John, King of England

Eyridiki Sellou | Feb 2, 2024

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John (December 24, 1166-October 19, 1216), also known as John Lackland (in English, John Lackland), was king of England from 1199 until his death. He lost the Duchy of Normandy and much of Aquitaine to Philip II of France, which resulted in the collapse of most of the so-called Angevin Empire and contributed to the subsequent growth of the power of the Capet dynasty during the 13th century. The revolt of the barons at the end of his reign led to the signing of the Magna Carta.

As the youngest of the five sons of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, he was not expected to inherit significant territories from the beginning. However, after the failed rebellion of his older brothers between 1173 and 1174, John became Henry II's favorite son. He was made lord of Ireland in 1177 and received lands in England and on the European continent. His older brothers - William, Henry and Godfrey - died young; when his brother Richard was crowned king in 1189, John was the heir presumptive to the throne. He unsuccessfully attempted a rebellion against his brother's royal administrators while his brother was participating in the Third Crusade. Despite this, after Richard I died in 1199, he was proclaimed king of England and in 1200 reached an agreement with Philip II for the recognition of English possessions in the Angevin mainlands through the Peace of Le Goulet.

When war broke out again with France in 1202, John achieved victories at first, but the scarcity of military resources and the treatment of Norman, Breton and Angevin nobles caused the collapse of the empire in northern France in 1204. For much of the next decade the king sought to recover these lands, increased the Crown's revenues, reformed his army, and rebuilt continental alliances with enemies of the French. His judicial reforms had a lasting impact on the Anglo-Saxon common law system, as well as providing an additional source of revenue. A quarrel with Pope Innocent III led to the excommunication of the English king in 1209, a dispute finally settled by John himself in 1213. In 1214 Philip II defeated the English king and his allies at the Battle of Bouvines. Upon his return, many English barons revolted, unhappy with his fiscal policies and his treatment of England's most powerful nobility. Although both John and the barons agreed to peace with the Magna Carta of 1215, neither side complied with the conditions. Civil war broke out soon after, with the barons aided by Louis VIII of France. Soon the conflict reached a stalemate. In late 1216 John died of dysentery, contracted in a campaign in eastern England. His death defused tensions among the royal supporters, allowing the supporters of his son Henry III to continue the war with new momentum and defeat the rebellious barons and Louis VIII the following year.

Contemporary chroniclers were for the most part critical of John's performance as king, so much so that his reign has since been the subject of significant debate and revision by historians from the sixteenth century onward. Historian Jim Bradbury summarized the current historical view of John's positive qualities and noted that he is now considered a "diligent administrator, an able man, and an able general." However, modern historians agree that he also had many flaws as a monarch; thus, historian Ralph Turner called meanness, spite, and cruelty "unpleasant, even dangerous traits of his personality." These negative qualities served as inspiration for fiction writers in the Victorian era and, for this reason, John remains a recurring character in Western popular culture, mainly as a villain in films and stories related to the legends of Robin Hood.

Childhood and Angevin heritage

The son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, he was born on December 24, 1166. His father had inherited important territories along the Atlantic coast (Anjou, Normandy and England) and expanded his empire by conquering Brittany. He had married the powerful Eleanor of Aquitaine, who reigned the Duchy of Aquitaine and had a weak claim on Toulouse and Auvergne in southern France, as well as having been the wife of Louis VII of France. The result was the Angevin Empire, named after Henry II's paternal title (Count of Anjou) and, more specifically, its seat at Angers. However, the empire was inherently fragile: although all lands owed allegiance to Henry II, each region had its own historical identity, traditions, and governing structures. As one moved south through Anjou and Aquitaine, the extent of Henry II's authority in the provinces diminished considerably, so that it hardly resembled the modern concept of empire. Some of the traditional ties between certain regions of the empire-such as Normandy and England-slowly dissolved over time. It was unclear what would happen to the empire upon Henry II's death. Although the custom of primogeniture-whereby the eldest son would inherit his father's lands-was slowly spreading throughout Europe, it was less popular among the Norman kings of England. Most nobles believed that Henry II would divide the empire, grant each son a substantial portion, and wait for his sons to continue to work together as allies after his death. To complicate matters, much of the Angevin Empire was administered by Henry II as a vassal of the king of France, who at the time was a member of the rival line of the house of Capets. Henry II often allied himself with the Holy Roman Emperor against France, which made the feudal relationship even more challenging.

Shortly after his birth, John passed from the care of his mother to that of a wet nurse, a traditional practice in medieval noble families. Eleanor went to Poitiers, the capital of Aquitaine, and sent John and his sister Jeanne north to the abbey of Fontevrault. This was possibly done with the aim of introducing her youngest son, without obvious inheritance, to a future ecclesiastical career. Eleanor spent the next few years plotting against her husband Henry II, and neither parent was present during John's childhood. Like his siblings, he was probably assigned a magister while at Fontevrault; later he was taught by Ranulf de Glanvill, an important English administrator. He spent some time at the noble court of his older brother Henry, where he probably received instruction in hunting and military skills.

John was about 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall, relatively short in stature, with a "powerful, barrel-chested body" and dark red hair; according to his contemporaries, he looked like just another Poitou inhabitant. He enjoyed reading and, unusually during this period, built a traveling library of books. He also enjoyed games-particularly backgammon-and was a keen hunter, too much so by medieval standards; he loved music, though not songs. John became a "connoisseur of jewels," as he had a large collection and became famous for his opulent clothing and, according to French chroniclers, his fondness for "bad wine." As he grew up he had at times a "sympathetic, witty, generous and hospitable" character, but, at other times, he could be jealous, overly sensitive and prone to fits of rage, "biting and nibbling his fingers" in fury.


During John's early years, Henry II attempted to resolve the question of his succession. His son the younger Henry had been crowned king of England in 1170, but his father gave him no formal power; he also promised him Normandy and Anjou as part of his future inheritance. Richard would be named count of Poitou with authority over Aquitaine, while Godfrey would become duke of Brittany. At this point, it seemed unlikely that John would inherit important lands, so much so that his father jokingly nicknamed him lackland (lit., "landless").

Henry II wanted to secure the southern borders of Aquitaine and decided to betroth his youngest son to Alais, daughter and heiress of Humbert III of Savoy. As part of this agreement, John would receive the future inheritance of Savoy, Piedmont, Maurienne and other possessions of the Savoyard count. Pursuing the potential marriage alliance, Henry II transferred the authority of the castles of Chinon, Loudun and Mirebeau to his son's name, but, as he was only five years old, he would continue to control them for practical purposes. The young Henry was impressed by this; because he had not yet been granted control of any castles in his new kingdom, they were effectively his future property and had been given to him without consultation. Alais crossed the Alps and joined the court of Henry II, but he died before marrying John, so John was once again left without an inheritance.

In 1173, his older brothers, with the backing of their mother, rebelled against Henry II in the short-lived rebellion of 1173-1174. Increasingly irritated by his subordinate position to his father and gradually becoming more concerned that John might obtain additional lands and castles at his expense, the young Henry traveled to Paris and allied himself with Louis VII. Angry at her husband's persistent interference in Aquitaine, Eleanor encouraged Richard and Godfrey to join her brother Henry in Paris. Henry II triumphed over the coalition of his sons, but was generous to them in the peace agreement signed at Montlouis. The young King Henry could travel in Europe with his own team of knights, Richard was given back Aquitaine, while Godfrey was allowed to return to Brittany; only Eleanor was imprisoned for her role in the revolt.

John had spent the conflict traveling with his father and received large possessions in the empire as part of the Montlouis agreement; thereafter, most witnesses regarded him as Henry II's favorite son, although he was the most distant in terms of the royal succession. The king began to seek more lands for his son, mainly at the expense of various nobles. In 1175 he appropriated the estates of the late Earl of Cornwall and gave them to his son. The following year, he disinherited the sisters of Elizabeth of Gloucester-contrary to legal custom-and betrothed John as his new consort. In 1177, at the Council of Oxford, Henry II deposed William FitzAldelm to the lordship of Ireland and replaced him with John (aged ten).

