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A Closer Look At King John Of England

1399 words - 6 pages

“Sir John the First, he was the worst.” This is a child's rhyme and yet a sentiment emulated by many well respected pieces of literature not only today but throughout history. Nearly eight hundred years later and he is still possibly the most notorious king in English history. However, was he really as bad as he is presumed to be? Stories such as Robin Hood and Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe would have you think as much. But, if these were wholly accurate then why would Winston Churchill have said “When the long tally is added, it will be seen that the British nation and the English-speaking world owe far more to the vices of John than to the labours of virtuous sovereigns”? John's family certainly didn't do much for England; they caused plenty of harm both to their nation and each other. Could John in his rule have actually done more good than his father or precious brother, Richard Coeur de Lion? At first it certainly doesn't look like it, but perhaps if one digs a little deeper they'll see that Winston Churchill's statement really is true.
John's family background wasn't exactly ideal. His father Henry II is best remembered for causing the untimely demise of the Archbishop of Canterbury, an affair which ended with Henry kneeling at the grave of Archbishop Thomas Becket and having himself voluntarily whipped by the monks there as penance. John's Mother was the famous lady Eleanor of Aquitaine; she more than once incited his brothers to rebel against their father and she herself became imprisoned for the last sixteen years of Henry's reign. Once Henry died Eleanor's eldest remaining son inherited the throne - John's brother Richard. Richard, as soon as he was crowned, set off for a costly crusade which would drive the country into bankruptcy. Clearly John wasn't raised within the healthiest of families.
John's rule is where one can see his vices really shine through and determine what it is they could have done for the good of England. First off, we know that not long after Richard ran off for his crusade John overthrew those whom Richard had put in charge and took over. At first people thought this was a good thing - they really didn't like the guys Richard had put in charge. Then they met John. He began to levy what they thought were unfair taxes and then, didn't even use them to ransom Richard – the “true” king - who was being imprisoned by the duke of Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor. This was pretty clearly not a good move on John's part. Eventually Queen Eleanor managed to raise Richard's ransom – selling some of the crown jewels in the process – but once Richard died, John took over for good . . . well, mostly. The people still really didn't like John so they said “Forget John, let's put Arthur on the throne!” Arthur was John's brother Geoffrey's son. Since Geoffrey was older, some claimed it was Arthur who should inherit. That didn't go over too well with John. John's supporters and Arthur's supporters fought each other bitterly,...

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