Shakespeare’s King John and Genghis Khan
By the Pope of Domainofman-Avignon
John the Kahn Man
The early reign of John in England and France was characterized by an over-eagerness to settle affairs. The concessions made to Philip of France in the treaty of Le Goulet (1201) are quite “troublesome” unless one realizes that John was much more concerned with his growing empire in the East. With the possible exception of his 48-hour race from Le Mans to save his mother, John was careful not to gamble with his life (in the style of Richard the Lionhearted) in battles of the West. John was rather trying very hard not to fight on two such widely separated fronts, and his rivals increasingly exploited the dilemma. In 1202, as Timujin/John was making headway in Asia, Philip plotted to take territory from him in Europe. The setback of Timujin/John in 1203 allowed Philip to take Normandy by 1204.
Note: In Shakespeare’s King John, the parley between Philip king of France and John of England takes place just outside circular-walled city of Angiers/Angers, and in an (unsuccessful) attempt to settle the fate of Prince Arthur and of the Realm. The allusion to King Arthur’s legendary round-table should not be missed.
However, when Timujin/John recovered in Asia, he was then able to also recover in Europe. By 1206, Philip king of France had been forced into a new treaty. The years 1206-1210 saw a steady advancement and consolidation of power by Timujin/John (now dubbed Genghis Khan in the East). However, as preparations began for the conquest of China, John’s alliances in the West began to fall apart. In desperation, he cut a deal with the Pope, who thereafter became a suspiciously enthusiastic supporter of John. Sharing the benefits of John’s expected ascension to the Chinese throne (and control over Chinese trade) would certainly have been part of the deal. Fulfillment of the Prester John prophesies (allowed to slip by Torghil/Ong Khan, see endnote on Prester John) was another key element. Better treatment of the Catholic Church in England was certainly another concern. According to Shakespeare (Act 5, Scene 1, lines 1-2) John agreed to submit “the circle of my glory” to the Pope, that is, one end of an arc that crowned the entire known world and represented the empire of John/Genghis. John yielded in one region to maintain the whole.
After John’s pact with Rome appeared a shadowy character named Peter of Pomfret (Pontfret/Wakefield) to prophesy that John would lose his throne prior to the following Ascension Day (of 1213). According to the account of Raphael Holinshed, John did publicly cede his throne to the Pope prior Ascension Day 1213 (but had it restored five days later). The prophesy of Peter had been figuratively, if not also literally fulfilled. The Pope got what he wanted. Peter was nonetheless treated as a rebel and executed by King John (perhaps as the Apostle Peter had been under Vespatian/”Caesar John”), and with no serious repercussion from Rome, if any at all. Peter may have been encouraged by a local church official or even taken it upon himself to ensure that John did not renege on his word (as he was in the habit of doing). The rivals of John would not have known the precise details of John’s arrangement with the Pope, but were probably hoping (and even conspiring) for John’s dynasty over England to be ended altogether.
Note: Ascension Day commemorated Christ’s “ascension to heaven” on the Mount of Olives. It did not signify a literal taking up into heaven, but election to a greater throne.
Talking Heads and Troubling Evidence
The date of Shakespeare’s King John is unknown. Its emphasis on the taunting and killing of “Austria” (a character representing the Holy Roman Emperor) suggests an early date rather than a later one. In the years following the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, there was a heady spirit of defiance in the English court. However, by the end of the 1590’s, Queen Elizabeth was actively seeking reconciliation with the Empire.
Shakespeare’s King John is closely related to an anonymous play published in 1591 titled “The Troublesome Reign of King John of England”. Recent scholarship (see the Introduction to the Arden Shakespeare King John) considers it plausible that the anonymous play followed Shakespeare’s work (rather than preceding it as previously assumed). What is of more interest to this study is the nature of “troublesome” with respect to King John. The two plays (Shakespeare’s and the anonymous one) could have been called “The Tragical Reign of King John”, but they were not. The memory of John was being rehabilitated by the Elizabethan court. The reign of Elizabeth was also troubling but not yet considered tragic (as it would in the play King Lear produced after Elizabeth’s death).
