The First Barons' War
The reasons for King John's unpopularity
ing John lost all the territories in France and Normandy when the French barons rose up against his misrule and forced the English out. In England, demands for higher taxes to fight the French had made the King unpopular and in October of 1214 King John returned from Normandy to face more opposition. Hubert Walter, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had recently died. It was Hubert Walter who had limited the King's excesses but now that the Archbishop was dead the King was free to do as he pleased.
The Great Charter
Unhappy with the way King John was running the country, Stephen Langton the new Archbishop of Canterbury and many barons of England drew up a new charter for the King to sign. Henry I, John's great-grandfather, had introduced a charter when he became king promising fairer laws for all English citizens but the promises made in Henry's charter were now being ignored by King John. It was hoped that the King would agree to sign the charter and abide by its promises. In early 1215 the King promised to meet the barons but kept delaying the meeting.
The Great Charter or Magna Carter
King John could not delay the meeting any longer. The barons forced the King to meet them at Runnymede on the river Thames where, on the 15th of June 1215, the two sides met. Present was Archbishop Stephen Langton and William Marshall. King John agreed to the conditions in the Great Charter (or Magna Carta) and signed the document. John also agreed to the barons' demand that a committee of twenty four or twenty five barons would oversee the decisions he made. Although John signed the document he was soon to find a way to absolve himself from its commitments. Several copies of the document were made and sent to places of safety around the country.
The Pope absolves the Great Charter
King John approached the Pope and got the pontiff's agreement that the document was invalid because the king had been forced to sign it. The Pope excommunicated the barons also served an Interdict on London, forbidding burials to take place.
Prince Louis of France offered the English throne
As King John had no intention to abide by the rules of the Great Charter the barons had little choice but to fight the King. The rebel barons sent messengers to France and offered Prince Louis, the son of Philippe II King of France, the English throne if he helped them to remove King John from power. In response King John began to confiscate the barons' lands and properties. A civil war broke out in England. From September of 1215 until March of 1216, King John and his army marched across the east of England where the rebel barons were in control. In January of 1216 King John had reached as far north as Berwick-upon-Tweed where he captured the town and set it on fire.
In early 1216 an advance force of French soldiers arrived in England. Prince Louis arrived in England in May and began to advance across the country taking major cities such as Winchester. King John used his castle at Corfe on the south coast as his headquarters during this time.
Death of King John
In September of 1216 King John was on the offensive again marching east into rebel-held land. While crossing the River Ouse which fed into the Wash estuary King John's baggage train was caught in quicksand and destroyed by the incoming tide. John's supplies and treasures were washed away. The remnants of the King's forces reached Swineshead Abbey where they spent the night. It was here that John either ate too much or could possibly have been poisoned. The next day King John rode to Newark feeling unwell and after reaching the castle he died.
Routes taken by King John
Based on map from Atlas of British History, G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville
Event Participants and Loctions
Early Middle Ages
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Event Participants and Loctions