Rebecca’s Magna Carta Blog Part 6

Prince Arthur

You might be forgiven for asking ‘who?’ when you read the title of this blog. The disappearance of Prince Arthur led to suspicion of his murder following King John. Did this incident help tip the scales that led to Magna Carta?

I have mentioned Prince Arthur briefly before but I think he needs a bit more of an explanation as he was certainly important in the early part of John’s reign and arguably had a lasting impact on John and his relations with his barons.

Let’s start with some background on who Arthur is and his family ties to King John. Prince Arthur was the son of Constance of Brittany and Geoffrey Plantagenet, the brother of Kings Richard and John. Geoffrey was younger than Richard but older than John. Geoffrey died in August 1186 in a jousting accident leaving his wife Constance with two young daughters and pregnant with a third child. She gave birth in March 1187 to a son, Arthur. One of Arthur’s sisters, Maud, died in early childhood. His other sister, Eleanor, the Fair Maid of Brittany, was imprisoned by John in 1202 and held under house-arrest until her death in 1241. Her imprisonment has by some historians been referred to as the ‘most unjustifiable act of King John’.

In 1190, when King Richard leaves for the Third Crusade, Arthur is designated heir to the throne of England and the English held French territories should Richard not survive the crusade. Arthur was again named as Richard’s heir in 1196. However, on his deathbed in 1199, Richard is supposed to have declared John as his heir, apparently fearing Arthur, at just twelve years old, was too young to become king.

King Philip II of France continued to recognise Arthur’s claim to the English throne; that is until May 1200 and the signing of the Treaty of Le Goulet, in which Philip recognised John as the rightful king of England. Abandoned by Philip, Arthur went to John, who initially treated him kindly. However, becoming suspicious of John, Arthur fled back to Brittany. Once he returned to France he regained the support of King Philip and launched a campaign against King John in 1202 and marched on the Chateau de Mirebeau where he besieged his grandmother and John’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. John marched to his mother’s aid and took Arthur by surprise on 31st July 1202. Arthur was captured on 1st August and was imprisoned in Chateau de Falaise in Normandy where he was guarded by Hubert de Burgh. The following year Arthur was transferred to Rouen where he was put under the charge of William de Braose. After April 1203 Arthur was never seen again.

Arthur’s disappearance gave rise to various rumours about what had happened to him, most notably that John had the boy assassinated, or even did so with his own hands. Many years later William de Braose’s wife, Maud, after conflict with King John, personally and directly accused John of the murder of Arthur. I will look more at the de Braose family and their fate in a later post.

However, to this day the true fate of Arthur is unknown although we do know that his disappearance lead to suspicion of his murder following John for the rest of his life and beyond. Did this incident help tip the scales that led to Magna Carta? Was John really capable of killing his nephew? I will leave it for you to decide.

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