Henry Waits

1215, a bright, fresh-faced boy of nine waited in Devizes Castle, while his fate was being decided elsewhere.

He was Henry, son of John. His father had just died, and the decisions being made concerned whether young Henry would take up the family business - a big decision, since his father had been King of England, and had come very close to losing the business to foreign competition.

King John has one of the worst reputations of all English kings - and that is saying something. He is usually portrayed as sly, greedy, stupid, vicious. In fact, he seems to have been quite clever, and no more sly, greedy or vicious than most monarchs of the time.

He was the son of Henry II (whose accession had brought the civil war between Stephen and Mathilda to an end). It seems to have been a troubled family. Eldest brother Henry had been destined to be king - he had even been styled the "Young King" while his father was still hale and hearty. But the lack of any real role for young Henry led him to rebel against his father, conspiring with the King of France to overthrow him.

The rebellion was scotched, and father and son reconciled, but young Henry died before he could succeed.

Next in line was middle brother Richard, but Henry II failed to assure Richard of his future. Richard began to think that he was to be passed over for the top job (in John's favour), so he rebelled against his father - again invoking the help of the French King.

This time, Richard very nearly succeeded in his rebellion. Only a last minute ambush by one William Marshal (of whom we shall hear more later), stopped him capturing and perhaps killing the old King.

But the strain of the campaign was too much for his father - who died miserably a few miles ahead of Richard's advancing army (1189).

Richard became King of England (though he spent no more than three months in that country as monarch). John became King of Ireland (though he had little success in making that title stick).

Richard ("the Lionheart") was no administrator. He spent a few months gathering enough taxes to fund an expedition to the Holy Land, and then set off to the Crusades, leaving a team of magnates (including the same William Marshal who had opposed him a few months earlier) to keep an eye on brother John.

The story of Richard's capture in Germany, and his eventual release under ransom is the subject of romantic verse - and historical record. He was absent for four years, leaving England and Normandy in a state of turmoil. This is the period usually associated with the Robin Hood legends - when Prince John (actually Count John) usurped his saintly brother's power, and let loose forces of oppression upon the people.

Of course, John intrigued - coming from that family, it would be unnatural if he hadn't - but there doesn't seem to be much evidence that life was significantly worse for the common people during this period. Taxes were high - not just in order to raise a King's Ransom for Richard, but also to fight off the French King (Philip), who had taken advantage of England's misfortune and was trying to grab land in Normandy.

Whatever problems existed during Richard's absence, they certainly weren't cured by his return. Richard spent most of the rest of his life fighting in France - until he was mortally wounded by a random crossbow bolt in 1199.

King takes Bishop King takes Bishop John Lackland John Lackland
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