One of my favorite movies growing up was Robin Hood. It was the Disney version, the one with the Animal kingdom playing out the roles. According to the story, Robin Hood (a fox) stole from the rich and gave to the poor because Prince John (a Lion, sans mane) was overtaxing the population of Nottinghamshire while ruling for his brother King Richard (a Lion, with a mane). It’s the basic story behind most Robin Hood movies.
The interesting thing about Robin Hood is it’s both fiction and non-fiction. It’s a mix of characters who are fictional and characters who were based on real people. As I grew up, and started to be interested in the back story I found out that some of the stories are more interesting outside the myth.
For example, Prince John. In Disney’s version of the tale, he’s a laughable villain. He sucks his thumb and cries for Mommy and is made fun of for that fact. He’s not even depicted as a fully grown lion, and his crown doesn’t fit his head. His assistant, Sir HIss, puts up with a lot of abuse in the sake of comedy and somehow remains sane enough to advise his King to make better life decisions.
In reality, Prince John was an actual King, and one fairly important to history. He was born in 1166, the younger brother of Richard I, or Richard the lion-hearted. So in that, Robin Hood gets it right. Richard left for the crusades, and the then Prince John ruled as regent in his stead. He became King himself in 1199, and ruled for 17 years till his death in 1216.
John was born the sixth son of King Henry II. He was one of 10 children, and a member of the House of Plantagenet. He is the third of Henry’s sons to be King. The eldest was Henry, who became co-regent with his father at least in name if not in power. He died in 1183, outlived by his father. After Henry the II died six years later, RIchard the I became King. He is known most for being a part of the Crusades, which took up much of his reign.
John himself was regent, although not particularly because RIchard wanted him too. So in a sense, the movie had that right too.
However, the movie ends with Richard coming back, and reclaiming the throne and punishing his brother. However, Richard died after only 10 years on the throne, and with no heirs, it left John and his nephew Arthur.
John, being ambitious as history (and Disney) show became King. He became an important part of history because his son Henry III would be the first Plantagenet King and that would lead to the war of the Roses 300 years later. He also changed English politics forever with the signing of the Magna Carta, which not only started the government transitioning into his modern form, it is also a major influence on the designers of the American Government that would develop 600 years later. He was also known for taking a more personal involvement in the administration of the country, some positive some negative. Some of which influenced the portrayal of Prince John the villain. For example the over taxation occurred during his reign as King.
With the kings of England in the middle ages, its hard to know what was accurate and what was propaganda from a rival. For example, many people get their idea of these kings from William Shakespeare’s plays (which have inaccuracies and were obviously tailored to suit his Queen) or other items of fiction. King/Prince John is certainly not the only world leader to have that happen to him. HIs great-great-grandson (etc) Richard III was certianly given a reputation by literature and the Tudors.
It just brings me to my younger self who thought the story ended with that “no-good Prince John” being punished for his maltreatment of Nottingham. It was really only half the story and I’m glad I learned to love history and delve deeper into the world Robin Hood is based in.
One day I may go into more research and in-depth about King John. For now, I’m going to go watch Robin Hood and tell Sir Hiss to get a new job.