57 The Excommunicate

John took a detailed interest in administration, and made effective changes to the way things worked. Partly his interest was motivated by the need to raise money – as inflation ate away at his earnings, and his desire to reconquer France magnified his need. The break with the church from 1208 to 1213 actually helped his need for money, and doesn't appear to have materially damaged his reputation in England

57 The Excommunicate rm


The break with Rome, 1208-1213

Neither John nor Pope Innocent III expected or wanted any trouble. The crisis was sparked by the monks of Canterbury. 

When Hubert Walter died, the monks of Canterbury, jealous of their rights, secretly elected one of their number – Reginald, and off he hopped to Rome. John was livid – and forced the monks to elect John de Gray. In all the kerfuffle, Innocent III ending up imposing Stephen Langton on John as his new Archbishop of Canterbury.

Innocent had a clear view of Papal supremacy, as expressed in one of his letters thus: 

Now just as the moon derives its light from the sun and is indeed lower than it in quantity and quality, in position and in power, so too the royal power derives the splendor of its dignity from the pontifical authority

However, in practice he would normally accept that the king's consent and approval was also required. The crisis was caused by a rather unfortunate concatenation of events.

John made the most of the crisis. He took the revenue from church lands for a while, and then when he realised he didn't have the men to administer them, made the Abbots and Bishops buy the land back. There appears to have been little reactin from Barons or anyone else to the Interdict and Excommunication. The crisis would only be resolved when other political problems forced John to seek allies.

8 thoughts on “57 The Excommunicate

  1. What is a “carrotcake tax”? I cannot figure out what this is meant to be.
    All night long I had visions of Bad King John’s armored thugs raiding WVS and Mothers’ Union meetings all over the sceptered isle to check if the requisite amount had been paid on carrot flavored sponge cakes.
    Please explicate.

  2. I went blindly looking on iTunes for exactly this! Thank you for making a comprehensive podcast on the history of England that is both education and entertaining. As an American, I was taught one “world history” class in high school that sort of covered some English events (i.e. The Battle of Hastings, the signing of the Magna Carta) but nothing ever as in depth as I wished. Other than that, my European history has, sadly, been gleaned from films and romance novels. Please keep it up! I can’t wait until you get to the Restoration!

  3. Hi Chris..it’s a lovely image. I reckon the WI would be more than a match for any thugs John could muster. But actually it’s Carrucate tax – a carrucate being a unit of land. Wikipedia does a lovely diagram…just go here and you can see the land divisions thing – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carucate. Anyway, John hated it ‘cos he had to ask for permission, but it raised a lot of cash. It also included moveable good – so I supposed they could have taxed the Carrot cake to boot..
    Josey, thanks for the encouragement ! Usually people so can’t wait for the Tudors, so the Restoration sounds good! Does that mean you are not a Cromwell fan?

  4. Wow! I discovered your podcast on iTunes a month or so ago and, as I am about 3 years behind you, am gobbling it all up quite gluttonously! No waiting week by week for me!
    I really like your digressions – dense chunks of politics or warfare can be wearing and I am happily relieved by the “local colour” that your digressions bring in. As well as your punchy style and vivid commentary.
    Your website is also fantastic. As I usually listen while walking the dogs, I hadn’t checked in to it until today and am amazed at the variety, depth and content.
    Thank you!

  5. I’m continuing to work my way through the podcast– I’ve made about 1000 years in the last month so not so bad! I was wondering if you remember where you got information on Hubert Walter… I always see tantalizing snippets here and there but I can never find anything sustained about him. Do you have any suggestions for further reading? Thanks, I’m really enjoying the podcast!


    1. Hi Drew…but sorry I tend to be really rubbish with these questions unless I happen to remember – it’s all so long ago I can never really remember., But Hubert certainly I did not use a single biography, there’s nothing I know of. There is the Oxford National Dictionary of Biography which has a reasonable entry of about 4,000 words. It lists some sources – C. R. Cheney, Hubert Walter (1967); C. R. Young, Hubert Walter, lord of Canterbury and lord of England (1968); F. J. West, The justiciarship in England, 1066–1232 (1966)

      1. That’s fine– just more incentive for me to catch up! Thanks for the leads, I’ll definitely check them out.


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