King John of England


Son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, father of King Henry III and husband of Isabella of Angoulême

John born on 24th December 1166 at Beaumont Palace, Oxford. He reigned as King of England from 6th April 1199, until his death.  John acquired the nicknames of "Lackland" (Sans Terre in French) for his lack of an inheritance as the youngest son and for his loss of territory to France, and of "Soft-sword" for his alleged military ineptitude. He was a Plantagenet or Angevin king.

While John was always his father's favourite son, as the youngest he could expect no inheritance. His family life was tumultuous, as his older brothers all became involved in rebellions against Henry. Eleanor was imprisoned by Henry in 1173, when John was a small boy.

As a child, John was betrothed to Alice, daughter and heiress of Humbert III of Savoy. It was hoped that by this marriage the Angevin dynasty would extend its influence beyond the Alps, as John was promised the inheritance of Savoy, the Piemonte, Maurienne, and the other possessions of Count Humbert. King Henry promised his young son castles in Normandy which had been previously promised to his brother Geoffrey, which was for some time a bone of contention between King Henry and his son Geoffrey. Alice made the trip over the Alps and joined Henry's court; but died before ever being married.

Gerald of Wales relates that King Henry had a curious painting in a chamber of Winchester Castle, depicting an eagle being attacked by three of its chicks, while a fourth chick crouched, waiting for its chance to strike. When asked the meaning of this picture, King Henry said:

The four young ones of the eagle are my four sons, who will not cease persecuting me even unto death. And the youngest, whom I now embrace with such tender affection, will someday afflict me more grievously and perilously than all the others.

Before his accession, John had already acquired a reputation for treachery, having conspired sometimes with and sometimes against his elder brothers, Henry, Richard and Geoffrey. In 1184, John and Richard both claimed that they were the rightful heir to Aquitaine, one of many unfriendly encounters between the two. In 1185, John became the ruler of Ireland, whose people grew to despise him, causing John to leave after only eight months

During his brother's, Richard I, absence on the Third Crusade from 1190 to 1194, John attempted to overthrow William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely and Richard's designated justiciar. This was one of the events that inspired later writers to cast John as the villain in their reworking of the legend of Robin Hood.

John was more popular than Longchamp in London and in October 1191 the leading citizens of the city opened the gates to him while Longchamp was confined in the Tower. John promised the city the right to govern itself as a commune in return for recognition as Richard's heir presumptive.While returning from the Crusade, Richard was captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and imprisoned by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor. John is said to have sent a letter to Henry asking him to keep Richard away from England for as long as possible, but Richard's supporters paid a ransom for his release because they thought that John would make a terrible king. On his return to England in 1194, Richard forgave John and named him as his heir.

Other historians argue that John did not attempt to overthrow Richard, but rather did his best to improve a country ruined by Richard's excessive taxes used to fund the Crusade.

When Richard died, John did not gain immediate universal recognition as king. Some regarded his young nephew, Arthur of Brittany, the son of John's late brother Geoffrey, as the rightful heir. Arthur fought his uncle for the throne, with the support of King Philip II of France. The conflict between Arthur and King John had fatal consequences. By the May 1200 Treaty of Le Goulet, Philip recognised John over Arthur and the two came to terms regarding John's vassalage for Normandy and the Angevin territories. However, the peace was ephemeral.

The war upset the barons of Poitou enough for them to seek redress from the King of France, who was King John's feudal overlord with respect to certain territories on the Continent. In 1202, John was summoned to the French court to answer the charges one of which was his marriage to Isobel of Angouleme who was already engaged to Guy de Lusignan. John was called to Phillip's court after the Lusignans pleaded for his help. John refused and, under feudal law, because of his failure of service to his lord, the French King claimed the lands and territories ruled by King John as Count of Poitou, declaring all John's French territories except Gascony in the southwest forfeit. The French promptly invaded Normandy; King Philip II invested Arthur with all those fiefs King John once held, except for Normandy, and betrothed him to his daughter Marie.

Needing to supply a war across the Channel, in 1203 John ordered all shipyards, including inland places such as Gloucester, in England to provide at least one ship, with places such as the newly-built Portsmouth being responsible for several. He made Portsmouth the new home of the navy; the Anglo-Saxon kings, such as Edward the Confessor, had royal harbours at Sandwich, Kent. By the end of 1204, he had 45 large galleys available to him, and from then on an average of four new ones every year. He also created an Admiralty of four admirals, responsible for various parts of the new navy. During John's reign, major improvements were made in ship design, including the addition of sails and removable forecastles. He also created the first big transport ships, called buisses. John is sometimes credited with the founding of the modern Royal Navy. What is known about this navy comes from the Pipe Rolls, as these achievements are completely ignored by the chroniclers and early historians.