King John’s attempted blinding and subsequent killing of Prince Arthur led to John’s first downfall. His mission in the East was part exile (ala Moses-Re) and part conquest (ala Issachar-Osiris). When Osiris returned from military victories in the East he was brutally attacked and killed. When Re came back from exile he was disrespected and inspired a deadly, vengeful exodus. The final years of John/Genghis in the West was transformed into a composite of the two. He endured a form of death like Osiris. He also passed through the waters of a flood and skipped the country with extorted wealth like Moses and the Israelites. (The actual death of John/Genghis did not occur until eleven years later in 1227 and at the age of 65.)
John’s loss of territory (in France) was recast as England’s gain (in terms of a national identity separate from France). Queen Elizabeth, like John, needed to whip up patriotic zeal among the English as a safeguard against foreign intrigue and an expected sea invasion, which did happen but was in both cases repelled with the aid of a storm. Elizabeth, like John, was threatened by a king named Philip (of Spain rather than France). Elizabeth, like John, had also killed her greatest rival. John killed Prince Arthur and Elizabeth executed Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth felt the need to undergo a symbolic death of her own prior to naming a successor, which is portrayed in As You Like It through the role of Ganymede. She intended to make restitution by naming James her successor (and neo-Arthur). Her natural son Essex was being prepared for an exodus (like John) to a greater throne in a promised land to the East, at least until his attempted coup.
Note: Commentary on Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Note: The normally distinct (and even contrary) typecasting of John-Issachar/Osiris and Moses/Re were also strongly combined in pharaoh Akhenaten. This peculiar combination is also found in the Biblical figure of Abraham. www.domainofman.com/book/chap-21.htm
Expecting the Unexpected
Shakespeare’s King John encounters a surging tide of water that wave upon wave, swallows up men and wagons (like pharaoh’s army and its chariots). John is simultaneously depicted both as Moses and oppressive pharaoh. He is however spared of both his life and his eldest son. We can also conclude that he got away with most if not all of the loot and his men, safely loaded onto ships prior to the “unexpected disaster”, which is conveniently relayed to the English people by a single “survivor”.
As for John himself, it was said that he was assassinated by an angry white monk, who first drank from a poisoned cup and then offered it to the king. John supposedly drank the most, but the monk suffered worst. His bowels burst open, which designated him as a Judas to John’s role as a Christ. The monk was used as a scapegoat, so that the (other) goat, John, could go free back to the Mongolian wilderness.
The ‘Chronicles’ of Raphael Holinshed first published in 1577 (summarized in an Appendix to the Arden Shakespeare edition of King John) mentions the report of John’s poisoning, but claims that John affected his illness and departed “through anguish of mind, rather than through the force of sickness”. Shakespeare’s John despaired of the world (of England) due to weakness from a chronic condition (such as the arrow wound of 1201 or a “royal disease”) and not because of sudden poisoning (Act 5, Scene 4, lines 3-4). John’s coffin, when opened centuries later, contained the 6’6” body of a monk and not the 5’6” body of the king, even as the king had “will’d it”. William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, had already summoned the leading lords, and Henry son of John was declared successor. In the words of another famous John, the godson of Queen Elizabeth, John Harington, “If a conspiracy succeeds none dare call it conspiracy.”
Note: The wrecked French Armada of 1216 was also led by a renowned monk, who was captured, brutalized, and then executed.
Note: The fuller title of Shakespeare’s King John was “The Life and Death of King John”. It was not only the rule of King John that was troublesome (i.e., mysterious) but also how it ended. However, only the most uninitiated reader would have failed to recognize that John had not died by poisoning in 1216.
Keep the People, Let My Golden Horde Go
Shakespeare put it this way, “The Life, the right, and the truth of all his realm has fled to heaven,” that is, John was speedily resurrected and ascended by “Mandate of Heaven” in the Orient. Holinshed describes the earlier death of Eleanor mother of John in similar terms, i.e., she “departed this life, consumed rather through sorrow and anguish of mind; than of any other natural infirmity.” Shakespeare places her death on April Fools Day, a clear indicator of pious mischief (Act 4, Scene 2, lines 120-121) Eleanor, as Hoelun mother of Genghis, may have lived a few more years (after her reputed death in1204) to help order her sons estates in the East as she had in France. There is record of Holelun receiving control over a large portion of the Mongol Empire after the triumph of her son Genghis in 1204. (Ref: Jack Weatherford, ‘Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World’, p 67.)
