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King John: Notts all that bad?

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King John: Notts all that bad?

My final undergraduate year revolved around one man, John, King of England 1199-1216. This makes me very passionate about his life and reign. Rightly or wrongly, his reign is viewed as one of the worst England has ever seen. As I have relocated from Newcastle for this role, I have been trying to get to know the local area a bit better. I remembered that on Richard I‘s ascent to the throne in 1189, he granted his younger brother John lands in Nottingham and so I began to refresh my memory about John’s links to the area.

Henry II, the father to both John and Richard had rebuilt large parts of Nottingham castle in stone around 1150 onwards. During the 1190s, Richard went out on Crusade and while he was away, John was banned from England due to his troublemaking tendencies. However, their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine felt that this was too harsh on John and allowed him back into the country.

In 1194, John and his rebellious supporters rallied against William Longchamp, the King’s regent. This caused chaos across the country and forced Eleanor to step in again. Part of this plan involved the rebels taking Nottingham Castle in March. (Un)fortunately Richard returned from the Third Crusade, besieged the castle and everything was over within a few days.

This rebellion definitely had very little impact on their relationship as brothers. Richard took an arrow to the shoulder, which became gangrenous and on his deathbed in 1199, he named John as his successor over his nephew Arthur, against Henry II’s wishes.

Things did not improve during John’s reign. Many believed John had murdered his nephew, rebellions and loss of lands in France resulted in high taxation, John fell out with the Pope and he banned the Church from carrying out services, weddings and christenings. He was also prone to temper tantrums and violent outbursts. This ‘bad king’ image is very much associated with the local legend of Robin Hood. Could the robbing of the rich be backlash from John’s high taxation policy? Disney definitely used this storyline for their representation of Robin Hood!

The King graced Oakham Castle with his presence in both 1206 and 1207. At this point, the castle was relatively new, with the Great Hall only being built during his brother’s reign by a baron named Walkelin de Ferrers.

In 1212, he held 28 sons of Welsh nobles at Nottingham Castle. They had free reign of the castle and were not prisoners in the way you would imagine, however, they were kept there until their eventual execution. This was often the way in which a monarch kept the loyalty of their barons, nobles or potential rebel leaders.

1215 saw the most important moment in John’s reign, his agreement to the terms of Magna Carta. He sealed this document at Runnymede after pressure from his baron. The significance of this document is still felt today, as it is the reason we have a trial by jury system and clauses of it have been used in the American Declaration of Independence and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. For the first time in English history, the monarch had restrictions on their power. Sadly, it was too little, too late and the war carried on.
The legend of King John losing his crown jewels in the Wash on his journey to Newark Castle in 1216 is debated, but the fact he was travelling there is not. John passed away at the castle, in the midst of a war, leaving his son to become Henry III.
The debate surrounding John may continue forever but I, for one, am still a fan. I am really looking forward to explore the areas that played significant parts in his lifetime.
By Siân Fox, Resilience Syndicate Intern
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