In the hope of avoiding trouble in England and Wales while he was away fighting to recover his French lands, in 1205, John formed an alliance by marrying off his illegitimate daughter, Joan, to the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great.

As part of the war, Arthur attempted to kidnap his own grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Mirebeau, but was defeated and captured by John's forces. Arthur was imprisoned first at Falaise and then at Rouen. No one is certain what happened to Arthur after that. According to the Margam Annals, on 3rd April 1203:

After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time in the castle of Rouen... when [John] was drunk he slew [Arthur] with his own hand and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine.

However, Hubert de Burgh, the officer commanding the Rouen fortress, claimed to have delivered Arthur around Easter 1203 to agents of the King sent to castrate him and that Arthur had died of shock. Hubert later retracted his statement and claimed Arthur still lived, but no one ever saw Arthur alive again and the supposition that he was murdered caused Brittany, and later Normandy, to rebel against King John.

Besides Arthur, John also captured his niece, Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany. Eleanor remained a prisoner the rest of her life, which ended in 1241; through deeds such as these, John acquired a reputation for ruthlessness.

In 1203, John exempted the citizens and merchants of Bordeaux from the Grande Coutume which was the principal tax on their exports. In exchange, the regions of Bordeaux, Bayonne and Dax pledged support against the French Crown. The unblocked ports gave Gascon merchants open access to the English wine market for the first time. The following year, John granted the same exemptions to La Rochelle and Poitou.

When Hubert Walter, the Archbishop of Canterbury died on 13th July 1205, John became involved in a dispute with Pope Innocent III. The Canterbury Cathedral chapter claimed the sole right to elect Hubert's successor and favoured Reginald, a candidate out of their midst. However, both the English bishops and the King had an interest in the choice of successor to this powerful office. The king wanted John de Gray, one of his own men, so he could influence the church more. When their dispute could not be settled, the Chapter secretly elected one of their members as Archbishop. A second election imposed by John resulted in another nominee. When they both appeared in Rome, Innocent disavowed both elections and his candidate, Stephen Langton, was elected over the objections of John's observers. John was supported in his position by the English barons and many of the English bishops and refused to accept Langton.

John expelled the Chapter in July 1207, to which the Pope reacted by imposing the interdict on the kingdom. John immediately retaliated by seizure of church property for failure to provide feudal service. The pope, realisng that too long a period without church services could lead to loss of faith, gave permission for some churches to hold Mass behind closed doors in 1209. In 1212, they allowed last rites to the dying. While the interdict was a burden to many, it did not result in rebellion against John.

In November 1209 John himself was excommunicated, and, in February 1213, Innocent threatened stronger measures unless John submitted. The papal terms for submission were accepted in the presence of the papal legate Pandulph in May 1213, according to Matthew Paris, at the Templar Church at Dover); in addition, John offered to surrender the Kingdom of England to God and the Saints Peter and Paul for a feudal service of 1000 marks annually, 700 for England and 300 for Ireland. With this submission, formalised in the Bulla Aurea (Golden Bull), John gained the valuable support of his papal overlord in his new dispute with the English barons.

Having successfully put down the Welsh Uprising of 1211 and settling his dispute with the papacy, John turned his attentions back to his overseas interests. The European wars culminated in defeat at the Battle of Bouvines (1214), which forced the king to accept an unfavourable peace with France.

This finally turned the barons against him (some had already rebelled against him after he was excommunicated), and he met their leaders at Runnymede, near London, on 15th June 1215, to seal the Great Charter called, in Latin, Magna Carta. Because he had signed under duress, however, John received approval from his overlord the Pope to break his word as soon as hostilities had ceased, provoking the First Barons' War and an invited French invasion by Prince Louis of France, whom the majority of the English barons had invited to replace John on the throne. John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, including a personal two month siege of the rebel-held Rochester Castle.

