King John Plantagenet of England 1199-1216

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Plantagenet Monarchs

King John of England son of the Angevin and Plantagenet Empire 1199-1216

King John of England was the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, his siblings included Henry The Younger King (his eldest brother) and Richard I , the Lionheart. Already you can get a sense of te context and perspective in which John’s life and destiny would take shape. Born into Angevin Empire and Plantagenent Empire where scheming and plotting were rife, he grew-up fearing that forces were intent on working against him and determined to outmaneuver those closest to him. Historians have often cited John as the weak, manipulating and jealous younger son was this really true?

Was John’s greatest achievement his least intended?

John had master-minded his own muddled political mess and would engineer relationships and alliances and drop them as quickly as he forged them. He was forced into meeting the Barons at Runnymede and agreed to their terms only for the purpose of expedience. He had no intention of keeping to the letter of the law as set out in Magna Carta. It failed as a peace treaty and would perhaps have failed overall if John’s demise and death had not occurred in the following year in which it was sealed. John achieved very little that was constructive during his life but this one inadvertant act whilst not working immediately has had an impact over the last 800 years of that we are certain. How intriguing and ironic that it was an act he had no intention of fulfilling but created perhaps the most iconic and significant legal document of all time? It certainly impacted across many nations and formed an intrinsic part of many common law and formal written constitutions.

King John his family, ancestors and descendants

Henry II had earlier favoured Richard but overtime he swung towards John. Leading Richard to firmly align with the Angevin interests and base himself in France, seeking constantly to strengthen his position and ensure his dominance in the line of succession. This was a family in constant turmoil and conflict with even John’s parents being in a constant state of virtual war and enmity both metaphorically and sometimes quite literally.

King John’s Ancestors

You can point and click to see a larger version of this diagram or download a pdf version here: Ancestors of JOHN PLANTAGENET

King Johns Ancestor diagram and tree

King John’s Descendants Diagram

This is a work in progress but is too large to display here in full, simply click here to open King John descendants diagram as a PDF Descendants of JOHN PLANTAGENET v1

King John brief chronology and timeline

This sets out the major dates and events in approximate chrnological order for the life and reign of King John.

  • 1185 Lordship of Ireland: John received the Lordship of Ireland which had been won by his father Henry II but when John went there he managed single-handedly to alienate both the English colonists and the Irish Kings, dashing the progress his father had achieved.
  • 1189 Nicknamed John Lackland: due to the paucity of landed wealth he had directly been awarded by his father compared  in contrast to his successful brother Richard, he had not initially joined his brother in rebellion but when he realised his father was dying, he turned his allegiance to Richard as a turncoat.
  • 1189 John married Isabel, a daughter of the Duke of Gloucester. They had no children and shortly before John became king the marriage was annulled on the grounds that Isabel was John’s second cousin.
  • 1191-1194 Rebellion and Conspiracy against his brother the absent King: whilst Richard was away at the Crusades, John further conspired with Philip II Augustus of France to rebel against his absent brother. Despite this treachery, some two months later Richard forgave his brother.
  • 1199 5 years later John names as Richard’s Heir: Richard extends this forgiveness further naming John as his heir. Doubts were rife about his likely competence and ability to take-on his brother’s mantle but he managed to do so, very smoothly, encountering only some armed insurrection and opposition in the heart of Anjou.
  • 1200 John marries his 2nd Wife Isabella of Angouleme: She was a French noble woman who became Countess of Angouleme in the year 1202.  Itis believed she was only about 12 years old when she married John. This caused bad blood and enraged Hugh deLusignan (of Poitou) to appeal to Philip II Augustus of France for justice and action. It was to have dire consequences, directly leading to the collapse of the Angevin Empire with which he had by default been entrusted.
    • Isabella was crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey in Oct 1200.
    • Isabella and John had 5 children to King John: details are set-out below in date order.
      • future King Henry III, ascending to the throne at just 9 years of age.
      • Richard, Earl of Cornwall
      • Joan, future Queen of Scots
      • Isabella, wife of Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen
      • Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke and Leicester
    • Subsequently in 1218 2 years after John’s death Isabella did marry Hugh de Lusignan’s son, having a further 4 children by Hugh, making a total of 9 collectively, they would be known as ‘The Lusignans’ in English history. The Luisignan relatives joined John in England and enjoyed his disproportionate patronage, their power and privilege was deeply resented in England. This would create a dangerous suspicion of foreigners interfering in the government of England going forward. Ironic given all the Plantagenets were descended from the Anglo-Norman realms and a line traced back to William I. With many royals believed to have spoken French as their first language for some time to come.
  • 1203-4 it was believed that John had murdered his own nephew Arthur of Brittany,
    • this left him with few allies and when Philip invaded Normandy and Anjou, few came to his aid, particularly as he cowardly retreated to England, becoming known for his lack of resolve as SoftSword.  Having lost Anjou and Normandy he retreated further into the British Isles, revisiting Ireland and the North of England extensively.

