Descendants of King John
It was recently revealed that 42 U.S. Presidents are descendants of King John of England. Martin Van Buren was the only exception. On that thin basis, I’ve decided that I’m running for President the next time around. After all, I too am a descendant of King John. He happens to be my 24th great grandfather. I guess that means that I too am eligible for the highest office in the land.
Of course, I’m only kidding. Well, not about my ancestry but about running for President based on it. It’s fun to discuss these things, especially if you’re into genealogy but ancestry is not the basis for political power, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
Besides, being a descendant of King John, also known as John Lackland and Bad King John, is not exactly something to crow about. Anyone who is familiar with Robin Hood will remember him as Prince John, the one who tried to steal his brother’s crown and oppressed his people.
You see John was jealous of his older brothers, all of whom were splendid soldiers and the personification of knightly grace. At least in the eyes of their publicists. Picture living with a family of football stars and you’re the waterboy. That was John’s life. He had one saving grace. He was loyal to his father when his older brothers revolted against him (see The King in Winter).
He became king upon his brother Richard’s death. It was all down hill from there. By 1204, the English empire in northern France had collapsed. He was excommunicated by the Pope in 1209. John’s attempt to defeat Philip of France in 1214 failed due to the French victory over John’s allies at the Battle of Bouvines.
When he returned to England, John faced a rebellion by many of his barons, who were unhappy with his fiscal policies and his treatment of many of England’s most powerful nobles. He was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, the first of many humiliations English kings were to suffer from their nobles and later their commons. Civil war broke out shortly afterwards, with the barons aided by Louis of France. It soon descended into a stalemate.
The king died of dysentery contracted while on campaign in eastern England during late 1216. Modern historians agree that he had many faults as king, including what historian Ralph Turner describes as “distasteful, even dangerous personality traits”, such as pettiness, spitefulness and cruelty. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Nice Guy.
It’s fun for Americans to claim royal descent but it’s not a prerequisite for the Presidency. Millions of us are descendants of English royals. In fact, many of us have a stronger claim than the current royal family who are mostly German. I’m sure it’s shocking for many African-Americans to be confronted with the realization that their hero, Barack Obama, is half white. Or that he could be related to all those Republicans.
Let’s remember one thing. In America, you’re judged by the content of your character not the color of your skin or who your ancestors were.