Retreating from the French invasion, John took a safe route around the marshy area of the Wash to avoid the rebel held area of East Anglia. His slow baggage train, including the Crown Jewels, however, took a direct route across it and were lost on it to the unexpected incoming tide. This dealt John a terrible blow, which affected his health and state of mind. Succumbing to dysentery and moving from place to place, he stayed one night at Sleaford Castle before dying on 18th–19th October 1216, at Newark Castle, then in Lincolnshire, now on Nottinghamshire's border with that county. Numerous, if fictitious, accounts circulated soon after his death that he had been killed by poisoned ale, poisoned plums or a "surfeit of peaches".

He was buried in Worcester Cathedral in the city of Worcester.

His nine-year-old son succeeded him and became King Henry III of England (1216–72), and although Louis continued to claim the English throne, the barons switched their allegiance to the new king, forcing Louis to give up his claim and sign the Treaty of Lambeth in 1217.

King John's reign has been traditionally characterised as one of the most disastrous in English history: it began with defeats; he lost Normandy to Philip Augustus of France in his first five years on the throne and ended with England torn by civil war and himself on the verge of being forced out of power. In 1213, he made England a papal fief to resolve a conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, and his rebellious barons forced him to sign Magna Carta in 1215, the act for which he is best remembered.

Some have argued, however, that John's rule was no better or worse than those of kings Richard I or Henry III, adding that, unlike Richard, he spent the majority of his reign in England. Be that as it may, his reputation is a reason many English monarchs have refrained from giving the name John to their expected heirs.

As far as the administration of his kingdom went, John functioned as an efficient ruler, but he won the disapproval of the English barons by taxing them in ways that were outside those traditionally allowed by feudal overlords. The tax known as scutage, payment made instead of providing knights, as required by feudal la, became particularly unpopular. John was a very fair-minded and well informed king, however, often acting as a Judge in the Royal Courts, and his justice was much sought after. Also, John's employment of an extremely able Chancellor and certain clerks resulted in the first proper set of records - the Pipe Rolls.

In 1189, John was married to Isabel of Gloucester, daughter and heiress of William Fitz Robert, 2nd Earl of Gloucester (she is given several alternative names by history, including Avisa, Hawise, Joan, and Eleanor). They had no children, and John had their marriage annulled on the grounds of consanguinity, some time before or shortly after his accession to the throne, which took place on 6 April 1199, and she was never acknowledged as queen. (She then married Geoffrey de Mandeville as her second husband and Hubert de Burgh as her third).

John remarried, on 24th August 1200, Isabella of Angoulême, who was twenty years his junior. She was the daughter of Aymer Taillefer, Count of Angouleme. John had kidnapped her from her fiancé, Hugh X of Lusignan.

Isabella eventually produced five children, two sons and three daughters:

Henry III King of England.

Richard of Cornwall born on 5th January 1209 at Winchester Castle. He was Count of Poitou from 1225 to 1243, Earl of Cornwall from 1227 and German King, formally "King of the Romans", from 1257.

He was made High Sheriff of Berkshire at the age of only eight, was styled Count of Poitou from 1225 and Earl of Cornwall from 1227. Richard's revenues from Cornwall provided him with great wealth, and he became one of the wealthiest men in Europe. Though he campaigned on King Henry's behalf in Poitou and Brittany, and served as Regent three times, relations were often strained between the brothers in the early years of Henry's reign. Richard rebelled against him three times, and had to be bought off with lavish gifts.

In March 1231 he married Isabel Marshal, the widow of the Earl of Gloucester, much to the displeasure of his brother King Henry, who had been arranging a more advantageous match for Richard. Richard became step-father to Isabel's six children from her first husband. In that same year he acquired his main residence, Wallingford Castle in Berkshire, now Oxfordshire, and spent much money on developing it. He had another favoured property at Cippenham in Buckinghamshire. Isabel and Richard had four children, of whom only their son, Henry of Almain, survived to adulthood. When Isabel was on her deathbed in 1240, she asked to be buried next to her first husband at Tewkesbury, but Richard had her interred at Beaulieu Abbey instead. As a pious gesture, however, he sent her heart to Tewkesbury. Later that year Richard joined the Sixth Crusade and departed for the Holy Land. He fought in no battles but managed to negotiate for the release of prisoners and the burials of Crusaders killed at a battle in Gaza in 1239. He also refortified Ascalon, which had been demolished by Saladin. On his return from the Holy Land, Richard visited his sister Isabella, the empress of Frederick II.

Richard opposed Simon de Montfort, and rose in rebellion in 1238 to protest against the marriage of his sister, Eleanor, to Simon. Once again he was placated with rich gifts, but in 1240 when he and Montfort joined the Crusade at the same time, they made a point of not travelling together. On his return, Richard married Sanchia of Provence, the sister of his brother Henry's queen, Eleanor. This marriage tied him even more closely to the royal party.

