Today, in a study hall, a kid asked me the kind of question I live for.
Why did King John have Arthur the Duke of Brittany murdered?
I mean, what wanna-be medievalist teaching in a middle school doesn’t lust for a sixth grader to ask a question like that?? I mean, we can go YEARS between samples of those questions, if not a decade or more. More often, the question is: “what’s the homework?” (page 97, exercise 13b). or “why is my grade so low?” (maybe you should practice more).
But the Angevin Dynasty and its absolutely corrupt political machinations over the succession after the drowning of Prince Arthur on the Blanche Fleur in 1156 (Wow, it’s been years… I’m no longer sure of the date)? OF COURSE, I want to answer that.
Does it make sense? Does it have to?
Ok, here’s Prince Arthur on the left. His parents are the two wealthiest and powerful monarchs of the 1100s — Henry II, ruler of England, Wales, parts of Ireland and half of France, is his father. His mother is Eleanor of Aquitaine, brilliant, good-looking and ruthless, the wealthiest woman in Europe. And none of this matters a whit when your ship sinks with all hands in the middle of the English Channel.
This is where the Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn film, The Lion in Winter, fits. RIchard III, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany and Prince John (a snot-nosed sixteen year-old) are all potential successors to their father, now that the heir to the throne is dead). ELeanor wanted Richard to be king. Henry wanted John to be king. Nobody wanted Geoffrey.
Richard got the crown, and then promptly left England to go fight on Crusade. He got captured in Germany on his way home, and held for ransom. Geoffrey died, but not before getting married and having a son. Prince John became Regent of England.
This is where the Robin Hood story fits.
Richard eventually gets out of jail and comes home. He briefly displaces John from the throne, rules England a little while, and then dies. John becomes king —
— but Geoffrey, third son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, has a better claim to the throne. And Arthur, as Geoffrey’s son, is the legal heir.
Prince John, now King John, has him murdered.
Which sets him up as a usurper, and an easy target for the English baronial class, who want the king off their backs. They chase him all over England, and eventually corner him outside Windsor Castle, at Runnymede, where they force him to sign and seal Magna Carta, the Great Charter — one of the main threads of the English common law system, and the basis for parliamentary-style government that came down to us in America, and helped serve as one of the principal documents for the formation of the U.S. Constitution.
So… that’s why John murdered Duke Arthur of Brittany.
Got any more questions like that? I don’t want to wait a decade.