There have been two King Johns in British history - one each in England and Scotland. Both are regarded as failures, for different reasons; this may account for the fact that each country's rulers risked the name no more. There have been King Johns in other countries, notably Bohemia: King John of Bohemia was killed at the Battle of Crecy (1346) while fighting the English, although he was by then blind.
John (of England)
Born 1167; married (1) Isabella of Gloucester (c.1160-1217) 1279 (annulled 1199); (2) Isabella of Angoulème, (c.1188-1246) in 1200; succeeded his brother, Richard I in 1199; died 1216, succeeded by his son Henry III.
- John 'Lackland' (his father is said to have nicknamed him sans terre, the French equivalent, as his youngest son had no territory) was a poor prince, whose father's efforts, as later his own, to acquire estates caused much resentment. He also caused resentment in Ireland, where he went to bolster royal authority, being created 'Lord of Ireland' - and failed, alienating many Irish magnates and staying only 8 months. He had a reputation for treachery, partly caused by his disputes and wars with his father and his two elder brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany (1158-1186). When Richard became king in 1189, he was duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, count of Anjou, Maine and Nantes, and not only spent much time in his continental dominions, but took a major part in the Third Crusade from 1290; when he was imprisoned on his return, by the Duke of Austria, John, scheming with King Philip of France, was tempted to claim the throne for himself. His attempt failed; the brothers were reconciled on Richard's return in 1194. Richard named John his heir by 1197, over his previous nomination, his nephew Arthur of Brittany. On Richard's death, John was embroiled with Philip II over his French possessions: he had lost Anjou and Normandy by 1205. (In 1203, Arthur disappears, presumed murdered by John - some say personally.) In 1208, Pope Innocent III placed England under an interdict, which may explain the hostility to John shown by monastic chroniclers, one of whom reported after his death "Foul as it is, Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John" (Parisiensis Matthaei (Matthew Paris) Chronica majora, ed. H. R. Luard, 7 vols., RS, 57 (1872-83), 2.669). In governing England thereafter, he became ever more extortionate: his exactions, losses in France and a capricious style of rule caused his barons, allied with Stephen Langton (c. 1150-1228), Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Welsh, and encouraged by the French, to rebel. A confused period ended with the signing of Magna Carta in 1215, on Runnymede Island, the 'Great [because long] Charter' promising certain liberties to "free men" of England, and controlling the rights of the Crown. Civil war continued, however, until John died in 1216, allegedly of eating too many - either peaches or lampreys.
- John is classically the 'Bad King' parodied in Sellar and Yeatman. Some of his reputation is owed to Walter Scott's addition to the legend of Robin Hood, in which he makes a - completely fictional - incognito return of Richard the Lionheart (the much desired good king) a feature of the plot of Ivanhoe (1819) - Richard relieves England of the tyrannous government of his brother John, and his accomplice the Sheriff of Nottingham. In Shakespeare's Life and Death of King John, he is involved in, but not guilty of, the death of Arthur Duke of Brittany, whose death accounted for great sentimental attachment to this play in the nineteenth century.
Born 1248/1250; married Isabel de Warenne (1253?-1279); granted the title of 'King of Scotland by his presumed overlord Edward I in 1292; abdicated 1296; died 1314.
- John Balliol was the grandson of the eldest daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon, younger brother of William the Lion (1142/3-1214), who died without issue. He was the nearest to the royal blood on grounds of seniority, but his claim came through two women. Robert (IV) de Brus, lord of Annandale had married Isabel, Earl David's second daughter, so was inferior on grounds of primogeniture; he was one generation nearer to Earl David, and had inherited only through one woman. At a hearing of 'the Great Cause' in Berwick-upon-Tweed under the presidency of Edward I of England in 1292, judgement was given for Balliol. (Bruce's grandson, Robert the Bruce was to become king and establish the independence of Scotland.) Balliol was willing to do homage to Edward as overlord of Scotland, a decision that helped to lend powerful support to the campaigns of William Wallace (executed 1305) and Robert the Bruce for Scottish independence. There is some irony in the fact that he was deposed for asserting his independence of the English crown, and trying to negotiate a separate treaty with Philip II of France in 1296. After a brief military conflict, he surrendered to Edward's forces and was humiliated - deposed and having the royal badges ripped from his coat in public. (Hence his nickname of 'Toom Tabard', or 'empty coat'.) King John seems to have been a good administrator; but his short reign was tarred with "the taint of Englishness" (ODNB) and weakness in the face of English power.
- It is an indication of how bad John Balliol's reputation was that the great grandson of Robert the Bruce, who was christened John Stewart chose, on his accession in 1390, to take the regnal name Robert. This change, according to ODNB, "was explained by later writers as a way of avoiding comparison with the unhappy reigns of John Balliol in Scotland, Jean I and II of France, and King John of England." But it may also have been designed to avoid the tricky question of whether John Stewart should be known as King John or John II of Scotland, thus legitimizing the questionable reign of Balliol.