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King John - Events leading to Civil War (First Barons War) and Magna Carta

In May 1215, a group of barons declared civil war on King John. They captured London
and at Runnymede, on June 15th, John was forced to agree to the Magna Carta. This
was the barons attempt to control the power of the King and make him rule the
country within the law. So how had the relationship between king, barons and Church
deteriorated so badly since 1199 when John became king?
King John has been given a bad press by many chroniclers and historians. In films,
books and the stories about Robin Hood, he is shown often as a bad, evil king. However,
as historians we need to be objective and approach the study of King John with an
open mind.
John is often regarded as the most able of the Plantagenet Kings. He had the 'mental
abilities of a great king but the inclinations of a petty tyrant'. He has gone down in
history as The Bad'. Yet while he must take some of the blame for his misfortunes, he
inherited serious problems.
John became king of England on the death of his brother Richard I and immediately his
troubles began.
England was in desperate need of a strong leader, and at first John seemed perfect for
the task. He was a good administrator and cared about the country. Johns reign is
usually characterised by three great quarrels: the French, the Pope, the barons
Problem 1 Dispute over who was the rightful king of England
Earlier in his reign, Richard I had chosen his nephew Prince Arthur of Brittany, (son
of Geoffrey, third son of
Henry II) as his successor.
Richard had failed to produce a son to succeed him. (An heir and a spare!)
While on his deathbed Richard changed his mind and chose John as his successor. As
Arthur was only
12 years old, Richard felt that he was too young to stand up to Philip II of France.
John was accepted as king by the barons of England and Normandy.
However, the barons of Anjou and Maine supported Arthur, accusing John of seizing
the throne by lying about Richards choice. (Remember Edward the Confessor and
Harold in January 1066)
So immediately John had a divided empire, none of which was his fault!
Problem 2 - Richards reputation
Medieval chroniclers such by Matthew Paris and Roger of Wendover, said that Richard
I was the model English king. Some chroniclers made comparisons with Alexander
the Great and Charlemagne.
Problem 3 - War with France and Ambitions of Philip II of France
John inherited a war with France. Although at the Treaty of Goulet in 1200, a truce
was arranged, Philip wanted John's French lands (1/2 of France) back under his
control. War was inevitable. As king of England John was expected by the barons to

keep and defend these French lands. To give them up without a fight would have been a
sign of weakness.
Problem 4 Pope Innocent and his ambitions
Pope Innocent III was to prove a problem. He saw himself as the Vicar of Christ
and wanted to increase his authority over the kings of Europe. He had already taken on
several monarchs in Europe. It was only a matter of time before John and Innocent
came to blows!
Problem 5 Lack of money
Kings need money to rule a country.
1) England bankrupt. Royal Treasury was empty after Richards crusading, ransom &
wars in France.
2) Medieval kings received money from three main areas,
a) Taxes, however, the tax systems in place when John became king were inefficient
and often corrupt. (up to 50% pocketed by sheriffs) If was difficult to work out who
should be paying what.
b) Revenue from their own land (Domain). Previous kings had given away land as gifts
(patronage) and sold land to raise money. When John became king, he held less land
than any other previous king and therefore he had less money coming in.
c) Feudal payments (dues) which had been used less by some kings. (Henry II &
Richard I absent)
3) Inflation meant that money was losing value. This made everything, including
running the country and war far more expensive. Prices had doubled since the reign of
Henry I (1100-1135).
Problem 6 Changing of the barons attitudes towards the monarchy
The barons had become increasingly powerful and were prepared to challenge English
kings. Henry II in particular had had to curb the power of the barons after the civil war
between Stephen and Matilda.
Henry II and Richard I had only visited England for a total of 4 years out of 45 years.
English barons had become used to absent kingship and liked being left alone!
Problem 7 The size of the Empire
If all these problems werent enough, John inherited a large empire that proved
difficult to rule.
It was in dealing with these problems that John upset the barons and the Church so
much that they eventually went to war against him. So how did John set about solving
his problems?