Shakespeare’s King John, like every other Shakespeare play is a masterpiece of royal propaganda. For the initiated (aristocratic) audience, John becomes a hero in the end, because he swallows his pride and gains the “commodity” of both worlds, East and West. Aristocrats are themselves given a pat on the back in the play for doing the right thing (in the end). They are praised for resisting domestic tyranny and also praised for resisting foreign take-over. They have been healed of their former rebelliousness through a type of metamorphosis. They can once again be useful to their de facto king. Three hundred years later the scenario and the names of the actors – Pembroke (Herbert), Salisbury, and Essex/Bigod – are given as the same.
A Bad Case of Genghivitis
The history of Holinshed stated that the loss of the Church’s wealth to the sea was a punishment from God. He also mentions a prophet named Alexander Cementarius that declared John to be “the rod of the Lords wrath”. This of course is a play on Genghis’ epithet, “Scourge of God”. (Act 2, Scene 1, line 87) Shakespeare’s King John and his army is self-described as “God’s Wrathful Agent”. And John’s army is described as:
“Rash, inconsiderate, fiery voluntaries,
With ladies’ faces and fierce dragons’ spleens,
Have sold their fortunes at their native homes,
Bearing their birthrights proudly on their backs,
To make a hazard of new fortunes here:”
(Act 2, Scene 1, lines 67-71)
The Arden Shakespeare edition of King John, from which the above is quoted, is at a loss as to what men this passage refers to. It is however a scandalously obvious depiction of Mongol warriors, who were beardless, carried all their worldly possessions with them, and ventured out willingly under John/Genghis if only to combat the monotony of life on the Steppes.
The much earlier Attila the Hun was also called “Scourge of God” and had a similarly described army. “Roman writers described Hun warriors as unsightly, short-legged and stout, with strongly knit limbs, thick necks, beardless faces, and small, black eyes. The Huns had no permanent home and never tilled the soil. They raised cattle, horses, sheep, and goats.”
In Shakespeare’s King John, Constance widow of Richard the Lionhearted states,
“O. lawful let it be,
That I have room with Rome to curse awhile!
Good father cardinal, cry thou amen.”
(Act 3, Scene 1, lines 105-107).
The Arden Shakespeare acknowledges the word play between Rome and Rum (pronounced “room”), the Turkish name of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) and also the name of a rival/parallel Turkish/Seljuk kingdom. Constance is claiming influence either in Byzantium or among the Seljuk, or both, and the ability to use that influence to put pressure on the Pope. Yesugai the Mongolian “father” of Genghis apparently corresponds to Suleyman II of the Seljuk Turks. His defeat in 1203 probably contributed to the attack on Genghis in that same year. The Mongolian name Kaidu (grandson of Ogodei) would have been a contemporary of the Seljuk Kaikubad III, the penultimate Seljuk ruler. In other words, the Seljuk dynasty appears to have been a Norman creation (later taken over by Plantagenets, as was England) even as the Abbasids were of Byzantine stock and the Ottomans were Habsburgs. Conflict between the Norman Crusaders and the Seljuk princes (and later with the Byzantines in the so-called 4th Crusade) would have had more to do with dynastic succession battles than religious ideology. (Regardless, all Medieval dynasties – Christian, Muslim, and otherwise - derived from the main Byzantine/Roman line of rulers.)
Note: “During Mass one day in the winter of 1287-1288, King Edward I of England rose up from his throne to stand in honor of Rabban Bar Sawma, the newly arrived envoy from the Mongol Emperor Khubilai Khan … Khubilai Khan had chosen Rabban Bar Sawma because, although a loyal Mongol, he was also a Christian priest, albeit of the Assyrian rite.” Jack Weatherford, ‘Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World’, p 218. Rabban Bar Sawma also had a very Jewish sounding name!
