On the 27th May 1199 King John was crowned at Westminster Abbey.  The previous king, his brother Richard, had died after being shot in the shoulder by a crossbow.  John ruled for seventeen years before contracting dysentery while in Kings Lynn, an illness from which he later died.  John’s reign saw him lose control of the Angevin Empire, lose the crown jewels in the mud of East Anglia, and lose significant monarchical power under the terms of the Magna Carta.

John’s claim to the throne wasn’t entirely clear-cut since Arthur, the son of John’s older brother Geoffrey, was another possible heir.  His claim was also supported by a large contingent of French nobles, and the French king Phillip II himself, who hoped to fragment the Angevin Empire.  This laid the foundations for John’s ongoing struggles in mainland Europe, which gradually eroded his control over the lands of the Angevin Empire.

The fact that John succeeded in his bid to be crowned was significant.  Medieval monarchs got their legal authority from their coronation, where they swore the coronation oath and were then anointed, girted, crowned, invested and enthroned. However, although the coronation gave the King the legal authority to rule the country, it was still based on him abiding by the coronation oath.  Rebellious barons argued that John failed to do this since, like his predecessors, he sometimes took executive decisions on the basis that the king was above the law.  This set in motion calls for a ‘law of the land’ that was to result in the Magna Carta.

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