King John.

King John was not a good mani — and he knew it.

As he arrived home to his castle at Newark late one evening (and even later in his reign), spiralling up the staircase with a distinctive skulk, he slammed the door to his bedroom, leaving the thick musty walls echoing with his wallowsomeness. As he lumbered across the sturdy wood floor, the planks creaked underfoot, but their winces and whines went unheard beneath the King’s soppy internal soundtrack. As the King threw himself onto the bed, lying widthwise across the regal piece of furniture, he took a trembling sigh.

He wasn’t happy.

Not that he was a particularly happy sort of chap to begin with – the typically grey skies and soggy weather pretty much ensured that he, like the sundry and disunified peoples he ruled over, was of the self-deprecating variety – but this time was even worse than most, which was really saying something for poor King John.

Y’see, the King was a flawed character, as we all are, but he had the unfortunate distinction of standing on the shoulders of giants and, well, utterly fumbling the football. He had the self-awareness to know he’d screwed the pooch too.

For better or worse, he knew oh so very well that when he’d begun his rule (succeeding his annoyingly tall and even more painfully handsome elder brother Richard Coeur de Lion), he was however temporarily the most powerful man in Europe, but that he’d since mucked it up worse than Bahamas would muck up the southern and eastern Mediterranean eight centuries later.ii He was never much for combat, and doubly so when his predilection for (very) young females could be indulged in, so he asked himself daily why he’d every signed up in the first place.iii

Had he done his best ? It hardly mattered now. Now, lying in bed, just seventeen short years after assuming the crown, John was about to sign a truly bewildering document, one that frightened, angered, and strangely consoled him. This document – the Magna Carta – would all but seal his fate as a miserable and untalented leader of men, unable as he was to corral his barons at home or even so much as maintain dominion of his lands abroad.

He’d just lost London to Fitzwalter, that little twat of a baron from Little Dunmow, Essex, and it hurt like a crossbow dart in the buttocks. Not that poor King John wasn’t somewhat accustomed to failure by this point in his life – he’d long since conceded that he’d been born under an unlucky star, more likely several of them – but that still didn’t take the sting out of losing his most important city on the Thames to a bunch of low-born sods whose fathers smelt of elderberry.

After barely a century-and-a-half of dominion, this descendant of William of Orange the Conquereriv was about to lose his grip on power in a very legal and (in what would prove to be) a very lasting way. Sixty-three clauses were contained in the document and poor King John was sick to his stomach even counting that high (he preferred smaller numbers, ideally between 12-14).

Alas, it was all but inevitable. His family’s purples, those beautiful purples, would soon be stained forever. His marks of failure would never come out, not for a thousand years. The reds, the violets, the yellows, and greens of the Anglo-Saxons would soon be an indelible part of the royal fabric. There would be no unmixing the mixed. It would be permanent.

John wept as he lay in bed, his eyes closed, his perfect purples helplessly dissolving in his mind’s eye, multicolour streams running down his cheeks.v

king john by scott plear___ ___ ___

  1. 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 live 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 –
    F. 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

    []

  2. Yes, that Bahamas.

    On a related note, that the south Mediterranean is commonly called “Africa” and the eastern Mediterranean commonly called “the Middle East” is both ignorant and lazy. Until the Americans briefly redrew the lines of the world in their simplistic modernist image, the countries bordering the Mediterranean ocean were far more politically and culturally paralleled. Still to this day, despite what the agitprop would have us believe, Moroccans have far more in common culturally with Italians than they do with sub-Saharans, as do Syrians with Greeks moreso than Saudi Barbarians. []

  3. Why such very young females ? They laughed at him less! Genghis Khan, King John’s contemporary, would’ve done well to heed this lesson :

    The last of the horsemen disappeared into the smoke and the thudding of their hooves receded into the grey distance.

    The smoke hung on the land. It drifted across the setting sun, which lay like an open wound across the western sky.

    In the ringing silence that followed the battle, very, very few, pitifully few cries could be heard from the bloody, mangled wreckage on the fields.