Note: There was a pogram against the Jews initiated by Richard the Lionhearted. This seems to have set a precedent for Jewish antagonism in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
England’s Declaration of Co-Dependence
In Shakespeare’s King John, Philip Faulconbridge (a.k.a. “Bastard”) mirrors John Lackland and his Mongol volunteers, but on a smaller scale. At the beginning of the play, Bastard identified with John as a “Lackland” by renouncing his birthright to a relatively small inheritance (through his adoptive father) in order to pursue a grander prize (worthy of an illegitimate son of Richard the Lionhearted). Unlike John, he cannot be accused of being a “Soft-Sword”. He is fanatical in warmongering and succeeds in avenging the imprisonment and premature death of his father at the hands of Austro-Germanic lords. He rebukes the Earl of Salisbury (William “Long-Sword”) as a traitor and challenges him to a duel, which the renowned warrior Salisbury runs from (Act 4, Scene 3, lines 95-100). Faulconbridge/Bastard is called a “misbegotten/bastard devil” (Act 5, Scene 4, line 4), but one to whom John has entrusted England (Act 5, Scene 1, line 77). He is also one who represents England, as in the character Baron Faulconbridge in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, but one who ultimately does not disappoint. Bastard in fact revels in his devilish distinction, not only before domestic Salisbury but also foreign Austria who does take up Bastard’s challenge (Act 2, Scene 1, lines 134-135). After killing Austria, Bastard proudly dons the lion skin pelt of the Judah king, asserting his right (earned in battle) to carry on the dynastic line of the Judah, Richard the Lionhearted (Coeur-de-Lion).
Bastard is in effect carrying on the legacy of Richard the Lionhearted, called “no man but a devil” by the Saracens. Bastard has also become the leading deputy of an even greater superhuman devil, King John, the final and arguably greatest of Henry and Eleanor’s children popularly known as “The Devil’s Brood”. Any affront to Bastard’s person is tantamount to an attack on the memory of Richard and the present mastery of John. Bastard wants to follow John in “death”, but consents to stay behind and guard England for John’s posterity, and potentially his own as the founder of a junior dynasty after that of the Biblical Kings of Judah (subordinate to the kings of Israel but ultimately eclipsing them). This of course is the zealous loyalty John cultivated in order to keep his far-flung Empire in tact. In the final two scenes of the play, Bastard no longer uses the lord’s name in vain (Act 2, Scene 1, lines 466-467), but has discovered the true faith of the Pope and Plantagenets. He is reconciled with Hubert (Hubert de Burgh, regent of the young Henry III). He is entrusted to keep the secret of Lincoln Wash, as well as see to the defense of England against the Dauphin of France. Such is considered a more worthy commodity, that is, local accommodation for global exploitation.
Note: Sir Hubert de Burgh was a naval hero (in the defeat of the French Armada) and possessed a strange status (seemingly beyond that of John), and in the manner of the later Sir Francis Drake, hero in the victory over the Spanish Armada of 1588.
Note: The Minstrel of Reims called Queen Eleanor “the very devil” and claimed that she wanted to run off with Saladin. In Shakespeare’s King John she is likened to Ate, the “goddess of blind folly”, among other things. (Act 2, Scene 1, lines 62-63) (Alison Weir, ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’, p 345.)
Note: The Arden Shakespeare introduction to King John makes an excellent point that Henry III king of France had only just recently (1589) been assassinated by a Catholic monk, which made the tale of John’s poisoning by a monk all the more plausible.
Note: The Tudors were considered a bastard line of usurpers. Therefore, John is characterized as a usurper by Shakespeare, and probably much more so than in his own time. The Plantagenet/Angevin line of John had itself replaced that of William the Conqueror, who was an even more notorious bastard and usurper. Shakespeare was in effect legitimizing the English “Bastard Nation” and inviting it to play a local role in a larger, even global, enterprise. The Elizabethan identification with King John, which the Arden Shakespeare edition states went back to the reign of Henry VIII, suggests that the Tudors were descendants of John/Genghis and certainly descendants of Byzantine Emperor John Comnenus (“Count Fulk of Anjou”), founder of the Plantagenet line. Ironically, the Byzantine Dynasty was defeated by trickery in the reign of King John. The labyrinthine gridlock of inheritances created by the Byzantine family as a matrix for preserving centralized power was dealt a death blow by the Norman kings (of which John was one). A new world order had arrived.
Note: The various traitors against John represented various strata of English high society.
Pembroke (an Earl), Salisbury and Faulconbridge (illegitimate princes), Melun a Count.
Note: Shakespeare’s Richard II is called a complementary or twin play of King John, however Richard II was not a figure Elizabeth in any way wanted to identify with. Richard II, the most oriental/Chinese looking Plantagenet king, was also deposed, but the Shakespeare version of his life does not give him redeeming, heroic qualities. His fall was considered deserved.
