Earl John

Earl John was born at Oxford in 1167, youngest of King Henry and Queen Eleanor's children.

Earl John
  • John was sent to the Abbey of Fontevrault in Anjou when little more than a year old where his education was entrusted to the King's chief justiciar.
  • Though he appeared to be destined for the church, he spent a lot of time in the household of his brother 'Young Henry', learning to hunt and all about the rudiments of war.
  • Before departing on crusade, King Richard made Earl John the Count of Montain and granted him the counties of Nottingham, Derby, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.
  • This page provides a Portrait of an Earl and explains why he is nicknamed 'John Lackland.'
Portrait of an Earl

King Richard is called the Coeur de Lion but it is difficult to find an animal in nature that same contradictory nature of Earl John. Lacking Richard's stature, sense of honour and honesty, Earl John is a small man, tending to the fat side, full of inconsistencies with mood changes that are sudden and unpredictable.

Often judicious, capable, and even on occasions generous, he can be violent and treacherous. He makes his way in the world by uniting craftiness with ruthlessness. When lying ill from blood poisoning, his father King Henry asked to see the names of those who had deserted him and gone over to the other side. The name of his favourite son John standing at the top of the list filled the King with despair. He died within days.Earl John

Able to conceive and execute cruelties with cold calculation, Earl John is surprisingly well read. He has an inquiring mind and treasures his library of books. Though he enjoys hawking and hunting, he dislikes war, and jousting even less. He does like his luxuries. Much devoted to eating and drinking, he never keeps the prescribed days for fasting and abstinence. He often wears a dressing gown and astonishingly bathes once every three weeks.

Sometimes he can be judicious but at other times acts like a petty tyrant; and just like his father, he often gives way to rages where his 'eyes dart fire and his countenance becomes livid.' Not without some charm, he can lay on the flattery when necessary. And neither is he without lust - he has fathered several bastards.

He has been known to inspire loyalty but at times can be quite frivolous. Possessed of his own particular brand of sardonic humour, he never misses a chance to mock the church and its doings. At one church service, he told the Benedictine monk to cut short his sermon so he could have lunch. Usually reluctant to offer anything at mass, he once told his chamberlain who handed him several gold pieces: 'If I had had these a few days earlier I would have pocketed them.'

Putting his trust in inanimate obects rather than God to defend his domains, he wears an amulet round his neck to bring him good luck.When in Ireland, he spent most of his time revelling and feasting, mocking the Irish lords because of their odd clothes, pulling their beards and laughing at their manners.

'John Lackland'

Nicknamed 'John Lackland' by his father because his elders brothers laid territorial claims ahead of him, Earl John is not landless now. Before going on crusade, King Richard loaded him with titles, fiefs and the revenues from lands to the value of 4,000 a year. The list includes the County of Mortain in Normandy, the earldom of Gloucester by his marriage to Isabella, and the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Derby and Nottingham.

Originally the King made John swear to stay out of the country for three years but Queen Eleanor persuaded Richard to change his mind. If Richard's generosity was intended to thwart any reckless rebellion on his brother's part it does not appear to have worked. Earl John travels about the country displaying all the trappings of a king, holding court, taxing harshly and spending vast sums on fine clothes and expensive jewels. Openly conveying his instructions to sheriffs by the use of writs, he does not disguise his intentions - his supporters call him the 'heir-king.'

By defying Chancellor Longchamps, attacking Tickhill and Nottingham castles, and supporting his friend Gerard of Camville by marching at the head of an army to raise the Chancellor's siege at Lincoln, 'John Lackland' has left no one in any doubt as to his ambitions.

Perhaps the Queen Mother Eleanor can exert some controlling influence on him, for apart from King Richard it seems that she is the only person who can.

King Richard Sets Off
Two Kings in Sicily
Siege of Acre
Marriage Arranged
King Richard Weds
Arrival at Acre
Acre Falls
Battle of Arsuf
Retreat from Holy City
King Richard's Crusade


Saladin Defeated at Jaffa
King Richard Captured
Eleanor of Aquitaine
William Marshall
Earl John
Chancellor Longchamps
Double Dealing
Attack on Nottm. Castle

Sherwood Times