John

 


King John is usually remembered as being a bad king. He lost many of the English lands in France. He quarrelled so badly with the Pope that all church services in England had to be suspended. And he angered the English nobles so much that they rose in rebellion.

King John

Dates:

  • Born 1167
  • Ruled from 1199
  • Died 1216

Who was he?

What is he most remembered for?

  • Signing the Magna Carta, a document that limited the king’s power.
  • Losing nearly all England’s land to France in costly battles.
  • Reorganising the tax system. John helped to develop English towns and cities but angered the barons (who paid the most).
  • Arguing with the Pope and questioning the powers of the Church.
  • Having his nephew Arthur murdered in case he challenged him for the throne.
  • Losing the Crown Jewels in a marshy swamp!
  • Dying of dysentery during a two-year civil war.

What happened next?

When John died in 1216, aged 48, his nine-year-old son Henry became king (Henry III).

Points of interest:

  • John’s two wives were called Isabel (whom he divorced in 1199) and Isabella.
  • The legends of Robin Hood feature King John as the villain.
  • John had the medieval London Bridge built during his reign. It crossed the River Thames and had houses, shops and a church along it.

Mnemonic

This may help you to remember the year (1215) the Magna Carta was signed.

“Come one and all! See the Magna Carta signed today at 12.15. Lunch will be served.”

[source: https://www.deseret.com/1990/6/18/18867287/mnemonic-devices-help-students-memories]

A Short Biography of King John

Unexpectedly inherits the throne
Born in Oxford in 1167, John was the youngest of Henry II’s eight legitimate children. With four older brothers, John didn’t expect he would ever be king. But when one son died in infancy, and two others died in their twenties, third-born Richard was left to inherit the throne. Shortly before the childless Richard I died (from a crossbow injury in 1199), he named John his heir.

A cruel king
John wasn’t a popular king and has been described as treacherous and cruel. At the time of his accession, he had a 12-year-old nephew, Arthur (the son of Henry’s fourth son Geoffrey). John saw Arthur as a threat to his rule. The story goes that he took an opportunity to capture Arthur, when he was 16, and had him murdered.

Quarrels with the Pope
John also had a long quarrel with Pope Innocent III. It started when the Pope appointed a new Archbishop of Canterbury without consulting John first. The relationship soured after that – the Pope banished John from being part of the Church for four years and stopped English priests holding religious services.

The Magna Carta
John’s battles with France lost a lot of lands and were very costly. That meant taxes! The barons were the ones who were hit hardest by the king’s land tax system. Eventually the barons rebelled, challenging John to sign the Magna Carta (the Great Charter) in 1215. They said new taxes could only be passed with their agreement and wanted to protect people’s lives, property and right to justice. The Magna Carta became an important document in the history of democracy. A council of 25 barons was formed to watch over the king (which would later become the Parliament of England).

King John signing the Magna Carta
King John signing the Magna Carta, illustration c. 1845

Part of the Magna Carta, British Library
Part of the Magna Carta, held at the British Library

The First Barons' War
Although the Magna Carta was signed, neither side stuck to its principles. John even asked the Pope to declare it an invalid document, on the grounds that he’d been forced to sign it. Fighting inevitably broke out in a civil war that lasted two years. This became known at the First Barons War. The barons had the support of Louis, the son of King Philip of France, who invaded, while John went on the run. To make matters worse, John managed to lose the Crown Jewels in a patch of quicksand crossing a marshy swamp in East Anglia! He died of dysentery soon afterwards (1216) and was buried in Worcester Cathedral.

John had five children with his second wife Isabella. On his death, his eldest son Henry succeeded him.

Our King John Printables

King John Fact Sheet

King John Fact Sheet

Learn about King John - through interesting, summarised facts and a short biography written specially for kids - with this useful 3-page pdf printable.

Succeeded By:

Henry III
Henry III

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