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King John

King JohnKing John, the youngest son of Henry II, succeeded his brother Richard I in 1199.

His reign was marked by a string of unsuccessful military campaigns, a prolonged struggle with the church and the baronial rebellion which led to the granting of Magna Carta in 1215.

John exploited his feudal rights beyond all customary limits to extort money from the barons: he set taxes at unprecedentedly high levels, exacted punitive fines and seized baronial estates. He used this income to fund his cripplingly expensive battles in France, but still failed to hold together the vast Angevin empire created by his father.

John was an efficient and able administrator, but was also capricious and aggressive. He disregarded justice when dealing with opponents, regularly taking hostages and imposing ruthless punishments on rebels.

His conflict with the church led to his excommunication and the papal interdict of 1208-13. Ultimately, when threatened with increasing domestic opposition and the threat of a French invasion, John cleverly turned the pope from enemy to ally by surrendering England to the feudal overlordship of the papacy.

The granting of Magna Carta in June 1215 is the event for which John is best remembered, although he sought its annulment almost immediately. This led to a renewal of the baronial revolt which was quelled only by his death in October 1216.