King John’s Christmas gift…

King_John_from_De_Rege_JohannePrince John, youngest son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine was born on or around Christmas Eve 1166 or 1167. The fact that the date of his birth is so poorly recorded reflects how unimportant he was in the great scheme of things at that time. Henry II had three other sons who had survived the perils of childhood – Young Henry, Geoffrey and Richard- John nicknamed ‘Lackland’ by his father could have little expected that he would one day become king.

 

What follows is not, by any stretch of the imagination, history. It’s a poem by A.A. Milne. However, what it does do is demonstrate the fact that popular culture is incredibly important when it comes to our perception of key historical figures.  The Victorians were not keen on John and it’s a viewpoint that has endured.  John has certainly had some bad press over the centuries. I’ve posted several accounts linked to King John and with the best will in the world he certainly did have ‘his little ways’ – with nephews, white satin, jewels, women and barons.  The fact remains though, given the behaviour of other medieval kings, that the old A level question is valid – was John a bad king or an unlucky one?

 

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man —

He had his little ways.

And sometimes no one spoke to him

For days and days and days.

And men who came across him,

When walking in the town,

Gave him a supercilious stare,

Or passed with noses in the air —

And bad King John stood dumbly there,

Blushing beneath his crown.

 

King John was not a good man,

And no good friends had he.

He stayed in every afternoon…

But no one came to tea.

And, round about December,

The cards upon his shelf

Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,

And fortune in the coming year,

Were never from his near and dear,

But only from himself.

 

King John was not a good man,

Yet had his hopes and fears.

They’d given him no present now

For years and years and years.

But every year at Christmas,

While minstrels stood about,

Collecting tribute from the young

For all the songs they might have sung,

He stole away upstairs and hung

A hopeful stocking out.

 

King John was not a good man,

He lived his life aloof;

Alone he thought a message out

While climbing up the roof.

He wrote it down and propped it

Against the chimney stack:

“TO ALL AND SUNDRY – NEAR AND FAR

Christmas in particular.”

And signed it not “Johannes R.”

But very humbly, “Jack.”

“I want some crackers,

And I want some candy;

I think a box of chocolates

Would come in handy;

I don’t mind oranges,

I do like nuts!

And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife

That really cuts.

And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,

Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

 

King John was not a good man —

He wrote this message out,

And gat him to this room again,

Descending by the spout.

And all that night he lay there,

A prey to hopes and fears.

“I think that’s him a-coming now!”

(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)

“He’ll bring one present, anyhow —

The first I had for years.”

“Forget about the crackers,

And forget the candy;

I’m sure a box of chocolates

Would never come in handy;

I don’t like oranges,

I don’t want nuts,

And I HAVE got a pocket-knife

That almost cuts.

But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,

Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

 

King John was not a good man,

Next morning when the sun

Rose up to tell a waiting world

That Christmas had begun,

And people seized their stockings,

And opened them with glee,

And crackers, toys and games appeared,

And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,

King John said grimly: “As I feared,

Nothing again for me!”

“I did want crackers,

And I did want candy;

I know a box of chocolates

Would come in handy;

I do love oranges,

I did want nuts!

And, oh! if Father Christmas, had loved me at all,

He would have brought a big, red,

india-rubber ball!”

 

King John stood by the window,

And frowned to see below

The happy bands of boys and girls

All playing in the snow.

A while he stood there watching,

And envying them all …

When through the window big and red

There hurtled by his royal head,

And bounced and fell upon the bed,

An india-rubber ball!

AND, OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,

MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL

FOR BRINGING HIM

A BIG, RED,

INDIA-RUBBER

BALL

A. A. Milne

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Historical Rhymes, Kings of England, Twelfth Century

2 responses to “King John’s Christmas gift…

  1. Sir Kevin Parr Bt

    Ah! it must be said my crazy uptown family are now living in your head..

    • Given the amount of reading I’ve done about them this year – then I must admit that they probably are. I’m teaching about the Tudors next term so for a while it’ll be Henry VII – so it’ll be a story of murder, rebellion, difficult relationships with women…in short, the same diet of mayhem as usual.

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