Farewell, King John

As all good things must come to an end, so must bad things. On October 19, 1216, the fairly unsuccessful reign of King John, one of the most vilified monarchs in history, came to an end when he died of a fever at Newark Castle.

John was the younger brother of the legendary Richard the Lionhearted—tough shoes to fill. Only a few years after succeeding his brother in 1199, John found himself at war with France. He subsequently lost his empire in Northern France and spent most of the next decade trying to get it back. He also managed to piss off the pope badly enough to be excommunicated in 1209, which was not something popes tended to do at the drop of a hat.

To fund the ongoing dispute with France, John jacked up taxes on his nobles, which was not a very good move. When he returned from a spell in France in 1214, he was faced with a lot of angry barons, who forced him to agree to the Magna Carta in 1215. Neither side stuck to the agreement, however, and civil war broke out soon after, with King Louis of France taking the barons’ side.

By May 1216, King Louis had landed in England and was moving west with the rebel barons. John fled, unwilling to attack Louis, probably because the troops on his side weren’t really all that sure of their own loyalties. Even John’s half-brother abandoned him. John rallied in September, attacking the rebels at Cambridge and then heading to Lincoln and then King’s Lynn to order more supplies. In King’s Lynn, he contracted dysentery. While he was busy to the south, Alexander II of Scotland invaded the north, taking Carlisle and then marching south to pay homage to Louis in order to keep his English possessions. By October, the two sides had reached a stalemate, though John was probably pretty depressed over losing the crown jewels when his baggage train foolishly tried to cross at a dangerous point of the Wash. His health disintegrated and he finally died and was buried at Worcester Cathedral. His nine-year-old son, Henry III, inherited the throne. Although he reigned more than 50 years and called the first Parliament, he was about as successful as his father at being a king.



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