The young Henry fought a brief war against his brother Richard in 1183 over the dominion of England, Normandy and Aquitaine. Henry II reacted in support of Richard; the young Henry died of dysentery at the end of the campaign. With his principal heir dead, Henry II reorganized his plans for the succession: Richard would be king of England, though without any real power until the death of his father; Godfrey would retain Brittany; John would receive the Duchy of Aquitaine in place of Richard, who refused to relinquish that territory. Henry II was furious and ordered John, with the help of Godfrey, to march south and retake the duchy by force. Both attacked the city of Poitiers and Richard responded by attacking Brittany. The war ended in stalemate and a tense family reconciliation in England at the end of 1184.

In 1185, John made his first expedition to Ireland, accompanied by 300 knights and a team of administrators. His father had tried to have him officially proclaimed king of Ireland, but Pope Lucius III did not agree. John's first period of rule in Ireland was not an easy one. This island had recently been conquered by Anglo-Norman forces and tensions still abounded between Henry II, the new settlers and the pre-existing inhabitants. John infamously offended the local Irish rulers by mocking their long beards, failed to ally himself with the Anglo-Norman settlers, began to lose ground militarily against the Irish and finally returned to England later that year, but blamed it all on Viceroy Hugh de Lacy.

Problems among John's wider family continued to grow. His older brother Godfrey died during a tournament in 1186, leaving a posthumous son, Arthur, and an older daughter, Eleanor. Godfrey's death brought John a little closer to the throne of England. Uncertainty about what would happen after Henry II's death continued to grow; Richard was eager to join a new crusade, but remained concerned that while he was away his father would name John as successor.

Richard opened negotiations on a potential alliance with Philip II in Paris during 1187 and, the following year, paid homage to the French king in exchange for his support in a war against Henry II. Richard and Philip II fought a joint campaign against the English king and, in the summer of 1189, Henry II made peace, so Richard was guaranteed the succession. At first, John remained loyal to his father, but switched sides once it appeared that Richard would win. Henry II died shortly thereafter.

Before ascending the throne in September 1189, Richard had declared his intention to join the third crusade. He set out to raise the enormous sums of money required for this expedition by selling lands, titles and appointments and sought to ensure that he would not face revolt while away from his empire. John obtained the title of Earl of Mortain, married the wealthy Elizabeth of Gloucester and received valuable estates in Lancaster and the counties of Cornwall, Derby, Devon, Dorset, Nottingham and Somerset, all with the aim of maintaining his loyalty while his brother was on crusade. Richard I retained control of the major castles in these counties, to prevent his brother from accumulating too much military and political power, and for the time being, the king named the four-year-old Arthur I of Brittany as the heir to the throne. In return, John promised not to visit England for the next three years, thus theoretically giving Richard I adequate time to develop a successful crusade and return from the Levant without fear of his brother seizing power. Richard I entrusted political authority in England-the post of lord justiciar or prime minister-in the hands of Bishop Hugh de Puiset and William Mandeville, Earl of Essex, and appointed William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, his lord chancellor. Mandeville died immediately and Longchamp assumed the office of lord justiciar along with Puiset, which would prove to be a less than satisfactory partnership. Queen Mother Eleanor persuaded Richard I to allow John to enter England in his absence.

The political situation in England began to deteriorate rapidly. Longchamp refused to work with Puiset and became unpopular with the English nobility and clergy. John exploited this unpopularity to establish himself as an alternative ruler with his own royal court, his own lord justiciar, lord chancellor and other royal posts; for this, he was delighted when he was presented as an alternative regent and possibly the next king. Armed conflict broke out between John and Longchamp and, in October 1191, the latter was confined in the Tower of London, while the former had the city of London under control through promises he had made to the citizens in exchange for his recognition as heir presumptive to Richard I. At this point, Walter de Coutances, Archbishop of Rouen, returned to England to restore order as instructed by Richard I. John's position was undermined by Walter's relative popularity and by the news that Richard I had married while in Cyprus, suggesting the possibility that he had legitimate children and heirs.

The political turmoil continued. John weighed an alliance with Philip II, just returned from the Crusade. He hoped to acquire Normandy, Anjou and the other lands of France held by Richard I in exchange for allying with the French king; he was also persuaded not to seek an alliance with his mother. Meanwhile, Longchamp-who had left England after Walter's intervention-returned to the kingdom and argued that he was unjustly removed from the office of lord justiciar. John restrained Longchamp's claims and asked that he pledge his support in the royal administration, as well as a reaffirmation of his position as heir to the English throne. Since his brother had not yet returned from the crusade, he claimed that he was either dead or lost indefinitely; in fact, Richard I had been captured on the road to England by the Duke of Austria and was handed over to the Teutonic emperor Henry VI, who would release him for a ransom. John seized the opportunity and made his way to Paris, where he formed an alliance with Philip II. He agreed to set aside his wife Elizabeth of Gloucester and marry the French king's sister, Adela, in exchange for her support. Military clashes broke out in England between forces loyal to Richard I and those rallied by John. His military position was weak and he was forced to accept a truce; in early 1194, the English king finally returned to England and John's remaining troops surrendered. He retreated to Normandy, where Richard I finally found him later that year. He declared that his younger brother, despite being 27 years old, was simply "a boy who had wicked counselors" and pardoned him, but took his lands from him with the exception of Ireland.

During the remaining years of his brother's reign, John supported him from the continent, apparently loyally. Richard I's policy on the continent was to try to regain by continuous and limited campaigns the castles he had lost to Philip II during the Crusade. He allied with the leaders of Flanders, Boulogne, and the Holy Roman Empire to pressure Philip II from Germany. In 1195, John successfully made a sudden attack and siege of the castle of Évreux and subsequently led the defenses of Normandy against Philip II. The following year, he seized the town of Gamaches, led a raiding party 50 miles from Paris, and captured the Bishop of Beauvais. In return for these services, Richard I withdrew his malevolentia (ill will) towards John, restored to him the earldom of Gloucestershire and his title of Earl of Mortain.

Coming to power

After the death of Richard I on April 6, 1199, there were two possible claimants to the Angevin throne: John, the only surviving son of Henry II, and the young Arthur I of Brittany, who argued that he was the son of John's elder brother Godfrey. Richard I apparently began to recognize John as heir presumptive in the years before his death, but the matter was unclear and medieval law offered little guidance as to how competing claims should be decided. With Norman law favoring John as the only surviving son of Henry II and Angevin law favoring Arthur I as the only descendant of the late king's eldest son, the issue quickly became an open conflict. John received the support of most of the English and Norman nobility and was crowned at Westminster, with the backing of his mother Eleanor. The Duke of Brittany was supported by most of the nobles of his territory, Maine and Anjou and received the backing of Philip II, who remained committed to the division of the Angevin territories on the continent. With Arthur I's army pressing from the Loire valley towards Angers and Philip II's forces moving down the valley towards Tours, John's continental empire was in danger of being split in two.

Warfare in Normandy at that time was determined by the defensive potential of the castles and the increasing costs of conducting campaigns. The Norman frontiers had limited natural defenses, but were heavily defended with fortresses - such as Gaillard Castle - at strategic points, built and maintained at considerable cost. It was difficult for a commander to advance into new territory without having secured his lines of communication by capturing these fortifications, which slowed the advance of any attack. Armies of that era were formed from feudal or mercenary troops. Feudal levies could only be imposed for a fixed period of time before the warriors returned home, forcing an end to a campaign; mercenary troops - often called Brabançons by the Duchy of Brabant, but actually recruited from northern Europe - could operate year-round and provide the commander with more strategic options for developing a campaign, but cost much more than equivalent feudal troops. As a result, commanders of the time increasingly relied on large numbers of mercenaries.

