The Birth and Childhood of King John: Some Revisions

  • Andrew W. Lewis
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The birth and childhood of King John have received attention not only in biographies of the king himself but perhaps especially in scholarship on Eleanor of Aquitaine, and that for two reasons.1 First, for several decades now, historians have seen the birth of Eleanor’s youngest child as representing a change in her life cycle—as the end of the years of almost constant childbearing in her marriage to Henry II and prelude to the brief period in which she was Henry’s deputy in Poitou, then to the longer one in which she was his captive in England.2 Second, in recent studies John’s childhood has been the subject of a scholarly debate centered on what models of familial practice may properly be used as a framework within which to assess Eleanor’s impact on the development of John’s personality. At issue has been whether, as one scholar has suggested, Eleanor’s almost total absence from John’s life during his early years would have contributed significantly to the formation of the “paranoia and unprincipled opportunism” that characterized John the adult; or whether, as another has argued, Eleanor’s style of parenting was typical of her class. This view posits a family system in which mothers bore children but did not nurture them or directly participate in their upbringing; servants, tutors, or other surrogates performed those functions. From this latter perspective, John would have been no more psychologically deprived in respect to his parents than were most other sons in royal or great noble families of the time.


Thirteenth Century Scholarly Debate Pipe Roll Obituary Notice Modern Myth 
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© John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew W. Lewis

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