How did King John spell his name...

…with no J? IIRC, the letter J was not adopted into the English alphabet until much later. How did the king, or anyone named John (or Joan or James or Jules, etc.) spell his name back then? Ian? Ioan? Did Iack and Iyll go up the hill to fetch a pail of, um, vater?


only it would have looked like


because I and J were the same letter but written differently based on usage.

A clear example of the contemporary spelling of his name in an official document is the opening of the 1207 charter to the town of Cambridge.

As the image on this page shows, the initial letter of his name in the British Library’s better copy of Magna Carta is actually very clear, but the rest of his name is less easy to read, not least because it’s abbreviated.

one of my prized possessions is a Jackdaw on the Magna Carta. “Jackdaws” are collections of facsimiles of documents related to historical events or movements. They’re still being made, but are surprisingly expensive. I bought a number of them many years ago, when they weren’t. Nowadays they seem to be sold to schools and the like. The one on the Magna Carta now looks like this:
Mine looks the same, except it’s olive green instead of shocking magenta. One of the items (which doesn’t seem to be in the present one) was a broadsheet entitled Did King John Lose his Treasure in The Wash?

this refers to a not-so-famous (at least to Americans) incident involving the Crown Jewels:

But I look at that headline and get a very different mental picture. I imagine King John stumping down into the basement of the Castle in his bathrobe and bunny slippers to ask the Queen (who is standing in her robe and slippers and her hair curlers, possibly smoking a cigarette and pulling the laundry out of the washing machine, “Honey, have you seen my Treasure?”

“Did you leave it in your pocket again?” the Queen asks out of the side of her mouth.

Thanks all.

So we know he spelled it Iohannes when writing in the official Latin, but would he have done so in (Middle) English? And in which would he be more likely to sign his name? Is it another example of standardized spelling not being that important yet?

Quite possibly he couldn’t speak English at all. Many of the previous Norman kings of England couldn’t.

Has any English king been as despised as King John? Other than Stephen (another unpopular king) he is the only king never to have any successive king named after him. Most people associate him with Robin Hood even though there is no evidence at all that Robin Hood lived during his rule.

Firstly, we don’t know that this is the spelling he used when writing in Latin. But then I never said that it was. All we can say is that this is the spelling used by one Chancery clerk.

And that is pretty much the limit of what can be said on the subject. There is no known example of John’s handwriting, in Latin, French or English. There is even some question as to whether he was literate. (Whatever ‘literacy’ means, as reading, writing and signing one’s name were different skills.) Signatures of English kings only begin to survive from a couple of centuries later. So official documents issued in his name are the nearest substitute and those are unavoidably in Latin.

English or French documents into which John might have had some direct input simply do not exist.

I’m unaware of actual evidence that Robin Hood existed at all. Well at least any more evidence than King Arthur existed.