After his coronation, John moved into southern France with his military forces and adopted a defensive posture along the eastern and southern borders of Normandy. Both sides paused for sporadic negotiations before the war began; John's position was already stronger thanks to the confirmation of the counts Baldwin IX of Flanders and Renaud de Boulogne, who had renewed the anti-French alliances, previously agreed with Richard I. The powerful Angevin nobleman William des Roches was persuaded to switch to the English side; suddenly, superiority seemed to shift away from Philip II and Arthur I in favor of Richard I. Neither side was persuaded to switch to the English side. The powerful Angevin nobleman William des Roches was persuaded to switch to the English side; suddenly, superiority seemed to shift away from Philip II and Arthur I in favor of John. Neither side wished to continue the conflict and, after a papal truce, the two leaders met in January 1200 to negotiate possible peace terms. From John's perspective, what followed represented an opportunity to consolidate control over his continental possessions and produce a lasting peace with Philip II in Paris. The kings of France and England negotiated the Treaty of Le Goulet of May 1200; by this agreement, the French monarch recognized his English peer as the rightful heir of Richard I with respect to his French possessions and temporarily abandoned the claims of his client Arthur I, Duke of Brittany. In turn, John abandoned his brother's previous policy of containing Philip II through alliances with Flanders and Boulogne and accepted the French king's rightful claim as the legitimate feudal lord of John's lands in France. This policy of the English king earned him the disrespectful nickname of John Softsword ("John Softsword") by some English chroniclers, who contrasted his behavior with that of his aggressive brother Richard I.

Peace of Le Goulet

The effects of this treaty lasted only two years; the war resumed in August 1200 as a result of John's decision to marry Isabella of Angoulême. To remarry he first had to abandon his first wife Isabella, Countess of Gloucester; John achieved this by arguing that he had failed to obtain the papal permission necessary to marry her in the first place; being her cousin he could not legally do so without such authorization. It is unclear why John chose to marry Isabella of Angoulême. Contemporary chroniclers were of the opinion that he had fallen deeply in love with her and may have been motivated by the "desire for a girl" apparently more beautiful or younger. On the other hand, the lands of Angoumois that Isabella possessed were strategically vital to him: with the marriage, John was acquiring a crucial land route between Poitou and Gascony, which significantly strengthened his control over Aquitaine.

However, Isabella was already engaged to Hugh X of Lusignan, a member of an important Poitou noble family and brother of Count Raoul of Eu, who owned land along Normandy's sensitive eastern frontier. Just as John swooped to benefit strategically from his marriage to Isabella, the marriage already threatened the interests of the Lusignans, whose own domains provided a key route for royal goods and troops passing through Aquitaine. Instead of negotiating some form of compensation, John treated Hugo "with contempt," resulting in a Lusignan uprising quickly crushed by the English king, who also intervened to suppress Raoul in Normandy.

Although John was count of Poitou and thus the rightful feudal lord of the Lusignans, they could legally appeal the actions of the English king in France to their own feudal lord, Philip II. Hugo did exactly this in 1201 and Philip II summoned John to attend court in Paris in 1202 and cited Le Goulet's agreement to strengthen his case. John was unwilling to weaken his authority in western France in this way and argued that he did not need to attend Philip II's court because of his special status as Duke of Normandy, whereby he was exempt from the feudal tradition of being summoned to the French court. Philip II argued that he was summoning John not as the Duke of Normandy, but as the Count of Poitou, who had no such special status. When John insisted on not going, Philip II declared that the English king had violated his feudal responsibilities, reassigned his territories within the French Crown to Arthur I-except for Normandy, which he took for himself-and declared a new war against John.

Loss of Normandy

At first, John adopted a defensive posture similar to that of 1199: he avoided open battle and carefully defended his important castles.His operations became more chaotic as the campaign progressed and Philip II began to make steady progress in the east.In July, he became aware that Arthur I's forces were threatening his mother, Eleanor, at Mirebeau Castle.Accompanied by William de Roches, his seneschal in Anjou, John led his mercenary army quickly south to protect her. Accompanied by William de Roches, his seneschal in Anjou, John led his mercenary army quickly south to protect her. His forces took the Duke of Brittany by surprise and captured the rebel leaders at the Battle of Mirebeau. With his southern flank weakened, Philip II was forced to withdraw from the east and head south to contain the English army.

John's position in France was considerably strengthened by the victory at Mirebeau, but his treatment of his new prisoners and his ally, William de Roches, quickly undermined these gains. De Roches was a powerful Anjou nobleman, but John largely ignored him, which was considered an offense; also the English king kept the rebel leaders in such precarious conditions that twenty-two died. At the time, most of the regional nobility were closely linked through kinship and such behavior toward their relatives was considered unacceptable. William de Roches and others of the regional allies in Anjou and Brittany abandoned the English king in favor of Philip II; Brittany rose up in a new revolt. John's financial situation was fragile: taking into account factors such as the comparative military costs of war equipment and soldiers, Philip II enjoyed a considerable, though not overwhelming, advantage over the resources of the English.

Further defections by local allies in early 1203 steadily reduced John's freedom to maneuver in the region.He tried to convince Pope Innocent III to intervene in the conflict, but the Roman pontiff's efforts were unsuccessful.As the situation worsened for the English king, he apparently decided to kill Arthur I, with the aim of eliminating his potential rival and breaking the rebel movement in Brittany.The Duke of Brittany was imprisoned initially at Falaise and then transferred to Rouen.After this, his fate remains uncertain, but modern historians believe that he was killed by the English king. After this, his fate remains uncertain, but modern historians believe he was murdered by the English king. The annals of Margam Abbey suggest that "John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for a time in the castle of Rouen when John was drunk, killed Arthur with his bare hands and tied a heavy stone to his body and threw it into the Seine." Rumors about the manner of the Duke of Brittany's death further reduced support for John in the region. Arthur I's sister, Eleanor, also captured at Mirebeau, was held by the English king for many years, albeit in relatively good condition.

In late 1203, John attempted to liberate Gaillard Castle which, although besieged by Philip II, protected the eastern flank of Normandy. He attempted to launch a synchronized operation involving land and sea forces, considered by most modern historians to be imaginative in conception, but too complex for troops of the time to have carried out. The relief operation was blocked by French forces, so the English king returned to Brittany in an attempt to draw the French monarch away from eastern Normandy. John successfully devastated much of Brittany, but did not divert Philip II's main advance into eastern Normandy.Opinions vary among historians as to the military skill displayed by the English king during this campaign, and more recent researchers argue that his performance was acceptable, though not impressive.John's situation began to deteriorate rapidly. The border region of eastern Normandy gave its support to Philip II and his predecessors for several years, while Angevin authority in the south was weakened by the fact that Richard I had given away several important castles some years earlier. His use of routine mercenaries in the central regions had also quickly consumed the remaining support in this area, setting the stage for a sudden collapse of Angevin power. John crossed to the other side of the English Channel in December and sent orders for the establishment of a new defensive line west of Castle Gaillard, but this fortress fell in March 1204. His mother Eleanor died the following month. This was not only a personal blow to John, but threatened to unravel the great Angevin alliances in southern France. Philip II moved south, surrounded the new defensive line and moved into the interior of the duchy, facing little resistance. By August, Philip II had taken Normandy and advanced south to occupy Anjou and Poitou. From that point on, the only mainland territory in English hands was the Duchy of Aquitaine.

Royalty and royal administration

The nature of government during the Angevin monarchs has been poorly defined and remains uncertain. John's predecessors had ruled using the principle of vis et voluntas ("force and will"), according to which they could make executive and sometimes arbitrary decisions, often justified on the grounds that the king was above the law. Both Henry II and Richard I had argued that monarchs possessed the quality of "divine majesty"; John continued this trend and claimed a "quasi-imperial status" for himself as ruler. During the twelfth century, contrary views were expressed about the nature of kingship, and many contemporary chroniclers believed that sovereigns should rule according to custom and law and follow the advice of the leading nobles of the realm. There was still no model for what should happen if a king refused to do so. Despite his claim to unique authority within England, John sometimes justified his actions on the grounds that he had held a council with the barons. Modern historians remain divided as to whether he suffered a case of "royal schizophrenia" upon his accession to the throne or whether his actions simply reflected the complex model of early thirteenth-century Angevin monarchy.

