Where I left off last in this series, we saw the struggle for the throne between King John and his nephew, Arthur of Brittany. It really wasn’t much of a struggle. John had the upper hand and had been named successor by his older brother, King Richard I.
The focus of this series is not to give a detailed examination of the reigns of these monarchs so I don’t need to delve deeply into the fact that King John is generally considered one of the worst English kings, if not the very worst, to ever sit on the throne. John married twice and also had a string of mistresses, many were married noble women. Although a king having a mistress was acceptable at the time, or at least understandable, the taking of mistresses from the married nobility was not an acceptable practice. John’s first wife was Isabelle of Gloucester a cousin from the wrong side of the sheets. Isabel a great granddaughter of King Henry I. Her father was William FitzRobert, 2nd Earl of Gloucester who himself was the son of Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester an illegitimate son of Henry I of England. This marriage ended in annulment around the time John came to the throne. There was no issue to this union.
John chose as his second wife, the 12 year old Isabella of Angoulême (John was 34 at the time). Isabella was the daughter of Aymer of Angoulême and Alice of Courtenay a granddaughter of King Louis VII of France. John and Isabella had five children. Henry, heir to the throne and named after John’s father, King Henry II, came first, followed by Richard and then three daughters, Joan, Isabel, and Eleanor. A rarity in that day and age, when infant mortality was high, all five children lived to adulthood.
During the reign of King John he seemed to be in constant war with rebellious barons. These battles even impacted the succession to the crown. Although it was clear that Prince Henry, John’s eldest son, was the heir to the throne, the barons in rebellion supported Prince Louis of France, the Future King Louis VIII of France. In 1216 Louis invaded England and due to violent weather he came ashore unopposed. Swiftly, along with the help of the barons, Louis gained control of much of the south-east of England and parts of the north.
John held back attacks from King Alexander II of Scotland who was trying to march south to give homage to Louis whom he saw as England’s new king. In October of 1216 John died of dysentery. His nine-year old son was swiftly crowned King Henry III of England in a ceremony consisting of only a handful of noblemen and three bishops at St. Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester. Since John had lost the crown jewels a simple gold band was used for a crown. Regents, ruling in the name of King Henry said they would support the provisions of the Magna Carta, an issue which lead to the rebellion of the barons. This lead to the barons to quickly abandon Louis and by 1217 all of England was under the control of Henry III and his regents.
Louis, never having been a true King of England, was a potential usurper and is not counted among the kings and queens of England despite being in control of the country for a period of time.
The succession of Henry III in 1216 saw an end to the battles over the crown and there would not be another contested succession or usurpation until 1399.