History of the Middle Ages: King John, The Worst Monarch in English History?

I would be amiss not to mention the excellent Sword-play movie set during this very time period, Ironclad, with Paul Giamatti playing the role of King John. -SF


When it comes to Kings (and Queens) of England, there is strong competition as to who can claim the title of being the worst in the nation’s long history. There is Ethelred the Unready, whose chaotic reign saw the country held to ransom by Viking invaders, and there is Richard the Third, forever associated with the murder of the young princes in the Tower of London. There is Henry the Eighth and his six wives. There is Queen Mary, better known as Bloody Mary, burning Protestant martyrs at the stake. There is Charles the First who, in common with some of Henry’s wives, ended up losing his head. And then there is King John. That’s Bad King John, who ruled from AD 1199 to 1216 and features so prominently in the legend of Robin Hood.

Well Meaning or Dangerously Wicked? Now King John does have his apologists who will point out that John (also known as John Lackland because, as the youngest son of King Henry the Second, he was not expected to inherit any great estates) was a monarch who struggled to do his best in difficult times.

To an extent this is true. There was a dispute between the English crown, which liked to control senior church appointments, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Pope, who wanted his own men in these roles. During John’s reign this dispute escalated to a point where Pope Innocent III actually excommunicated John and placed an interdict on England for five years, which meant nobody could receive a church christening, marriage or funeral service.

Read the Remainder at Ancient Origins