John inherited a sophisticated administrative system in England, with a variety of agents answering to the royal household: the chancellery kept written records and communications; the treasury and exchequer dealt with revenues and expenditures, respectively; various judges were deployed to dispense justice in the realm. Thanks to the efforts of advisors such as Hubert Walter, this trend toward better record keeping continued in John's reign. Like previous kings, he managed a peripatetic or constantly itinerant court, traveling the kingdom and dealing with both local and national matters as he went along. John was very active in the administration of England and was involved in every aspect of government. In part he was following in the tradition of Henry I and Henry II, but by the 13th century the volume of administrative work had increased enormously, putting much more pressure on a king who wished to rule in this style. John was in England for much longer periods than his predecessors, which made his rule more personal than that of previous kings, particularly in previously ignored areas such as the Anglo-Scottish border.

The administration of justice was of particular importance to him. Several new processes had been introduced into the English system during the reign of Henry II, such as the hearing of novel disseisin - to recover land whose holder had been usurped or dispossessed - and mort d'ancestor - when an individual claimed that the defendant had taken one of his freeholds after the death of one of his relatives. These processes meant that the royal courts had a more significant role in local legal cases, which had previously only been dealt with by regional or local lords. John increased the professionalism of local sergeants and civil governors and expanded the system of coroners introduced by Hubert Walter in 1194, which created a new class of township coroners. He worked hard to ensure that this system worked with the judges he had appointed, for which he encouraged the services of specialists and legal experts; he also intervened personally in some cases. John continued to review relatively minor cases even during military crises. Viewed positively, Lewis Warren considered that he fulfilled "his royal duty to provide justice with untiring zeal and dedication to the Anglo-Saxon common law." Viewed more critically, the English king may have been motivated to take advantage of the royal legal process to raise fees rather than by a desire to dispense simple justice; John's legal system applied only to freemen, not to the entire population. However, these changes were popular with many free tenants, who acquired a more reliable legal system that could bypass the barons, against whom such cases were frequently brought. John's reforms were less popular with the barons, especially as they remained subject to arbitrary and often vindictive royal justice.


One of their main challenges was to acquire large sums of money needed for their proposed reconquest of Normandy. The Angevin kings had three main sources of revenue available, namely income from their personal lands (domains), money collected through their feudal lordship rights, and income from taxation. Revenues from the royal domain were inflexible and had slowly declined since the Norman Conquest. Not easing the burden was the sale of many royal estates by Richard I in 1189, so taxation played a much smaller role in royal income than in later centuries. English kings had extensive feudal rights by which they could generate more revenue, such as the escheat system, in which feudal military service was avoided by a cash payment to the king. Revenue was derived from fines, court fees, and the sale of charters and other privileges. John intensified his efforts to maximize possible sources of revenue, to the extent that he has subsequently been described as "avaricious, mean, extortionate, and money-minded." He also used revenue generation as a way to exert political control over barons: debts incurred by favored supporters of the king could be forgiven, while collection from those considered enemies was tightened.

The result was a sequence of innovative but unpopular financial measures. John imposed exaction fees eleven times in his seventeen years as king, compared to eleven times in total during the reigns of the three preceding monarchs, many of which were levied in the absence of an actual military campaign, which went against the original idea that exaction was an alternative to actual military service. In many cases, these were levied in the absence of an actual military campaign, which went against the original idea that the escheat was an alternative to actual military service. He availed himself of his right to demand release fees when estates and castles were divided, sometimes charging huge sums beyond the barons' ability to pay. Building on the successful sale of civil governor appointments in 1194, he initiated a new round of appointments; in this way, the new incumbents would recoup their investment through increased fines and penalties, especially in the forests. Another innovation of Richard I-the increase of fees to widows who wished to remain unmarried-was expanded during his brother's reign. The sale of foundation charters for new towns-such as the planned city of Liverpool-continued, which were sold through the kingdom's markets and in Gascony. The king introduced new taxes and extended existing ones. The Jews, who had a vulnerable situation in medieval England, were under the protection of the king, who levied heavy taxes on them; about 44,000 pounds were extracted from that community in the 1210 tallation, although much of this went to Christian debtors of Jewish moneylenders. John introduced a new income and chattel tax in 1207-actually an older version of a modern income tax-which yielded £60,000; he created a new set of import and export duties levied directly by the Crown. He found that these measures enabled him to raise more resources by confiscating land from barons who could not or refused to pay.

At the beginning of his reign there was a sudden shift in prices as poor harvests and high demand for food resulted in much higher prices for grain and animals. This inflationary pressure continued throughout the rest of the 13th century and had long-term economic consequences in England. The resulting social pressures were compounded by the deflationary explosions caused by the English king's military campaigns. It was common at this time for the king to collect taxes in silver, which he then melted down into new coins; these coins were then stored in casks and sent to the royal castles, to be used to hire mercenaries or to cover other expenses. For example, at those times when John was preparing for the Normandy campaigns, large amounts of silver had to be withdrawn from the economy and stored for months, unintentionally leading to periods when silver coins were simply hard to come by, trade credit made purchases difficult, and deflationary pressure damaged the economy. The results were political unrest. John attempted to address some of the problems with English coinage in 1204 and 1205 by undertaking a radical reform of the coinage, which improved its quality and consistency.

Royal house and ira et malevolentia

His royal household comprised several groups of followers. One group were the familiares regis, John's immediate friends and the knights who traveled with him. They also played an important role in organizing and leading military campaigns. Another section of royal followers was the curia regis; these curiales were the king's high officials and agents, essential to his day-to-day rule. Membership in these inner circles brought many advantages, as it was easier to obtain favors from the king, file lawsuits, marry a wealthy heiress, or receive forgiveness of debts. By the time of Henry II, these offices were held by "new men" rather than the usual ranks of barons. This intensified under John's rule, with many minor nobles arriving from the continent to take positions at court; many were mercenary leaders from Poitou. Among these men were soldiers who would become infamous in England for their uncivilized behavior, such as Falkes de Breauté, Geard d'Athies, Engelard de Cigongé, and Philip Marc. According to Ralph Turner, many barons perceived the king's household as a "narrow clique enjoying royal favor at the expense of the barons" and staffed by men of lesser status.

This tendency of the English king to rely on his own men, at the expense of senior barons, was exacerbated by the ira et malevolentia ("wrath and malevolence") tradition of the Angevin monarchs and John's own personality. From Henry II onward, ira et malevolentia came to describe the king's right to express his anger and displeasure at certain barons or clergy, based on the Norman concept of malevolence or "royal ill-will." In the Norman period, suffering the king's ill will meant difficulties in obtaining concessions, honors, or petitions; Henry II had infamously expressed his anger and ill will against Thomas Becket, which ultimately resulted in the latter's death. John already had the additional ability to "cripple his vassals" on a significant scale using the new economic and judicial measures, which made the threat of royal wrath even more serious.

He was deeply suspicious of barons, particularly those with enough power and wealth to defy him. Numerous barons were subjected to the king's malevolence, such as William Marshal, a famous knight and baron usually held up as a model of absolute loyalty. The most unworthy case - which went beyond what was considered acceptable at the time - was that of William de Braose, a powerful marcher lord with lands in Ireland. De Braose was subjected to punitive demands for money and, when he refused to pay a large sum of 40 000 marks-equivalent to 26 666 pounds at the time-his wife and one of his sons were imprisoned by the English king, resulting in their deaths. De Braose died in exile in 1211 and his grandsons remained in prison until 1218. John's suspicions and jealousy showed that he rarely enjoyed good relations even with leading loyalist barons.

Personal life

John's personal life greatly affected his reign, and contemporary chroniclers claimed that he was sinfully lustful and lacking in piety. Contemporary chroniclers claimed that he was sinfully lustful and lacking in piety.It was common for kings and nobles of the time to have mistresses, but chroniclers complained that John's mistresses were married nobles, which was considered unacceptable.He had at least five children with such mistresses during his first marriage to Isabella of Gloucester and two of those mistresses were noblewomen.However, John's behavior after his second marriage to Isabella of Angoulême is less clear. None of his known illegitimate children were born after he remarried and, thereafter, there is no actual documentary evidence of adultery, although John certainly had mistresses at court for the remainder of his reign. Today, the specific accusations against him made during the barons' revolts are considered fabricated and intended to justify the uprising; however, most of the English king's contemporaries apparently took a negative view of his sexual behavior.

