An introduction to the life of King John and the events that led to Magna Carta being sealed in 1215 near the River Thames at Runnymede. John was the youngest son of Henry ll and became king when his brother Richard the Lionheart died in battle. King John reigned from 1199-1216.
Key Stage:KS2 History.
Overview:A lesson plan based on a significant turning point in British history that extends pupils’ chronological knowledge beyond 1066. An introduction to the life of King John and the events that led to Magna Carta being sealed in 1215. The lesson plan asks students to discuss why this was a significant event in British history.
This lesson can be used:
- To start a history project looking at a significant figure in British History
- To develop research and investigative skills
- To start a history project about the development of democracy and the decline in the power of the monarchy
- To develop discussion skills
What was the Feudal System in Medieval England
After the Norman Conquest in 1066 William l created what became the English feudal system in order to maintain control and loyalty. Under the system the king was the only absolute owner of land, he had ultimate power and could do whatever he wanted. Below the king were the barons, knights and peasants called vassals. A vassal was someone who was given the use of land in return for loyalty and military service. A vassal merely held land but did not own it.
Who were the Barons?
The feudal system thrived in England throughout the medieval period, a time when the barons had great power while the peasants laboured on the land with very little hope of gaining wealth or influence. They were second to the king in the feudal pyramid and could advise the king but he did not have to take their advice. The barons territories were large enough to be described as ‘worthy of a prince’. Like the king, they also granted land in return for military service. Knights had peasants and serfs who were allowed to farm their land in return for rent or working for them.
Ask your students to make a plan or diagram of the feudal pyramid. You could draw the King, Nobles, Knights, Serfs and peasants or simply write which layer of medieval society goes where. We have supplied a basic template that may help.
Download Feudal Pyramid template.pdf
Background - King John
King John, born 1166, reigned in England from 1199 – 1216. He fought a war with France and after a series of losses needed to improve his standing with his people. John needed money to do this. He raised taxes and took advantage of his people by exploiting his feudal rights. He took land from the barons and issued fines, which made him very unpopular.
Ask your students to find out more about King John and to evidence their findings:
-Was King John a good or a bad king?
-How do we know what King John was like?
What leads to the signing of Magna Carta?
In 1215 the barons were very unhappy with King John's actions which had included taxing them heavily. Talks with King John to try to ease the situation were unsuccessful. As a result civil war broke out and the barons captured London. The John realised it would be difficult to defeat the rebels talks between the barons and King John resumed. On 19th June on the banks of the River Thames at Runnymede Magna Carta was signed. Magna Carta limited the king’s powers and reinforced the law of the land.
Writ in Water. A sculpture commemorating the signing of the Magna Carta
Watch the video to find out more about what happened at Runnymede in 1215 and about King John and the Magna Carta.
In the film National Trust Visitor Experience Officer, Alexander Thompson says that in his view Magna Carta is the beginning of our modern democracy. Discuss with your group what democracy is.
Organise a democratic vote
The classroom needs to be repainted. Make ballot papers and a ballot box and organise a class election. We have given you an example sheet with four polling cards to cut out. Ask the students to vote for their favourite colour. The key principal is that one person gets one vote and the majority wins however small the margin.
Download ballot sheet.pdf