Dealing with the Problem of Philip II of France


John knew that Philip II of France wanted to reclaim lands in France which John held.
Although a truce was in place early on, this would not last. John needed to strengthen
his position in France. Philip supported Arthurs claim to the throne and recognised
him as Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou and Aquitaine. (deliberately creating
disunity) John was married to Isabel of Gloucester (cousin). John realised that he could
strengthen his position abroad by divorcing Isabel and marrying Isabella of Angoulme
the daughter of a powerful Frenchman. Unfortunately, Isabella was already engaged to
Hugh of Lusignan. Hugh was sent to England to quell an uprising in Wales. In his
absence John married Isabella. Hugh complained to Philip II of France. Philip ordered
John to explain why he had not asked permission to marry Isabella. John refused saying
that as king of England he could marry whoever he wanted. Philip ordered Johns lands
to be confiscated. Philip had been looking for a reason to attack Johns French
territories and here was the excuse he needed.
The Start of War
War broke out. Philip invaded Normandy. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Johns mother was
besieged in Mirabeau Castle. John showed great military skill and landed in France,
marched 80 miles, surprising and capturing Arthur who was besieging the castle.
Allegedly, in prison Arthur was castrated and blinded, and then murdered. Rumours
spread that John has murdered Arthur. Other rumours stated that Arthur had fallen
from a tower while trying to escape. There were many around who would have
benefited from Arthurs death or would use his death to their advantage. (Philip II).
William de Braose later claimed, whilst drunk, that he was paid by John to murder
Arthur. Whether the rumours were true or not, John lost the support of the barons in
Normandy. In December 1203, John, fearing for his safety, had to return to England. In
1204, Philip captured the castle of Chateau Gaillard. Within months Normandy was
back in the hands of a French king! Only Gascony remained loyal. A kings first task in
medieval time was as warlord and John had clearly failed. For this disaster, the
chroniclers gave John another nickname of Softsword.
The loss of Normandy was seen as a disaster because:
Normandy was the homeland of the English kings and most of the English barons.
Normandy was very rich and provided the English kings with great wealth and
resources.
Normandy had been outside the French kings control since 920 AD.
Johns reputation as a weak soldier was established; he was seen as a weak king by
his barons.
John was determined to win Normandy back and prove himself to the barons. In
order to do this he would have to raise a great army, at great cost. This would lead to
another quarrel with the barons.

JOHN ATTEMPTS TO REGAIN HIS FRENCH LANDS.


By 1214 John had ended his quarrel with the Pope and he could now turn his attentions
to regaining Normandy. He had sufficient money to launch an attack on France.
However, these plans led to a revolt by his barons when he requested more money and
arms from them so that he could invade Normandy. When the Northern barons refused
to help, John took an army to punish them. Only the intervention of Stephen Langton,
the Archbishop of Canterbury avoided civil war and a deal was agreed. The war against
France was a risky make-or-break strategy for John.
John made alliances with Otto IV of Germany and the Count of Flanders.
Otto was to attack from the east, and an Anglo-Norman army under the command of
the Earl of Salisbury would advance on Paris from the west.
John was to create a diversion with his army at Poitou.
Unfortunately for John things went badly wrong. Philip defeated the Earl of Salisbury
at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214.
Johns diversion did not work as planned.
Any hopes John had of reclaiming his French lands were lost forever.
The expedition to France ended in total failure with the defeat at Bouvines.
How successful was John in dealing with the French problem?
John was faced with a war he didnt want and couldnt afford.
He tried his best to strengthen his position but Johns foreign policy ended in disaster
at Bouvines.
By the end of his reign he had lost all his possessions in France except Gascony.
His reputation as a military leader was in tatters and his reputation as an evil king
increased with the rumours of Arthurs murder.
Dealing with his financial problems Lack of money
As we have already seen, John faced huge financial difficulties. England was bankrupt.
He had to find new ways of raising money and make taxes more efficient. John also
wanted his French lands back. However, wars are expensive. England had to face heavy
taxation.
HOW DID JOHN RAISE MONEY?
Scutage John could not trust the English barons and therefore he used
mercenaries. Between the years 1154 to 1199 (45 years HII & RI), scutage (shield tax)
had been raised eleven times. In the years 1199 to 1216 (16 years) it was also raised
eleven times! Scutage was often used to pay for the mercenaries.
Tax of a 13th John introduced a new income tax on rents and chattels (personal
property).
People were charged one thirteenth of the total value of their rent and chattels. In 1207,
this tax raised 60,000, an enormous sum of money, and twice the normal annual
revenue of the crown at that time.
Inheritance tax Increased from 100s to 1000s. If a baron died his son or brother
had to pay to take over his land. Nicholas de Stuteville was charged 10,000 marks
(6,666) for taking over his brothers land. Other feudal dues were also increased.

