Excommunication of King John

Hubert Walter

Hubert Walter had served under the English Kings Henry II and Richard I. He joined Richard I during the third crusade and arranged the payment of ransom money to free Richard after the king was captured while returning through Austria. In 1193 Hubert Walter became the Archbishop of Canterbury and in 1194 became justiciar of England. This meant he had the highest position in the English Church and controlled the country's finances. This suited Richard I as the king hardly spent any time in England and probably did not speak much of the language. Richard was happy for Walter Hubert to run England's affairs. When King Richard died his brother John became King of England. Continuing in his position as Archbishop under the new monarch Hubert was able to keep the king under control. This ended with Hubert's death in 1205.

Choosing a new Archbishop

When Hubert Walter died a dispute began between King John and the monks of Canterbury. King John wanted John de Grey, the Bishop of Norwich, to have the position but the monks wanted their sub-prior, Reginald to become the new Archbishop. The matter was delayed until December when a mission sent to Rome could consult Pope Innocent III. Reginald himself went as part of the mission and stated that he had been elected by the monks. When King John heard of this he demanded that De Gray should be elected and the monks dutifully did.

The Pope wanted neither John de Grey or Reginald to become Archbishop. Instead, in 1207, the Pope chose a third person, Stephen Langton. When King John heard this he had Stephen Langton banished from England.

Interdict threatened

The response from Pope Innocent III was to threaten to place England under an Interdict. In medieval times this meant that no religious services could be conducted. No marriages, burials, or baptisms could be performed. King John refused to accept Stephen Langton as Archbishop and so, in 1208, the Pope served the Interdict on England. For many years the bells of the churches across England were not rung and people were not buried but King John still refused to accept Langton. The Pope then served John with Excommunication. For John this was a serious blow to his ability to rule the country as it absolved the King's subjects from their oaths of alliegance, gave the Barons reason to revolt and allowed the King of France to invade England to remove John from power.

John accepts the Pope's demand

Facing revolt from his own people and an invasion from France King John finally accepted the Pope's demands and let Stephen Langton into the country. The Excommunication was lifted and the French invasion fleet was defeated of the coast of Flanders (now Belgium). King John had survived this terrible episode of his reign, but worse was yet to come.

Related Information

King John
CoronationMay 27, 1199
Reign ToOctober 18, 1216
SucceededRichard I
PrecededHenry III
Royal HousePlantagenet

Timeline

1205 Jul 13 Hubert Walter dies
   Hubert Walter the Archbishop of Canterbury and King John's most important advisor died.
Dec John forces election of De Gray
   When Hubert Walter died a dispute began between King John and the monks of Canterbury over who should become the new Archbishop of Canterbury. King John wanted John de Grey, Bishop of Norwich, to have the position but the monks wanted their sub-prior, Reginald. The matter was delayed until December when a mission sent to Rome could consult the Pope. Reginald himself went as part of the mission and stated that he had been elected by the monks. When King John heard of this he demanded that De Gray should be elected and the monks dutifully did.
1206 Dec The Pope chooses Stephen Langton for Canterbury
   Although the monks of Canterbury wanted their own sub-prior for the post of Archbishop and King John wanted John de Gray, Pope Innocent III chose Stephen Langton. Langton was originally from Lincolnshire but after teaching in Paris had moved to Rome where he had become a Cardinal. The monks of Canterbury accepted the Pope's decision and voted Langton in as the new Archbishop. King John did not agree.
1207 Stephen Langton becomes Archbishop of Canterbury
   Stephen Langton was chosen as Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Innocent III.
Aug The Pope threatens an Interdict
   The Pope threatened King John with the sentence of Interdict unless he accepted Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. An Interdict meant that church services would be banned in England except for baptisms and confessions.
1208 Mar 24 Interdict served by the Pope
   With King John still refusing to accept Langton as Archbishop the Pope served the sentence of Interdict on England. In response King John confiscated church property. Many of the bishops of the great churches in the country fled abroad to the Continent.
1209 Langton lands at Dover
   Stephen Langton landed in England from France to see King John and take the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. John refused to meet with him although John did meet Stephen's brother Simon.
Nov John excommunicated by the Pope
   King John is excommunicated by Pope Innocent III.
1211 Summer Excommunication served
   In Northampton the Papal legate Pandulf served King John with his excommunication ordered by the Pope. For John this was a serious blow to his ability to rule the country as it absolved the King's subjects from their oaths of allegiance, gave the Barons reason to revolt and allowed the King of France to invade England to remove John from power.
1212 Nov John accepts Pope's demands
   Taking the advice of William Marshal John accepted the demands of the Pope and that Stephen Langton should become Archbishop. A peace mission was also sent to the Pope.
1213 Mar John prepares against invasion
   At a camp near Canterbury called Barham Down King John mobilized an army against the threat of invasion from the French.
Spring French plan invasion
   Because King John had been excommunicated by the Pope the French king, Philippe, had the right to invade England and remove John from the throne. Philippe wanted to put his son Louis in John's place.
May King John's first act of submission
   King John made his first act of submission to the Pope's envoy.
May 30 French fleet defeated
   The English fleet defeated the French fleet off Damme, Flanders and the French plans of invasion are destroyed.
Jul 20 Excommunication lifted
   When King John agreed to meet Stephen Langton at Winchester he was absolved from excommunication.
Sep 26 Pope's envoy arrives in England
   Cardinal Nicholas De Romanis arrived in England to prepare for the settlement of the Interdict. John's punishment was to pay 100,000 marks to compensate the church for the losses he had caused it.
Oct 3 Second act of submission
   King John appeared at St. Paul's Cathedral in a second act of submission to the Pope.
1214 Jun 29 Interdict lifted
   At St. Paul's Cathedral, in London, the Interdict was finally lifted.
 

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