    Ghostlike figures, stunned with horror, emerged from the woods, stumbled and then ran forward crying – women, searching for their husbands, brothers, fathers, lovers first amongst the dying and then amongst the dead. The flickering light by which they searched was that of their burning village, which had that afternoon officially become part of the Mongol Empire.

    The Mongols.

    From out of the wastes of central Asia they had swept, a savage force for which the world was utterly unprepared. They swept like a wildly wielded scythe, hacking, slashing, obliterating all that lay in their path, and calling it conquest.

    And throughout the lands that feared them now or would come to fear them, no name inspired more terror than that of their leader, Genghis Khan. The greatest of the Asian warlords, he stood alone, revered as a God among warriors, marked out by the cold light of his grey green eyes, the savage furrow of his brow, and the fact that he could beat the shit out of any of them.

    Later that night the moon rose, and by its light a small party of horsemen carrying torches rode quietly out from the Mongol encampment that sprawled over nearby hill. A casual observer would not have noticed anything remarkable about the man who rode at their centre, muffled in a heavy cloak, tense, hunched forward on his horse as if weighed down by a heavy burden, because a casual observer would have been dead.

    The band rode a few miles through the moonlit woods, picking their way along the paths until they came at last to a small clearing, and here they reined their horses in and waited on their leader.

    He moved his horse slowly forward and surveyed the small group of peasant huts that stood huddled together in the centre of the clearing trying very hard at short notice to look deserted.

    Hardly any smoke at all was rising from the primitive chimney stacks. Virtually no light appeared at the windows, and not a sound could be heard from any of them save that of a small child saying “Shhhhh…..”

    For a moment a strange green fire seemed to flash from the eyes of the Mongol leader. A heavy deadly kind of a thing that you could hardly call a smile drew itself through his fine wispy beard. The strange kind of smiley thing would signify (briefly) to anyone who was stupid enough to look that there was nothing a Mongol warlord liked better after a day hacking people to bits than a big night out.

    The door flew open. A Mongol warrior surged into the hut like a savage wind. Two children ran screaming to their mother who was cowering wide eyed in the corner of the tiny room. A dog yelped.

    The warrior hurled his torch on to the still glowing fire, and then threw the dog on to it. That would teach it to be a dog. The last surviving man of the family, a grey and aged grandfather stepped bravely forward, eyes flashing. With a flash of his sword the Mongol whipped off the old man’s head which trundled across the floor and fetched up leaning rakishly against a table leg. The old man’s body stood tensely for a moment, not knowing what to think. As it began slowly, majestically to topple forward, Khan strode in and pushed it brusquely aside. He surveyed the happy domestic scene and bestowed a grim kind of smile on it. Then he walked over to a large chair and sat in it, testing it first for comfort. When he was satisfied with it he heaved heavy sigh and sat back in front of the fire on which the dog was now blazing merrily.

    The warrior grabbed at the terrified woman, pushed her children roughly aside and brought her, trembling in front of the mighty Khan.

    She was young and pretty, with long bedraggled black hair. Her bosom heaved and her face was stark with fright.

    Khan regarded her with a slow contemptuous look.

    “Does she know,” he said at length in a low, dead voice, “who I am?”

    “You… you are the mighty Khan!” cried the woman.

    Khan’s eyes fixed themselves on hers.

    “Does she know,” he hissed, “what I want of her?”

    “I… I’ll do anything for you, O Khan,” stammered the woman, “but spare my children!”

    Khan said quietly, “Then begin.” His eyes dropped and he gazed distantly into the fire.

    Nervously, shaking with fear the woman stepped forward and laid a tentative pale hand on Khan’s arm.

    The soldier smacked her hand away.

    “Not that!” he barked.

    The woman started back, aflutter. She realised she would have to do better. Still shaking, she knelt down on the floor and started gently to push apart the Khan’s knees.

    “Stop that!” roared the soldier and shoved her violently backwards. Bewilderment began to mix with the terror in her eyes as she cowered on the floor.