Richard's claims to Gascony and Poitou were never more than nominal, and in 1241 King Louis IX of France invested his own brother Alphonse with Poitou. Moreover, Richard and Henry's mother, Isabella of Angouleme, claimed to have been insulted by the French king. They were encouraged to recover Poitou by their stepfather, Hugh X of Lusignan, but the expedition turned into a military fiasco after Lusignan betrayed them. The pope offered Richard the crown of Sicily, but according to Matthew Paris he responded to the extortionate price by saying, "You might as well say, 'I will sell or give you the moon; go up and take it'." Instead, his brother King Henry purchased the kingdom for his own son Edmund.

In 1257, Richard was elected by three German Electoral Princes known as the "English party" - Cologne, Mainz and the Palatinate - as King of Germany. He had bought the electors' votes for the vast sum of 28,000 marks. He spent the next few years attempting to persuade the Pope to crown him; at last, in May 1257, Pope Alexander IV crowned Richard "King of the Romans" at Aachen. However, like his lordships in Gascony and Poitou, his title never held more than honorary significance, and he made only four brief visits to Germany between 1257 and 1269.

He joined King Henry in fighting against Simon de Montfort's rebels in the Second Barons' War from1264 until 1267). After the shattering royalist defeat at the Battle of Lewes, Richard took refuge in a windmill, was discovered, and imprisoned until September 1265.

On 2nd April 1272, Richard died at Berkhamsted Castle in Hertfordshire. He was buried at Hayles Abbey, which he had founded.

He married three times:

On 30th March 1231, at Fawley Church, Fawley, to Isabel Marshal, widow of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, and daughter of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke. She died in childbed 17th January 1240.

On 23rd November 1243, at Westminster Abbey, to Sanchia of Provence, daughter of Raymond Berenger IV, count of Provence. She died 9th November 1261.

On 16th June 1269, at Kaiserslautern, to Beatrice of Falkenburg, daughter of Dietrich I, Count of Falconburg. There were no children. She was aged about sixteen to Richard's sixty, and was said to be one of the most beautiful women of her time. Beatrice died on 17th October 1277 and was buried at Friars Minor in Oxford.

Isabel bore him four children, all of whom died in the cradle, except:

Henry of Almain (123571), Richard's heir apparent. Henry was the victim of the famous murder at Viterbo, when he was cut down while praying in a church by his cousins, Simon the younger de Montfort and Guy de Montfort, Count of Nola.

Richard had three sons by Sanchia,

Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall born in 1249 and died in 1300, but he died childless,

Richard Cornwall born in 1252and died in 1296. He married Joan Saint Owen, born in 1260, and had issue. He, however, died at the siege of Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1296

Richard had the reputation of being a womanizer. His mistress, Joan de Valletort, was certainly the mother of at least one of his children. An illegitimate son, Philip de Cornwall, was a cleric in 1248. Another illegitimate son, Walter de Cornwall, was granted lands by his half-brother Edmund, and died in 1313.

Richard Cornwall, an infant who died within a month of his birth.

Joan of England, Queen Consort of Scotland born on 22nd July 1210 . She and Alexander II of Scotland married on 21st June 1221, at York Minster. Alexander was 23. Joan was 11. They had no children. Joan died in Havering-atte-Bower on 4th March 1238, and was buried at Tarant Crawford Abbey in Dorset.

Princess Isabella of England, also called Elizabeth born in 1214

It was at a friendly meeting at Rieti where Pope Gregory IX suggested to Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor that he marry Princess Isabella, a sister of Henry III of England. At first Frederick II was concerned to lose his French allies; but when he realised that an English marriage would end English support for his opponents, he agreed.

The beautiful Isabella was about twenty-one years old when she set out to marry the twice-widowed Emperor Frederick II, who was forty. On her way through Cologne, she delighted the local women when she removed the traditionally worn veil so that they could see her face. She also brought a considerable dowry with her. She was married to Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor in 1235.

However, as soon as she was married she was introduced to the secluded harem life attended by black eunuchs. Their marriage had been a political match, and she was allowed to keep only two of her English women-attendants; the others were sent home. In all she gave birth to four children, but only Margaret of Sicily, born in 1237 and died in 1270, survived her, according to other sources, Margaret was her last child and born in 1241; Isabella died during her childbirth).