References and Further Notes:
Philip That Which is Called John
Alison Weir writes in ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’ (pp 154-155):
“John Speed, the English antiquarian whose ‘Henry of Great Britain’ was published in 1611, had access to sources now lost to us, and he records that Henry and Eleanor had a son named Philip, who was born between 1158 and 1162, but died young. … Yet Francis Sandford, a genealogist who at the end of the seventeenth century made a detailed study of the royal line, does not mention him. … However, the dates of birth of all Eleanor’s other children by Henry are recorded – even the birth of her last child, John, who is usually accounted her fifth son. Moreover, the name Philip would have been an unusual choice, favoured by the French royal line, but never having been used by the forebears of Henry and Eleanor. Neither, however, had the name John been used.”
In Hebrew typecasting, the fifth son of Jacob was “Issachar/Zechariah”, corresponding to Osiris/Dionysos in Mythology, and to the name John in the New Testament (as in John the Baptist as an Osiris/forerunner figure to the Horus/Christ). Herod the Great’s fifth son was also called Philip. It stands to reason that Philip and John were one and the same and that the French form of the name was dropped when the boy was about five years old (and on the eve of the savior-king Osiris/Christ’s birth). This would then account for the slight difference in age between Timujin/Genghis Khan (born 1162) and King John of England. It would also help explain how the (next) five years John spent at the abbey of Fontevrault made such a profound impression on him (as a young boy rather than as a toddler). The mythic figure Dionysos was also said to have been cloistered and raised by women. www.domainofman.com/book/chap-3.html
The following are excerpts from:
Richard & John: Kings at War
By Frank McLynn (2008)
“[John was] devoted to instant gratification, pleasure and luxury, he could not bear to be crossed in anything and preferred idleness and debauchery to the professional training of knighthood. Hunting, hawking, drinking, gambling (especially backgammon) were his favorite pastimes. He also liked music … sumptuous clothing, finery and jewellery (particularly gold artifacts) … his early contact with the Church at Fontevrault seems to have turned him violently against the Christian religion. He devoured recondite works of theology and even liked to take them on campaign with him later in life, but he read them so that he would have ammunition for mocking religion. … He liked to make gratuitously ribald and blasphemous remarks – ‘By God’s teeth!’, ‘By God’s feet!’, etc. – and to shock churchmen by his heretical stance on items of Church doctrine; his favourite motif was the patent absurdity of the Resurrection. … John may well have been the first atheistic king in English history.” Frank McLynn, “Richard and John: Kings at War”, p 78.
“But not even modern revisionism can shake the universal consensus that John was a deeply unpleasant individual: cruel, miserly, extortionate, duplicitous, treacherous, mendacious, suspicious, secretive, paranoid and lecherous. … Men were hanged by thumbs and the hands, roasted on gridirons and tripods, and prisoners were blinded with salt and vinegar. … John had no compunction about mistreating or murdering women and children … John indeed always liked to starve people to death … Modern defenders of John … insinuate the idea that his atrocities were small beer alongside those of Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot, conveniently ignoring that John lacked both the technology and the political culture for mass killing; there is simply no way of telling how a particular individual temperament would react in an entirely different milieu, but the circumstantial pointers are scarcely favourable. That there was a morbid side to John’s cruelty seems clear from his Nero-like delight in bloodshed in the arena … ”
Frank McLynn, “Richard and John: Kings at War”, p 287.
[My Note: Strangely, Genghis Khan the contemporary of King John of England is not included in McLynn’s list of sociopaths above. Genghis is mention in passing on page 487 of McLynn’s book, which reads: “Henry [II]’s ‘solution’ to the problem of empire – dividing it among his sons – was much like that adopted by Genghiz Khan with the Mongol empire fifty years later – and with similarly unhappy results.” Genghis is however not considered important enough to the study of Richard and John to merit an entry in the book’s index.]
“John was a notoriously unfaithful husband and ran a veritable harem of lemns, concubines and grandes horizontales. … The names of his known bastards were Joan, daughter of Clementia, Geoffrey and Richard (both of whom had military careers), Oliver and Osbert; Oliver and Richard were born to ‘noblewomen who had scandalous liaisons with John’; and there were certainly others … in that he alienated his barons by pursuing their wives and daughters.” Frank McLynn, “Richard and John: Kings at War”, p 289.
“Another pronounced characteristic of John was restlessness … a man dedicated to haste … Yet these bursts of frenetic energy alternated with periods of indolence … what remains is a clear indication of manic-depressive behaviour, bipolar affective disorder, cyclothymia – a diagnosis which would also account for the violent mood swings and tempestuous rages.” Frank McLynn, “Richard and John: Kings at War”, pp 289-290.