The character of his second marriage to Isabella of Angoulême is uncertain. The English king married her when she was relatively young: her exact date of birth is unknown and estimates place her between fifteen and, more likely, around nine years of age at the time of marriage; even by the standards of the time, Isabella was married at a very young age. John did not provide a large sum of money to his wife's family and did not transfer part of the income from his lands, in behavior that historian Nicholas Vincent described as "downright mean" to Elizabeth; he also concluded that the couple was not particularly "friendly." Other aspects of their marriage would suggest a closer and more positive relationship. Chroniclers recorded that John had a "mad blind love" for Elizabeth and that he had conjugal relations with her between about 1207 and 1215; they had five children. In contrast to Vincent, historian William Chester Jordan inferred that the two formed an "amicable couple" and that they had a successful marriage by the standards of the time.

John's lack of religious conviction had already been noted by contemporary chroniclers and later historians, with some suspecting that he was, at best, godless or even atheistic, a serious matter at the time. Contemporary chroniclers catalogued at length his various anti-religious habits, such as his lack of communion, blasphemous remarks, and witty but scandalous jokes about Catholic Church doctrine-among these, jokes about the implausibility of the Resurrection. They also commented on the lack of charitable donations to the Church. Historian Frank McLynn argued that the English king's early years at Fontevrault, in combination with his relatively advanced education, may have turned him away from the Church. Other historians have been more cautious in interpreting this material and noted that the chroniclers also reported John's personal interest in the life of Wulfstan of Worcester and his friendship with several high-ranking clerics, especially Hugo of Lincoln, who was later declared a saint. The financial records of a normal royal family indicate he participated in the usual festivities and pious celebrations, although many records demonstrate John's offerings to the poor to atone for the routine rules and guidance of the Catholic Church. Historian Lewis Warren opined that the chroniclers' accounts were subject to considerable bias and that the English king was "at least conventionally devout" and cited his pilgrimages and interest in scripture and religious commentary.

Continental policy

For the remainder of his reign he focused on regaining Normandy. The available evidence suggests that John did not regard the loss of the duchy as a permanent change in the power of the Capets. Strategically, he faced several challenges: England had to be secured against a possible French invasion, the sea routes to Bordeaux had to be reinforced after the loss of the land route to Aquitaine, and his remaining possessions in Aquitaine had to be protected after the death of his mother Eleanor in April 1204. His preferred plan was to employ Poitou as a base of operations, advance up the Loire valley to threaten Paris, detain French forces and break Philip II's internal lines of communication before landing a maritime force in the duchy. Ideally, this plan would benefit from opening a second front on Philip II's eastern borders with Flanders and Boulogne, a recreation of Richard I's old strategy of exerting pressure from Germany. All this would require a great deal of money and soldiers.

He spent much of 1205 securing England against a potential French invasion. As an emergency measure, he recreated a version of Henry II's 1181 Assize of Arms, with each county creating a structure to mobilize local levies. When the threat of invasion faded, John assembled a large military force in England destined for Poitou and a fleet with soldiers under his own command destined for Normandy. To achieve this, he reformed the English feudal contribution to his campaigns, created a more flexible system under which only one knight in ten would be mobilized, but would be supported financially by the other nine; the knights would serve for an indefinite period. He created a team of engineers for siege warfare and a considerable force of professional crossbowmen. The king was supported by a group of prominent barons with military experience, such as William Longespée, William Marshal, Roger de Lacy and, until his fall from grace, the marcher lord William de Braose.

John had already begun to prepare troops in the Channel before the loss of Normandy and quickly developed more maritime capabilities after its collapse. Most of these ships were located along the Five Harbors Alliance, but Portsmouth was also expanded. By the end of 1204 it had about fifty large galleys available, and another fifty-four ships were built between 1209 and 1212. William de Wrotham was appointed "keeper of the galleys," effectively John's chief admiral. Wrotham was responsible for coordinating the king's galleys, the ships of the Five Ports, and forced the merchant ships into a single operational fleet. John adopted recent improvements in ship design, such as new large transport vessels called buisses and detachable forecastles for use in combat.

Baronial unrest in England prevented the departure of the expedition planned for 1205 and only a smaller force under William Longespée was deployed in Poitou. In 1206, John set out for Poitou, but was forced to detour south to counter a threat in Gascony by Alfonso VIII of Castile. After a successful campaign against the Castilian monarch, he headed north again and took the city of Angers. Philip II moved south to meet John; that year's campaign ended in stalemate and a two-year truce was established between the two sovereigns.

During the truce of 1206-1208, John concentrated on increasing his financial and military resources in preparation for another attempt to reconquer Normandy. He used some of this money to buy new alliances on Philip II's eastern borders, where the growth of Capet power was beginning to affect France's neighbors. In 1212, he had successfully closed alliances with his nephew Otto IV, a would-be emperor in Germany, as well as with the counts Renaud de Boulogne and Ferdinand of Flanders. His invasion plans for 1212 were postponed due to further unrest by English barons over military service in Poitou. Philip II took the initiative in 1213 and sent Prince Louis, his eldest son, to occupy Flanders with the intention of launching an invasion of England. John was forced to postpone his own invasion plans to counter this threat. He launched his new fleet to attack the French in the port of Damme. The attack was a success, destroying Philip II's ships and the chances of an invasion of England that year. John hoped to exploit this advantage by invading in late 1213, but discontent among the barons again delayed his invasion plans until early 1214, in what was his last continental campaign.

Scotland, Ireland and Wales

In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, the border dispute erupted and political relations between England and Scotland flared up, with the kings of Scotland laying claim to regions of what is now northern England. John's father, Henry II, had forced William I of Scotland to swear allegiance to him in the Treaty of Falaise in 1174. This had been rescinded by Richard I in exchange for financial compensation in 1189, but the relationship remained uneasy. John began his reign by reasserting his sovereignty over the disputed northern counties and rejected William I's claim to the county of Northumbria, but he did not intervene in Scotland and focused on continental problems. The two kings maintained an amicable relationship, meeting in 1206 and 1207, until 1209 when it was rumored that William I was attempting to ally himself with Philip II of France. John invaded Scotland and forced the Scottish king to sign the Treaty of Norham, which gave the English king control of his daughters and demanded a payment of £10,000. This effectively crippled William I's power north of the border and, in 1212, John had to intervene militarily to support the Scottish king against his internal rivals. However, the English king made no effort to revive the Treaty of Falaise and both William I and Alexander II remained independent kings, with John's support, owing him no allegiance.

The English king retained the title of lord of Ireland during his reign. He turned to that country for resources to fight his war against Philip II on the continent. Conflict continued in Ireland between the Anglo-Norman settlers and the indigenous Irish chiefs, with John manipulating both groups to expand his wealth and power in the country. During his brother's reign, he had successfully expanded the size of his lands in Ireland and continued this policy after ascending the throne. In 1210, the king arrived in Ireland with a large army that crushed the rebellion of the Anglo-Norman lords, reasserted control of the country, and used a new charter to mandate the enforcement of English laws and customs in Ireland. He did not actively seek to enforce this charter over the native Irish kingdoms, but historian David Carpenter suspected that he might have done so had the barons' conflict in England not intervened. Simmering tensions with the native Irish leaders were maintained even after John returned to England.

Royal rule in Wales was unevenly applied, with the country divided between the marcher lords along the borders, the royal territories in Pembrokeshire and the more independent native Welsh lords in north Wales. John took a keen interest in Wales, so much so that he documented himself, visited the territory every year between 1204 and 1211 and married his illegitimate daughter Joan to the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. The English king used the marcher lords and native Welsh to increase his own territory and power, as he reached a sequence of increasingly decisive agreements, with the backing of the royal military power and the Welsh rulers. A major royal expedition to enforce these agreements occurred in 1211, after Llywelyn attempted to exploit the instability caused by the removal of William de Braose, through the Welsh uprising of 1211. John responded with a successful military invasion, in which he attacked the interior of Wales. Llywelyn reached an agreement that included an expansion of the English king's power over much of the territory, albeit only temporarily.

