John II of France

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John the Good
Portrait of John painted on wood panel around 1350, Louvre Museum
King of France
Reign 22 August 1350 – 8 April 1364
Coronation 26 September 1350
Predecessor Philip VI
Successor Charles V
Born (1319-04-26)26 April 1319
Le Mans, France
Died 8 April 1364(1364-04-08) (aged 44)
Savoy Palace, London, England
Burial Saint Denis Basilica
Spouse Bonne of Bohemia
Joan I, Countess of Auvergne
Issue Charles V of France
Louis I, Duke of Anjou
John, Duke of Berry
Philip II, Duke of Burgundy
Joan, Queen of Navarre
Marie of Valois, Duchess of Bar
Isabella, Countess of Vertus
House Valois
Father Philip VI of France
Mother Joan of Burgundy
Religion Roman Catholic

John II (26 April 1319 – 8 April 1364), or Jean II, also called John the Good (French: Jean le Bon), was a monarch of the House of Valois who ruled as King of France from 1350 until his death.

When John II came to power, France was facing several disasters: the Black Death, which caused the death of nearly half of its population; popular revolts known as Jacqueries; free companies of routiers who plundered the country; and English aggression that resulted in disastrous military losses, including the Battle of Poitiers of 1356, in which John was captured.

While John was a prisoner in London, his son Charles became regent and faced several rebellions, which he overcame. To liberate his father, he concluded the Treaty of Brétigny (1360), by which France lost many territories and paid an enormous ransom.

In an exchange of hostages, including his son Louis, John was released from captivity to raise funds for his ransom. Upon his return in France, he created the franc to stabilize the currency and tried to get rid of the free companies by sending them to a crusade, but Pope Innocent VI died shortly before their meeting in Avignon. When John was informed that Louis had escaped from captivity, he voluntarily returned to England, where he died in 1364. He was succeeded by his son Charles V.

Early life

John was nine years old when his father had himself crowned as Philip VI of France. John's father's ascent to the throne was unexpected, and because all female descendants of his great uncle Philip the Fair were passed over, it was also disputed. The new king had to consolidate his power in order to protect his throne from rival claimants. Philip therefore decided to marry off his son John quickly at the age of thirteen to form a strong matrimonial alliance, at the same time conferring upon him the title of Duke of Normandy.

Initially a marriage with Eleanor, sister of the King of England, was considered, but instead Philip invited John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, to Fontainebleau. Bohemia had aspirations to control Lombardy and needed French diplomatic support. A treaty was drawn up. The military clauses stipulated that, in the event of war, Bohemia would support the French army with four hundred infantrymen. The political clauses ensured that the Lombard crown would not be disputed if the king of Bohemia managed to obtain it. Philip selected Bonne of Bohemia as a wife for his son, as she was closer to child-bearing age (16 years), and the dowry was fixed at 120,000 florins.

Marriage with Bonne of Bohemia

John came of age on 26 April 1332 and received overlordship of the duchy of Normandy, as well as the counties of Anjou and Maine. The wedding was celebrated on 28 July at the church of Notre-Dame in Melun in the presence of six thousand guests. The festivities were prolonged by a further two months when the young groom was finally knighted at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. As the new Duke of Normandy, John was solemnly granted the arms of a knight in front of a prestigious assistance bringing together the kings of Bohemia and Navarre, and the dukes of Burgundy, Lorraine and the Brabant.

Duke of Normandy

Upon his accession as Duke of Normandy in 1332, John had to deal with the reality that most of the Norman nobility was already allied with the English camp. Effectively, Normandy depended economically more on maritime trade across the English Channel than on river trade on the Seine. The Duchy had not been English for 150 years, but many landowners had holdings across the Channel. Consequently, to line up behind one or other sovereign risked confiscation. Therefore, the Norman nobility were governed as interdependent clans which allowed them to obtain and maintain charters guaranteeing the duchy a measure of autonomy. It was split into two key camps, the counts of Tancarville and the counts of Harcourt, which had been in conflict for generations.[1]

A denier d'Or aux fleurs de lys from John's reign (1351)

Tension arose again in 1341. King Philip, worried about the richest area of the kingdom breaking into bloodshed, ordered the bailiffs of Bayeux and Cotentin to quell the dispute. Geoffroy d'Harcourt raised troops against the king, rallying a number of nobles protective of their autonomy and against royal interference. The rebels demanded that Geoffroy be made duke, thus guaranteeing the autonomy granted by the charter. Royal troops took the castle at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte and Geoffroy was exiled to Brabant. Three of his companions were decapitated in Paris on 3 April 1344.[2]

