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Photo of King John

King John I (r. 1199-1216) 1

The politics of King John I

King John reigned from 1199 to 1216. In the beginning he had the loyalty of the northern barons, because he addressed some of their grievances. But at no time was John a popular visitor, because he was always levying money to pay for his French wars. In 1200 the city of York was fined 100 pounds because they did not welcome the king in a hearty enough way. John also was sometimes bribed not to stay at particular places. The northern barons turned against John in 1213, refusing to go with him to France -- and John lost the battle of Poitou. In wrath John marched against the northern barons when he got back from France, but Archbishop Stephen Langton threatened to excommunicate all of the king's forces except the king himself, so this march came to naught.

John turned his attention back to France, but his hopes of ruling there were crushed in 1214, when he was badly defeated in the battle of Bouvines. The barons of England, especially the northern barons, then rose against John. John was forced to surrender and was taken to Runnymede, where the Magna and Forestra Charters were signed on the 15th of June, 1215. According to the Magna Charta, every man had the right to be judged by his equals; also justice must not be denied, delayed, or sold. The barons appointed 25 of their number to oversee the carrying out of the Charters. The governorship of Scarborough was so important that not only was it explicitly mentioned in the Magna Charta, but also the governor had to be oath-bound to obey the overseeing barons. 2 John apparently went crazy after signing the Charters, rolling on the floor and biting bits of wood. Not surprisingly, John immediately went against the Charters and started levying troops. The barons offered the crown of England to the oldest prince of France, in the hope that John's French mercenaries would not fight against their own royal family. This did not work. John's army marched against his barons with great fury and savagery, especially against the northern barons. The western dales surrendered early in 1216, so they would not get squashed. After his successful campaign John went to Scarborough on February 12th, 1216. Despite John's conquering of many of the baronial lands, the Magna Charta became permanent with John's death on October 19th, 1216. 3

Click here for more information about King John in relation to Scarborough Castle.

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