Dispute with the pope

When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Hubert Walter, died on July 13, 1205, John was involved in a dispute with Pope Innocent III that would lead to his excommunication. The Norman and Angevin kings had traditionally exercised great power over the Church within their territories. However, beginning in the 1040s, successive popes presented a message of reform that emphasized the importance of the Church "being governed more coherently and hierarchically from the center" and established "its own sphere of authority and jurisdiction, separate and independent from that of the lay ruler," in the words of historian Richard Huscroft. After the 1140s, these principles had become widely accepted within the Catholic Church in England, albeit with an element of concern about the centralization of authority in Rome. These changes challenged the customary rights of lay rulers like John over ecclesiastical appointments. According to historian Ralph Turner, Pope Innocent III was an "ambitious and aggressive" religious leader, insistent on his rights and responsibilities within the Catholic Church.

John wanted John de Gray, bishop of Norwich and one of his followers, to be appointed archbishop of Canterbury after Walter's death, but the chapter of Canterbury Cathedral claimed the exclusive right to choose Walter's successor and favored Reginald, subprior of the chapter. To complicate matters, the bishops of the province of Canterbury also claimed the right to appoint the next archbishop. The chapter secretly chose Reginald and traveled to Rome for confirmation; the bishops challenged the appointment and the matter was brought before Innocent III. John forced the Canterbury chapter to change its support for John de Gray and a messenger was sent to Rome to inform the papacy of the new decision. Innocent III overruled both Reginald and John de Gray and instead appointed his own candidate, Stephen Langton. John refused Innocent III's request that he accept Langton's appointment, but the Roman pontiff consecrated Langton anyway in June 1207.

The English king was outraged by what he perceived as an abrogation of his customary right as monarch to influence elections. He complained about Langton's election as an individual-as he felt he was too influenced by the Capetian court in Paris-and about the process as a whole. He forbade Langton's entry into England and seized archbishopric lands and other papal possessions. Innocent III established a commission to try to convince John to change his mind, but to no avail. Innocent III then imposed an interdict on England in March 1208, forbidding the clergy to perform religious services, with the exception of baptisms for the young and confessions and absolutions for the dying.

John considered the interdict "the equivalent of a papal declaration of war" and responded by attempting to punish Innocent III personally and drive a wedge between the English clergy who might support him and those who were firmly allied with the authorities in Rome. He seized the lands of clerics who were unwilling to perform religious services, as well as those properties linked to Innocent III himself; he arrested the illicit concubines that many clerics retained during that time and only released them after payment of fines; he seized the lands of Church members who had fled England and promised protection for clerics willing to remain loyal to him. In many cases, the institutions separately negotiated terms for administering their own properties and retaining the proceeds from them. By 1209 the situation showed no signs of resolution and Innocent III threatened to excommunicate John if he did not accept Langton's appointment. When this threat failed, the pope excommunicated the English king in November 1209. Although theoretically a significant blow to John's legitimacy, this did not seem to concern him. Two of his close allies-the Teutonic emperor Otto IV and Count Raymond VI of Toulouse-had already suffered the same punishment and the significance of the excommunication had been, in a sense, devalued. John simply tightened his measures and accumulated significant sums from the revenues of vacant sees and abbeys: for example, a 1213 estimate suggested that the Church had lost an estimated 100 000 marks (equivalent to 66 666 pounds at the time) in payments to the Crown. Official figures suggest that John appropriated about 14% of the annual income of the Church in England.

Innocent III gave some dispensations as the crisis progressed.Monastic communities were allowed to celebrate mass privately from 1209 onward and, in late 1212, viaticum for the dying was authorized.Rules about burials and lay access to churches were apparently constantly circumvented, at least unofficially.Although the interdict was a burden to much of the population, it did not result in a rebellion against John.By 1213, however, the English king was increasingly concerned about an impending French invasion.The English king, however, was increasingly worried about an imminent French invasion. By 1213, however, the English king was increasingly concerned about an impending French invasion, with some contemporary chroniclers indicating that in January of that year Philip II of France had been accused of attempting to depose John on behalf of the papacy. These sources also suggested that Innocent III had secret letters prepared in case he needed to take credit if Philip II succeeded in invading England.

Due to mounting political pressure, John finally negotiated terms for a reconciliation and, in May 1213, accepted the papal conditions for acatamiento in the presence of the papal legate Pandulf Verraccio in the Templar church at Dover. As part of the deal, John offered to subject the Kingdom of England to the papacy with an annual feudal service of 1000 marks (equivalent to 666 pounds at the time): 700 marks (466 pounds) from England and 300 marks (200 pounds) from Ireland, as well as rewarding the Church for revenues lost during the crisis. The agreement was formalized in the Bulla Aurea, which produced mixed reactions. Although some chroniclers felt that John had been humiliated by the succession of events, there was little public reaction. Innocent III benefited from the resolution of a long-standing problem, but the English king probably gained more, as the pope became his staunch defender for the remainder of the reign and supported him in matters of both national and continental policy. Innocent III immediately turned against Philip II, because he asked him to reject plans to invade England and demanded peace. John paid part of the compensation money he had promised the Church, but suspended payments at the end of 1214 and did not deposit two-thirds of the sum; Innocent III apparently conveniently omitted this debt for the sake of a more lasting relationship.

Tensions and discontent

Tensions with the barons had been growing for several years, as evidenced by the 1212 revolt against the English king. Many of the disgruntled barons were from the north of England; that faction was often labeled by contemporaries and historians as "the Northerners." The northern barons rarely had a personal stake in the conflict with France and many of them owed large sums of money to the king; the revolt has been characterized as "a rebellion of the king's debtors." Many of the military establishment joined the rebels, particularly those whom John had appointed to administrative roles in England; their local ties and loyalties outweighed personal loyalty to him. Tension also grew in north Wales, where opposition to the 1211 treaty between John and Llywelyn was developing into open conflict. For some, the appointment of Peter des Roches as justiciar was an important factor, as many barons considered him an "unpleasant foreigner." The failure of the French military campaign in 1214 was probably what precipitated the barons' rebellion during John's last years; James Holt described the road to civil war as "direct, brief, and inevitable" after the defeat at Bouvines.

Failure of the French campaign of 1214

In 1214, John began his final campaign to reclaim Normandy from Philip II. The English king was optimistic, as he had made successful alliances with the Teutonic Emperor Otto IV, Renaud de Boulogne, and Count Ferdinand of Flanders, was enjoying papal favor, and had managed to accumulate substantial funds to pay for the deployment of an experienced army. However, when he headed for Poitou in February 1214, many barons refused military service; mercenary knights were to fill the gaps. The plan was to divide Philip II's forces by advancing from northeast Poitou toward Paris, while Otto IV, Renaud, and Ferdinand, supported by William Longespée, marched southwest from Flanders.

The first part of the campaign was successful, as John outnumbered the forces commanded by Prince Louis and, in late June, retook the county of Anjou. He besieged the castle of Roche-au-Moine, a key fortress, which forced the dauphin to fight against the English king's larger army. The local Angevin nobles refused to advance with the king; at a disadvantage, John retreated to La Rochelle. Shortly thereafter, Philip II won the hard-fought Battle of Bouvines in the north against Otho IV and other allies of the English monarch, ending his hopes of retaking Normandy. A peace agreement was signed in which John returned Anjou to Philip II and paid the French king an indemnity; the truce was to last six years. The king returned to England in October.

