Headmaster’s Copy Prize – Sophia Parkin

Senior School
18 Mar 21

During the Headmaster’s Assembly today, we were delighted to learn that Sophia Parkin (First Form) has been awarded a Headmaster’s Copy Prize for her impressive and mature essay on King John. You can read her essay below:

Was King John the worst king?

We have all heard of King John, the cowardly, cruel, greedy man sometimes labelled as the ‘worst king in history’. He is often portrayed as selfish and heartless in books, films and television shows such as Robin Hood, his main traits being taxing the poor people of England to build his ever-growing mound of riches and treating everyone terribly. Yet is this appalling reputation actually fair, or is it simply a huge misunderstanding? Of course, King Richard was not actually as great as people say, so why could John not be as bad as he seems?

People say that he was bad for several main reasons: taxation, inhumane treatments and losing many battles.

Let’s start with his most infamous accusation – excessive taxing. Many assume that taxing meant he wanted more money and was greedy, one source stating that “Scutage (taxes) had been collected 11 times between 1154 and 1199, and 11 times in the 16 years of John’s reign.” Firstly, this is unfair because, although circumstances would have been different in those times and it was a sudden large increase, 11 times in 16 years isn’t that much, not even as much as once every year. And anyway, his father and brothers had drained all the money, so he had no choice.

Secondly, we have something that is not as justifiable: the punishments he gave out, such as crushing people with lead, starving people to death (Matilda de Braose, who refused to offer her sons as hostages is notable), cutting off people’s noses and ears and many more supposed examples of harsh treatment. Although kings were expected to be cruel, sometimes he would take it too far.    

However, the barons had been against John from the start of his 16-year reign. Many lies were told and things were exaggerated. Let’s not forget that Pope Innocent III was apparently “more determined than previous popes to control the kings” and that he had told the monks that John was bad, leading to them telling others, which lead to his awful reputation.

But, as well as there being justifications for his ‘bad’ actions that suggest they were not as bad as he’s made out to be; he also did some good things, such as establishing protection for the Jewish population, with evidence saying “We commit the Jews Dwelling in your city to charge if anyone attempts to harm them, always protect and assist them.”

A further good thing he did was signing the Magna Carta, which he signed at Runnymede in 1215. It meant that he was agreeing to safeguard the people of Englands’ rights, some rules from it are still in use today, so it has also helped shape our laws.

There is also some evidence that, contrary to popular belief, he helped the poor, feeding over 1,000 paupers a year.

In conclusion, while he certainly did some bad things, many of these are not as bad as they seem and he has done many good things too. So John was overall not that bad as a king, and certainly undeserving of his title of the worst one in history.

Sophia Parkin

Mrs Sunde, Head of History, commented, “a well-researched, planned and balanced response to the question Sophia. You have utilised the source material effectively and you have incorporated the sources into your own answer skilfully.  The level of detail is impressive and you have a good command of the context of the time. Well done!”

We are so proud of you Sophia, congratulations.