Blanche Parry

King John & Dore Abbey

John, born in 1166, was the youngest of the five sons (the eldest dying young) and three daughters of Henry II, King of England, and Eleanor of Duchess of Aquitaine. As such, John was not expected to succeed to the throne of the Angevin Empire, which covered England and Normandy, and indeed more of France than ruled by the French King, Eleanor's first husband. (They had had two daughters before the marriage was annulled.) He was nicknamed 'Lackland' by his tactless father, Henry II.

Medieval kings were peripatetic, travelling through their lands and Henry was well– known as deciding to move on at a moment's notice! He was also known for his vile temper, said to be a common trait of the Angevin kings, and one of his outbursts led to the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Royal family life became more dysfunctional as his sons grew to manhood and their father attempted to apportion lands, and advantageous marriages to heiresses, for them. In practice, though, Henry kept the reins of power firmly in his own hands and so eventually, when John was 7 years old, his older brothers rebelled against their father. As John had not been involved, he subsequently became Henry's favourite and when he was 10 years old he was appointed Lord of Ireland.

John's first visit to administer Ireland, when he was 18 years old, was a fiasco. He managed to anger everyone, making fun of the long beards of the Irish lords who successfully fought his forces, and he failed to ally with the Anglo–Normans blaming them for his failure. The following year his brother Geoffrey was killed, leaving a son Arthur and a daughter. As their eldest brother had already died, the next in line to inherit was Richard (the 'Lionheart'). However, Richard again rebelled against their father and this time John finally joined him. It is said that the news of John's disloyalty broke King Henry's heart as he lay on his deathbed.

When Richard succeeded as King in 1189 he tried to buy John's loyalty, creating him Count of Mortain and allowing him to marry the Countess of Gloucester as arranged by their father. In this period John had five illegitimate children, then considered scandalous only because two of his mistresses were noblewomen. When John became king himself, he had this marriage annulled though he kept the estates, and he married Isabella of Angoulême, by whom he had five children. John loved hunting and, if she accompanied him, it was Queen Isabella who would have visited Kilpeck Castle when John visited in 1211, 1212 or 1214. The sumptuously appointed apartments would have been in one of the baileys and the foundations have not yet been discovered.

Richard, the heroic king of the Robin Hood stories, was killed besieging a minor castle in France in 1199. John, the dastardly villain of the stories, succeeded. John was a complex man and his suspicious nature was fuelled by the warfare among his brothers, and with their father, when he was a child. He knew you had to fight for what you wanted. Unfortunately, for him he was not an able commander. King Philip of France took his opportunity to fight to extend his domains, initially with the support of John's 16 year old nephew, Arthur of Brittany. Medieval warfare was based around the feudal obligations of the various lords. John was at first fairly successful in winning a key battle but his treatment of his allies alienated them. Twenty–two of the leaders died due to the conditions of imprisonment John made them suffer. In addition, he is recorded as personally killing his nephew Arthur, the rival heir.

Over the following months the alliances and feudal obligations of the Angevin Empire disintegrated. Loss of land meant also loss of revenue and difficulties in paying for men and armaments to wage war. By 1204 Philip of France had conquered Normandy, Anjou and Poitou, leaving John with just Aquitaine.

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