King John (Dictionary of World Biography: Middle Ages)
Article abstract: King John’s poor statesmanship was primarily responsible for the downfall of the Angevin Empire and the decreased power of the English monarch, as reflected in the Magna Carta.
John was the youngest son of King Henry II and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, younger by eleven years than Prince Henry, by nine than Richard “Lion Heart,” by eight than Geoffrey. At five feet, five inches tall, he never measured up to his tall elder brothers. The effigy on his tomb at Worcester Cathedral, carved fifteen years after his death, shows a resemblance to those of Henry II and Richard, but with better defined, bonier features. Unlike their father, John and Richard wore mustaches and trimmed beards; John’s hair covered his ears in the thirteenth century style. No physical description survives from John’s lifetime, but fuller archives than for any previous reign preserve many details of his life-style. Even as a child, he had a reputation for luxury rather than knightly valor; as king, he used sugar and spices, wore a dressing gown (a novelty), collected jewels, and read books.
Prejudice against his enemies and the Angevin technique of ruling through fear do not suffice to explain John’s reputation for malignancy. He may not have murdered his nephew Arthur of Brittany in a drunken rage, but it would have been in character. In 1170, partly because of Henry II’s infidelities, Queen...
(The entire section is 2019 words.)
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