“John was positively oriental in his liking for baths and cleanliness … Yet what most intrigues the historian of the early twenty-first century is John’ alleged atheism … It is interesting that the one man in English history to go farther down the anti-papal path than John did was Henry VIII, like John a despot who recognised no authority superior to his own will, and like him with a contemporary reputation as Europe’s new Nero.” Frank McLynn, “Richard and John: Kings at War”, pp 290-291.
“It has sometimes, absurdly, been claimed that John was conventionally pious, and some lame circumstantial evidence has been adduced, as for instance his acting as pallbearer at the funeral of St Hugh of Lincoln. More convincing is the evidence of Adam of Eynsham, the biographer of Hugh, who knew the true situation; he reports that John never took communion after he came of age, not even at his own coronation.”
Frank McLynn, “Richard and John: Kings at War”, p 374.
The Arden Shakespeare remarks on the haste and speed of John and how this is highlighted by Shakespeare and contemporary sources. It also the emphasis in Shakespeare’s King John on physical attributes, such as eye (47 instances), hand (52 instances), blood (40 instances), foot (12 instances) and tooth/teeth (5 instances). The Arden Shakespeare introduction does however not mention that heaven/heavens is used 53 times and sky another 5 times. This is not the vocabulary of atheism, per se, but paganism, and particularly Mongol paganism in which “The Eternal Blue Sky” was central. Heaven or the heavens is also central to Chinese belief. Note however, that while most characters of King John swear in pagan fashion “by heaven”, Arthur does “by his christendom” (Act 4, Scene 1, line 16).
Religion in Shakespeare’s King John:
“So Jest With Heaven: Deity In King John”
By Dorothea Kehler
Genghis Khan and the Magna Carta:
Prester John and Genghis Khan:
"Prester John (or John the Elder) legendary Christian ruler of the East, popularized in medieval chronicles and traditions as a hoped-for ally against the Muslims. Believed to be a Nestorian (i.e., a member of an independent Eastern Christian Church that did not accept the authority of the patriarch of Constantinople) and a king-priest reigning “in the Far East beyond Persia and Armenia,” Prester John was the centre of a number of legends that harked back to the writings of “John the Elder” in the New Testament.
"The legend arose during the period of the Crusades (late 11th–13th century), when European Christians hoped to regain the Holy Land (Palestine) from the Muslims. In 1071 Jerusalem had been conquered by the Seljuq Turks. Based on a report about Prester John by Bishop Hugh of Gebal in Syria (modern Jubayl, Lebanon) in 1145 to the papal court at Viterbo, Italy, the story was first recorded by Bishop Otto of Freising, Ger., in his Chronicon (1145). According to this, John, a wealthy and powerful “priest and king,” reputedly a lineal descendant of the Magi who had visited the Christ child, defeated the Muslim kings of Persia in battle, stormed their capital at Ecbatana, and intended to proceed to Jerusalem but was impeded in the last goal because of difficulties in crossing the Tigris River. The battle referred to by Hugh may have been that fought at Qatwan, Persia, in 1141, when the Mongol khan Yeh-lü Ta-shih, the founder of the Karakitai empire in Central Asia, defeated the Seljuq sultan Sanjar. The title of the Karakitai rulers was Gur-khan, or Kor-khan, which may have been changed phonetically in Hebrew to Yohanan or, in Syriac, to Yuhanan, thus producing the Latin Johannes, or John. Though the Gur-khans were Mongol Buddhists, many of their leading subjects were Nestorians, and according to a report by the Franciscan missionary Willem van Ruysbroeck in 1235, the daughter of the last Gur-khan and wife of King Küchlüg of the Naiman, a Central Asian people, was a Christian. Küchlüg, whose father’s name was Ta-yang Khan (Great King John in Chinese), was defeated by the great Mongol ruler Genghis Khan in 1218. In 1221, Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre in Palestine, and Cardinal Pelagius, a Western churchman accompanying crusaders at Damietta in Egypt, reported to Rome information about a Muslim defeat by a certain King David of India, the son or grandson of Prester John. This King David probably was none other than Genghis Khan. Because of rumours, lack of reliable information, or wishful thinking on the part of European Christians, the historical events, personages of the period, and geographical areas involved became interwoven into the legend of Prester John.