Aids Tax Increased significantly on the knighting of the lords eldest son, on the
marriage of the lords eldest daughter, and for ransom of the lord from captivity.
Barons had to pay to get a fair court hearing.
Was John successful in dealing with his financial problems?
John was very efficient and successful at raising taxes.
His new taxes were easier to calculate and collect!
All taxes were recorded on parchment rolls and many have survived. It shows that
John had nothing to hide!
John more than quadrupled the annual income of the crown.
Many historians now believe that Johns tax raising system was an important legacy.
John was an able ruler but he did not know when he was squeezing the barons too
hard.
Many of the bad stories about John may well have been propaganda or
misinformation spread by the barons and Church to discredit John.
However Johns taxation upset the barons who saw Johns efficiency as a threat to
their power and wealth. It was one of the barons complaints that led to civil war and
the Magna Carta.
Part of the money raised by these taxes was used to create an English Navy. John used
this to invade Ireland in 1210, and on 30th May 1213, the Earl of Salisbury destroyed a
French armada poised to invade the British Isles during the argument with Pope
Innocent. John is regarded by some as the

John and the Great Charter


How did John control the barons?
The barons of England had become increasingly powerful since the reign of William I.
They showed less respect and support towards the monarchy. The relationship
between John and his barons worsened after the murder of Arthur and the loss of
Normandy to Philip in 1204. John spent more time in England than any other king since
1066. This allowed him to get on with doing the job of an English king ruling England,
but this brought him into contact with the barons who under previous kings had been
left alone!
As the relationship between monarch and barons broke down the barons said
that John treated them with disrespect and never listened to their advice. John would
reply that he couldnt trust many of them!
Many barons claimed they had to pay to get a fair trial. He held courts in secret (this
was the sort of thing
Henry IIs reforms had tried to stamp out in the 1150s) and fined the barons for their
crimes as a way of raising more money. The barons were upset by Johns apparent
lack of any sense of justice and fairness.
Hostage taking John used hostage taking to ensure the support and loyalty of a
number of Barons. It was rumoured that some hostages had been badly treated or even
killed when the loyalty of a baron was in question. This was common practice amongst
kings.
(remember Henry I and his granddaughters who he had blinded to teach his son in law
a lesson)
John appointed foreign judges and unpopular sheriffs. (So had Henry II) John was not
the first English king to treat the barons in this way. However, the barons attitude to
the crown was changing. They had had enough of what they saw as years of abusive
rule with kings doing as they pleased without regard to barons.
Who were the Rebel Barons?
Although many barons and knights had grievances against King John, only a minority
would move actively toward rebellion Turner
The opposition were concentrated into 3 main areas:
Northerners the most extreme in opposition. 18 were united against John because
of private complaints: he had withheld land, castles & privileges form them or made
them pay, locking them in deep debt. They appeared to contemporaries to form the
core of baronial opposition the rebels were named the Northerners even after it was
evident that there were other areas involved.
Essex and East Anglia 12 of the most powerful barons (including Robert Fitz
Walter.) Much of the rebel leadership came from this region (East Anglicans would
make up over half of the committee of 25 to enforce Magna Carta).

West a less well-defined group of 10 or so barons who also rebelled.


