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King John and Religion

King John and Religion

Paul Webster
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 269
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  • Book Info
    King John and Religion
    Book Description:

    King John has been perceived as one of England's most notorious monarchs. Medieval writers and later historians condemn him as a tyrant, seeing his long-running dispute with the church as evidence of a king who showed little regard for his faith. This book takes issue with orthodox opinion, arguing that in matters of religion, the critique obscures the evidence for a ruler who realized that outward manifestations of faith were an important part of kingship. It demonstrates that John maintained chapels and chaplains, prayed at shrines of the saints, kept his own collection of holy relics, endowed masses, founded and supported religious houses, and fed the poor - providing for his soul and emphasising his aura of authority. In these areas, he ranks alongside many other medieval rulers. The book also presents a major reassessment of the king's dispute with the church, when England was subject to a general interdict, and the king was excommunicate, the severest sanctions the medieval church could impose. It reveals the lasting damage to the king's reputation, but also shows how royal religious activity continued whilst king and pope were at loggerheads. Furthermore, despite his vilification since his death, there were those prepared to honour John's memory, during the medieval period and beyond. Dr Paul Webster is a Teaching Associate at Cardiff University, in the Cardiff School of History, Archaeology and Religion.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-512-0
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    This is a study of the personal religion of one of England’s most notorious kings: John. Its contribution lies within the developing study of the religious observance of England’s medieval rulers. For various monarchs, in particular Henry III and Richard II, religion was central to their vision of kingship, whilst others – Henry I, Edward I, and Edward III – were generally successful kings who balanced personal religion as one of several aspects of rulership. An extended study of a king whose personal religion is rarely seen as important, indeed who has sometimes been condemned as irreligious, will illustrate the...

  7. 1 The Mass
    (pp. 19-36)

    John’s attendance at religious services provides a starting point in the search for evidence of his personal religion. In particular, to what extent did he engage with the ritual of the mass? This rite was of central importance to medieval men and women, albeit that it attracted ‘a broad spectrum of responses… from the extravagant, intense and devout on one end, to the distracted, apathetic, dismissive or hostile on the other’.¹ The schoolmen of the day tied themselves in complex intellectual knots debating the transformation that took place in the consecrated host. Yet on the more practical level of the...

  8. 2 The Saints
    (pp. 37-60)

    Seeking support from the saints, both in relation to everyday problems and for the future of the soul, was a fundamental aspect of medieval lay religion. For kings, the backing of the saints could be sought in the affairs of government and kingdom, and against opponents within and outside the realm. Such intercession could be sought as a potential buttress to authority, or for more day-to-day matters such as health and welfare. Despite this, John’s interest in the cult of the saints stands first on Painter’s list of ‘the more superficial forms’ of religious activity in which the king engaged.¹...

  9. 3 Powerhouses of Prayer
    (pp. 61-84)

    Establishment of religious communities to pray for the founder’s soul lay at the heart of elite strategies for securing salvation, creating powerhouses of prayer for themselves and their families. King John was part of this trend, but this is not how he is remembered. Historians view his principal foundation, Beaulieu Abbey (Hampshire), with scepticism. Bishop Stubbs argued that the king had scarcely enough sense of religion to found it. Others see Beaulieu neither as John’s idea nor as well-endowed by its founder. Painter describes it as ‘the result of a semipolitical bargain’. Harper-Bill argues that ‘it is clear that the...

  10. 4 Family
    (pp. 85-109)

    A sense of family obligations or unity is not always associated with Henry II and his sons. Henry the Young King, Richard, and Geoffrey of Brittany all rebelled against their father, more than once, in the 1170s and 1180s. John, the youngest son, joined Richard I’s alliance with Philip II of France when it became clear that the old king was dying in 1189. The betrayal allegedly caused Henry II to despair of life on his deathbed at Chinon.¹ If this was a recognition of political reality, John proved a greater threat to his family during Richard I’s early years...

  11. 5 Charity and Almsgiving
    (pp. 110-130)

    Charity and aid for the poor are aspects of royal religion for which King John’s son, Henry III, is rightly renowned. Under Henry, ‘a new chapter opens in the history of almsgiving’. The king regularly fed thousands of paupers, honouring the saints or the souls of his relatives.¹ His largesse took the form both of lavish, one-off events, such as feeding 102,000 individuals for the soul of his sister Isabella in 1242, and of daily giving, as with the distributions to several hundred paupers that occurred at various times during the reign.²

    There are precursors for Henry’s activity in his...

  12. 6 Religion, Politics, and Reputation: The Interdict and King John’s Excommunication
    (pp. 131-152)

    Despite his attendance at and provision for masses, his veneration of the saints, his religious foundations, provision for prayers for his wellbeing and for the souls of his relatives, and his almsgiving, King John is primarily remembered as a king who lacked respect for religion and the church. That this is the case is largely due to the long-running dispute over who would succeed Hubert Walter as archbishop of Canterbury. As with Richard I’s dealings with the Church, ‘religious motives had no place’ in John’s attitude to the dispute. He was concerned to protect what he perceived to be his...

  13. 7 Peace with the Pope: Diplomacy, Personal Religion, and Civil War
    (pp. 153-172)

    King John was no stranger to ecclesiastical sentences. His first marriage (1189), to his second cousin, Isabella of Gloucester, was deemed consanguineous, prompting an interdict imposed by Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury. The count of Mortain incurred excommunication when he attempted to seize the throne in 1194. Here, he was attempting to violate the rights and possessions of a sworn crusader, his brother Richard. The sentence was pronounced by Archbishop Hubert Walter and his fellow bishops.¹ In 1203 Hubert, acting alongside Eustace, bishop of Ely, was again charged with sanctioning John. This time, an ambulatory interdict was to be imposed if...

  14. 8 King John’s Deathbed and Beyond
    (pp. 173-192)

    King John died on the night of 18/19 October 1216, during a civil war very much of his own making, far from being master of his kingdom. Nonetheless, evidence for royal religion can be found up until the very end. Days before his death, part of the king’s baggage train became trapped in quicksands whilst his entourage undertook a dangerous estuary crossing before the tide went out, in the so-called ‘disaster in the Wash’.¹ Losses included John’s chapel and the relics carried with it, suggesting that even amidst a crisis in which the king travelled the country at speed and...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-200)

    This study has explored the range and extent to which personal religion was practised by King John. Ultimately, we cannot know what he thought about the religious rituals of his day. What can be shown, however, is that he realised that he needed to be seen to participate, that this was an aspect of kingship that he should acknowledge and harness. In his wider rulership, his political and military failures can rarely be attributed to lack of effort, despite the criticisms of the chroniclers. In terms of religion, he fell out with the church dramatically, but realised that the personal...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-232)
  17. Index
    (pp. 233-250)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-254)