JOHN “LACKLAND, KING OF ENGLAND 1166 and Isobel of Angouleme b 1188

John “Lackland” King of England, son of Henry II, “Plantagenet ” King of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine Queen of England, was born on 24 Dec 1166 in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom, died on 19 Oct 1216 in Newark Castle, Nottinghamshire, England at age 49, and was buried on 20 Oct 1216 in Cathedral, Worcester, Worcestershire, England.

John was King of England from 6 April 1199 until his death. He acceded to the throne as the younger brother of King Richard I, who died without issue. John was the youngest of five sons of King Henry II of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, and was their second surviving son to ascend the throne; thus, he continued the line of Plantagenet or Angevin kings of England. Prior to his coronation, he was Earl of Cornwall and Gloucester, but this title reverted to the Crown once he became King. John’s oldest surviving brother, Richard, became king upon the death of their father in 1189, and John was made Count of Mortain (France). When Richard refused to honour their father’s wishes and surrender Aquitaine to him as well, John staged a rebellion. The rebellion failed, and John lost all potential claims to lands in France.

During his lifetime John acquired two epithets. One was “Lackland” (French: Sans Terre), because, as his father’s youngest son, he did not inherit land out of his family’s holdings, and because as King he lost significant territory to France. The other was “Softsword” signifying his supposed lack of prowess in battle.

Apart from entering popular legend as the enemy of Robin Hood, he is perhaps best-known for having acquiesced – to the barons of English nobility – to seal Magna Carta, a document which limited kingly power in England and which is popularly thought as an early step in the evolution of limited government.

As the youngest of the sons of Henry II,  John could expect no inheritance. His family life was tumultuous, as his older brothers all became involved in rebellions against Henry. His mother, Eleanor, was imprisoned by Henry in 1173, when John was about 7. As a child, John was betrothed to Alais, daughter and heiress of Humbert III of Savoy. It was hoped that by this marriage the Angevin dynasty would extend its influence beyond the Alps, because John was promised the inheritance of Savoy, Piemonte, Maurienne, and the other possessions of Count Humbert. King Henry promised his young son castles in Normandy which had been previously promised to his brother Geoffrey; this promise was for some time a bone of contention between Henry and Geoffrey. Alais made the trip over the Alps and joined Henry’s court, but she died before being married. Gerald of Wales relates that King Henry had a curious painting in a chamber of Winchester Castle, depicting an eagle being attacked by three of its chicks, while a fourth chick crouched, waiting for its chance to strike. When asked the meaning of this picture, King Henry said:

“The four young ones of the eagle are my four sons,… who will not cease persecuting me even unto death. And the youngest, whom I now embrace with such tender affection, will someday afflict me more grievously and perilously than all the others.”

John had already acquired a reputation for treachery, having conspired sometimes with and sometimes against his elder brothers, Henry, Richard and Geoffrey. In 1184, John and Richard both claimed that they were the rightful heir to Aquitaine, one of many unfriendly encounters between the two. In 1185, John became the ruler of Ireland, whose people grew to despise him, causing John to leave after only eight months.

During Richard’s absence on the Third Crusade from 1190 to 1194, John attempted to overthrow William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely and Richard’s designated justiciar. This was one of the events that inspired later writers to cast John as the villain in their reworking of the legend of Robin Hood.

John was more popular than Longchamp in London, and in October 1191 the leading citizens of the city opened the gates to him while Longchamp was confined in the tower. John promised the city the right to govern itself as a commune in return for recognition as Richard’s heir presumptive. While returning from the Crusade, Richard was captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, and handed over to Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, who held him for ransom. Meanwhile, John had joined forces with Philip Augustus, King of France, and they sent a letter to Henry asking him to keep Richard away from England for as long as possible, offering payment to keep Richard imprisoned. Henry declined their offer, and once Richard’s ransom was paid by his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine (who had to pawn the Crown Jewels of England to do so), he was set free. Upon the release, John pleaded for forgiveness from Richard, who granted it and named him heir presumptive.

On Richard’s death (April 6, 1199) John was accepted in Normandy and England. He was crowned king at Westminster on May 27, Ascension Day. But Anjou, Maine, and Brittany declared for Arthur, son of his older brother Geoffrey. Some regarded his young nephew, Arthur of Brittany, as the rightful heir. Arthur fought his uncle for the throne, with the support of King Philip II of France. The conflict between Arthur and John had fatal consequences. By the May 1200 Treaty of Le Goulet, Philip recognised John over Arthur, and the two came to terms regarding John’s vassalage for Normandy and the Angevin territories, but the peace was ephemeral.

