Was King John of England good or bad?  Why?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

King John was the brother of Richard the Lionheart and the son of Henry II. All three had the same ill temper and the logical fears that arise from being king in such turbulent times. The difference, however, was that Johnwas such a weak warrior that he was even nicknamed "Softsword".

Imagine a King so weak in battle that, when he came to the throne in 1199 he had 6 different empires. Yet, by the time he died, he had lost 4 of them, and reduced his power significantly. He seemed to lose every war not because he was not clever, but also because he was categorized as lazy.

When wrote about, Monk Matthew Paris said:

"Foul as it is, hell itself is defiled by the fouler presence of John,"

He quarreled with the Church, and is thought to have killed his nephew on a fit of rage.

So, that, added to signing the Magna Carta...tells you that he was definitely not the most memorable fellow in British history.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that John must have been a bad king.  My main reason for saying this is that it seems that his subjects never really supported him.  It is said that the common people thought he was a tyrant and the nobles thought he was lazy.  It seems like a good king would make at least some part of his subjects admire and/or support him.

It seems unlikely that a better king would have allowed himself to get to the point where the Pope placed an interdict on his whole country.  Nor would a good king have allowed relations with his nobles to get out of hand to the point where they forced the Magna Carta on him.

So it seems that he was both unpopular and weak.  And that doesn't sound like a good king to me.

sciencehour | Student

 King John of England ( 1166 - 1216) was a fair and good ruler but his taxes became very unpopular for the feudal lords . His actions designed to balance the influence of the Pope and the feudal lords, led to concessions made on both sides . Documents like Bulla Aurea signed with the Pope and Magna Carta signed with the rebellious lords, which limited for the first time king's power, a sign of modernity in the ruling sistem .

 The bad aspects of his reign were unstability, the way he eliminated his relatives - pretenders to the throne . Also a defeat in France caused the loss of Normandy .

teacher77 | Student

King John was the first king of England that spent most of his life in England as opposed to his other possessions.  The question of whether he was good or bad is one where there is no definitive answer. John was a good king in the fact that he cared about his domain and remained in England rather than spending most of his time fighting in the Crusades like his brother, King Richard.  However, one must remember that John was not raised to be a king. In fact, even his brother Richard, the third son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, was raised to be the Duke of Aquitaine. John's early life was much different.

His barons did not like John's on-hand approach because they had grown used to having an absent king.  John also took liberties with his nobles' property rights.  His treatment of his subjects led to his being forced into signing the Magna Carta.

John had good organizational skills and was, in fact, a competent king in most areas.  The loss of Normandy under his reign most likely would have happened even under Richard, as those barons were already disaffected.