Isabella lived in retirement at Noventa where her husband regularly visited her. When her brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, returned from the crusades, he was allowed to visit her, although Isabella was not allowed to be present at the official reception. while the imperial court resided at Foggia, Isabella gave birth to her last child and died on 1st December 1241. She was only twenty-seven years old and according to Thomas Costain, Frederick buried her beside one of his Saracen mistresses in the Cathedral of Andria.

Much controversy surrounds Isabella's childbearing; including the amount of children she had, their names, and their birth order. What is known for sure is that Isabella had at least four children; a stillborn son in 1236 or 1241, a daughter who died within a short time after birth in 1237, Margaret, and Heinrich/Henry. Margaret is believed by some to have been the first child, and by others to be the child Isabella died giving birth to. The most commonly held belief is that Margaret was the last child. The stillborn son of Isabella has been given the name of Frederick, Jordanus/Jordan, and Carl Otto by various sources. Some historians believe Isabella actually had five children, two stillborn sons instead of one, and that they were named Frederick and Carl Otto, the two being born in Spring 1236 and Summer 1240.

Eleanor of England, also called Eleanor Plantagenet and Eleanor of Leicester was born in the year 1215, in Gloucester.  John's London was conquered and Isabella was in shame. He had been forced to sign the Magna Carta. Eleanor would never see her Father, as he died at Newark Castle when she was barely a year old. The French, led by Philip II of France, were marching through the south. The only lands loyal to her brother were in the middle and southwest. The barons ruled the north, but they united with the royalists under William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who protected the young king, and Philip was defeated.

William Marshal died in 1219 and Eleanor was promised to his son, also named William. They were married on 23rd April 1224 at New Temple Church in London. The younger William was 34 and Eleanor only nine. He died in London on 6th April 1231, days before their 7th anniversary. There were no children of this marriage. The widowed Eleanor swore a holy oath of chastity in the presence of Edmund Rich, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Seven years later, she met Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester. According to Matthew Paris, Simon was attracted to Eleanor's beauty and elegance as well as her wealth and high birth. They fell in love and married secretly on 7th January 1238 at the King's chapel at Westminister Palace. Her brother King Henry later alleged that he only allowed the marriage because Simon had seduced Eleanor. The marriage was controversial because of the oath Eleanor had sworn several years before to remain chaste. Because of this, Simon made a pilgrimage to Rome seeking papal approval for their union. Simon and Eleanor would have seven children:

Henry de Montfort born in November 1238and died in 1265

Simon the younger de Montfort born in April 1240 and died in 1271

Amaury de Montfort Canon of York  born in 1242/1243 and died in1300

Guy de Montfort Count of Nola born in 1244 and died in 1288

A daughter born and died in Bordeaux between 1248 and 1251.

Richard de Montfort born in 1252 and died in 1266

Eleanor de Montfort born in 1258 and died in1282

Simon de Montfort had the real power behind the throne, but when he tried to take the throne, he was defeated with his son at the Battle of Evesham on 4th August 1265. Eleanor fled to exile in France where she became a nun at Montargis Abbey, a nunnery founded by her deceased husband's sister Amicia. She died and was buried there on 13th April 1275.

John is given a great taste for lechery by the chroniclers of his age, and even allowing some embellishment, he did have many illegitimate children.

John had the following illegitimate children:

Joan, Princess of Wales, the wife of Prince Llywelyn Fawr of Wales, by a woman named Clemence

Richard FitzRoy, by his cousin, Adela, daughter of his uncle Hamelin de Warenne

Oliver FitzRoy, by a mistress named Hawise, who accompanied the papal legate Pelayo to Damietta in 1218, and never returned.

By an unknown mistress or mistresses John fathered:

Geoffrey FitzRoy, who went on expedition to Poitou in 1205 and died there.

John FitzRoy, a clerk in 1201.

Henry FitzRoy, who died in 1245.

Osbert Gifford, who was given lands in Oxfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Sussex, and is last seen alive in 1216.

Eudes FitzRoy, who accompanied his half-brother Richard on Crusade and died in the Holy Land in 1241.

Bartholomew FitzRoy, a member of the order of Friars Preachers.

Maud FitzRoy, Abbess of Barking, who died in 1252.

Isabel FitzRoy, wife of Richard Fitz Ives.

Philip FitzRoy, found living in 1263.

Note: The surname of FitzRoy is Norman-French for son of the king


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