Pre-war tensions and Magna Carta

Within months of his return, rebellious barons in the north and east of England organized resistance to his rule.In January 1215, John held a council in London to discuss potential reforms and publicized discussions in Oxford between his agents and the rebels during the spring.He was apparently dragging the matter out until Innocent III could send letters giving him explicit papal support.This was particularly important to the English king, as it was a way of putting pressure on the barons, but also as a way of controlling Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury.In the meantime, John began to put pressure on Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury. This was particularly important to the English king, as it was a way of putting pressure on the barons, but also as a way of controlling Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. Meanwhile, John began to recruit new mercenary troops from Poitou, although some were sent back to avoid giving the impression that the English king was escalating the conflict. He announced his intentions to become a crusader, which gave him additional political protection under Catholic Church law.

Letters of support from the pope arrived in April, but by then the rebel barons had organized. In May they assembled at Northampton, renounced their feudal ties to John and appointed Robert FitzWalter their military leader.This self-proclaimed "Army of God" marched on London and took the capital, Lincoln and Exeter.The English king's efforts to appear moderate and conciliatory had been largely successful, but once the rebels took London they attracted a new wave of deserters from the royalist faction.John instructed Langton to arrange peace talks with the rebel barons.

On June 15, 1215, he met with the rebel leaders at the Runnymede River near Windsor Castle. Langton's efforts at mediation created a charter that reflected the proposed peace settlement; it was later renamed Magna Carta ("Great Charter"). This went beyond simply addressing specific grievances of the barons and formed a broader proposal for political reform, although it focused on the rights of freemen, not serfs or menial labor. It promised protection of church rights, protection against unlawful imprisonment, access to speedy justice, to new taxation only with the consent of the barons, and limitations on escheats and other feudal payments. A council of twenty-five barons would be created to monitor and ensure John's future adherence to the charter, while the rebel army would be withdrawn and London would be surrendered to the English king.

Neither John nor the rebel barons seriously tried to implement the peace agreement. The rebel barons suspected that the proposed council of barons would be unacceptable to the English king and would defy the legality of the charter; they incorporated the council of barons with their own intransigents and refused to demobilize their forces or surrender London as agreed. Despite promising otherwise, John appealed to Innocent III for help, as he felt the charter compromised the pope's rights under the 1213 agreement that had made him liege lord. Forced, Innocent III declared the charter "not only shameful and demeaning, but illegal and unjust" and excommunicated the rebellious barons. The failure of the agreement quickly led to the first Barons' War.

Confrontation with the barons

The rebels took the first step in the war, seizing the strategic castle of Rochester, owned by Langton but left almost unprotected by the archbishop. John was prepared for a conflict. He had stockpiled money to pay mercenaries and had secured the support of powerful marcher lords with their own feudal troops, such as William Marshal and Ranulph of Chester. The rebels lacked the siege engineering expertise or heavy equipment needed to attack the network of royal castles that isolated the rebel barons in the north from those in the south. John's strategy was to isolate the rebel barons in London, protect his own supply lines to his source of mercenaries in Flanders, prevent the French from landing in the southeast, and then win the war through slow attrition. He neglected to deal with the serious deteriorating situation in north Wales, where Llywelyn was leading a rebellion against the 1211 agreement.

John's campaign began well. In November, he retook Rochester Castle from the rebel Baron William d'Aubigny in a sophisticated assault. One chronicler documented that he had not seen "a siege so hard crushed nor so strongly resisted," while historian Reginald Brown described it as "one of the greatest in England up to that time." Once he regained the southeast, John separated his forces and sent William Longespée to retake the north side of London and East Anglia, while he headed north to Nottingham to attack the northern barons' estates. Both operations were successful and most of the remaining rebels were held in London. In January 1216, John confronted Alexander II of Scotland, who had allied himself with the rebel cause, and recaptured territories in northern England in a rapid campaign and advanced towards Edinburgh within ten days.

The rebel barons responded by inviting the French prince Louis to lead them: he had a claim to the English throne by virtue of his marriage to Blanche of Castile, granddaughter of Henry II. Philip II probably provided him with private support, but refused to assist him publicly since he was excommunicated by Innocent III for participating in the war against John. The dauphin's planned arrival in England presented a significant problem for the English king, because he would bring with him naval ships and siege engines essential to the rebel cause. Once Alexander II was controlled, John moved south to meet the challenge of the coming invasion.

Prince Louis attempted to land in southern England in May 1216, but John assembled a naval force to intercept him. To the English king's misfortune, his fleet was scattered by bad storms and Louis arrived unopposed in Kent. John hesitated and decided not to attack him immediately, either because of the risks of an impending battle or because of concerns about the loyalty of his own men. Louis and the rebel barons advanced westward and the English king withdrew and spent the summer reorganizing his defenses in the rest of the kingdom. Several of his military establishment defected to the rebels, such as his half-brother William Longespée. By the end of the summer, the rebels had recaptured southeastern England and parts of the north.

In September 1216, John launched a vigorous attack. He marched from the Cotswolds, feigned an offensive to liberate the besieged Windsor Castle and attacked eastward around London as far as Cambridge, to break up rebel-held areas in Lincolnshire and East Anglia. From there he traveled north in an attempt to undo the rebel siege at Lincoln and eastward to Lynn, probably to call for more supplies from the Continent. At Lynn, he contracted dysentery, which would eventually prove fatal. Meanwhile, Alexander II invaded northern England again, in August occupying Carlisle and then marching south to pay tribute to Prince Louis for his English possessions; John nearly intercepted Alexander II on the way. Tensions between the dauphin and the English barons began to rise, leading to a wave of defections, such as William Longespée and William Marshal's son, who returned to John's side.

The English king returned west but apparently lost a significant portion of his baggage train along the way. Roger of Wendover provided the most graphic testimony to this, in which supposedly the king's belongings-such as the Crown Jewels-were lost while crossing one of the tidal estuaries that flow into the Wash and were engulfed by shifting sands and whirlpools. Accounts of the incident vary considerably among the various chroniclers, and the exact location of the incident has never been confirmed; the losses may have involved only some of his packhorses. Modern historians claimed that, in October 1216, John faced a "stalemate," "a military situation uncompromised by defeat."

His illness worsened and, by the time he reached Newark Castle, he could no longer travel; he died on the night of October 18 or 19. Numerous stories, probably fictitious, circulated shortly after his death, such as that he was killed with poisoned beer, poisoned plums or an "excess of peaches." His body was escorted south by a company of mercenaries and was buried in Worcester Cathedral in front of the altar of Wulfstan. A new sarcophagus with an effigy was erected in 1232, in which his remains now rest.

Following John's death, William Marshal was declared protector of Henry III (aged nine). The civil war continued until the royalist victories at the battles of Lincoln and Dover in 1217. Louis abandoned his claim to the English throne and signed the Treaty of Lambeth. The failed Magna Carta agreement was resurrected by Marshal's administration and reissued in an edited version in 1217 as the basis for future rule. Henry III continued his attempts to claim Normandy and Anjou until 1259, but John's continental losses and the consequent growth of Capet power in the 13th century proved to mark a "turning point in European history."

John's first wife, Isabella, Countess of Gloucester, was released from prison in 1214; she remarried twice and died in 1217. His second wife, Isabella of Angoulême, left England for her homeland shortly after the English king's death; she became a powerful regional leader, but she also abandoned the children she had had with John, who had had five legitimate children. Her eldest son, Henry III, ruled England for most of the 13th century. Richard was a prominent European leader and ultimately Roman king of the Holy Roman Empire. Joan was queen of Scotland by her marriage to Alexander II. Elizabeth was Teutonic empress by her marriage to Frederick II. Their youngest daughter, Eleanor, married William Marshal's son, also named William, and, later, the famous English rebel Simon IV de Montfort. John had several mistresses, approximately eight, with whom he had possibly nine sons: Richard, Oliver, John, Geoffrey, Henry, Osbert Gifford, Eudes, Bartholomew and probably Philip; two or three daughters: Joan, Maud and probably Elizabeth. Of these, Joan became the most famous, as she married Prince Llywelyn of Wales.

