John I ‘Lackland’ “King of England” PLANTAGENET (1167 – 1216)

47 Generations of Family History
Generation 26

King John
John Lackland
Duke of Normandy
Lord of Ireland


Tomb of King John

Name: John, King of England

Birth: 24th December 1166
Place of Birth: Beaumont Palace, Oxford

Father: Henry II, King of England
Mother: Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine

Spouse(s): Isabella, Countess of Gloucester (m. 1189, ann 1199)

Isabella, Countess of Angoulême

Children: Henry II, King of England; Richard 1st Earl of Cornwall; Joan, Queen of Scotland; Isabella, Holy Roman Empress; Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke

Concubines and Illigitimate children:

(i) Clementia le Boteler (Joan Lady of Wales)

(ii) Suzanne de Warenne (Richard Fitz Roy)

(iii) Hawise de Tracy (Oliver Fitz Roy)

(iv) Unknown Concubines (Philip Fitz Roy, Isabel Fitz Roy, Bartholomew Fitz Roy, Maud Fitz Roy, Eudes Fitz Roy, Osbert Giffard, Henry Fitz Roy, John Fitz Roy, Geoffrey Fitz Roy)

27 May 1199 Westminster Abbey

Reign: 27 May 1199 – 19 October 1216

King of England
Duke of Normandy
Count of Maine
Lord of Ireland
Duke of Aquitaine
Count of Poitou

Death: 19 October 1216
Place of Death: Newark Castle, Newark on Trent, Nottinghamshire

Burial: Worcester Cathedral

Heraldry: Arms of Plantagenet: Gules, three lions passant guardant Or

Plantagenet Coat of Arms

Plantagenet Coat of Arms Source: Wikipedia

My Family Connection: 25th great-grandfather


Described as the “most evil monarch in Britain’s history” [1], King John is a study in both how history creates heroes and villains, and the influence that birthright and genealogy have upon the characters who pass through time.

Cast as the “bad guy” in the tales of Robin Hood (originally written a couple of hundred years after his death), King John is variously labelled as tyrannical, lecherous, treacherous, weak and cruel.

John’s place in history has few redeeming features, though he is begrudgingly credited with leading England through a time of great change, including the establishment of the Magna Carta upon which today’s constitution and civil liberties are based.

It is notable that the portrayal of John through history, from the early chroniclers to Shakespeare to later-day movies, has remained consistently resolute in its condemnation. That has posed modern historians with a dilemma.

After all, few figures in history are entirely “good” or wholly ”bad”, and there have been occasional attempts to rehabilitate John’s reputation. But 800 years of character assassination suggests there’s little hope now of markedly improving his image.

Possessing the fierce Angevin temper which is described as a dominant Plantagenet family trait, John had also inherited the red hair and grey eyes of his forebears. Indeed, he inherited much more than merely the crown from Henry II and was short, stocky and prone to bouts of intense rage like his father [2].

John was demonised by two powerful groups who wielded much influence on history and how it was written. The medieval monks portrayed him as a monster, swayed by the king’s bitter dispute with papal authority. And the rich and powerful of England weren’t overly keen on him either, because of the two certainties in life he wreaked upon them – death and taxes.

Early life & family

King John of England was born in Oxford at Christmas time in 1167. He was the youngest surviving son of King Henry II of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine [2].

John’s early life may well have influenced his later vengeful actions. Born into a fractious family soon to implode in rebellion and accession claims, the Plantagenet dynasties were built upon constantly shifting sands of shaky political alliances.

As the fourth child, there was precious little left for John to inherit, a situation which gave rise to his father nicknaming his youngest, Jean Sans-terre, or “John Lackland” – a moniker which stuck [2].

John’s mother and father drifted apart after his birth and their relationship soon spectacularly disintegrated. Eleanor abandoned Henry II in support of her elder sons who led the Great Revolt of 1173-74.

As his brothers and his mother rose up against Henry II, John spent the conflict travelling with his father and naturally became the “favourite” son. Lands soon followed as did the title Lord of Ireland.

At the age of 12, John was married to Isabella, the heiress to Gloucester and daughter of a close ally of Henry II. The couple were close enough cousins for their marriage to be declared null by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Pope granted a dispensation but forbade sexual relations [3].

The marriage managed to last ten years but once John spotted an opportunity that meant ditching his princess would aid his ascent to the throne, he sought an annulment. Isabella never became queen but was probably just delighted to get away from her husband.

The Lionheart years

After the death of Henry II, John initially made sure he was close to his brother who became Richard I. Their elder brothers had all died young. But once the “Lionheart” took off on another crusade, his younger sibling made the most of his glorious chance for power and set himself up as ruler with his own court.

John’s next few years were spent positioning himself as regent and heir to the throne, though he could have saved himself a whole load of trouble with a little patience.

Once Richard returned from his eventful adventure, fighting between forces loyal to both brothers broke out, only for the Lionheart to drop down dead from gangrene in 1199 and hand his younger sibling the throne he had coveted for so long.

John as king

After Richard’s death there had actually been another claim to the throne, that of Arthur, son of John’s elder brother Geoffrey. Even worse, medieval laws offered little guidance on the matter. So more fighting commenced before everyone came back together for protracted peace talks and Arthur disappeared, presumed murdered by John.

History would have been kinder to John had his reign been marked by progress at home and military success. But as it is, he managed to lose most of the empire his father had built up and became increasingly unpopular in England due to his manic requirement for raising taxes.

John’s personal life adds little to his reputation either. During his first marriage there were continued allegations of the king forcing himself upon the wives of nobles, an unthinkable sin in an era when monarchs were assumed to take mistresses, but at least had the decency to do so from lower-ranking women.

John took a second wife in Isabella of Angouleme, when she was as young as nine – immature even for the age – and the couple had five children who would later leave their own marks on history, so their father’s loins did at least leave some legacy.

The Magna Carta

A protracted dispute with papal authority marred John’s later reign, though the Pope would later become a firm supporter before the king died. Further trouble with France followed but it was a baronial uprising which brought about John’s most significant contribution to English history.

As a rebel army marched on London, John needed a means of pacifying the leaders who had taken significant northern towns and were gaining support in the capital. The Archbishop of Canterbury was tasked with mediating peace talks and a charter was drawn up in 1215 to address baronial complaints and form a proposal for further reform.

This would become the Magna Carta, but John was not really inclined to implement its principles and after the Pope agreed with the king and the agreement failed, war followed. Initially, John enjoyed success in waging battle on the barons, but a nasty bout of dysentery hampered his progress and he would die within weeks of contracting the disease.

King John’s true legacy was that his death paved the way for reviving the Magna Carta which was reaffirmed as a basis for the future government as civil war fizzled out.

The great treaty which has given us the principles that all are subject to the law, the right to a fair trial and even the standardisation of weights and measures was refined and reinterpreted by later generations and its significance is still felt today [4].

King John’s other true legacy is that there has never been another King John. No royal family has ever felt inclined to create a John II. Perhaps that says it all.


[1] Turner, Ralph V. (2009) King John: England’s Evil King? Stroud UK. History Press. ISBN 978-0-7524-4850-3.

[2] Norgate, Kate. (1987) England Under the Angevin Kings, vol 2. London. Macmillan. OCLC 373944.

[3] Warren, W Lewis. (1991). King John. London. Methuen. ISBN 0-413-45520-3

[4] Danziger, Darren and Gillingham, John (2004). 1215 The Year of the Magna Carta. London. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-7432-5773-1.