As it will be recalled from the previous chapter most of England approved of King Richard (The I, Good, Lionheart etc) because he fought in Crusades, as well in Anjou, Maine, Normandy, Aquitaine etc, but mostly because he stayed out of England. His younger brother John spent a great deal of his life in England and thus was not as popular as he tried to govern the place, which made the barons grumpy and as they took it out on the lower orders that made those folk grumpy too. Thus John’s reputation has suffered being in the shadow of Richard’s (The First, The Loud, The Large and The Warful). In this chapter we shall exam the record in more detail.
John was born on 24th December 1166, which as many people know truly halves the number proper celebrations you can have with Christmas and Birthday all crammed together. This may be cause for wishing to cram in excesses in later years. When his older brothers went in for the Great Revolt of 1173 (with an option for 1174) he was only seven and not really in a position to do much. Thus, he became his father’s favourite. His father had him travel with him through the Great Revolt…just in case.
John being the youngest was to have career in the Church, but since he knew his brothers were having more fun rebelling and squabbling in Anjou, Brittany, Normandy, Maine, Aquitaine etc he managed to wrangle some time at the court of his oldest brother Henry (The Young- snot) where there was intrigue, plots of wars and probably roistering which appealed to the young lad. Since his father, Henry II spent a lot of time arguing with the Church (see Beckett, Thomas (a)) the Old Man gave upon on the religious track and in 1185 sent John to be in charge of Ireland. The Chiefs of The Clans etc came to complain that the place was filling up with Anglo-Normans, Cambro-Normans and Norman-Normans while the Hibro-Normans were becoming so Irish they were inventing their own phrases such as ‘Ah Sure B’Dad!’ ‘Would ye be after looking at that then?’ and ‘Musha musha’ which no one understood and what was he going to do about it? Being the sort of teenager which doesn’t brood, John tried to make light of the whole thing by making jests about the Chiefs’ beards and giving them a friendly tug- this was quite the wrong thing to do and the Chiefs told him so.. So, he went into a sulk and didn’t rule anything there.
The Time of Richard
Richard more intent on looking for wars told John he could be king if necessary, then forgot and instead named some kid called Arthur who was four and came from Brittany (or possibly Anjou, Normandy, Maine, Aquitaine etc). Ricahrd then went off to war and left a bishop and a lord to run England; the lord promptly died and another bishop took his place. As the two bishops naturally disliked each other things went badly. Thus John said he was King anyway since Richard had said so. He fought one of the bishops and locked him up in The Tower of London probably in 1191. When John found out that Richard had run out of Crusades and was being held captive by some Austrians John announced that nothing could be done apart from accepting him as King John, he then horrified the Barons (wealthy) by trying to invent Income Tax. Richard was eventually freed, thanks to Mum, Eleanor (Of Aquitaine- not Anjou, Brittany, Normandy, Maine etc), and John was obliged to say sorry but he meant well. Richard although disappointed that he’d not been able to go to war with his brother forgave him and sent him off to Anjou, Brittany, Normandy, Maine
John The King, For Real
In 1199 Richard memorably died. As there were several sorts of law in operation John chose the one which proved that he and not Arthur should be king, as Arthur was nowhere near England at the time this worked. John was still left with the problem of
Arthur son of Geoffrey (brother of John, that is) born 29th March 1187 was very French and Richard didn’t really think he was old enough to be king. The French king and many in Anjou, Brittany, Normandy etc thought he should be. But Anjou changed its mind, so did the King of France, so Arthur in 1200 fled to his kindly uncle John. In 1203 he fled back to his kindly old King of France Philip who arranged a marriage with one of his daughters. Arthur was so pleased he took part in an invasion of Aquitaine and besieged his grandmother Eleanor. This was a bad move as John was in the vicinity at the time, and defeated the kid’s army taking Arthur prisoner. He died. At this stage Literary and Legend take over sheering a few years off the boy’s age, giving him sweet blonde curly hair, a sweet little page boy suit and pleading so sweetly for his life that only BAD Uncle John will do the deed. In actually fact the kid was playing Grown-Ups Games and lost. Thence having set up Arthur’s Arth-Sister Eleanor The Fair Maid of Brittany as a full-time and paid hostage John got back to England to do some serious ruling.
The Rain of King John.
War with France (Philip the II cheats)
Although 1199 etc started off pretty well (for John that is) by 1204 etc, the King of France Philip The II had decided that to be a really proper king of France he was going to have to seize Anjou, Maine, Normandy, Aquitaine, Brittany etc,. Philip didn’t play fair because he had all The French and some Flemings on his side and John couldn’t convince those in Anjou, Maine, Normandy, Aquitaine etc to be English so despite John’s best efforts Philip won most of Anjou, Maine, Normandy, Brittany etc.. BUT NOT Aquitaine. Now as the English Barons had lands in Anjou, Maine, Normandy, Brittany etc they were not impressed.
Law and Economy
What also irritated the Barons was that John took an interest in the administration of the country and insisted the Civil Service follow him about the land, thus interfering with the Barons’ schemes. He also enforced two very (for The Barons that is) annoying laws known as The Novel Dissenter and The Dead Ancestor which allowed even the common people to take back lands the Barons had seized. He also instituted an Economy which involved Income Tax and Exercising Duty (Also known as Scuttlage) which meant the Barons had to pay even more. John was also quite talented in arts and crafts as it is recorded he sold charters of his own making and made up laws which no one really understood, in this he was very popular with Lawyers.
