Was King John of England that bad?


Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
He mostly lost his French territories and the King of France was crowned in London. He was forced to sign the Magna Carta and was the villain in Robin Hood. He was excommunicated by the Pope.

He was vigorously trying to defend the French territories and campaigned in Ireland. He was viewed as a Protestant martyr who was bad mouthed by chronicallers for his disagreements with the Church.

Was he really that bad?
Sep 2012
Tarkington, Texas
Not so bad, but he was capable of bad behavior. History will not treat someone who loses the French territories as anything less than he was treated.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
Not so bad, but he was capable of bad behavior. History will not treat someone who loses the French territories as anything less than he was treated.
King John lost to Philip Augustus, who was arguably one of the most capable medieval French kings.
If King John possessed abilities as an administrator and a general, how did he lost his possessions in France?
Should King John be considered a person of poor circumstance?


Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
The French were on the rise once they got a decent king
John had to squeeze England to pay the ransom of his foolish brother Richard and got blamed for it
having certainly having the rightful heir , his nephew Arthur murdered and a nasty personality he had a terrible public relation

Nobles saw him as unglamorous and a coward who didn't lead in battle as was his kingly duty
his main problem was that he was broke , had big wars to fund which were defeats
his alliance system crashed in flames on the battlefield of Bouvines while all the Angevin possessions were picked off one by one
the nobles famillies had to choose between their lands on the continent or in England , leading to major defections

as a cherry on top he got excommunicated by the pope and lost the Crown jewels on a beach in the Wash mud flats


Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
I don't know anything about English history, but what sort of state did John inherit? Did Richard take the kingdom's wealth with him? Did raising money for the crusade prime a revolt?


Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
Las Vegas, NV USA
Well this list doesn't help his reputation.

  • 1166: Born in Oxford, youngest of four sons of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Nicknamed Lackland because no obvious inheritance
  • 1189: Brother Richard becomes king and names nephew Arthur as heir
  • 1192: Tries unsuccessfully to seize throne
  • 1199: Richard is killed and John becomes king
  • 1204: Loses much of western France in war
  • 1207: Quarrels with pope over who should be Archbishop of Canterbury and excommunicated
  • 1215: Signs Magna Carta
  • 1216: Dies from food poisoning
Kings John and Richard: Brothers and rivals
"There are several times during John's reign where he actually has the upper hand, where he's in a position where if he just does things the right way, he's going to end up succeeding in what he's trying to do.
"But he always overplays his hand and goes too far because he's in a position of power and can't rein back. So he doesn't have a sense of scale and that's his biggest problem."
For example, he quelled a rebellion in France but when his nephew and enemy Arthur then dies in his custody, the finger of suspicion points at John and the revulsion felt in France renews the revolt and leads to defeat. A kingdom that once stretched from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees was falling apart.
What John will always be remembered for, apart from antagonising Robin Hood, is the Magna Carta, which limited royal power and restated English law. And some of his defenders say that at least he provoked the barons into introducing one of history's most famous documents.
In the History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill wrote: "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; for it was through the union of many forces against him that the most famous milestone of our rights and freedom was in fact set up."


Apr 2014
Liverpool, England
John gave Liverpool its charter (strictly a letter patent) and, at a long remove, was arguably responsible for the Beatles. You've got to give him credit for that.
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Jan 2009
Battle of Bouvines was a pretty close battle, with Philip unhorsed and, with a bit of bad luck, he could have been killed. Had that happened, the battle would probably have become a French rout and a total Allied victory, reversing the gains Philip had made for the French Crown. It would have vindicated John's strategy, and restored the Angevin Empire. As the result, John would probably be remembered as one of the ablest Kings of England, if a ruthless and an irreverent one. And probably no Magna Charta in this case, as I doubt you would have had the Barons' War with John riding high on his success.

Then again, John had an amazing capacity to be his own worst enemy at times, so maybe he would have managed a way to antagonize the nobles even then. He certainly had a knack for that.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
No better or worse than many monarchs, and he was as much a victim of circumstance as of his own decisions. Literature and folklore have done him no favours either.