John first experienced warfare in 1185 when, aged just 17, he was sent by his father, King Henry II (r. 1154–89) on an unsuccessful expedition to Ireland. Gerald of Wales (1146-1223) accompanied the English Prince, and he listed several reasons why the campaign failed, including: the poor advice offered to John by members of his entourage; the invaders’ heavy armour, which was unsuited to the local terrain; the desecration by the Normans of the native churches, which incurred the wrath of God; and the disrespect shown to John’s Irish allies. Gerald reported that the Prince and his companions insulted the loyal Irish chieftains by pulling their long beards. Such action turned Prince John’s allies into enemies, and was an early sign of his poor judgement. This is an early manuscript of Gerald’s account of the Irish expedition, opening with a fine decorated initial ‘A’, typical of the period.
- 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.