The island is also where Henry III and the future Louis VIII of France met in 1217.
Magna Carta Island
There are a number of areas in the country that lays claim to being the place where King John put his seal to the Magna Carta in the June of 1215. One of them lies in the Thames in Berkshire and is known as Magna Carta Island.
Magna Carta was supposed to have been spread out on an octagonal stone, which still remains, in what is known as the Charter Room of a small house that stands on the island. Interestingly, just across the water is Runnymede, the traditional area associated with this famous document.
The island is also where Henry III and the future Louis VIII of France met in 1217.
The Road to Magna Carta
On the 5th May 1215, King John was in the Berkshire town of Reading, it was while he was there that he received a message brought to him by a monk on behalf of a number of disenchanted barons. This message was a formal renouncement of their fealty to the crown.
The rebels had chosen Essex baron Robert Fitzwalter as their leader. Following a meeting in Northampton, the rebellious army marched to London. As part of their cause they took the cities of Lincoln and Exeter and with London taken their numbers increased, Stephen Langton the Archbishop of Canterbury, was sent to make peace.
Talks between the rebels and the king ended with the signing of Magna Carta on the 15th June.
Robert Fitzwalter is one of a number of men who are associated with the legend of Robin Hood.
Arthur of Brittany
On the 29th March 1187 the birth of Arthur, Duke of Brittany in Nantes in France to Geoffrey, son of Henry II, and his wife Constance.
Arthur's paternal uncle King Richard I had no children and before setting off on his most favourite pastime - the Crusades he named the boy heir to his English throne. However, in 1199 when Arthur was twelve Richard had a change of heart and made his last remaining brother John heir. Quite a sensible thing to do as a country with a minor on the throne is nothing but trouble.
Richard was dead by the end of March 1199 and despite his estate being in order, there was trouble anyway.
The barons of England supported Arthur - of course, they did !
England's hero the great William Marshall and John's mother Eleanor of Aquitaine stood on John's side.
The story goes that King John ordered his nephew's death and claimed the throne for himself. By the beginning of 1200, the boy had gone missing never to be seen again.
It is interesting don't you think that the story of Arthur shows similarities to the disappearance of Princes in the Tower two-hundred years later?
Heir’s to the throne go missing, their wicked uncle does the dirty deed and then the bodies are lost forever.
Death of King John at Newark Castle
Today in 1216, at Newark Castle in Nottinghamshire, occurred the death, probably from dysentery, of King John.
Fleeing a French invasion John had previously taken a safe route around the marshy area of the Wash in Lincolnshire to avoid the rebel-held area of East Anglia. He had travelled from Spalding to a town where he was well liked, Bishops Lynn, now Kings Lynn in Norfolk where he had previously granted a royal charter. The king eventually arrived in Nottinghamshire and was here at his castle in Newark that he was taken ill and had decided not to continue the journey.
No one likes King John very much, this is reflected in his position at the top of the leader board every time there is a vote for England's worst king. This always irritates me, in my opinion, John was born into what today we would call a dysfunctional family- squabbling parents, the youngest son, a spoilt and show off older brother. As a king he had to deal with grumpy barons, a bankrupt country and had no support from his people, what chance did he have?
W L Warren sums up fairly accurately in my view the cause of his troubled reign.
'talented in some respects, good at administrative detail, but suspicious, unscrupulous, and mistrusted.
His crisis-prone career was sabotaged repeatedly by the half-halfheartedness with which his vassals supported
him and the energy with which some of them opposed him.'
English chronicler Matthew Paris wrote that John was
“Foul as it is, hell itself is made fouler by the presence of King John."
even noted children's authors get in on the act, A A Milne writing:
King John was not a good man
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
So there you have it, on the whole, King John is seen a wicked and villainous and his reign a catastrophic failure - personally, I'd say he was unlucky.
Eleanor de Montfort
Eleanor, the youngest daughter of King John, had been abandoned by her mother Isabella of Angouleme in 1216. She had been left in the care of a number of governesses, one of the first was Margaret Biset she left Eleanor to serve in the household of her brother King Henry III's queen Eleanor of Provence. Margaret's replacement was Cecily of Sandford who Matthew Paris described as "of noble blood, but with nobler manners" and who was " learned, eloquent and courteous."
When Eleanor was just nine she had married the twenty-five-year-old William Marshall the son of William the Marshall, the first Earl of Pembroke whose title he had received in 1219. In 1231 Marshall died, some thought he was poisoned. His death left Eleanor a widow at sixteen.
Following William Marshall's death, Eleanor under Cecily's guidance, some might say influence, was persuaded to take a vow of chastity but this vow was soon broken when she married, in the January of 1238, English noble Simon de Montfort. Henry III had approved the marriage, which took place in secret and all three chose to ignore condemnation by Edmund Rich, Archbishop of Canterbury, in whose presence, Eleanor had taken the holy oath.
