King John

King John
Portrait of King John hunting, British Library

Biography

King John (r. 1199–1216) is best remembered for granting Magna Carta in June 1215, although he sought its annulment almost immediately. The youngest son of Henry II (r. 1157–1189), John succeeded his brother, Richard I who is known as Richard the Lionheart (r. 1189–1199), as King of England 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 Magna Carta.

John exploited his feudal rights to extort money from the barons: he set taxes at very high levels, he enforced arbitrary fines and he seized the barons’ estates. John used this income to fund his expensive wars in France, but still he failed to hold together the empire created by his father.

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

His conflict with the Church led to his excommunication. The annulment of Magna Carta by Pope Innocent III in August 1215, at John’s request, led to a renewal of the baronial revolt which was still raging when John died in October 1216.


Further information about the life of King John can be found here via the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Related articles

Magna Carta and jury trial

Article by:
Geoffrey Robertson
Theme:
Magna Carta today

Geoffrey Robertson QC charts the history of jury trials and their relationship to Magna Carta. From medieval justice to the trial of Charles I, and the trials of John Lilburne to the Human Rights Act, discover the evolution of one of the most venerated features of Anglo-American law.

Consequences of Magna Carta

Article by:
Nicholas Vincent
Themes:
Clauses and content, Medieval origins

The agreement at Runnymede in 1215 had broad consequences for medieval England. Professor Nicholas Vincent explores the immediate impact of Magna Carta, considering the Civil War, the re-issue of the charter and the formation of early forms of parliament.

Magna Carta in the modern age

Article by:
Joshua Rozenberg
Theme:
Magna Carta today

Today Magna Carta has become a world-class brand, representing human rights, democracy and free speech – despite the fact that the original document makes no mention of these principles. Joshua Rozenberg explains Magna Carta’s place in modern legal and popular culture, and reveals the importance of its 800-year-old symbolism.

Related teachers' notes

Teacher notes

Introduction to Magna Carta: why was it created?

To underpin the significance of Magna Carta, students first need to understand how and why it came about. This introductory activity will explore the events leading up to Magna Carta and is aimed at upper Key Stage 2 although it could be used with pupils in Key Stage 3.

PDF Download Available

Teacher notes

Who benefitted from Magna Carta?

The significance of Magna Carta is debated by historians, and many point to its legacy in later centuries for a true appreciation of its significance. But what was its significance at the time? Did people in the 13th century believe it to be a cornerstone of their rights and liberties? This activity aims to explore the significance of Magna Carta in the context of the 13th century based upon the clauses and the impact of these on the groups identified.

PDF Download Available

Teacher notes

Perceptions of King John in the 17th century

This activity aims to examine perceptions of King John with a focus on two particular sources from the 16th century: Actes and Monuments by John Foxe and Shakespeare’s King John.

PDF Download Available