Historiographic evaluations

Historical interpretations have been subject to considerable change over the years. Medieval chroniclers provided the earliest contemporary or near contemporary accounts of John's reign. A group of them were the first to write about his life or the time of his accession to the throne, such as Richard of Devizes, William of Newburgh, Roger of Hoveden, and Raoul of Diceto. These historians were generally unsympathetic to John's behavior during Richard's rule, but were somewhat more positive toward the early years of his reign. Reliable accounts of the middle and later period of John's reign are more limited, with Gervase of Canterbury and Raoul of Coggeshall among the principal ones; neither was positive about his performance as king. Much of the later negative reputation was established by two chroniclers writing after the English king's death-Roger of Wendover and Matthew of Paris, the latter of whom claimed that John attempted to convert to Islam in exchange for military aid from the Almohad ruler Muhammad an-Nasir. Modern historians consider this a false story.

In the sixteenth century, political and religious changes altered the attitude of historians toward John. Chroniclers of the Tudor era generally leaned in his favor, focusing on opposition to the papacy and promotion of the special rights and prerogatives of a king. Revisionist accounts by John Foxe, William Tyndale, and Robert Barnes portrayed him as an early Protestant hero; John Foxe included him in his Book of Martyrs. John Speed's Historie of Great Britaine (1632) praised John's "great renown" as king and blamed medieval chroniclers for his bad reputation.

In the Victorian era of the nineteenth century, historians were more inclined to rely on the judgments of chroniclers and to focus on John's moral personality. For example, Kate Norgate argued that his downfall was not due to failure in war or strategy, but to his "almost superhuman wickedness," while James Ramsay blamed John's family background and cruel personality for his undoing. Historians in the Whiggish tradition, focusing on documents such as the Domesday Book and Magna Carta, conceived of a progressive and universalistic process of political and economic development in England during the medieval period. These historians were often inclined to judge John's reign-in particular, his signing of Magna Carta-as a positive step in England's constitutional development, despite the king's own shortcomings. For example, Winston Churchill opined that, "when added to the long account, it will be seen that the British nation and the English-speaking world owe much more to the vices of John than to the labors of virtuous sovereigns."

In the 1940s, new interpretations of his reign began to emerge, based on research into contemporary records, such as account rolls, letters, court documents, and similar primary records. Notably, an essay by Vivian Galbraith in 1945 proposed a "new approach" to understanding the monarch. The use of records was combined with increased skepticism about two of the most colorful chroniclers of his reign-Roger of Wendover and Matthew of Paris. In many cases, the details provided by these chroniclers-both written after John's death-were questioned by modern historians. Interpretations of Magna Carta and the role of the rebel barons in 1215 have been significantly revised: although the constitutional and symbolic value of Magna Carta for later generations is unquestioned, in the context of John's reign most historians regard it as a failed peace settlement between factions of "partisans." There has been a growing debate about the nature of his Irish polities. Scholars of medieval Irish history - such as Sean Duffy - have challenged the conventional narrative established by Lewis Warren, which would suggest that Ireland was less stable before 1216 than previously assumed.

Most modern-day historians, such as recent biographers Ralph Turner and Lewis Warren, argued that John was an ineffective monarch, but that his failures were exaggerated by twelfth- and thirteenth-century chroniclers. Jim Bradbury synthesized the current consensus that John was a "hard-working administrator, a skilled man, and an able general," though, as Turner suggested, with "unpleasant, even dangerous personality traits," such as pettiness, spitefulness, and cruelty. John Gillingham-author of a biography of Richard I-followed this line as well, although he considers him a less effective military leader than Turner's or Warren's assessment and described him as "one of the worst kings who ever ruled England." Bradbury took a moderate view, but pointed out that in recent years modern historians have been unduly indulgent of his many faults. Popular historian Frank McLynn maintained a counter-revisionist perspective on John, arguing that the English king's modern reputation among historians is "bizarre" and that, as a monarch, he "failed almost every one that can legitimately be established."

Popular representations

Plays based on his life emerged during the Tudor era, reflecting the revisionist accounts of the time. The anonymous play The troublesome reign of King John portrayed him as a "proto-Protestant martyr," similar to that shown in John Bale's morality play Kynge Johan, in which John attempts to save England from the "evil agents of the Roman Church." By contrast, Shakespeare's The life and death of King John, a relatively anti-Catholic play that draws on The troublesome reign for its source material, offers a "more balanced dual view of a complex monarch as both a proto-Protestant victim of Rome's machinations and a weak and selfishly motivated ruler." Anthony Munday's The downfall and the death of Robert Earl of Huntington portrayed many of John's negative traits, but adopted a positive interpretation of his actions against the Catholic Church, in keeping with contemporary views of Tudor monarchs. In the mid-17th century, works such as Robert Davenport's King John and Matilda, based largely on earlier Elizabethan works, transferred the role of Protestant champions to the barons and emphasized the tyrannical aspects of the king's behavior.

In the 19th century, fictional depictions of his life were heavily influenced by Walter Scott's historical romance Ivanhoe, which presented "an almost wholly unfavorable picture" of him; the piece drew on Victorian histories of the period and Shakespeare's work. This work by Scott influenced The merry adventures of Robin Hood, by children's writer Howard Pyle in the late 19th century, which in turn established John as the main villain within the traditional Robin Hood narrative. During the 20th century, he was routinely depicted in fictional books and films alongside Robin Hood. Sam De Grasse's interpretation in the 1922 black-and-white film version shows him committing numerous atrocities and acts of torture. Claude Rains played him in the 1938 color version alongside Errol Flynn, starting the trend of portraying him as an "arrogant, cowardly, stay-at-home effeminate." The character of John acts to highlight the virtues of King Richard or contrast with the civil governor of Nottingham, who is usually the "cloak-and-dagger villain" opposing Robin Hood. For example, an extreme version of this tendency can be seen in the 1973 Disney cartoon version, which depicts John, voiced by Peter Ustinov, as a "cowardly, thumb-sucking lion." Popular works depicting him beyond the legends of Robin Hood-such as James Goldman's The Lion in Winter and film adaptation set in 1183-commonly portray him as a "mannered little sissy"-in this case, contrasted with the manly Henry II-or a tyrant, as in A. A. Milne's poem for children "King John's Christmas."


  1. John, King of England
  2. Juan I de Inglaterra
  3. ^ Historians are divided in their use of the terms "Plantagenet" and "Angevin" in regards to Henry II and his sons. Some class Henry II as the first Plantagenet king of England; others refer to Henry, Richard and John as the Angevin dynasty, and consider Henry III to be the first Plantagenet ruler.
  4. ^ The term Angevin Empire originates with Victorian historian Kate Norgate.[7]
  5. ^ Henry II also bit and gnawed his fingers; extreme rage is considered by many historians to be a trait of the Angevin kings.[21]
  6. ^ Nonetheless, the treaty did offer Arthur certain protections as John's vassal.[63]
  7. Los historiadores no han llegado a un consenso sobre el uso de los términos «Plantagenet» y «angevino» con respecto a Enrique II y sus hijos. Algunos consideran a Enrique II como el primer rey de la casa Plantagenet en Inglaterra; otros se refieren a los reinados de Enrique II, Ricardo I y Juan I como la dinastía angevina y consideran a Enrique III como el primer gobernante de la casa Plantagenet.[1]​[2]​[3]​[4]​
  8. El término Angevin Empire («Imperio angevino») fue acuñado siglos después, por la historiadora victoriana Kate Norgate.[10]​
  9. El magister era un tutor encargado de la primera educación y de administrar a los sirvientes de su hogar inmediato.
  10. Enrique II también mordía y mordisqueaba sus dedos; la ira extrema fue considerada por muchos historiadores como un rasgo de los reyes angevinos.[25]​[26]​
  11. Sin embargo, el tratado ofreció a Arturo I ciertas protecciones como vasallo de Juan.[69]​
  12. Le surnom de « sans terre » lui vient non pas de la perte de ses territoires situés en France, mais de ce qu'il n'avait reçu, avant 1171, aucun fief dans les provinces continentales, à la différence de ses frères aînés.
  13. John Lackland en anglais et Johan sans Terre en anglo-normand[3].
  14. Stephen D. Church: The Date and Place of King John’s Birth Together with a Codicil on his Name. In: Notes and Queries, Bd. 67 (2020), S. 315–323.

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