Was King John a Failure?

The question that I am trying to answer is “was King John really a bad king”? There are many views on this topic and different pieces of written evidence on this subject, some written in the time of King John. In this essay I will try to explore the different documents and arguments that discuss if he was a good or bad king. Nowadays many people view King John as having been a bad king and I think this is mainly due to his character in the animated version of Robin Hood, which makes him out to be a money loving villain but is this true? Many people argue that King John was a greedy, weak and incompetent King. I think that he probably was a bad king but what does the evidence actually show?

King John is often referred to as a bad king these days and there is a lot of evidence both modern and written by sources in King John’s time. An extract from ‘A history of England’ written by C.R.L Fletcher and Rudyard Kipling in 1911 quotes that “John began a quarrel with the English church and the pope. He took away church property and gave it to a set of foreign favourites.” This happened in 1205, John acted irrationally and as a result the pope passed over an interdict over the whole of England and Wales, this meant that no-one was buried or married. John got his revenge by taking property from the church. In 1209 the pope excommunicated john. 4 years later John finally gave in. By taking the church land John, managed to earn a bit of money to fund his wars.

Many of the sources were written by monks or religious people and their views may have been influenced by the fact that King John had had a big argument with the Pope and was responsible for the killing of several monks at Canterbury Cathedral. It can then be argued that theses sources are less reliable because the people writing them were biased against King John so did not write an honest account. I think any evidence like this cannot be one hundred percent accurate as the men who wrote them were often prejudiced against King John. Although many of the stories and diary accounts are written by the same types of religions, anti King John monks or barons, there may be some truth in what they wrote as it is unlikely that all of the documents could have been made up. There are some sources that are more reliable than others and there is a range of reasons why they are more reliable. The first and, I think, most obvious reason is the time that they were written. Another reason is that some of the documents about him were written by men with no opposed attitude towards King John which gives reason for them to be more trustworthy.

Although John may not be one of the strongest kings England has ever had, a lot of his problems were inherited. The main problem was money and the high taxes he demanded from people. One of the reasons the taxes were so high was that his brother Richard needed money to continue fighting in the crusades for the Pope and as wars are very expensive they needed a constant flow of money coming in to keep an army up and running. The second problem was that John had inherited lands in France and as these lands was expensive to keep a guard or small army out there to protect them. When he lost the French lands he made the mistake of raising more taxes to build another army to try to recapture his that land. Another major problem King John faced was a religious one. Because he argued with the Pope this gave him a bad reputation with many religious British men, who lost any respect that they had for King John and gave him a bad name. Matters were made worse by the fact he was suspected of killing several monks at Canterbury Cathedral, which added to his bad reputation. These problems caused King John difficulties as many people hated him and lost respect for him. The people didn’t have the money to pay the taxes so he punished those who couldn’t pay and people began to hate John for what he was doing. The loss of the land in France meant that the Barons thought of John as a weak ruler and the religious difficulties meant that he was viewed by the monks and priests as being anti religion.

Many people have different views of King John, some as a good King some as a bad King. My opinion of King John is that he was a bad King, although many of his problems were inherited as I have said in the paragraph above. He was very unfortunate to have these problems but I think that there were better ways to handle them. He did achieve some good things and the following is an extract from a recent history book. “John tried hard to be a good king. He visited all parts of England and was merciful to helpless people – the poor, widows and children”. That is one reason which means you could say that he was a good king. Although there is some evidence to say that John was a good King I do not think that that evidence outweighs the evidence that he was a bad King. My final view on King John is that he was a bad King and I believe that a lot of the evidence supports my view.

There are many historians who have different views and opinions about King John. The reasons for their views depend on what aspect of King John they study. If some historians look at King John and the way he taxed medieval Britain then their views probably would be more anti John than supportive of him. But historians who look at how he treated his people when he actually met them face to face would probably think of John as a good King as the passage from the recent history book shows in the paragraph above.
Views and interpretations of King John have changed over time and there are various reasons why this has happened. One of the reasons, and I think most obvious reason is the discovery of new evidence.

Different pieces of evidence have been found since our first views of King John and these which give new perspective on King John. Another reason is that peoples beliefs and religions change, for instance the Victorians were extremely religious and they hated john. An extract from ‘short history of English people’ written by J.R Green says that “His punishments were cruel: the starvation of children and crushing of old men under copes of lead.” John’s attitude to the church was the main reason why the Victorians hated him. They worshiped the Magna Carta because they saw it as a new type of England, a democratic England. Whereas the Tudors loved John, they saw him as an earlier version of Henry VIII. An extract from ‘Homily Against Disobedience and Wilful Religion’ “What a disgrace and a shame that the barons rebelled against King John and did not give him help in wars” They thought the barons were wrong to rebel against John and they thought they thought the barons wanted money. Interpretations change over time because views of people and things change.
The conclusion of my essay is that King John was a bad king. I have looked at the different evidence about whether King John was as a good or bad King and reached my decision. I came to that decision for many reasons that I have explained above. I think that King John was a bad king but he was not entirely blameworthy as he inherited many of the problems that he faced, however he could have dealt with them better.

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