Private Life (Favourites)
Whereas just annoying Barons by legal means might have let John rule quite cheerfully for many years, his personal habits left him open to political attacks. The Barons pretended they were horrified that he kept mistresses, and scandalised that he carried on with married women. John tried to be grim and vindictive back at them, which might have worked had he not had ‘favourites’. In the latter middle-bit of the Middle Ages Favourites had returned. These had to be male, have the king besotted with them, strut around court, and be the source of rumours of ‘unnatural’ behaviour with the king. What Favourites never seemed to work out that there was only One of them, One of The King but Lots of Barons, who had retinues (ie lots of heavily armoured and armed men); such odds were never favourable to The Favourites. John also married twice, but that didn’t seem to help at all.
Scotland Ireland and Wales
As usual no one in Scotland or England could make up their minds who ruled the border country and whether Scotland was independent or not. John and William started off as friends even though John wanted the lands back that William had paid for. John tried legal means but William said Scot’s law applied and as no one knew what that was they settled on being chums. Then William allied himself with Philip of France had had cunningly told William he could keep the lands under French law. John then invaded Scotland, made William pay AGAIN for the lands he held, but then had to invade Scotland again to help William against rebellious subjects and rivals. At this point John gave up and left Scotland to itself.
John had still not forgiven The Irish for not laughing at his beard joke, and was content for the Irish, The Anglo-Normans, Cambro-Normands and Hibrid-Normans squabble amongst themselves.
John took a great interest in Wales which was bad news for the Welsh nobility who had been about their own internal squabbles and raiding across borders when English kings weren’t looking. John married off a spare daughter the Llewllyn the Great who couldn’t have been that happy with the match as he rebelled in 1211. As Llewellyn was his son-in-law and not a claimant to the English throne John only moderately invaded.
Church and Disputes
Hoping to win back some support from the Barons John embarked on a traditional policy of arguing with The Church over who should be a bishop or not. However being used to ruling in detail John seized Church lands to prove his point. The Bishops complained to the Pope, the mis-leadingly named Innocent III who in his intention to show the secular rulers of Europe who was who excommunicated John and all of England. This greatly upset people who took their religion seriously particularly as they hadn’t had a say in the business of the bishops anyway. The Barons of course pretended to be very horrified and some suggested they could rebel against John pretending it was a crusade. John cleverly got out of the issue by going to war with France which suited Innocent (yeh, right) The III and so the excommunication was lifted.
John, Barons and Declines
John might have got away with persecuting Barons, arresting some and making others flee, if he had done it in the right order and parcelled out some of the spoils to other Barons rather than to his favourites and investing the rest in his jewellery collection. Thus in 1214 when he was losing to Philip again, those Barons who owed back tax decided to get out of it by claiming owing tax was unjust and against their baronial rights and proved it by gathering large armies. John was thus obliged to concede everything to Philip and go back home. Hoping that as his English army had been beaten by French armies his new army of French mercenaries might tip the balance. When he got back he found that the Barons armies were so large and numerous that his mercenary army could only protect him from being arrested for the crime and probably heresies of Taxing Rich people.
Playing for time he thus signed a very long piece of paper which the Baron brought to a very damp place called Runny Mead. As a document called The Long Piece of Paper Reducing Taxation on the Rich and Re-instating Their Privileges didn’t sound very impressive to either side it was decided Magna Carta sounded much better and the Barons went about convincing everyone liberties had been won.
John and the Barons celebrated organising a rebellion by going to war; the celebrations last between 1215-1217. During this time William of Scotland had died of rebels and Alexander II (the subsequent) opened his reign by a traditional invasion of England. Several barons deciding John was bad enough but a Scots king was insufferable changed sides and John invaded Edinburgh as he thought the change of Ayre might do him good. The remining rebel Barons hoping for a much better tax regime invited a young prince Louis of France to be the English King, as a result the rebellion collapsed but took between 1216 and 1217 to wind down.
John by now having read the small print of the Magna Carta realised he might become liable to tax so gathered up all his jewels, crowns etc took them to East Anglia and pretended to lose them in the unforgettable Wash. He then intended to come back and dig them up once he’d sorted out this Magna Carta problem. However suffering dysentery and not washing his hands John tried a bizarre cure of peaches, plumbs and ale, which naturally didn’t work, and he died of complications and tax worries, but just to keep his opponent guessing did so on both he 18th and 19th of October 1216.
As John died but not that many of the Barons had died, as a group they were able to say that everything was his fault and he was a Bad King. As no one felt inclined to argued with baron with a large heavily armed retinue and The Church wanted its lands back the reputation stuck. Meanwhile Louis Prince of France went back to France since he’d seen quite enough of England to put him off for life.
John’s Legacy was also spoiled by someone of the lower nobility who nevertheless displayed socialist tendencies and tried to carry out a policy of fayre distribution of wealth in the Nottingham area. This will be looked at in the next chapter.