The war upset the barons of Poitou, where John ruled as Count, enough for them to seek redress from the King of France, who was King John’s feudal overlord with respect to the territories on the Continent. In 1202, John was summoned to the French court to answer the Poitevin barons’ charges, one of which was his marriage to Isobel of Angouleme, who was already engaged to Hugh de Lusignan. Philip Augustus summoned John to his court when the Lusignans pleaded for his help. John refused, and, under feudal law, because of his failure of service to his lord, Philip declared all John’s French lands and territories, except Gascony in the southwest, forfeit and immediately occupied them. Philip invested Arthur with all the fiefs of which he had deprived John, except for Normandy, and betrothed him to his daughter Marie.

Needing to supply a war across the English Channel, in 1203 John ordered all shipyards (including inland ports such as Gloucester) in England to provide at least one ship, with places such as the newly-built Portsmouth being responsible for several. He made Portsmouth the new home of the navy. (The Anglo-Saxon kings, such as Edward the Confessor, had royal harbours constructed on the south coast at Sandwich, and most importantly, Hastings.) By the end of 1204, he had 45 large galleys available to him, and from then on an average of four new ones every year. He also created an Admiralty of four admirals, responsible for various parts of the new navy. During John’s reign, major improvements were made in ship design, including the addition of sails and removable forecastles. He also created the first big transport ships, called buisses. John is sometimes credited with the founding of the modern Royal Navy. What is known about this navy comes from the Pipe Rolls, since these achievements are ignored by the chroniclers and early historians.

In the hope of avoiding trouble in England and Wales while he was away fighting to recover his French lands, in 1205, John formed an alliance by marrying off his illegitimate daughter, Joan, to the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great.

As part of the war, Arthur attempted to kidnap his own grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Mirebeau, but was defeated and captured by John’s forces. Arthur was imprisoned first at Falaise and then at Rouen. After this, Arthur’s fate remains unknown. The annals of Margam Abbey give the following entry for 3 April 1203:

“After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time in the castle of Rouen… when John was drunk he slew Arthur with his own hand and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine.” Another source states that his body was weighted and thrown into the castle moat.

However, Hubert de Burgh, the officer commanding the Rouen fortress, claimed to have delivered Arthur around Easter 1203 to agents of the King sent to castrate him and that Arthur had died of shock. Hubert later retracted his statement and claimed Arthur still lived. Notwithstanding Hubert’s retraction, no one ever saw Arthur alive again. Assuming that he was murdered, Brittany, and later Normandy, rebelled against John.

John also imprisoned his niece, Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany. Eleanor remained a prisoner until her death in 1241. Through deeds such as these, John acquired a reputation for ruthlessness.

In 1203, John exempted the citizens and merchants of Bordeaux from the Grande Coutume, which was the principal tax on their exports. In exchange, the regions of Bordeaux, Bayonne and Dax pledged support against the French Crown. The unblocked ports gave Gascon merchants open access to the English wine market for the first time. The following year, John granted the same exemptions to La Rochelle and Poitou.

Pope Innocent III and King John had a disagreement about who would become Archbishop of Canterbury which lasted from 1205 until 1213.When Archbishop of Canterbury Hubert Walter died on 13 July 1205, John became involved in a dispute with Pope Innocent III. The Canterbury Cathedral chapter claimed the sole right to elect Hubert’s successor and favoured Reginald, a candidate out of their midst. However, both the English bishops and the King had an interest in the choice of successor to this powerful office. The king wanted John de Gray, one of his own men, so he could influence the church more. When their dispute could not be settled, the Chapter secretly elected one of their members as Archbishop. A second election imposed by John resulted in another nominee. When they both appeared in Rome, Innocent disavowed both elections, and his candidate, Stephen Langton, was elected over the objections of John’s observers. John was supported in his position by the English barons and many of the English bishops, and refused to accept Langton.

John expelled the Chapter in July 1207, to which the Pope reacted by placing an interdict on the kingdom. John immediately retaliated by closing down the churches. Although he issued instructions for the confiscation of all church possessions, individual institutions were able to negotiate terms for managing their own properties and keeping the produce of their estates. After his excommunication John tightened these measures and he accrued significant sums from the income of vacant sees and abbeys: for example, the church lost an estimated 100,000 marks to the Crown in 1213. The Pope, realising that too long a period without church services could lead to loss of faith, gave permission for some churches to hold Mass behind closed doors in 1209. In 1212, they allowed last rites to the dying. While the interdict was a burden to many, it did not result in rebellion against John.