"A 13th-century chronicler, Alberic de Trois-Fontaines, recorded that in 1165, a letter was sent by Prester John to several European rulers, especially Manuel I Comnenus, the Byzantine emperor, and Frederick I Barbarossa, the Holy Roman emperor. A literary fiction, the letter was in Latin and was translated into various languages, including Hebrew and Old Slavonic. Though addressed to the Byzantine (Greek) emperor, no Greek text of the letter is known; and its anti-Byzantine bias is demonstrated by the Byzantine emperor’s being addressed as “governor of the Romans,” rather than “emperor.” In the letter, the realm of Prester John, “the three Indies,” is described as a land of natural riches, marvels, peace, and justice administered by a court of archbishops, priors, and kings. Preferring the simple title presbyter, John declared that he intended to come to Palestine with his armies to battle with the Muslims and regain the Holy Sepulchre, the burial place of Jesus. The letter notes that John is the guardian of the shrine of St. Thomas, the apostle to India, at Mylapore, India.
"In response to an embassy from Prester John, Pope Alexander III sent a reply in 1177 to John, “the illustrious and magnificent king of the Indies and a beloved son of Christ.” The fate of this letter is unknown, though its intent probably was to gain support for Alexander in his controversies with Barbarossa. In the 13th and 14th centuries various missionaries and lay travelers, such as Giovanni da Pian del Carpini, Giovanni da Montecorvino, and Marco Polo, all searching for the kingdom of Prester John, established direct contact between the West and the Mongols.
"After the mid-14th century, Ethiopia became the centre of the search for the kingdom of Prester John, who was identified with the negus (emperor) of that African Christian nation. The legend, however, locates Prester John in Asia, especially in Nestorian areas."
John and Rumors of Prester John:
In legend, Alexander’s intent was always to reach “Paradise”, a “Blessed Land” in the vicinity of China. This region was also the general location where a much later savior king arose during the Crusades. His name was “Prester John”, and it was hoped that he would bring a vast army from the East to help Christians in their struggle against Islam. Interestingly enough, belief in Prester John emerged at about the same time that legends of Alexander’s “Journey to Paradise” took their final form. Forces were again at work to bring East and West together. And again it did not happen exactly as planned. The original Prester John did not come as expected.
That John was the Great Khan called Ong. The name Ong (like a later Ming dynast Yangli) suggests affiliation with the expansive northern Anglo/Norman/Verangian/Frank super-dynasty, but whose nominal Christianity was that of his subjects. They had long been converted by Nestorian missionaries from Mesopotamia! Ong was succeeded by another John, whose local name was Temu-Jin, later called Genghis Khan. Stephen Howarth (“The Knights Templar”, p 211) writes:
“Rumours were still prevalent of that mysterious Christian potentate, Prester John; and in fact the rumours had a very slight basis in truth. Far to the East, in Mongolia, was a man named Toghrul, chief of the Kerait clan of the Mongols. A hundred years earlier, the Keraits had been converted to Nestorian Christianity. Toghrul was nominally Christian, and his title, Ong-Khan, was altered by Nestorian missionaries to a more comprehensible form: Khan was translated (wrongly) as priest – pretre, prester – and Ong became the French name Jean. Vague reports of the Mongols’ deeds had been filtering through to Europe and the Holy Land and, though they were not exaggerated, the reports were somehow sterilized in the telling. The bloodthirsty slaughters in the distant steppes became victories won in the name of Christ; and when Toghrul was killed in 1203 by the Great Khan – Jenghiz – the supposed Christian virtues of the Ong-Khan, Prester John, were transferred to Jenghiz. People in Europe and Outremer sincerely believed that help for the Holy Land would come not only from the West, but from the East, from Jenghiz and his family, the founders of the Golden Horde …”
Genghis and his immediate successors were in fact favorable toward Christianity and did bring relief to the Christian West. They also brought a new ruling dynasty to China, the Yuan (also an adaptation of John). However, many future Khans converted to the Islamic faith of their conquered subjects.
In 1203, the new King of England was named John, younger brother of Richard the Lionhearted. John was an unusual king name in the West and his entire reign was strangely anomalous. He was a fifth son (i.e., John/Issachar) and also the youngest prince, and therefore not expected to ever succeed to the throne, at least within the strict rules of succession (based on primogeniture) followed by Norman kings. As a very young boy John was designated to become a priest. His father changed his mind when a profitable marriage match was being considered for him. As a teenager he was sent to rule Iceland. Later, he was set up to become king of Ireland, but his lack of couth alienated the Irish lords.
