King John (24 December 1166 – 18 or 19 October 1216) was a British king who succeeded his brother Richard I, although sometimes portrayed as a ruthless tyrant, general consensus is he was more useless than evil, despite this he was still a cruel man. His nicknames were "John Softsword" because he was a good politician but a terrible fighter and "John Lackland" because he didn't own any land that was actually his.
Although the youngest, John was the favourite of his father King Henry II. Henry attempted to take land he had already given to his other sons, to give to John. This led to his sons rebelling, John stood by his father, until it looked like he would lose at which point he rebelled as well. This act broke his fathers heart, and he died shortly afterwards.
Johns older brother Richard became king, not really interested in running a country, Richard instead planned a massive Crusade, to retake the Christain lands from the Musilms. After rousing a mighty army and leaving a reasonably stable government to run the country (including his mother Elenor of Aquatine), Richard left. But before he did, he made John swear not to try and take the throne while he was away and gave him the wealthy province of Ireland as his own, as a gift for his loyalty. However after Richard left, John betrayed him and took over, aswell as making alliances with Richards friend, turned enemy the king of France. This led (or rather contributed) to Richard calling the crusade off prematurely and returning home. However he made the mistake of traveling through Austria, which was ruled by his enemies. Richard was captured and an enormous ransom was ordered for his release. John's position looked secure, however his mother prefering her other son, organised the ransom and freed Richard.
Upon his return, John fled fearing his brothers wrath. However Richard later forgave him and invited him back to court. Richard later died fighting in France, and thus John became king. John was not however next in line, his nephew Arthur was. However Arthur mysteriously disappeared shortly afterwards and although never proven, it is likely John had him murdered.
When he became king, he began to make himself even richer by taxing people until they had nothing left to pay, in some places increasing the taxation by 300%. When he discovered this, he didn't care and just rose the taxes. Instead, he imprisoned his enemies and sometimes his own people whenever he felt like it. One reason why was he felt that just because he was king, he could do whatever he felt like doing. He used this money to pay for wars, as the king of France had betrayed John. John thus tried to carry on his brothers wars for his French Empire, however lacking his brothers millitary skills (not to mention his effort and determination) he soon lost, despite this he carried on the wars long after the point where his comanders considered it a lost cause.
John also made multiple enemies, he lost a good portion of English land to the Welsh, angered the Irish and brought the wrath of the Pope down on the Country. The Pope excommunicated England, following John ignoring him, despite John running to the Pope for help whenever he needed it. John was forced to surrender England to the Pope and pay tribute to him, thus outraging the population even more. John could also be cruel, when a bishop disagreed with him, John had the man wrapped in lead and left to die.
He abused his powers so often, his barons rebelled and forced him to sign the Magna Carta, severally limiting his powers. However, almost imminently after signing it, he tried to break his promise and even had the Pope declare it invalid. Sick of there King, the English Barons invited the French to invade and overthrow John (a testimate to how bad he was) John fled, and died fortunately of dysentery after gorging himself on peaches and drinking too much cider As such a the barons withdrew there support from the French and quickly placed his successor henry iii on the throne.
In popular culture
King John is the main antagonist in the 1973 film Robin Hood. In the film, he is not yet a king, but is called "Prince John" and was voiced by Peter Ustinov. This version is the brother of King Richard and is a coward and a crybaby. Like his real life counterpart, he was very greedy and accompanied by the Sheriff of Nottingham.