King John - Part 2

Putting John's life into context more readily, there was the overpowering impact of his father Henry II's attempts to decentralise his vast empire of England, Aquitaine and Normandy as he sought to create viable positions for his children. We must also remember that John succeeded two extremely successful 'warrior' kings. Both Henry II and Richard I were charismatic and successful military leaders. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was also a formidable woman in her own right, acclaimed by many historians as one of the most capable and influential women of the Middle Ages. The cost of Crusades, ransom paid for the release of Richard the Lionheart and continuous wars in France had weakened the country. The coffers were certainly no longer full and raising money for future military actions would not be easy. John came to the throne at the very end of the 12th century. When the Richard The Lionheart was killed in April 1199 the shadow of the coming new century was already causing concern and worry with many biblical connotations


King John of England signing Magna Carta on June 15, 1215, at Runnymede

By the time John died in 1216, there had been some significant changes during his reign. The signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede on June 15 in 1215 was the first major limitation placed by the people on their King. Some of the benefits it brought included: a right to protection from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, taxation had to be approved by Parliament, Scutage limitations - Scutage was a feudal tradition which granted the king a right to claim money from the barons in exchange for military service. London Bridge - although actually begun before he became king, the bridge was completed in 1209 and John licenced the building of houses and shops on the bridge as a direct means of raising money. The English Navy - although started by his brother Richard as part of his Crusades, John's contribution was to extend the idea of a mercenary force into the sea-going world. Right: King John of England signing Magna Carta on June 15, 1215, at Runnymede


King John's Problems

John was a complex character. He had the combination of an inate intelligence alongside fatal character flaws plus an ability to seemingly make the wrong choices time and again. Most medieval writers comment on periods of hyperactivity which would be followed by extreme lethargy. He was a womaniser with no sense of morals and in his pursuit of other men's wives and daughters, he alienated many a baron. Like his elder brother Geoffrey, he was cruel beyond the level needed to control his realm. Amongst his favourite punishments was the gradual starvation of his victims. At just 5ft 5ins tall, John did not have a powerful appearance and his lack of charisma combined with notable military setbacks made him a difficult leader to follow. Not surprisingly he also associated with poor advisors and in granting titles and positions to his mercenaries, he antagonised the Barons in a way that Richard would never have done. - King John Part 3 - King John Part 1