[MR] Death of John II, King of France

Garth Groff and Sally Sanford mallardlodge1000 at gmail.com
Mon Apr 8 04:15:11 PDT 2024

Noble Friends,

On this date in 1364, the King of France John II (aka "*Jean le Bon*" or
"John the Good") died from an "unknown" cause. One of the things that make
his passing unusual, at least for a French king, is that he died in London.
Intrigued? Then read on, and meet one of the most remarkable rulers in the
medieval world.

King John was called by one prominent French historian (whose name I have
forgotten, sorry) the worst king in French history. True, his reign was a
disaster for France, but that was hardly his fault. John had to contend
with two plagues, first the Black Death (on a personal level, his queen
Bonne of Bohemia died of the plague). The second "plague" was an English
resurgence during the Hundred Years War. Perhaps a better assessment would
be that King John was one of the most unfortunate French rulers, at least
until Louis XVI lost his head. While John's sense of personal honor was
perhaps not in France's best interest, his actions mark him as one of the
most honest rulers in history, as we shall see.

John had bad luck to be captured at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. He
personally took the field, and was screened by 17 identically dressed body
doubles. The ruse didn't work, and despite a spirited defence by his
14-year-old son Philip, John and Phil were captured and turned over to
Edward, the Black Prince. John was treated with great respect by Edward,
but was taken to England as a hostage. There he was treated as a royal
guest, and even allowed his own small court.

Under the 1360 Treaty of Brétigny, John's ransom was set at three million
crowns (a true "king's ransom"). He was allowed to return to France to
raise the money from his reluctant Dukes. In exchange, a number of
substitute hostages from the best French families were given into English
custody, including John's own son Louis of Anjou who was required to
surrender himself at Calais.

In 1363, Louis escaped his captors at Calais. Already sick, and behind in
the ransom payments, John announced he would return to England and again
surrender himself to the Black Prince. His dukes and counts (probably those
whose sons were not substitute hostages) objected and demanded he stick it
to the English. John refused to dishonor himself by breaking the terms of
his release. He returned to England in January 1364, where he was again
received with great honor. But sadly, the most honest man in France died at
Savoy Palace in London less than four months later.

The cause of John's death was not known, but some descriptions of his
declining health survive, and they point to possible arsenic poisoning. I
am going to speculate here (and I have yet to read any history that assigns
the blame for John's death). In my humble opinion, the most likely culprit
would be Charles "The Bad" or Charles "The Faithless", King of Navarre and
Count of Évreux. Charles was also John's son-in-law. Charles earned his
less-than-flattering nicknames for his many betrayals by turns of both
France and England during the Hundred Years War, as well as various murders
and assassinations. He also bragged of being an arch-poisoner, and even
claimed an unspecified Cardinal among his victims. Charles once murdered a
retainer who had displeased him with a poisoned pear while gleefully
watching the man die in agony. There was much bad blood between Charles and
John, including their rivalry over who would inherit the Duchy of Burgundy
(it went to John). Who had more reason to poison the king through an agent
than Charles the Bad?

A side issue here. With John out of the way, the French did indeed stick it
to the English, when they refused to pay the rest of the ransom. What may
have been the biggest unpaid hotel bill in history was one of the *causes
belli*  that Henry V used to justify resuming the Hundred Years War in 1415.

You can read more about King John at
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_II_of_France .

Yours Aye,

Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge  🦆
Continuing a crusade to keep Merry Rose relevant and in business.

More information about the Atlantia mailing list