In the spring of 1215, no more than 45 significant landholders can be counted among
the rebels, only 39 (out of 165 barons) of them with definite baronial rank; by autumn
1216 when John died the number of rebel barons had risen to 97 Turner
1400 of 6500 knights also joined the rebel group.
The core of the rebels were embittered personal enemies of the king, including Robert
fitz Walter, Eustace de Vesci, Roger Bigod Earl of Norfolk, Geoffrey de Mandeville,
Henry de Bohun and Giles de Braose (related to William de braose).
The barons lacked a real common cause but did share a common refusal of overseas
service and the payment of scutage.
The Northern Barons had conspired with PA as early as 1209. In 1212 they were
involved in a plot to Kill John. John was aware of the hostility and agreed to modify his
harsh financial policies. In 1213 he made promises to restore ancient liberties to the
barons but he demanded hostages, charters of fealty and more cash for his war with PA.
So it is unlikely that the majority of the barons defected to the rebels though many
passively sympathised with the cause without taking up arms. Some were not keen on
Johns practices and wanted to restrain him BUT would not take up arms against their
anointed and crowned monarch.
Such lukewarm royalists were capable of looking beyond class or personal interest to
seek wider public good and to preserve positive aspects of the Angevin revolution in
government Turner
The leaders of the baronial opposition do not really appear as defenders of English
liberties against the Angevin political system:
They showed few qualities of a statesman
Members of the 25 showed little loyalty to the law during Henry IIIs minority
Robert Fitz Walter had little experience in government he rejected legal processes in
favour of force and violence. His obstinacy in the weeks after the June 1215 settlement
show a lack of statesmanship he refused to hand London back to the King (as agreed
at Runnymede) and so contributed to the fighting at the end of the summer.
This violence amongst the rebel leadership has led some historians to argue that the
entire baronage were reactionaries with no sense of public responsibility and pursuing
only selfish goals many even credit Stephen Langton as the brains behind it all
(Wendovers Chronicle).

Although rebel leaders did have personal grievances with the King other barons were
able to overlook them to serve the public good so beware of blanket condemnation of
the baronage.
1214
15th OCT
NOV
1215
JAN

FEB
APRIL

Late APRIL

5th MAY
May

End of MAY
10th JUNE

15th June
19th June

John returns from France defeated.


The hostile Barons gather at Bury St Edmunds
John summons to London a council. He refuses to answer the
barons demands claiming he would not answer to force. The
barons claim he is refusing to recognise their ancient and
customary liberties. John prepares for war.
William the Marshall and Stephen Langton meet the rebels at
Oxford
John met some barons at Oxford but no agreement is reached. John
makes some concessions promising to abolish evil customs but he
cleverly takes up the cross, placing him under special protection
from the church. The Pope writes to the barons forbidding them to
rebel or face excommunication
The barons gather troop and march to Brackley in
Northamptonshire to meet John. They make non-negotiable
demands and send them to John at Wallingford. John receives
letters of papal support and refuses to make any concessions that
will threaten the crowns traditional rights.
The rebels formally renounce fealty and choose Fitz Walter as their
leader. He is an extremist and has little regard for the law. He will
stand in the way of an agreement after 1215.
John, aware he is being provoked, is clever not to react and offers
concessions to the rebels including judgement of their peers. John
knows that delaying tactics will serve him better than direct
confrontation. he tried to calm the country by keeping within the
letter of the law, rejecting first resort to force Turner
The rebels, in no mood to negotiate attempt to take Northampton
castle but fail. They do however successfully take London, except
for the tower. They take advantage of a faction who admit the
Rebels before the majority of Londoners are aware. This is a blow
to John.
John comes to terms with the rebels to buy himself time.
Negotiations take place at Runnymede with Langton as the main
mediator. They produce a provisional Article of Barons. The Great
Charter was later drawn up by experienced administrators who
were much more moderate with no rebel representation* see
below
The two parties meet at Runnymede to sign the document. The king
added his seal to the Articles of Barons a draft deal.
25 barons were elected as executors of the Carta and admissions

