King John of England – Short History and Accomplishments
King John is one of the medieval English kings. At the forthcoming family history conference in Nottingham, Dr Nick Barratt will be lecturing on sources for medieval and early modern genealogy, so just to get you in the mood here is a short history of one of the medieval kings.
John of England was born Christmas Eve 1167 and died October 19, 1216. He became King of England in 1199 and had a very interesting history. His succession to the throne came after his brother King Richard the First, the Lionhearted. John’s nickname was not as inspiring. He was called both “Lackland” (because he was not to inherit the land of his father, being the fifth son) and “Soft Sword” (due to his military ineptitude as a king).
Kids may think of King John as the character in Robin Hood, and that is who he is supposed to be. Although we have no idea if a Robin Hood existed. But historically King John is known as the signer of the Magna Carta in 1215, one of the most famous documents ever. The Magna Carta was the inspiration to our democracy today. It greatly reduced the power of the monarchy, putting more power into the people’s hands.
King John of England was the last, and 8th, child born to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was his father’s favorite and was well educated, with the ability to read fluently. His childhood was embroiled in disputes as his mother and brothers were constantly in dispute with his father Henry II. Eleanor was even imprisoned by her husband at one point. As a young boy John was being trained for and expected to enter into clerical (church) service. This was to relieve his father, King Henry II of having to give him any land.
As a child, John was promised to Alice (Alys) of Savoy, daughter of Humbert III of Savoy. It was at this same time that John was no longer designated to go into clerical service, since it seemed more important to use him for politics. John was to inherit most of Humbert’s lands over the Alps, helping to expand England’s influence. Unfortunately Alice died on her way to meet John.
John was known as a treacherous person siding back and forth, for and against, his brothers and mom, what ever benefited him the most. He was not trustworthy. In 1184 he and his brother Richard were in a bitter dispute as to who was to inherit the thrown. In 1185 John was made Ruler of Ireland, where he was despised and quickly kicked out of the country. In 1189 Richard, The Lionhearted became the King of England. By 1194 Richard had named his brother John as his successor, forgiving John of prior disputes.
When King Richard died, his brother John became King John the 1st, in 1199. However, once again it was not easy for John. He ended up in a dispute over the kingship with his nephew Arthur. King Philip II of France had favored Arthur, although he supported John eventually. King Philip II was actually John’s feudal overlord at the time for certain French territories held by John.
Later John refused some things that Philip asked of him, which was the right of a feudal lord, and war was declared between England and France. John built a modern Navy for this war and sometimes is declared the Father of the Modern Navy. The English and French war lasted past John’s death in 1216. His 9 year old son became King Henry the III. John’s life and reign was full of disputes and battles. Many consider his time the most disastrous in English history although some consider his agreement to the Magna Carta the greatest event in the history of democracy.
Author: Mark Jordan
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