Over the next 10 years he built-up his war chest and sought to prepare for counter attack on Philip, to buy favour and diplomatic power to support his proposed campaign. Philip planned to invade England in response.

  • 1207 Henry son of Isabella and John was born, reigning from just 9 years old for 56 years, one of the longest reigns of any King of England, surpassed only by Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II.
  • 1208 – Papal Interdict on England:  John has failed to appease the Pope and incurs his wrath whilst he also refuses to accept the Pope’s appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was not only Henry VIII that would resist papal power. But eventually John conceeds and Langton is appointed Archbishop.
  • 1213 – Stephen Langton installed as Archbishop: King John finally accepts Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. Langton subsequently absolves John of his excommunication from the Church.
  • 1209 son Richard born would become Earl of Cornwall amongst many other titles and one of the richest men in England.
  • 1209 British Library manuscript of the Pope’s that grants protection of the Kingdom of England, a get-out clause for John on Magna Carta.
  • 1210 their daughter Joan was born, she would marry King Alexander II of Scotland and became Queen Consort of Scotland aged only 11.
  • 1213 John had mastered falling out with those with influence and foolishly with the Papacy over the appointment of Stephen Langton, which was an attempt to get papal support for an injunction against Philip II, but in the end it was the English Naval victory at Damme that halted Philip’s plans.1214 – Pope becomes England’s feudal overlord a key moment in conceding power but restore’s John’s legitimacy as English King approved by the Pope.
  • 1214 daughter Isabella was born. In July 1235 she married Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and became a Holy Roman Empress.
  • 1214 John’s allies defeated in Battle of Bouvines: John has paid dearly for his allies who were defeated and eventually led to Baronial rebellion against John, that created the pressing need for negotiation with the Barons.
  • 1215 – Rebel Barons capture Tower of London, clearly demonstrating and further strengthening their position in the power struggle with John.
  • 1215 Eleanor was born, she was only 1 years old when her father died. In January 1238 she married Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester who became engaged in a power struggle with her brother, King Henry III.
  • 1215 – Famous Meeting at Runnymede and Magna Carta Granted  where John is brought ot heel by the Barons demands and the famous meeting takes places at Runnymede but John never intends to be bound by Magna Carta. Ironic given we are now celebrating its modern anniversary 800 years later in 2015.  A temporary peace is restored and the barons renew their oaths of allegiance to John. The first seven copies of Magna Carta are prepared and distributed, the famous clause would remain enshrined in our common law forever ” ‘to no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice’.” this would impact on the governance of King’s Councils for centuries to follow but there was to be a further turn in events as early as Aug of the same Summer!
  • 1215 Aug Pope annuls Magna Carta: making it null and void and hence freeing John from its governing constraints
  •  The Papal Bull Annulling Magna Carta

    A document issued by Pope Innocent III on 24 August 1215 which declared the 1215 Magna Carta ‘null and void’. (British Library)

    1216 – French invasion of England:  encouraged by the obvious weakness of John’s Kingship, Prince Louis of France invades England and attracts substantial support from the barons. A little recognised fact, that shows it was not the Normans who were the last to invade England. John has to take to battle and is disadvantaged, whilst retreating in the Wash of East Anglia he is believed to have lost much of his royal treasure in the quick sands, his portable wealth is lost and as if his reign is not already in tatters he catches dysentery during the retreat and subsequently dies.

    1216 Oct- Death of King John: King John dies suddenly at Newark and is buried as per his wishes in the church in Worcester. A picture of his tomb is shown below.

    The new King Henry III is in desperate need of wise council and to ensure he lives long enough to reach his majority and survive the powerplay that will otherwise ensue. He is lucky at the start as such wise hands are near at hand. King John is dead but the life and role for Magna Carta is very much alive. William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke a legendary figure in our history  (see Temple Church) has a hand on matters but this rolls-on into the reign of John’s son Henry III, acting as Regent he issues the first revisions as a matter of some urgency. Yet again a boy king comes to the throne, vulnerable and needing protection if the chaos pre Magna Carta is not to be resumed and french dominance avoided at all costs in England.

    Henry succeeds John as Henry III, only a 9 year old child, how would he cope…how would help and hinder him along the way…

The passing of time has shown that whilst introducing and signing Magna Carta, a critical document in the future development of democracy it was more by default than by a desire to engineer a better form of government, his oppressive style did not reap the political and military successes demanded. John was a poor King for England and largely responsible for the loss and decline of the Angevin Empire, hardly a success…so how would his son and heir fair in what was to shape the next reign…

To find out more choose from one of these links and explore some more about this intriguing and often mytholigised period in British History:



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