Summer

Autumn

Christmas
1216
January
March
MAY

JUNE - SEPT

SEPT
OCT

were amended. Both parties agreed to abide by the terms of Magna


Carta.
John sets about putting the Carta into practice but the barons do
not. Some barons leave before business is settled and began to
prepare for war. John declines to go to a conference in August
claiming he has not been treat fairly since the charter signing.
He seeks help for abroad (Innocent III). He tells Bishops to
excommunicated barons who do not play their role. Langton
refuses to ratify these threats and he is removed from office. The
Charter is dismissed by the Pope.
The barons clearly want rid of John and civil war ensures.
John has powerful support from great Marcher barons, William the
Marshall and Ranulf of Chester as well as from the bishops and the
Pope. The only rebel bishop is Giles de Braose.
He campaigns successfully against the rebels isolating them in
London. John takes back Rochester Castle after a 7 week siege this
encourages other rebel castles to surrender.
John is in Nottingham and the northern castle begin to surrender
John moves to Northumberland taking control.
John is in East Anglia. John now has control over the north, east and
south and west only London remains in rebel hands.
Louis, son of PA plans to invade England. He makes a ridiculous
claim to Johns throne and John is again threatened by the long arm
of PA.
John has his navy wait of the coast of Dover but a storm disperses
them and Louis land unopposed three weeks later.
John retreats to Corfe Castle and Louis takes Rochester and
Winchester. 4 earls left John for Louis. Johns position is threatened
further by the presence of Alexander II, King of Scots who meets
Louis at Dover in September.
John struck into Lincolnshire but lost his baggage train in the wash
he was so ill he is forced to halt at Newark
John dies aged 49 leaving a 9 year old son Henry III as his heir.

*Magna Carta was not written by the Rebellious barons. The document was drafted by a
group of counsellors led by the guiding hand of Stephen Langton. They were not local
barons but men of admin/diplomacy/statesmen which included;
2 Archbishops
7 Bishops
4 earls including William the Marshall
Hubert de Burgh (Justiciar)

Therefore it cannot be argued that the Charter was forced upon John (a deserted King0
by the nation or rebellious barons for that matter.
The Unknown Charter of the 10th May was a baronial document of grievances.
The delay between this charter and Magna Carta seems to be the council trying to
persuade the barons to include terms for others - Poole
The Magna Carta 1215
The Magna Carta was made up of 63 clauses and aimed to address the complaints of
the barons & Church. It took 6 days to negotiate.
The most important clauses were as follows:
1. Taxes were to be fair. If the King wished to raise taxes, then he had to consult with
the Barons. No taxation without consent of Parliament.
2. No freeman could be fined, outlawed, imprisoned or punished without a fair trial
3. The Church was to be free of the Kings control, and was to be allowed to elect its
own officials
4. Freemen where to be able to travel wherever they wished.
5. Feudal fees and scutage were to be restricted.
Other conditions agreed by the barons
Twenty-five barons were chosen to supervise King John and ensure he kept his
promises. If he broke them they were to wage war against him.
Magna Carta was an attempt by the barons and Church to protect their privileges.
However, the largest part of the population, the peasants (villeins) received no benefits
other than the fact that their animals could no longer be seized, instead of a paying a
fine.
PRINCIPAL POINTS OF THE MAGNA CARTA 1215
1. The power of English Kings was limited by a series of laws.
2. The barons kept watch over the Kings activities.
3. Inheritance taxes were to be at a fixed rate (Clauses 2-8, 37 + 43 deal with relief,
wardship and marriage)
4. Scutage was to be at a fixed rate (Clause 12 + 15)
5. Regulation of debt and profits from debt (Clause 9 11)
6. Abuses by local officials - Unpopular sheriffs were to be sacked, Sheriffs were now
accountable to the barons, every sheriff had a copy of the Magna Carta. (clauses 23 25,
28 31 +38)
7. Foreign judges were to be removed.
8. Royal forests were limited (clauses 44, 47 + 48)
9. The rights of towns and merchants were protected (clauses 13, 41 + 42)
10. All freemen had a right to a fair trial (Clause 39 + 40)
11. The issue of standard weight and measures (clause 35)
12. There were two knights per county to make sure that John kept the terms.
13. There were 63 clauses in all.

