King John - Part 4
Throughout his reign John sought new and innovative ways to raise money from his subjects. One of his favourite activities was hunting and he declared large swathes of English land as "Forest". Only he could hunt here. As an example of how John viewed his rights in these Royal forests consider how the Roman law viewed game as compared to the Angevin laws.
Roman law allowed anyone to hunt on the land but Angevin law said that only the King could, not even the land owner. To King John the Forest laws provided a wealth of opportunity for bribes and raising money.
These excesses along with the loss of the Normandy helped to drive the Barons to open rebellion and they forced John into the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede. Naturally John sought to revoke the document and there were skirmishes and a two month siege of Rochester Castle. At this time John also came to Northumbria to defeat the invading Alexander II. John sacked the luckless city of Berwick.
The Barons invited Louis of France to invade England and he duly landed on the Isle of Thanet completely unopposed on 21 May 1216. Retreating before the French John tried to cross The Wash and misjudged the tides. The Crown jewels were lost, John was despondent and his health plummeted. He died of dysentry, just like his eldest brother, on 18 or 19 October 1216 at Newark Castle.
Right: King John's tomb in Worcester Cathedral
What kind of epitaph befits as man such as King John? Here is what the 13th century chronicler Matthew Paris had to say:
"John was a tyrant. He was a wicked ruler who did not behave like a king. He was greedy and took as much money as he could from his people. Hell is too good for a horrible person like him." -