It is easy to see why Eleanor broke her vow, Simon de Montfort was just eight years older, he was charismatic and plain spoken and he was also a great friend of the king. However, this friendship and Eleanor's marriage ended in tragedy when de Montfort chose to lead a rebellion against the king.
The aftermath of the Battle of Lewes in 1264 saw Henry and his son Edward, later Edward I captured and de Montfort rule in the king's name. Eleanor chose to side with her husband, she was an enthusiastic supporter of his cause right up to his death at the Battle of Evesham in 1265.
With Simon de Montfort Eleanor had seven children. She would survive him by ten years, dying in exile in France in the April of 1275.
Isabella of Angouleme
There seems to be a bit of a disagreement among historians as to the reasons King John married his second wife Isabella of Angouleme, some say it was born out of lust, others out of the need to control the areas that neighboured Angouleme.
John, it has been said, took an immediate fancy to Isabella, the daughter of Audemar the Count of Angouleme, and was
quick to make a play for her. John certainly loved women, he was unfaithful to both his wives and kept numerous mistresses, some of them married women, so it is easy to believe that he was determined to have her and was not going
to take no for an answer.
There was a big difference in their ages, John was nearly thirty-four and Isabella about fifteen when they married on the 24th of August 1200. The birth of their first born suggests that the king may have respected her tender age and stayed out of the marriage bed till at least the end of 1206.
Following their marriage the couple arrived back in England, where on the 8th October 1200, Isabella was crowned at Westminster Abbey.
The view that most historians put forward, that King John was a tyrant and a thoroughly bad chap with absolutely no
redeeming features, makes it difficult to find anything positive to say about his twelve year marriage to Isabella, but from
what I have read it looks to be an exact copy of that of John's parents Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. John was a philanderer, so was Henry, Isabella a been a strong and forceful woman, so was Eleanor.
Soon after John's death in 1216, Isabella left her children, the youngest just a year old, in the care of the English court, and made a new life for herself with a new husband in her home of Angouleme.
King Richard I
King Richard I was a rebellious young man who had frequently challenged his fathers authority and had continuously been a thorn in his side. At the age of sixteen, Richard joined both his brothers, Henry and Geoffrey, in a revolt against their father whom they sought to dethrone.
At an early age he showed significant political and military ability, becoming noted for his chivalry and courage, along with his physical presence, he was said to be very attractive; with hair that was between red and blond, light blue eyes and a pale complexion, these facts secured his popularity with the masses. He was also a vicious and cruel man. When crowned King of England, he barred all Jews and women from the coronation ceremony, some Jewish leaders nevertheless arrived to present gifts for the new king. On his orders Richard's courtiers stripped and flogged the Jews, then flung them out. When a rumour spread that Richard had ordered all Jews to be killed, the people of London began a massacre. Many Jews were beaten to death, robbed and burned alive, many Jewish homes were burned down, and several Jews were forcibly baptised, some sought sanctuary in the Tower of London others managed to escape.
Baldwin of Exeter the Archbishop of Canterbury reacted by replying
"If the King is not God's man, he had better be the devil's”
Richard soon realised that his actions could destabilise his realm, on the eve of his departure on crusade, Richard ordered the execution of those responsible for the murders and persecutions. Those who were hanged were not his henchmen, but rioters who had accidentally burned down Christian homes, and to make sure that people took him serious in his actions he issued a royal writ demanding that the Jews be left alone. Not surprisingly this was not taken seriously, the following March there was further violence, including a massacre at York. Richard swore an oath to renounce his past wickedness in order to show himself worthy to take the cross. He started to raise and equip a new crusader army. He spent most of his father's treasury, raised taxes and sold official positions and lands to those interested in them. Even those already appointed were forced to pay huge sums to retain their posts including the Bishop of Ely who bid £3,000. William Longchamp coughed up an equal amount to remain as Chancellor.
Instead of leaving his younger brother John in control of England in his absence he appointed as regents Hugh, Bishop of Durham and William de Mandeville who soon died and was replaced by William Longchamp. It comes a no surprise then, that John was not satisfied by this decision and attempted to overthrow Longchamp, John was more popular than Longchamp in London, and in October 1191 the city opened the gates to him while Longchamp was confined in the tower. John promised the city the right to govern itself in return for recognition as Richard's heir presumptive. Some were in support of John as Richard only spent six months of his reign in England and emptied the kingdom's coffers to pay for his crusade. According to William Stubbs in The Constitutional History of England
“ He was a bad king: his great exploits, his military skill, his splendour and extravagance, his poetical tastes, his
adventurous spirit, do not serve to cloak his entire want of sympathy, or even consideration, for his people. He was no Englishman, but it does not follow that he gave to Normandy, Anjou, or Aquitaine the love or care that he denied to his
kingdom. His ambition was that of a mere warrior: he would fight for anything whatever, but he would sell everything
that was worth fighting for.The glory that he sought was that of victory rather than conquest. ”
Richard said of England it is "cold and always raining," and when it came to raising funds for his Crusade, he was said to declare,"I would have sold London if I could find a buyer." But what we should remember is that to the king, his nobles and royal household, England was just a part of the vast estate they governed, Richard felt more French than English and therefore put the people of this land second. The Plantagenet kings before the 14th century had no need to learn the English, a language of a people they really new nothing about.