14. There are now 4 copies in existence. 2 in the British Museum, 1 in Salisbury
Cathedral and 1 in Lincoln cathedral.
15. The rough copy of the Barons demands was called THE ARTICLES OF THE
BARONS.
16. It had been drawn up by Saire de Quincy, Eustace de Vesci, Robert FitzWalter and
help from
Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
17. The barons called themselves the ARMY OF GOD AND HOLY CHURCH.
18. John had been at Windsor and the barons at Staines before meeting at Runnymede.
19. John was later freed from keeping his promises by POPE INNOCENT III

Causes of the 1215 rebellion


Quotations
The evolution of a baronage increasingly aware of its rights in a developing legalistic
age, and the centralisation of government over the twelfth century, coupled with the
loss of Normandy, the defeat of Bouvines and Johns character, had created a baronial
opposition party in 1214 Purser
Magna Carta criticised Angevin government in general and Johns reign in particular
Huscroft
A rebellion of the Kings debtors Holt
John had left a kingdom seething with discontent, which had mounted during his
absence Carpenter
Such accumulated grievances would culminate in an uprising against King John
Turner

Johns Fixation with regaining his continental lands


In his obsession to regain his continental lands John bullied and harassed the baronage
for funds and military service.
During plans (1205) barons refused to serve overseas and complained at Johns heavy
taxation. John was forced to abandon this invasion.
1212 1216 plans were detailed and included many diplomatic alliances that divided
barons in England.

Bouvines crushed Johns hopes. He had to offer PA a truce and on his return he was
unable to ever gather credible troops or such detailed alliances. Barons soon lost faith
in John and were faced with his constant presence.

Angevin Despotism
John consummated what Henry II had begun Holt
Administrative innovations, restoration of Royal authority and financial demands set
up by Henry II, exploited by Richard during the crusade, his capture and his continuous
war with PA was carried on further by John he did not have the strength of character
of the previous two to carry it off.
There was a confusing nature to royal power at this time. What pleases the prince has
the force of the law. Glanvill showing the monarch had the power to do as he willed.
Yet the coronation charter (started by Henry I) emphasised promises and obligations to
the people for good laws and government.
Many felt that the Angevin Kings ruled tyrannically ruling by their own will. There
was no machinery in the twelfth century for fighting tyranny.
Henry II his restoration of authority removed unauthorised castles and constructed
new royal castles. He upset many families who had benefited from the confusion over
Stephens reign. Henry was responsible for switching power from barons to king.
Patronage the King was supposed to be careful when dispensing patronage or he
could create serious grievances. All 3 Angevin Kings abused patronage, selling offices
and feudal services at high prices. Richard in particular raised money through
patronage. Pipe rolls show that John in particular became desperate for money and
political security and used patronage as a stick to beat people with causing many
grievances.
Legal Innovation - Henrys legal reforms removed/threatened the barons traditional
control over their vassals. Knights could purchase writs that gave them access to the
king rather than their lords. None of the legal reforms could be issued against the king
arbitrary law that worked even in absence.

Unrealistic aims of the rebels


The rebels focused their efforts on a return to the coronation charter of Henry I in
which he promised to abolish all evil customs by which the country had been unjustly
oppressed.

The problem with this view was that it had been issued almost 100 years previous.
Henry I had issued the charter to win support over the sudden death of his brother and
cared little for its meaning. The barons were guilty of harking back to a golden age
before oppressive government that in reality had not existed. Henry II was guilty of
exaggerating this myth of the golden age of my grandfather.

Legalisation of the English baronage


Magna Carta can be used to credit the success of the Angevin dynasty. People in
England had an increased appetite for law and order and were becoming increasingly
educated in the legal system.
Due to advances during the Angevin period the people of England were more aware of
law and administration and increasingly saw it as their right. John had not recognised
this development or ignored it in order to collect funds for his campaigns abroad.
The baronage were definitely more sophisticated in their legal understanding than they
had been in 1154.

Centralisation
The advances in administration and the development of centralised government
throughout the Angevin period had led to a reduced role for the baronage. When
William I came to England in 1066 his admin was carried out by brothers and cousins.
Since then an independent civil service had grown taking over the administrative role
of the baron in local justice and catsle building etc. This new baronage were men
promoted by the Angevin Kings based on their skills and loyalties and became part of
the royal household.
Johns personality

Financial Burden
Henry and his sons viewed their English Kingdom as a vast treasure trove to supply
funds for conflicts in France Turner
All three kings exploited their feudal income and exploited the church and the Jewish
community. There was an increasing need for cash as admin became more
sophisticated. Conflict with France and religious disputes and crusades all put extra
financial pressure on the Angevin Kings. They all used scutage and aid to raise money,
Henry and the Toulouse tax, Richard and his crusade and ransom, John and his

continental wars. The increasing use of mercenaries was becoming an expensive


business. Feudal rights, vacant sees and regular payments put a great strain on the
people of England.

