John I

(John I of England, John Lackland)


King John of England was the youngest son of Henry II by Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was given the nickname of Lackland because, unlike his elder brothers, he received none of his fathers continental provinces. Later, however, he was endowed with castles, revenues and lands on both sides of the channel. He was also betrothed to Isabella the heiress of Gloucester and he was granted the lordship of Ireland.

John I
John was still young when his brothers and mothers rebelled against his father, and since he did not participate in the rebellion he gradually became his fathers favorite. Late in his life, Henry II provoked another war within his family by attempting to transfer the duchy of Aquitaine from the hands of Richard to those of John. In spite of the incapacity which he displayed in this war, John was sent to govern Ireland, but he returned in a few months covered with disgrace, having alienated the loyal chiefs by his childish insolence and entirely failed to defend the settlers from the hostile tribes. Remaining henceforth at his father's side he was treated with the utmost indulgence. Even so, he joined with his brother Richard and the French king Philip Augustus in the great conspiracy of 1189, and the discovery of his treason broke the heart of the old king.

When Richard ascended to the throne he married John off to Isabel and granted him revenues from six shires, but did not allow him a part in the regency when he went off to the Crusades, and designated his nephew Arthur (son of a deceased elder brother) as his successor. John therefore schemed with Philip Augustus of France to partition his brothers kingdom in his absence, but their schemes fell apart when Richard successfully returned from his adventures. Fortunately for John, Richard pardoned him upon his return, and even revised his will, naming John rather than Arthur as his successor.

England and Normandy recognized John's claim to the crown, but Anjou and Brittany declared for Arthur. As a result the young prince was captured, and probably murdered, but John lost his French provinces anyway because he was personally despised as a slothful and treacherous tyrant. Even in an age that tolerated considerable cruelty he was considered an unscrupulous monster. Each of his failures, including the alienation of nearly all his barons, was a direct result of his tactless disregard for loyalty and decency. The murder of Arthur ruined his cause in Normandy and Anjou; In his quarrel with Innocent III over the appointment of Langton as archbishop, he prejudiced his case by proposing worthless favourites and by plundering those of the clergy disagreed with him. Threatened with the desertion of his barons he drove all whom he suspected to desperation by his terrible severity towards the Braose family, and by his continued misgovernment completely estranged the lower classes. When submission to Rome had somewhat improved his position he squandered his last resources in a new and unsuccessful war with France and enraged the feudal classes by new claims for military service and scutages. The barons were consequently able to exact, in the Magna Carta (June 1215), much more than the redress of legitimate grievances; and the people allowed the crown to be placed under the control of an oligarchical committee.

John died only a year after the Magna Carta was signed, just as the country was gearing up for a civil war as a result of his disregard for the document. The crown passed to his young son, Henry III, but for many years after the power of the regency was in the hands of the same Barons who were about to go to war against him, and it was during the reign of Henry III that the English Parliament first became established.

— Derived from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

Key events during the life of John I of England:

Birth of John, youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
John's mother imprisoned after taking part in rebellion against Henry II.
John is granted rule of Ireland.
Death of Henry II, ascension of Richard I.
John attempt to usurp the throne while Richard is on Crusades.
Death of Richard I. John assumes throne, denying the claim of his nephew Arthur.
John loses Normandy to his nephew Arthur, then attempts to raise a navy.
Arthur is captured, imprisoned, and mysteriously dies.
Langton elected as Archbishop of Canterbury over John's objections.
Forced to sign the Magna Carta by his rebellious barons.
Death of King John.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
King John and the Abbott  in  Fifty Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
King John and Prince Arthur  in  Thirty More Famous Stories Retold  by  James Baldwin
Magna Charta  in  Stories from English History  by  Alfred J. Church
John Lackland and the Barons  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
Henry the Second and His Sons  in  Famous Men of the Middle Ages  by  John H. Haaren
King John and the Great Charter  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
King John and the Barons  in  Patriots and Tyrants  by  Marion Florence Lansing
John Lackland—The Story of Prince Arthur  in  Our Island Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Boy who would be a King  in  Stories from English History  by  Hilda T. Skae
Magna Carta signed by King John  in  European Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Image Links

King John
 in Richard II

You shall live until the day that you die.'
 in Fifty Famous Stories Retold

King John and Arthur
 in Thirty More Famous Stories Retold

The Magna Carta
 in Thirty More Famous Stories Retold

King John
 in  The Story of the English

John signing the Magna Carta
 in Famous Men of the Middle Ages

King John granting the Magna Carta
 in Patriots and Tyrants

The Great Charter was sealed with the King's seal.
 in Our Island Story

Arthur in prison visited by King John
 in Stories from English History

The Barons Presenting Magna Carta to King John
 in European Hero Stories

Short Biography
Eleanor of Aquitaine Wife of Henry II, queen of Aquitaine. Led dramatic, adventurous life.
Richard I Son of Henry II. Spent almost his entire reign crusading and fighting in France.
Archbishop Langton Archbishop who rallied opposition to king John and forced him to sign Magna Carta.
Prince Arthur Nephew of King John and rightful heir to the throne. Murdered by John's henchmen.
Philip II Augustus King of France who expanded his realm by retaking Normandy and Anjou from the Plantagenets.