King John reinterpreted



The son of one of my wider family was born with severe brain damage.  It took him until he was 18 before he could eat with a knife and fork.  But his father was so proud of him, boasting to his friends that his son had got an A-level in eating with a knife and fork.


Sometimes, how much we achieve is limited, not by our effort or actions, but by circumstance.  Does Vettel win the Grand Prix because he is a better driver than all the others, or is it because he happens to have a better car?

Maybe King John failed, not because King John was cold-hearted, selfish, cunning, bad, etc., etc., but because he faced a more difficult situation than some of those kings we regard as 'successful'.

In this lesson, you are going to be given the opportunity to reinterpret John.


Study this webpage, then answer the question sheet by clicking on the 'Time to Work' icon at the top of the page.


The following websites will help you research further:


The Magna Carta:

The interpretations page of the BBC KS3 Bitesize - essential reading

Brilliant exercise by Tony Fox using clips from Disney's Prince John

A much longer and more difficult article on the historiography of King John from Brighouse School, Calderdale


A very difficult review of historian Graham Seel's book: John, An Underrated King


The famous children's poem King John's Christmas by AA Milne - sympathetic




1  King John's Problems

When King John inherited the throne, he ruled a small empire, but he faced many problems.

1  King William 'the Lion of Scotland wanted to conquer Northumberland.

2  The barons in Ireland were growing too powerful.

3  King Llewelyn of Gwynedd in north Wales was growing very powerful and wanted to take over all of Wales.

4  The English barons were growing too powerful.

5  The government was in a muddle because Richard I had spent so much time on crusade.  He had emptied the royal treasury to pay for his wars.

6  The Church was growing too powerful.

7  Until 1204, Normandy was ruled by John.  But the Norman barons hated John.  In 1201, they rebelled.

8  King Philip II of France wanted to conquer Normandy, so he helped the Norman barons fight against John.



... continued:  The Events of King John's Reign

December 1199

John collected a new land tax from the knights and the barons.  He modernised the government and the law courts.

1 August 1202

John defeated the rebel Norman barons at the battle of Mirabeau.

November 1204

John built Dublin Castle and improved the law courts in Ireland.

April 1205

Philip II of France defeated the English army and drove the English out of Normandy.

August 1209

John built up his forces in the north of England and frightened the Scots into making a peace treaty.

November 1209

John was in the middle of a quarrel with the Pope about who should be Archbishop of Canterbury.  Since 1207, the English Church had refused to hold any baptisms, weddings or church services ('the Interdict').  In 1209, the Pope excommunicated John (he threw him out of the Church).  In return, John confiscated Church property.

July 1210

John captured Carrickfergus Castle and took control of Ireland.

July 1211

John invaded and conquered Wales.

15 May 1213

John feared that the French were about to invade, so he came to an agreement with the Pope.  He accepted the Pope as his overlord, and promised to pay him a tribute of 666 a year.

30 May 1213

John had built a large navy which destroyed the French fleet before it could invade England.

27 July 1214

John invaded Normandy, but was defeated by Philip ll of France at the battle of Bouvines.

April 1215

The English barons revolted because of John's demands for money.  They captured London.

15 June 1215

The English barons forced John to sign the Magna Carta.

October 1215

The Scots invaded the north of England.

December 1215

The Welsh re-conquered Wales and invaded England.

May 1216

Louis Capet of France invaded England.