Peter des Roches (Justiciar)


He was appointed Justiciar by John, a foreigner from Touraine. He was a very skilled
administrator and expert military strategist. He was rewarded for being the only
bishop not to leave during the interdict.
He was resented and distrusted for being French. The church did not like him since he
had supported John during the Interdict.
He was very capable and hard as a rock according to the Tewkesbury annalist.
He was a ruthless administrator and demanded scutage from the barons who had not
contributed to the 1214 campaign in Johns absence. This further angered and united
the Northern rebels.
He undoubtedly increased baronial discontent by his ruthless efficiency Purser

Stephen Langton
The Archbishop of Canterbury imposed on John. He has political as well as religious
intent. The Bishop of Winchester and Peter des Roches were left in control but ordered
to council with Langton.
John to Blame?
The Kings increased presence
Unlike his father and brother John was forced, after 1204 to remain in England. The
country were used to absentee king who left administrators in charge of dispensing
royal justice. This had, over the years served to benefit the Angevin Kings. The notion of
administrative kingship, perfected by Richard, meant that the Monarch was not
needed to devote time to the day to day running of the country. He insisted on hearing
justice personally and independent law courts at Westminster were closed down after
1209 as he increased the hearing of pleas in his own court. This often meant that the
king escaped a lot of personal blame for unpopular decisions. Johns return and
obsession with getting involved in the nuts and bolts of business meant he shouldered
the blame for often very unpopular decisions.
Financial demands

John was ruthless in his collection of funds:


1199 1202 annual income 24,000
1207 1212 annual income 49,000
This did not include the church gains from the Interdict.
The English were squeezed with scutage almost an annual task. Sheriffs and castellans
had extracted funds and to many the law had been disregarded; inheritances were sold,
land seized, justice denied and put up for sale.
Many barons were in heavy debt to the king or the Jewish community. It is telling that
the Jews featured prominently in Magna Carta.

Aggressive feudal rights


John abused his feudal rights throughout his reign. He demanded scutage when barons
refused to fight, he took advantage of inheritance taxes, abused wards of minors and
the property of widows. These are all grievances that feature heavily in the Charter.
Exploited Royal Justice and patronage
John sold offices, extracted huge fines. He removed boroughs and farms from sheriffs
and sold them. Barons were forced to bid for offices with money they did not have.
Justice seemed to have been removed from traditional offices and debts spiralled in the
face of competition to buy favours and offices.

Johns poor treatment of his subjects


Johns ill-treatment of his subjects has been much exaggerated by Roger of Wendover
and Matthew Paris, monks who had never met John but disliked him and wanted to
create a negative myth.
The myth of bad King John took hold and was followed by Victorian historians. Are the
accusations true? Yes John was a cruel ruler however the stories have been exaggerated
but nevertheless in an age of personal kingship these stories had an impact on peoples
views at the time.
Dunmow annalist records Johns passion for R fitz Walters daughter caused the 1212
conspiracy. Robert refused to surrender her and his castle was destroyed. He
reportedly fled to PA and plotted to get back at John. John apparently captured the girl
and poisoned her when she refused him.

Wendover claimed Geoffrey of Norwich in 1212 was imprisioned and starved for
speaking out against John.
The ability to rule of a Medieval King was based largely on his personality this was
the crucial factor in his relations with his barons Painter
Painter could only find 5 prominent barons that did not fall foul of King John.
William de Braose a crucial incident in Johns reign. William owned considerable
lands in England, Wales, Ireland and Normandy. They were good friends but John was
suspicious of him, especially since William paid little in way of taxes to the treasury.
The story goes that William knew of Arthurs death as they had been together in 1203.
John needed support in 1208 and asked for hostages but William refused. They fled to
Ireland but William died in exile but apparently his wife and son were starved to death
by John. John made an example of William and offered his wife and son back for 40,000
marks. William refused so they died. John was aware of the damaging effects of this
particular story and was forced to issue a letter explaining/denying the situation.