King John was born in 1167 and died in 1216.
Like William I, King John is one of the more controversial monarchs of
Medieval England and is most associated with the signing of the Magna Carta
John was born on Christmas Eve, the youngest son of Henry II and his wife
Eleanor of Aquitaine. As a child, John tended to be overshadowed by is older
brother Richard. Like his father, John developed a reputation for violent
rages which lead to him foaming at the mouth. Henry left no land to John
when he died so John was given the nick-name John Lackland. In 1189, all of
Henry's territory went to his oldest son, Richard I, better known as Richard
In 1191, Richard left England to embark on the Third Crusade. He left John
in charge of the country. John's reputation as a leader had been severely
dented as far back as 1185 when Henry II sent him to Ireland to rule. John
proved to be a disaster and within six months he was sent home.
In 1192, Richard was imprisoned by Duke Leopold of Austria as he returned
from the Crusades. John tried to seize the crown from his brother but
failed. In 1194, when Richard finally returned to England, John was forgiven
by his brother.
In 1199, Richard was killed in France and John became the king of England.
His reign started in an unfortunate way. In 1202, John's nephew, Arthur of
Brittany, was murdered. Many in Brittany believed that John was responsible
for his murder and they rebelled against John. In 1204, John's army was
defeated in Brittany and John had no choice but to retreat. His military
standing among the nobles fell and he was given a new nickname - John
Softsword. The defeat in north France was a major blow for John and a costly
one. To pay for the defeat, John increased taxes which was not popular with
anybody other than John and his treasurers.
John also succeeded in falling out with the pope in 1207. John quarreled
with the pope over who should be Archbishop of Canterbury. The pope
excommunicated John and put England under a Church law that stated that no
christening or marriage would be legal until the time the pope said that
they would be. Church law said that only christened people could get to
Heaven while children born out of marriage were doomed to Hell. This placed
people in England under a terrible strain and they blamed one person for
this - John.
In 1213, John had to give in and surrender the spiritual well-being of the
whole country to the pope. However, the pope never fully trusted John and in
1214, the pope proclaimed that anybody who tried to overthrow John would be
legally entitled to do so. In the same year, John lost another battle to the
French at Bouvines. This defeat resulted in England losing all her
possessions in France. This was too much for the powerful barons in England.
In 1214, they rebelled.
John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. This
guaranteed the people of England rights that the king could not go back on.
In 1216, John tried to go back on the Magna Carta but this only provoked the
barons into declaring war on him. By 1216, John was ill. During the war, he
suffered from dysentery. He also lost all of his treasure when he tried to
take a shortcut across a stretch of water in the Wash, Lincolnshire. As the
tide rose faster than he expected, his baggage train was engulfed. Just a
few days later, John died and was succeeded by Henry III.
Despite the obvious failings of John, there is still some evidence that he
was not as bad as some have tried to make him out to be since his death. It
certainly was not uncommon for kings to have their names tarnished when they
were not alive to defend themselves!
Back to list of kings
Kings Alfred The Great, King of Wessex athelstan King of the English Athelred II The Unready, King of the English canute King of England eadred King of the English eadwig King of the English Edgar I, King of the English Edmund I, King of the English Edmund II Ironside, King of the English Edward The Martyr, King of the English
King Arthur King Edward the Confessor King Harold of Wessex King William I King William Rufus
King Henry I King Stephen King Henry II King Richard I
King John King Henry III King Edward I King Edward II
King Edward III