It was on Thursday 27th May 1199 at Westminster Abbey that John was crowned King of a kingdom that stretched from Berwick in the north to Bordeaux in the south – the great Angevin Empire. The youngest of the eight children of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine John had been last in the pecking order. As a result he had received none of the family wealth and now lacked both money and land. He was, therefore, nicknamed ‘Lackland’. In reality should not have been made king because the true next in line was Arthur of Brittany, the son of John’s elder brother Geoffrey. Whilst the English power brokers had no wish for Arthur to take the throne they were not united in the choice of John either – so much so that the Archbishop of York absented himself from the coronation and the Bishop of Durham protested on his behalf that the Archbishop of Canterbury was going ahead with this Coronation without unity of agreement!
None-the-less the coronation went ahead and was, as a result, the start of a new tradition that applies to this day. John was a frequent visitor to the lands in Normandy and, as a reward for the help given to him the five Barons of the Cinque Ports were granted the honour of carrying a canopy over him as he entered Westminster Abbey. They also held it over him when he was unclothed for the anointing! This duty has remained to this day.
Another ‘first’ was his decision not to partake of the holy bread and wine during the coronation service! This was perceived as tantamount to an open display of Godlessness and – almost certainly – set him off on the wrong foot with many powerful men in England. King John died of dysentery contracted while he was on campaign in eastern England in October 1216.
John’s most famous – and for many the only useful – action was the creation of Magna Carta Libertatum – “the Great Charter of the Liberties” – that was agreed by the King at Runnymede on Tuesday 15th June 1215.