John (1167?-1216), often called John Lackland, was one of England's most unpopular kings. His barons forced him to grant the famous charter of liberties, Magna Carta, in 1215. He was often cruel, but showed administrative and military ability.
John was the youngest son of King Henry II. He succeeded his brother Richard the Lion-Hearted as king of England and duke of Normandy in 1199. His rule began badly. By inept politics and the murder of his nephew Arthur, he lost the allegiance of many of his French barons. King Philip Augustus of France then declared war. In 1205, John was beaten and lost all of the English holdings in France except the region of Aquitaine.
John pursued a policy in England that brought him into conflict with Pope Innocent III. In 1208, the pope placed England under an interdict, which banned church services throughout the country. The following year John was excommunicated.
The king then showed his capacity for strong rule. He forced Scotland into a subordinate position, kept the Welsh princes in check, and held a firm grip on Ireland. But his foreign favourites, professional troops, and autocratic financial policy stirred up discontent among the English barons. When John failed to reconquer the lost French territories in 1214, most of the barons and many of the clergy revolted. On June 15, 1215, the king was forced to approve the Magna Carta at Runnymede meadow beside the River Thames.
A few months later, John fought the barons. They were aided by Prince Louis of France, heir to Philip Augustus, and appeared certain to win. But John penned his enemies in London and the adjacent counties. He died suddenly in 1216, but his throne was saved for his son, Henry III.