    “Come on ” snapped the soldier, “ask him what kind of day he’s had.”

    “What…?” she wailed, “I don’t… I don’t understand what…”

    The soldier seized her, span her into a half nelson, and jabbed the point of his sword against her throat.

    “I said ask him,” he hissed, “what kind of day he’s had!”

    The woman gasped with pain and incomprehension. The sword jabbed again. “Say it!”

    “Er, what sort …of… er, day…” she said in a hestitant, strangled squeak, “have you…had?”

    “Dear!” hissed the soldier, “say dear!”

    Her eyes bulged in horror at the sword.

    “What sort of day have sort of day have you, had…, dear?” she asked querulously.

    Khan looked up briefly, wearily.

    “Oh, same as usual,” he said, “violent.”

    He gazed back at the fire again.

    “Right,” said the soldier to the woman, “go on.”

    She relaxed very slightly. She seemed to have passed some kind of test. Perhaps it would be straightforward from now on and she could at least get it over with. She moved nervously forward and started to caress the Khan again.

    The soldier hurled her savagely across the room, kicked her and yanked her screaming to her feet again.

    “I said stop that!,” he bellowed. He pulled her face close to his and breathed a lungful of cheap wine and week old rancid goat fat fumes at her, which failed to cheer her up because it reminded her sharply of her late lamented husband who used to do the same thing to her every night. She sobbed.

    “Be nice to him!” the Mongol snarled and spat one of his unwanted teeth at her, “ask him how his work’s going!”

    She gawped at him. The nightmare was continuing. A stinging blow landed on her cheek.

    “Just say to him,” the soldier snarled again, “‘How’s the work going, dear?” He shoved her forward.

    “How…how’s the work going… dear?” she yelped miserably.

    The soldier shook her. “Put some affection into it!” he roared.

    She sobbed again. “How…how’s the work going… dear?” she yelped miserably again, but this time with a kind of pathetic pout at the end.

    The mighty Khan sighed.

    “Oh, not too bad I suppose,” he said in a world weary tone. “We swept through Manchuria a bit and spilt quite a lot of blood there. That was in the morning, then this afternoon was mainly pillaging, though there was a bit of bloodshed around half four. What sort of day have you had?”

    So saying, he pulled a couple of scroll maps from out of his furs and started to study them abstractedly by the light of the smouldering dog.

    The Mongol warrior pulled a glowing poker out of the fire and advanced menacingly on the woman.

    “Tell him!” Go on! ”

    She leapt back with a shriek.

    “Tell him!”

    “Er, my husband and father were killed!” she said.

    “Oh yes, dear?” said Khan absently, not looking up from his maps.

    “Dog was burnt!”

    “Oh, er, really?”

    “Well, er, that’s about it, really… er..”

    The soldier advanced on her with the poker again.

    “Oh, and I was tortured a bit!” shrieked the woman.

    Khan looked up at her. “What?” he said, vaguely, “sorry dear, I was just reading this…”

    “Right,” said the soldier, “nag him!”

    “What?”

    “Just say, ‘Look Genghis, put that thing away while I’m talking to you. Here I am, spend all day slaving over a hot…'”

    “He’ll kill me!”

    “Bleeding kill you if you don’t.”

    “I can’t stand it!” cried the woman and collapsed on the floor. She flung herself on the great Khan’s feet. “Don’t torment me,” she wailed, “if you mean to rape me, then rape me, but don’t…”

    The great Khan surged to his feet and glowered down at her. “No,” he muttered savagely, “you’d only laugh – you’re just like all the others.”

    He stormed out of the hut and rode off into the night in such a rage that almost forgot to burn down the village before he left.

    ~Douglas Adams (1952-2001) []

  4. Point on the board for alf, who pointed this out. []
  5. King John (2018) by Scott Plear (RCA), 48″ x 60″. As seen hanging in my stairwell landing. []

2 thoughts on “King John.

  1. You’re prolly thinking of the other William. Orange was a contemporary of Newton.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>