King John of England - Worcester Cathedral

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Effigy King John Medieval marble purbeck

 

Tomb of King John the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Made from Purbeck marble the sarcophagus dates from about 1230 and is the earliest effigy in the country to an English king. John was buried at Worcester Cathedral as he had commended his soul to God and his body to Saint Wulstan.1  Originally the effigy would have lain on the floor, but as more elaborate tombs were installed in later years, John's effigy was raised up to rest on a tomb chest that was made in about 1540.

 

His reign (1199-1216) was dominated by wars with Philip II of France from 1202 onwards. Alienating most of his Norman, Breton, and Anjou supporters by 1204 he had lost all of the Plantagent Empire.

 

In 1209 he was in dispute with pope Innocent III, over who should become archbishop of Canterbury following the death of Hubert Walter. Innocent III appointed Stephen Langton, who John opposed as he thought he was too heavily influenced by the French court. John refused to allow Langton to land in England, and confiscated the property of the archbishopric and other papal lands. As a result Innocent III excommunicated John, threatened to depose him and to sanction a French invasion.

 

Baronial opposition to John's foreign policy, and his arbitrary rule was brought to a head following the truce with Philip in 1214. In May 1215 the barons met in Northampton and repudiated their feudal ties with John. They then marched on London, and took Lincoln, and Exeter too. Stephen Langton was sent to mediate between John and the barons, and drew up the document that was to become known as Magna Carta, and which the barons forced John to sign at Runnymead on 15 June 1215.

 

The signing of the treaty did not stop the conflict, and the first baronial war started between the barons led by Robert Fitzwalter supported by an army from France led by the future Louis VIII of France, and King John. Innocent III supported John declared the charter 'shameful', 'illegal and unjust', and excommunicated the rebel barons. Many of the barons joined the rebellion and proclaimed Louis king.

 

John died at Newark Castle, Nottinghamshire on 18th October, and the crown passed to his nine year old son Henry III. William Marshal who was acting as regent for the young Henry signed an amended version of Magna Carta on his behalf, and persuaded the barons to switch sides to support Henry and expel Louis.2