imprisonment under John was horrible.
  36. William des Roches and another ally raided Anjou and gradually it came under King Philip’s control. John retreated to Normandy.
  37. Early in 1203 John instructed his jailer to blind and castrate Arthur, but the jailer didn’t do it because Arthur cried for mercy. The jailer said he had died. Now attacks on John had moral justification. In spring 1203 John was overrun. Allies were scurrying away.
  38. In Rouen, France, in a drunken rage John killed Arthur and tied his lifeless body to a stone and threw it in the Seine. A fisherman found it later.
  39. Even more allies deserted John, and by the end of 1203 he had lost most of Normandy, Anjou, Maine, and Touraine. He was despised in Brittany. Only a few castles and pockets of loyalists remained.
  40. On April 4, 1204, Eleanor of Aquitaine died, aged eighty. She was buried next to her husband H2 and her favorite son Richard I in the chapel at Fontevraud. Many lords of Aquitaine scrambled to make their peace with ascendant King Philip.
  41. In the summer of 1205, John mobilized an invasion fleet and army. But the barons were reluctant because they didn’t trust his character and didn’t wish to fight for Norman lands and against King Philip.
  42. By 1206, John had bribed and offered money to the English northern magnates, and in April 1206 another expedition set off from England for Poitou. He recovered part of Aquitaine and Gascony, which Alfonso VIII had taken. Philip was raising an army, and in October 1206 they agreed to a two-year truce.
  43. Throughout 1206 to 1210 John focused on his kingdom in England. He got involved in legal matters. In 1207, he levied a thirteenth, a tax of one shilling on every mark (2/3 of a pound) on goods, revenues, and property. He also levied a payment for nobles who inherited to married. They had to pay the king for these privileges. A great magnate could run up a huge debt to the Crown. He was becoming a cruel legalist.
  44. On October 1, 1207, the queen, Isabella of Angoulême, gave birth to a son at Winchester Castle. He was named Henry. It was the first Plantagenet son to be born since John was, forty years earlier.
  45. John was considered cruel because he extended his powers over Scotland, Wales and Ireland; he ruthlessly impoverished and exiled leading families who opposed his rule.
  46. During John’s proposed aborted invasion of Normandy, Huber Walter, archbishop of Canterbury, died. John wanted to appoint his man, John de Gray bishop of Norwich. The chapter of clerics at Canterbury wanted subprior Reginald. Pope Innocent III appointed Cardinal Stephen Langton on June 12, 1207. John flew into a rage, sending furious letters to Rome and threatening embargo to the papacy from his ports, declaring Langton an enemy of the Crown, and taking the see of Canterbury into royal possession.
  47. On March 23, 1208, the pope replied with a papal interdict, which forbade all church services. England fell silent. Only confession, anointing of the dying, and baptism of infants were allowed. Marriages took place in porchways and burials outside walls of the town.
  48. John at first was furious, but calmed down and took church coffers and lands and offices under his control. In January 1209, Pope Innocent III took steps to excommunicate him. By November, the sentence had passed. This tacitly encourage other kings to attack the churchless king. Throughout 1210, silent church bells reminded the ordinary people that they lived in a godless realm.
  49. In 1209-1210, crossing over that Christmas season he attacked the Jews, who ran their businesses under the king’s protection.
  50. The barons and their families, about 160 of them, gradually lost their power and prestige under the heavy hand of a cruel king. He, on the other hand, was desperate to launch a campaign to take Normandy back.
  51. On May 30, 1213, five hundred ships had put out to sea under John’s half-brother William de Longespée or Longsword, earl of Salisbury. They discovered a French fleet harbored at the trading posts of Damme and Sluys. It was being prepared for an invasion of England and unguarded. Longsword destroyed it. This was England’s first great naval victory.
  52. Why the victory? Apparently John had earlier made his peace with Pope Innocent III. It was God’s blessing.
  53. In spring and summer 1214, boosted by the naval victory and the new reconciliation, John one more time decided to invade his lost territory on the coasts of France. He organized an approach from the north, under Otto IV, emperor and nephew, while John would come in at the southern coasts. He had early success, but Otto lost at Bouvines, near Lille, France, against King Philip. And as King Philip’s son Louis approached in the south, John’s allies deserted him. He was beaten. He was forced to sign a five year truce with Philip.
  54. John returned to England discredited.
  55. The earl of Salisbury, William Longsword, was released from prison and made it back to London, to join the rebel cause, because the king resisted the Magna Carta.
  56. On May 14, 1216, the French landed in Kent. The barons based in London had been waiting for him.
  57. However, two months later John secured an annulment and denunciation of the Great Charter from Pope Innocent III.
  58. England was plunged in another civil war. Many barons supported the French King’s son’s cause, Louis.
  59. From June 10-15, the barons laid out forty-nine points in the Articles of the Barons that limited John’s authority to control wardships, inheritances, and widows; scutage payments (the price paid by earls and barons when they couldn’t send knights to the king’s wars). This was the basis of the next great document.
  60. But after much wrangling, forty barons compelled him to sign the Magna Carta or Great Charter, on June 18, 1215 at Runnymede in Berkshire. It limited the king’s power.
  61. John contracted dysentery and died on October 19, 1216. His body was not taken to Fontevraud, where his father, mother, and brother were buried, but to Worcester Cathedral, near the altar of St. Wulfstan.
  62. John’s reputation was wrecked, as follows:
  63. He lost the royal domains in France.
  64. He had taxed and controlled his subjects too much.
  65. The earliest forms of the legend of Robin Hood sprang up during his reign.
  66. The Magna Carta will always be tied to his name, and from the royal point of view it was a loss.
  67. When it was reissued in 1225, after the new king Henry III, John’s son, reached his majority, it was nailed to church doors and displayed in every town.
  68. No king of England would ever after take the name John.
  69. As for his widow Isabel of Angoulême, Parsons writes: “John’s widow, Isabella of Angoulême, did sue in the king’s court for disputed portions of her dower lands, but her limited presence in John’s life and the financial dependence to which he relegated her denied her the means and opportunity to create a power base in England. She had a trifling public role during Henry III’s minority and ultimately chose active command of her Poitevin inheritance over her life as an English queen-dowager” (p. 73).
  70. In other words, she didn’t bother with England anymore, but depended on her holdings in Ponthieu, France.

PLANTAGENETS

Henry II

Eleanor of Aquitaine (duchess of Aquitaine, queen, and Henry II’s wife)

Richard I

King John

Henry III

Eleanor of Provence (wife of Henry III and mother of Edward I)

Edward I

Eleanor of Castile (married Edward I and mother of Edward II)

Edward II

Edward III

Richard II

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Glossary of Medieval Terms A to J

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SOURCES

Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France (Continuum, 2007).

Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).

John Gillingham, Richard I (Yale UP: 1999, with updates in 2002 paperback edition).

Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (New York: 2014).

Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).

Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).

The Plantagenet Encyclopedia: An Alphabetical Guide to 400 Years of English History, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam, (Crescent Books, 1996).

Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, eds. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York: Garland, 1995).

James H. Ramsay, the Angevin Empire or the Three Reigns of Henry II, Richard I, and John (A.D. 1154-1216), (London: Swan Sonnenschein and New York: Macmillan, 1903)

Desmond Seward, The Demon’s Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty (Pegasus, 2014).

Ralph V. Turner, Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France, Queen of England (New Haven: Yale U P, 2009)

W. L. Warren, King John, New Edition, (New Haven: Yale U P 1997 [1961, 1978]).

—, Henry II (Berkeley: University of California P, 1973).

2 thoughts on “Interesting Facts and Stories about King John

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