Account of King John’s reign in John Lydgate’s Verses on the kings of England to Henry VI


King John has frequently been characterised as a bad king, even in the Middle Ages. This poem on the kings of England, traditionally attributed to John Lydgate (1370–1451), describes John’s reign in negative terms:

In Jon is time as I undirstond
Was interdited alle Engelond
He was fulle wrothe and gryme
For prestis wuld not sing bi for him
In his time was lost moche lond triwh
Of Gascoyne, Bretayn and of Normandy
In his time was grete durthe
xii pens an halfe peny lofe was wurth.

The poet also reports the story that John had been poisoned by a monk of Swineshead Abbey, and that nobody lamented his demise. This image, painted in the 15th century, shows John wearing a fine cloak of regal purple, red, white and blue, with pointed blue shoes; he stands above five crowns denoting his surviving children.

Full title:
John Lydgate (attributed), Verses on the kings of England to Henry VI (1422–61, 1470–71) (Boffey 444)
Manuscript / Artwork
John Lydgate
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Cotton MS Julius E IV [part I]

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Magna Carta and kingship

Article by:
Dan Jones
Medieval origins

When Magna Carta was created, England had endured 16 years of John’s kingship – a rule based largely on extortion, legal chicanery, blackmail and violence. Here Dan Jones discusses King John's infamous reign.

Related collection items

Related people