Although England was a major part of his territories Richard faced no major internal or external threats during his reign, it was his French territories where he felt that he was needed. He left England in the hands of various officials, including, at times his mother. This meant that Richard was far more concerned with his more extensive French lands and he either did not know or care that the people of England were being subjected to the greed of feudal barons, contemptuous sheriffs and as history puts it the ’wicked and cowardly John’.
John was no hero he was untrusting and he too was selfish but he took it upon himself to take control of a country that might have easily fallen into the hands of unscrupulous barons. Of course, that's another story.
Richard I's life is viewed by his exploits whist on crusade where a great piece of medieval PR by Richard de Templo, makes the king sound like some sort of superman.
"King Richard pursued the Turks with singular ferocity, fell upon them and scattered them across the ground. No one
escaped when his sword made contact with them; wherever he went his brandished sword cleared a wide path on all sides. Continuing his advance with untiring sword strokes, he cut down that unspeakable race as if he were reaping the harvest
with a sickle, so that the corpses of Turks he had killed covered the ground everywhere for the space of half a mile."
But just as Aeschylus wrote in 458 BC "By the sword you did your work, and by the sword you die." Richard I died when he was struck down when suppressing a revolt in Limousin in France in 1199.
In the March he had arrived at Chalus Chabrol Castle, it was while Richard was walking the castle's perimeter that he was struck by a crossbow bolt in the left shoulder just below his neck, fired by an archer named Pierre Basile. An attempt was made to remove the bolt but "extracted the wood only, while the iron remained in the flesh... but after this butcher had carelessly mangled the King's arm in every part, he at last extracted the arrow."
Richard's wound soon became gangrenous and he died on the 6th of April 1199.
One can picture the scene, a golden light shining through the castle window, the king in the arms of his mother, his blooded three lion tabard placed over a chair, he heroically gestures towards the door as his pardoned enemy walks away clutching a bag of gold. The last breath of a king drowned in the wailing of his mother.
The story, that from his death bed Richard pardoned the man who fired the bolt looks like a public relations stunt to me,
what better way to reinforce the idea that Richard was the magnificent king his subjects always thought he was. My problem with this story is, how did anyone know exactly who fired that fatal crossbow bolt from out of the many armed men at ground level, the truth is of course, they probably did not. How Pierre Basile arrived at the kings beside goes unrecorded, but it is said that he was paid handsomely and sent on his way, only the very next day the poor man was flayed alive.
Richard may well have ordered the death of this unfortunate archer, a young man in the wrong place at the wrong time, if he did then it was an act of vengeance, after all Richard had made grand gestures before only to go back on them later, however I believe we should look to Richard's mother, the fiery strong willed Eleanor, his most ardent supporter, as the person who ordered this man death.
As was the norm Richard's heart was taken to Rouen and the rest of his body to Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou and while his mortal remains turned to dust his reputation as a handsome and mighty crusading king is as solid today as it was then.
The Coronation of King John
On the 27th May 1199, John the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, was crowned King of England.
John can often be found at the top of the leader board when there is a vote for England's worst king, and this always
irritates me. John was disadvantaged from the start: Squabbling parents, youngest son, a spoilt and show off older brother, grumpy barons and a bankrupt country. Richard I, England's blue eyed boy, was a hard act to follow and I quote from W L Warren who, like me, has some sympathy for John.
In regard to Richard he writes:
"If Richard had lived another five years, there would have been one notable difference in the course of the campaign. The
king himself would have been on the heights above Les Andelys and even when all else had gone, Richard would have been
urging the citizens of Rouen to arms, parrying the first assault with blows of his great sword..."
This then is how history views Richard, Warren then goes on to write:
"By comparison with Richard, then, John has been seen as a weedy little tick"
England's problems, created by Richard, were blamed on John and when he had difficulty dealing with them he is
labeled a bad king.
King Henry II
Henry II was born the eldest of three sons to Empress Matilda and Geoffrey, Count of Anjou.