In 1342, John was in Avignon at the coronation of Pope Clement VI[3] and in the latter part of 1343, he was a member of a peace parley with Edward III of England's chancery clerk.[4]

By 1345, increasing numbers of Norman rebels had begun to pay homage to Edward III, constituting a major threat to the legitimacy of the Valois kings. The defeat at the Battle of Crécy in 1346 and the rendering of Calais further damaged royal prestige. Defections by the nobility increased, particularly in the north and west whose land fell within the broad economic influence of England. Consequently King Philip decided to seek a truce. Duke John met Geoffroy d'Harcourt, to whom the king agreed to return all confiscated goods, even appointing him sovereign captain in Normandy. John then approached the Tancarville family, whose loyalty could ultimately ensure his authority in Normandy. The marriage of John, Viscount of Melun, to Jeanne, the only heiress of the county of Tancarville, ensured that the Melun-Tancarville party remained loyal to John, while Geoffroy d'Harcourt continued to act as defender for Norman freedoms and thus of the reforming party.[5]

Treaty of Mantes and Battle of Poitiers

John II ennobling his knights, BNF

In 1354, John's son-in-law and cousin, Charles II of Navarre, who, in addition to his small Pyrenean kingdom, also held extensive lands in Normandy, was implicated in the assassination of the Constable of France, Charles de la Cerda. Nevertheless, to have a strategic ally against the English in Gascony, John signed the Treaty of Mantes with Charles on 22 February 1354. The peace did not last between the two, and Charles eventually struck up an alliance with Henry of Grosmont, the first Duke of Lancaster. The next year (1355), John signed the Treaty of Valognes with Charles, but this second peace lasted hardly longer than the first. In 1355, the Hundred Years' War flared up again.

In July 1356, Edward, the Black Prince, son of Edward III of England, took an army on a great chevauchée through France. John pursued him with an army of his own. In September a few miles southeast of Poitiers, the two forces met.

John was confident of victory—his army was probably twice the size of his opponent's—but he did not immediately attack. While he waited, the papal legate went back and forth, trying to negotiate a truce between the leaders. There is some debate over whether the Black Prince wanted to fight at all. He offered his wagon train, which was heavily loaded with loot. He also promised not to fight against France for seven years. Some sources claim that he even offered to return Calais to the French crown. John countered by demanding that 100 of the Prince's best knights surrender themselves to him as hostages, along with the Prince himself. No agreement could be reached. Negotiations broke down, and both sides prepared for combat.

On the day of the Battle of Poitiers, John and 19 knights from his personal guard dressed identically. This was done to confuse the enemy, who would do everything possible to capture the sovereign on the field. In spite of this precaution, John was captured. Though he fought with valor, wielding a large battle-axe, his helmet was knocked off. Surrounded, he fought on until Denis de Morbecque, a French exile who fought for England, approached him.

"Sire," Morbecque said. "I am a knight of Artois. Yield yourself to me and I will lead you to the Prince of Wales."

King John surrendered by handing him his glove. That night King John dined in the red silk tent of his enemy. The Black Prince attended to him personally. He was then taken to Bordeaux, and from there to England. Although Poitiers is centrally located, it is not known that anyone—noble or peasant—attempted to rescue their king.

While negotiating a peace accord, John was at first held in the Savoy Palace, then at a variety of locations, including Windsor, Hertford, Somerton Castle in Lincolnshire, Berkhamsted Castle in Hertfordshire, and briefly at King John's Lodge, formerly known as Shortridges, in East Sussex. Eventually, John was taken to the Tower of London.

Prisoner of the English

The first Franc ever minted, the "Franc à cheval", was minted upon Jean le Bon's return from captivity from 5 December 1360, and featured combative imagery. Gold, 24 karat, 3.73g. It conveniently coincided with the account value of one livre tournois.
The funeral procession of Jean II

As a prisoner of the English, John was granted royal privileges that permitted him to travel about and enjoy a regal lifestyle. At a time when law and order was breaking down in France and the government was having a hard time raising money for the defence of the realm, his account books during his captivity show that he was purchasing horses, pets, and clothes while maintaining an astrologer and a court band.

The Treaty of Brétigny (1360) set his ransom at 3 million crowns. Leaving his son Louis of Anjou in English-held Calais as a replacement hostage, John was allowed to return to France to raise the funds.