At the same time that Richard was declared king of England in 1189, Genghis declared himself a Khan in the East, even though he had accomplished nothing worthy of mention there and had little following. Yet, by the time his brother Richard died a decade later and John unexpectedly became king of England, Genghis had just as unexpectedly begun to make serious headway in his goal of becoming Great Khan. This presented an even more serious dilemma. How could one man pursue two kingships so vastly separated geographically? The answer of course was that he could not, at least not effectively. When John could not maintain his holdings in the West, he tried to declare them as a gift to the Pope (and in penance for his crimes)! When English lords rose up against his negligent rule (and trying to dump the country), he signed the Magna Carta.
At the very moment John became (on paper) the most democratic ruler of the West, Genghis became a Caesar like none other in the East. The woes of John in England corresponded exactly with the stupendous victories of Genghis Khan on the Steppes. What’s more, John’s death in 1216 was highly suspicious and coincided closely with Genghis’ greatest triumph. In 1216 the crown jewels of England vanished. When John's coffin was opened centuries later it contained a 6’6” corpse wearing a monk’s collar.
In 1216, the primitive island of England was turned over to a son of John. Genghis and his (other) sons became rulers of an entire continent, arguably the largest land empire ever. As a finishing touch, it was claimed by the Mongols that Genghis had descended from the Greeks! Richard Stoneman (Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend, p 33) writes: “The Great Mongol Shahnameh of the 1330s (of which detached plates are scattered through the world’s libraries since the MS was broken up in the early twentieth century) is just the culmination of Mongol interest, which even went so far as to make Genghis Khan a direct descendant of Olympias [mother of Alexander the Great].
Mongolian Family of Genghis:
The family name of Genghis Khan was Borjigin (plural is Borjigid)
Cf Borgias of Spain and Italy
The Borjigin were called “black-boned”, meaning of western origin.
Genghis’ father: Yesugei
Genghis’ mother: Hoelun
Genghis’ younger full-brother: Khasar
Older half-brother: Begter
Half-brother (by his father’s other wife Sochigel): Belgutei
Youngest brother: Temuge
Youngest sibling (and only girl): Temulun, meaning, “rash/impetuous”.
Genghis’ wife: Borte daughter of Dei-sechen
Borte’s firstborn (possibly illegitimate): Jochi, “visitor, guest”. Cf Gershom, “stranger” the son of Moses.
Genghis’ younger sons: Chaghatai, Ogodei, and Tolui
Cf Four main illegitimate sons of John - Geoffrey and Richard (military men), Oliver and Osbert
Torghil/Ong Khan of the Kereyid tribe, Nestorian Christian, assisted by Yesugei in overthrowing the previous Gur-khan/Great Khan
Leading “followers” of Ong Khan: Boorchu and Jelme
“Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy”
by John Man (paperback edition of 1991 book)
Timetable of England and Mongolia in the time of John/Genghis:
Hulegu (grandson of Genghis) demands submission of France:
Overviews of Shakespeare’s King John:
Mongolian “high-speed” transportation system:
“And when they are come to the next post that is at the end of the journey, they find there are also the dogs and the sledges and another guide ready to carry them forward for the second journey; and this is done because the dogs could not bear such labor as that for all the thirteen days’ journey; and so those that have brought them turn back. And so if goes through all these journeys, changing dogs, sledge, and guide at every stage … till the messengers of the lord are carried … and return to their own land through the plain.” The Travels of Marco Polo, Chapter XLIV, commented upon by Laurence Bergreen, Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu, p 310.
“Genghis Khan relied on a system of fast riders known as arrow messengers. The military supplied the riders, but the local people supplied the stations. The postal service ranked alongside the military in importance for the Mongols, and individual Mongols were allowed to serve in it in lieu of the regular military service. Depending on local terrain, the stations were set approximately twenty miles apart, and each station required about twenty-five families to maintain and operate it.” Jack Weatherford,, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”, p 72.
Salisbury and Pembroke of John’s reign compared with John Salisbury and William Herbert of Elizabeth’s reign:
Bastardy of William Longsword (Earl of Salisbury, son of Henry II’s mistress Rosamund Clifford). Bastardy of William Herbert Earl of Pembroke in Tudor England:
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