King John 1199-1216
John was the youngest and favourite son of Henry II. On his father’s death in 1189 his brother, Richard, became king. John received titles, lands and money, but this was not enough. In October 1190, Richard recognised his nephew, Arthur, as his heir. Three years later, when Richard was imprisoned in Germany, John tried to seize control. He was unsuccessful and, when Richard returned in early 1194, was banished. The two were soon reconciled and, when Arthur was captured by Philip II in 1196, Richard named John heir.
In 1199, Richard died and John became king. By 1206, John had lost Normandy, Anjou, Maine and parts of Poitou. These failures were a damaging blow to his prestige and he was determined to win them back. This required money. He began to exploit his feudal rights ever more harshly.
This bred increasing baronial discontent. Negotiations between John and his barons failed and civil war broke out in May 1215. When the rebels seized London, John was compelled to negotiate further and, on 19 June at Runnymede on the River Thames, he accepted the baronial terms embodied in the Magna Carta, which limited royal power, ensured feudal rights and restated English law. It was the first formal document stating that the monarch was as much under the rule of law as his people, and that the rights of individuals were to be upheld even against the wishes of the sovereign.
This settlement was soon rendered impractical when John claimed it was signed under duress. Pope Innocent III took his side and in the ensuing civil war John laid waste to the northern counties and the Scottish border. Prince Louis of France then invaded at the barons’ request. John continued to wage war vigorously, but his death in October 1216 enabled a compromise peace and the succession of his son Henry III.
Isabella of Angoulême (1188-1246)
Isabella of Angoulême was queen consort of England as the second wife of King John from 1200 until John’s death in 1216. She was also reigning Countess of Angoulême from 1202 until 1246. She had five children by the king, including his heir, later Henry III. In 1220, Isabella married Hugh X of Lusignan, Count of La Marche, by whom she had another nine children.