John (Surnamed Lackland) King of England

John (Surnamed Lackland) King Of England, and youngest son of Henry II, was born at Oxford Dec. 24, 1166. After the conquest of Ireland, his father, in accordance with a bull from the pope authorizing Henry II to invest any one of his sons with the lordship of Ireland, appointed him to the government of that country in 1178, and he removed thither in 1185; but he failed so utterly in the task that he was recalled in a few months. He had always been the favorite of his father, and is said to have caused his death by joining his elder brothers in rebellion against Henry (of course, the controversy with Thomas a Becket, and his remorse after the archbishop's death, contributed no little to the sudden death of Henry II). Upon his brother Richard's succession he obtained a very favorable position in the English realm; indeed, so many earldoms were conferred on him that he was virtually sovereign of nearly one third of the kingdom. But this by no means satisfied John, by nature base, cowardly, and covetous. During the absence of his brother on a crusade, he sought even to obtain for himself the crown, but failed signally, earning only a very unenviable reputation for himself, while greatly increasing the affection of the English people for Richard. Upon the death of the latter, John, by express wish of Richard on his death bed, ascended the long-

coveted throne (May 26, 1199). The accusation that John avoided the claims of Arthur, the son of his elder brother Geoffrey, by imprisoning him and then privately putting him out of the way, are questions which belong to secular historians. It remains for us to state here only that king Philip Augustus of France, who had espoused John's cause in opposition to Richard, now espoused the cause of Arthur, and involved John in a war in which the latter was severely the loser, France regaining by 1204 the provinces that had been wrested from her. Far more serious were the results of another contest into which he was drawn, in 1205, by the death of the archbishop of Canterbury, and which forms a most important chapter in the history of investiture. Insisting upon the royal right of investiture, John first waged war against his own clergy, until finally Innocent III also took up the gauntlet, and thus drew upon himself not only the formidable hostility of the whole body of the national clergy, but also of one of the ablest and most imperious pontiffs of Rome, SEE INNOCENT III. The question at issue was, of course, the election of a successor to the lately vacated archbishopric. It had hitherto been the custom of the clergy to defer the election to any vacancies in their ranks until the king had favored them with a conge d'elire. In this instance some of the juniors of the monks or canons of Christ Church, Canterbury, who possessed the right of voting in the choice of their archbishop, had proceeded to the election without such a grant from the royal chair, and chosen Reginald, their subprior, as successor, and installed him in the archiepiscopal throne before daylight.. Having enjoined upon him the strictest secrecy, they sent him immediately to Rome to secure the pontiff's confirmation of their act. The foolish Reginald, however, disclosed the secret, and it came to the ears of the king and the suffragan bishops of Canterbury. He at once caused the canons of Christ Church to proceed to a new election, and suggested John de Gray, bishop of Norwich, for the honorable position, who was accordingly installed, likewise against the wish of the suffragran bishops. These appealed to Rome, and John and the canons of Canterbury were forced to do likewise. This afforded Innocent III, ever on the alert to make his imperial power felt, a valuable opportunity to place forever at his own disposal one of the most important dignities in the Christian Church. Acceding to the doctrine of the invalidity of Reginald's election, he maintained that the new vacancy could only have been declared such by the sovereign pontiff, and that therefore the choice of the bishop of Norwich also was illegal, and put forth as the candidate for the primacy cardinal Langton, an Englishman by birth, but a devoted follower of the papal prince. Of course the monks, however reluctantly, acted on the suggestion of the supreme head of the Church; but John by no means gave his adhesion to an act the important results of which he could well foresee. He at once initiated violent measures against the native clergy, determined to retain for the crown the rights of investiture (q.v.). Innocent III, however, finding that he could not conquer the stubborn John by kind measures, at first mildly hinted the interdict, and in 1208 actually subjected the whole kingdom to this ecclesiastical chastisement, and the year following added to it the excommunication of John himself, absolving his subjects from their allegiance to him, and permitting them even to depose him from the throne. But John paid little heed to this display of "ecclesiastical thunder," and in the midst of it even ventured to engage in war with Scotland, and with an energy quite uncommon to him suppressed all rebellious outbursts in his own domains. Innocent, finding his "ecclesiastical artillery" to be inefficient against England's king, entered into league with Philip Augustus, and caused the latter to prepare for an invasion of England. This undertaking soon brought John to terms, and in 1213 (May 13) he at last consented to submit to all the demands of the Holy See, of which the admission of the pope's nominee, Stephen de Langton, to the archbishopric of Canterbury, was the first. Nay, he even yielded much more than could have consistently been asked of him by the Roman see, and perpetrated an act of disgraceful cowardice, which has heaped everlasting infamy on his memory. Two days after, he made over to the pope the kingdoms of England and Ireland, to be held by him and by the Roman Church in fee, and took to his holiness the ordinary oath taken by vassals to their lords (see Reichel, The Roman See in the Middle Ages, p. 251 sq.). It is not to be wondered at that the Roman see now readily conceded to the demand of John that hereafter there should be an oblivion of the past on both sides, and that the bull of excommunication should be revoked by the pope, while, in return, John was obliged to pledge that of his disaffected English subjects those who were in confinement should be liberated, and those who had fled or been banished beyond seas should be permitted to return home. Philip, whose ambition was not a little mortified by this sudden agreement of pope and king, persisted in his invasion scheme, though no longer approved by Rome; but the French fleet was totally defeated in the harbor of Damme, 300 of their vessels were captured and above 100 destroyed. Subsequent events, however, proved more favorable to France, and aggravated the discontent at home against John. At length the English barons, tired of their tyrannical ruler, after vainly petitioning for more liberal concessions, assembled at Stamford to wage war themselves against him, and marched directly on London, where they were hailed with great joy by the citizens. The king; fearing for his throne, now gladly consented to a conference. They met the king at Runnymead, and, as a result of this meeting, they obtained, on June 15th, 1215, the Great Charter (Magna Charta), the basis of the English Constitution. The pope, who had constantly opposed the English in their revolutionary movements, soon after annulled the charter, and the war broke out again. The barons now called over the dauphin of France to be their leader, and Louis landed at Sandwich on May 30th, 1216. In attempting to cross the Wash, John lost his regalia and treasures, was taken ill, and died at Newark Castle on Oct. 19th, 1216 in the 49th year of his age. "All English historians paint the character of John in the darkest colors: and the history of his reign seems to prove that to his full share of the ferocity of his line he conjoined an unsteadiness and volatility, a susceptibility of being suddenly depressed by evil fortune, and elated beyond the bounds of moderation and prudence by its opposite, which gave a littleness to his character not belonging to that of any of his royal ancestors. He is charged, in addition, with a savage cruelty of disposition, and with the most unbounded licentiousness, while, on the other hand, so many vices are not allowed to have been relieved by a single good quality" (Engl. Cyclopedia, s.v.). Of course this may all be due to the fact that John has had no historian, that his cause expired with himself, and that every writer of his story has told it in the spirit of the opposite and victorious party; and, further, that the intense disgust always felt by every class of his countrymen at his base surrender of his kingdom in vassalage to the pope may have led them to regard with less distrust all adverse reports respecting his general character. See Milman, Lat. Christ. 5, ch. 5; Hallar, Middle Ages; Lingard, Hist. of England, 2, ch. 2; Hume, Hist. of Engl. 1, ch. 11; Gieseler, Ch. Hist. 3, § 54; Neander, Ch. Hist. 7, 235 sq.; Inett, Hist. Enql. Ch. 2, ch. 19 sq.; Riddle, Papacy, 2, 212 sq. (J.H.W.)

Bible concordance for JOHN.

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.