King John 1 of England has a poor reputation. He is shown in the film "Robin Hood" as a monster and a tyrant who had an uncontrolled temper characterised by frequent rages. Historians argue that one of the reasons he is shown as so black is to increase the reputation of King Richard 1, Richard the Lion Heart.
There is a legend that King John's mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, once told John, who was her youngest son, that her husbands family, the Angevins, were descendants of the Devil. The story was that a previous Count of Anjou had been married to Melusine who was the daughter of the Devil. Her identity was discovered when she failed to attend Mass at church. At that time it was unheard of not to attend church and Melusine was forced to attend. Legend has it that she flew out of a church window and was never seen again. Therefore tainted by the Devil's blood the sons of Angevin were destined to fight against each other all of their lives.
Eleanor of Aquitaine was an extremely powerful woman, who had been married to both the King of France and secondly to the King of England bearing ten children , three of whom lived to be Kings. Imprisoned by her second husband the Henry, the King of England she was released when her son Richard obtained the crown and ruled in his absence whilst he was away on the crusades. She was a strong person who outlived nearly all her children, not the sort of woman to encourage fighting amongst her children which would cost the family dearly.
Historians have based their assumptions on the chronicles (diaries) of monks, who wrote after John's death. None of these chroniclers knew John as a person. Some chroniclers wrote of John, before his coronation when he was still a young man. Gerald of Wales wrote of him " more given to luxurious ease than to warlike exercises". William of Newburgh describes John as " a very foolish youth"- descriptions that fit any modern day teenager.
By the Victorian period, historians such as JR Green were describing King John as "no weak and indolent voluptuary, but the ablest and most ruthless of the Angevins". Kate Norgate continues this in 1902 stressing John's "superhuman wickedness". Sir Maurice Pawicke, in the 6th volume of the Cambridge Medieval History 1929, wrote of John's "treacherous nature" and that he was a "thoroughly bad man".
Thus we found the villain the antithesis of Robin Hood; a cruel tyrant who ruled England with an iron grip and extracted high taxes in order to fund his lavish lifestyle. No wonder that "Good King Richard, the Lion Heart" occupies such a prominent place in English hearts. Most of this is quite far from the truth. It is Good King Richard who ran up the debts on his crusades and the ransom paid after he was captured whilst John tried to repay them at a time of economic contraction and high inflation.