Thursday, November 17, 2016


Last week we learned about Richard I and this week it is his brother John.   The one portrayed as so wicked in the stories of Robin Hood.  More from "Kings and Queens of England and Scotland."

JOHN 1199-1216  Known as Lackland, and also Sword-of-Lath.

Born in Oxford on 24th December, 1167.

Succeeded on 7th April, 1199 at the age of 32 as King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, having been appointed Lord of Ireland by Henry II in 1185.  William of Scotland (William the Lion) did homage making John his overlord in 1207.

Younger brother of his predecessor Richard and youngest son of King Henry II.

Married:  1.  Hadwiss (Isabella) of Gloucester (divorced 1200);   2.  Isabella of Angouleme, who survived him.

Children:  all from the second marriage:  HENRY, Richard, Joan, Isabella, Eleanor.

Bastards include another Joan, who married Llewelyn the Great, Ruler of all Wales.

Died at Newark of dysentery aggravated by over-indulgence in peaches and new cider, on 18th October, 1216, aged 49, having reigned 17 years.

Buried at Worcester Cathedral.

Profile:  Medium height (5ft 6in), plump, in middle age with a bald head inside a ring of curly black hair; a broad-lipped, bland, self-concerned face; a voice menacing not through harshness but theatrically amused superiority.

All kings are spoilt children, but John was the spoilt child of a family of kings.  The youngest of the nine offspring of Henry II and Eleanor, he let his father down by a brief and ridiculous rule in Ireland, joined Richard in revolt when Henry was almost on his deathbed, let Richard down when his brother became king and finally treacherously conspired with the King of France in revolt against him.  He seems never to have been punished for anything, only excuse as silly young John, but his people were harder than his family.  His father had called him Lackland affectionately as a boy, ruefully emphasising that the private inheritable estates of the family had already been fully divided among his brothers before John was unexpectedly born at to a 45-year-old queen. By standards of evolution today she would have ranked as aged 60.  She lived to the actual age of 82, dominated her children like a matriarch, and besides arranging Richard's semi-forced marriage acted as Regent of England for him, at the age of 75, during his absences.

John managed to justify his nickname more obviously by losing - first through conspiracy and connivance and then through incompetence - the whole of Normandy.  Anjou and Maine had already defected on the death of Richard.  They chose Arthur of Brittany as their lord.  John had Arthur murdered, but could not reclaim the territory.  France retaliated by occupying Normandy, Anjou and Maine, and threatening Aquitaine.  The Pope threatened to make the territorial situation legal and lasting by declaring John deposed and his lands forfeit to the King of France.

The Pope, using this diplomatic blockbuster as a tactical weapon, intended to win an entirely different victory in a struggle between the English King and the Pope over the right to appoint the Archbishop of Canterbury.   A consequent military defeat in Flanders so weakened John's position that his English barons themselves called in the forces of the Dauphin of France.  It was in the desultory civil war that followed - after bungling John really had lost his crown and all his treassure through not reading the tide-tables of the Wash accurately - that this ill-chosen monarch died.

He had signed Magna Carta under pressure.  It is a document with a reputation as inflated as its signatory's body.  The recalcitrant barons principally objected to demands for extra dues on the lands they held from the king which is understandable.  They also objected to he king's pracice of issuing writs at law which withdrew cases from the trial in the baronial courts and sent them before the King's Justices, which was a self-serving and reactionary objection.  But Magna Carta is an historically important document, and its signing a major event, because of the significance of the occasion of an alliance between burghers and barons against the king, and because of the significance (accorded much later) of phrases enshrining general principles of justice which the king carelessly signed.

The family life of this alleged lecherous and rapacious demon John has rarely been noticed.  He wilfully divorced his first wife, Hadwisa, or Isabella, of Gloucester, the grand-daughter of Robert Earl of Gloucester who was Henry I's most competent, if illegitimate, son.  A year after his succession he merely chanced to see, in the course of a military campaign in France, the 12-year-old Isabella of Angouleme who was then betrothed to Hugh de Lusignan.  John had enough personal charm to persuade Isabella to break the engagement, and Isabella had enough personal magnetism to keep him in bed till noon for long after their speedy marriage, which culminated in the crowning in Westminster Abbey of the 12-year-old as Queen of England.  It was seven years before they had their firs child, but it interesting to see the positions of state which their offspring took up in the world. John was not such an international ogre that kings did not want to marry his daughters  His son Henry became Henry III,  The next son, Richard, was Earl of Cornwall and King of the Romans.  John's daughter Joan married Alexander II, King of the Scots.  His daughter Isabella married Frederick II of Hohenstaufen and Sicily Holy Roman Emperor.  His youngest daughter Eleanor married Simon de Montfort.  An illegitimate daughter, Joan, married Llwelyn the Great, Ruler of All Wales.  As for Isabella of Agouleme she finally betrayed John politically before he died.  She want to France, and as soon as her husband was dead she married her first love Hugh de Lusignan.  Later she took the veil.  Her son Henry was to be England's next monarch, and he was only nine when he succeeded to the throne.  In his minority, the country was well governed by a regent, and the young boy was educated by priests until he was old enough to take the throne.

I am trying to make sense of a sentence in line seven in the final paragraph.  I wonder if you can pick it out and explain to me exactly what is meant by it.


  1. Hari OM
    ... hmmm are you referring to Isabella's "magnetism" piece? Basically, she was wise beyond her years and knew how to manipulate men! ...what is intriguing is that the RC church of that period had no qualms in taking nuns who had lived lustful lives! YAM xx

  2. I imagine a few people warned his majesty of the folly in overeating peaches and imbibing too much new cider. I suppose he thought, "Not ME!"

  3. I'm guessing John was charming enough to convince her to break her engagement and then Isabella charmed the pants off him long enough to ensure she wouldn't be tossed aside quickly.