Henry II, as king of England, owes his place on the throne to the early death of William Adelin, his uncle and King Henry I’s only son and heir, who had perished when a ship in which he was travelling sank in the English Channel. What followed is known as the Anarchy, an era of broken promises and a major fallout between cousins
King Henry II was no clotheshorse, he cared little for appearance and he did love kingship, or at least everything that came with it. He was often rude and had a quick temper, quite a match for the wonderfully feisty Eleanor of Aquitaine who he married in the May of 1152. His children with Eleanor, among others, were Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John.
Henry II was often unfaithful to Eleanor, their relationship was unsettled and stormy and this eventually lead to Eleanor being placed under arrest after she encouraged her children to rebel against their father. During the years of their marriage Eleanor gave her love to Richard, whilst Henry’s affections were with John, even though John was his father's favourite he was given nothing in regards to lands and estates.
Henry's family are a prime example of a dysfunctional one and this lead to problems on many different levels, especially in regard to their children. To many people John was cruel, greedy and ultimately a failure as king, the exact copy of his brother Richard, yet Richard is seen as a hero and John a villain...but that's another story!
Both sons disagreed with their father's policies and had fallen out with him over them. Richard rebelled and took up arms against his father, John conspired sometimes with and sometimes against his elder brothers.
Henry was not oblivious of this, he made a curious statement regarding a painting in a chamber of Winchester Castle, depicting an eagle being attacked by three of its chicks, while a fourth crouched chick waits for its chance to strike. When asked the meaning of this picture, King Henry said:
"The four young ones of the eagle are my four sons who will not cease persecuting me even unto death.
And the youngest, whom I now embrace with such tender affection, will someday afflict me more grievously and perilously than all the others."
Henry's involvement in the death of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, is what Henry is most famous for, yet there was so much more to this king than that.
Henry III: The Forgotten King
Henry III or Henry of Winchester was the eldest son of King John by his second wife, Isabella of Angouleme, he was born at Winchester on the 1st October 1207.
Henry is said to not have been the most intelligent of kings, he was also seen as"uncomplicated, almost naive man, and a lover of peace," yet all this is hardly mentioned, historians preferring to write about Simon de Monfort who not only stole Henry's crown but also his limelight.
The dissatisfaction of Henry's barons culminated in the Second Barons War in 1263. It was Simon de Monfort who led the rebellion against Henry, and after the Battle of Lewes in 1264 both the king and his son Edward, later Edward I, were captured and it was de Montfort who ruled in his name. Eventually, de Montfort lost the support of many of Henry's disaffected barons, this along with Edward escaping his captors and raising an army was the beginning of the end for de Montfort. After the Battle of Evesham, Simon de Montfort met a grizzly end and Henry regained his throne.
Henry III was the first English king to be crowned as a child. His reign was a long one, he was king of England for fifty-six years, and I feel his time as our countries monarch was one of the most important and significant reigns in our history and as I mentioned earlier, much overlooked.
Henry III improved the educational system in England, he was a lover of art and architecture, and it was Henry who ordered the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey in the Gothic style we see today.
The kings last few years saw his power restored and it was a relatively peaceful one following the signing of the Dictum of Kenilworth. Henry was sensible enough to pass many of de Montfort's ideas and changes to government, and this act was brought into play by the end of October 1266.
Two years later Henry had Edward the Confessors body moved to its new shrine at Westminster Abbey, a clever move on Henry's part that suggests he considered or he hoped others would consider that trouble between him and his barons was over for good, although the death of his brother's son Henry of Almain, who was murdered by the vengeful Guy and Simon de Montfort, the sons of Simon de Montfort in 1271, was a blot on the new peace.
In 1270, Henry became ill, he wrote to Edward, who was on crusade asking him to return. For a time, the king regained his strength, but he continued to worry about the fragility of the peace he had worked hard to obtain, this must have been a contributing factor that led to his death on the 16th of November 1272. In 1290, Henry's body was exhumed, it was noted then that his body was in a very good condition, many thought that this was an indication of his saintly status leading to miracles being reported as occurring at his tomb.
Just as Richard III did in later years, Henry III suffered at the hands of antagonistic chroniclers, disregarding this, what did this man leave behind, what was his legacy?
Under Henry we saw the implementation of Magna Carta, and as mentioned earlier, learning flourished as many men followed in his wake in their pursuit of knowledge. We have marital alliances with the kingdoms of France and Scotland, and we have many magnificent buildings dotted around our fine country thanks to this 13th century monarch.
After ten years in the workplace I became a mother to three very beautiful daughters, I was fortunate enough to have been able to stay at home and spend my time with them as they grew into the young women they are now. I am still in the position of being able to be at home and pursue all the interests I have previously mentioned. We live in a beautiful Victorian spa town with wooded walks for the dog, lovely shops and a host of lovely people, what more could I ask for.
All works © Andrea Povey 2014. Please do not reproduce without the expressed written consent of Andrea Povey.