But all did not go according to plan. In July 1363, King John was informed that Louis had escaped. Troubled by the dishonour of this action, and the arrears in his ransom, John did something that shocked and dismayed his people: he announced that he would voluntarily return to captivity in England. His council tried to dissuade him, but he persisted, citing reasons of "good faith and honour." He sailed for England that winter and left the impoverished citizens of France again without a king.[citation needed]

John was greeted in London 1364 with parades and feasts. A few months after his arrival, however, he fell ill with an unknown malady. He died at the Savoy Palace in April 1364. His body was returned to France, where he was interred in the royal chambers at Saint Denis Basilica.


Letter of Jean le Bon during his captivity in Windsor, to his son Charles about Pierre de la Batut

John suffered from fragile health. He engaged little in physical activity, practised jousting rarely, and only occasionally hunted. Contemporaries report that he was quick to get angry and resort to violence, leading to frequent political and diplomatic confrontations. He enjoyed literature and was patron to painters and musicians.

The image of a "warrior king" probably emerged from the courage in battle he showed at the Battle of Poitiers and the creation of the Order of the Star. This was guided by political need, as John was determined to prove the legitimacy of his crown, particularly as his reign, like that of his father, was marked by continuing disputes over the Valois claim from both Charles II of Navarre and Edward III of England. From a young age, John was called to resist the de-centralising forces that impacted upon the cities and the nobility, each attracted either by English economic influence or the reforming party. He grew up among intrigue and treason, and in consequence he governed in secrecy only with a close circle of trusted advisers.

He took as his wife Bonne of Bohemia and fathered 11 children in eleven years. Due to his close relationship with Charles de la Cerda, rumours were spread by Charles II of Navarre of a romantic attachment between the two.[6] La Cerda was given various honours and appointed to the high position of connetable when John became king; he accompanied the king on all his official journeys to the provinces. La Cerda's rise at court excited the jealousy of the French barons, several of whom stabbed him to death in 1354. La Cerda's fate paralleled that of Edward II of England's Piers Gaveston and John II of Castile's Alvaro de Luna; the position of a royal favourite was a dangerous one. John's grief on La Cerda's death was overt and public.


French Monarchy
Capetian Dynasty
(House of Valois)
Arms of the Kingdom of France (Ancien).svg
Philip VI
John II
John II
Charles V
Louis I of Anjou
John, Duke of Berry
Philip the Bold
Charles V
Charles VI
Louis, Duke of Orléans
Charles VI
Isabella of Valois
Michelle of Valois
Catherine of Valois
Charles VII
Charles VII
Louis XI
Charles, Duke of Berry
Louis XI
Charles VIII
Charles VIII

Family and children

On 28 July 1332, at the age of 13, John was married to Bonne of Bohemia (d. 1349), daughter of John I (the Blind) of Bohemia. Their children were:

  1. Charles V (21 January 1338 – 16 September 1380)
  2. Louis I, Duke of Anjou (23 July 1339 – 20 September 1384)
  3. John, Duke of Berry (30 November 1340 – 15 June 1416)
  4. Philip II, Duke of Burgundy (17 January 1342 – 27 April 1404)
  5. Joan (24 June 1343 – 3 November 1373), married Charles II (the Bad) of Navarre
  6. Marie (12 September 1344 – October 1404), married Robert I, Duke of Bar
  7. Agnes (9 December 1345 – April 1350)
  8. Margaret (20 September 1347 – 25 April 1352)
  9. Isabelle of Valois (1 October 1348 – 11 September 1372), married Gian Galeazzo I, Duke of Milan

On 19 February 1350, at Nanterre, he married Joanna I of Auvergne (d. 1361), Countess of Auvergne and Boulogne. She was the widow of Philip of Burgundy, the deceased heir of that duchy, and mother of the young Philip I, Duke of Burgundy (1344–61) who became John's stepson and ward. John and Joanna had three children, all of whom died young:

  1. Blanche (b. November 1350)
  2. Catherine (b. early 1352)
  3. a son (b. early 1353)

He was succeeded by his son, Charles.


  1. Autrand, Françoise. Charles V Fayard 1994[page needed]
  2. Favier, Jean. La Guerre de Cent Ans Fayard 1980, p. 140
  3. Papal Coronations in Avignon, Bernard Schimmelpfennig, Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual, ed. János M. Bak, (University of California Press, 1990), 191-192.
  4. Jonathan Sumption, Trial by Battle: The Hundred Years War I, (Faber & Faber, 1990), 436.
  5. Autrand, Françoise. Charles V Fayard 1994, p. 60
  6. Deviosse, J. Jean Le Bon, Paris, 1985, p. 223-236; Françoise Autrand, Charles V, Fayard 1994, p.106

External links

John II of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 16 April 1319 Died: 8 April 1364
Preceded by
Philip VI
King of France
Succeeded by
Charles the Wise
Title last held by
Henry III
Duke of Normandy