In November 1209 John was excommunicated, and in February 1213, Innocent threatened stronger measures unless John submitted. The papal terms for submission were accepted in the presence of the papal legate Pandulph in May 1213 (according to Matthew Paris, at the Templar Church at Dover); in addition, John offered to surrender the Kingdom of England to God and the Saints Peter and Paul for a feudal service of 1,000 marks annually, 700 for England and 300 for Ireland. With this submission, formalised in the Bulla Aurea (Golden Bull), John gained the valuable support of his papal overlord in his new dispute with the English barons.

Coming to terms with Llywelyn I, Prince of Gwynedd, following the Welsh Uprising of 1211 and settling his dispute with the papacy, John turned his attentions back to his overseas interests. The European wars culminated in defeat at the Battle of Bouvines (1214), which forced the king to accept an unfavourable peace with France.

This finally turned the barons against him (some had already rebelled against him after he was excommunicated), and he met their leaders along with their French and Scots allies at Runnymede, near London on 15 June 1215 to seal the Great Charter, called in Latin Magna Carta. Because he had sealed under duress, however, John received approval from his overlord the Pope to break his word as soon as hostilities had ceased, provoking the First Barons’ War and an invited French invasion by Prince Louis of France (whom the majority of the English barons had invited to replace John on the throne and had him proclaimed king in London in May 1216). John travelled around the country to oppose the rebel forces, directing, among other operations, a two-month siege of the rebel-held Rochester Castle.

John’s tomb effigyRetreating from the French invasion, John took a safe route around the marshy area of the Wash to avoid the rebel held area of East Anglia. His slow baggage train (including the Crown Jewels), however, took a direct route across it and was lost to the unexpected incoming tide. This dealt John a terrible blow, which affected his health and state of mind. Succumbing to dysentery and moving from place to place, he stayed one night at Sleaford Castle before dying on 18 October (or possibly 19 October) 1216, at Newark Castle (then in Lincolnshire, now on Nottinghamshire’s border with that county). Numerous, possibly fictitious, accounts circulated soon after his death that he had been killed by poisoned ale, poisoned plums or a “surfeit of peaches”. He was buried in Worcester Cathedral in the city of Worcester.

His nine-year-old son succeeded him and became King Henry III of England (1216-72), and although Louis continued to claim the English throne, the barons switched their allegiance to the new king, forcing Louis to give up his claim and sign the Treaty of Lambeth in 1217.,_King_of_England

Isabella of Angouleme Queen of England, daughter of Aymer de Taillefer and Alice de Courtenay, was born in 1188 in Angouleme, Charente, France, died on 31 May 1246 in Fontevraud, Fontevrault, Maine-et-Loire, France at age 58, and was buried on 4 Jun 1246 in Abbey, Fontevrault, Maine.

Isabella was the only daughter and heir of Aymer Taillefer, Count of Angoulême, by Alice de Courtenay. Her paternal grandparents were William IV of Angoulême, Count of Angouleme and Marguerite de Turenne. Her maternal grandparents were Pierre de Courtenay and Elizabeth de Courtenay. Her maternal great-grandfather was King Louis VI of France. She became Countess of Angoulême in her own right in 1202, by which time she was already queen of England. Her marriage to King John took place on 24 August 1200, at Bordeaux, a year after he annulled his first marriage to Isabel of Gloucester. Isabella was originally betrothed to Hugh le Brun, Count of Lusignan, son of the then Count of La Marche. As a result of John’s temerity in taking her as his second wife, King Philip II of France confiscated all of their French lands, and armed conflict ensued.

At the time of her marriage to John, the 12-year-old Isabella was already renowned for her beauty and has sometimes been called the Helen of the Middle Ages by historians. However, her marriage to John cannot be said to have been successful, in part because she was much younger than her husband and had a fiery character to match his.

When John died in 1216, Isabella was still in her twenties. She returned to France and in 1220, proceeded to marry Hugh X of Lusignan Count of La Marche. It is unclear whether it had been Hugh X or his father to whom Isabella had been betrothed before her marriage to King John. By Hugh X, Isabella had nine more children. Their eldest son Hugh XI of Lusignan succeeded his father as Count of La Marche and Count of Angouleme in 1249.

Isabella was accused of plotting against King Louis IX of France in 1244; she fled to Fontevrault Abbey, where she died on 31 May 1246, and was buried there. At her own insistence, she was first buried in the churchyard, as an act of repentance for her many misdeeds. On a visit to Fontevrault, her son King Henry III of England was shocked to find her buried outside the Abbey and ordered her immediately moved inside. She was finally placed beside Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Afterwards, most of her many children, having few prospects in France, set sail for England and the court of Henry, their half-brother.

John married Isabella of Angouleme Queen of England. The child from this marriage was:

i. Henry III King of England