John II (1319-1364) was king of France from 1350 to 1364. Stubborn and greedy, he refused to heed good advice, and his reign was marked by social and economic crises.
The son of Philip VI of France and Jeanne of Burgundy, at the age of 13 John was married to Bonne of Luxemburg. He began his military career in 1340, as the commander of royal military forces in Hainaut. In 1341 he was his father's lieutenant in Brittany, and in 1344 he held the same office in Languedoc.
Shortly after his coronation in 1350, John II began the round of banquets, festivals, and tournaments that characterized his reign, and he continued the recently established French royal tradition of lavishly dispensing artistic patronage. His ill-considered attachment to favorites, however, created hostility among the higher nobility, and his employment of men in high public office who exploited their power for private gain contributed substantially to the crisis of public finance that culminated in the 1350s, a point of economic crisis for all of Christendom.
John's inability or unwillingness to deal with political crises diplomatically alienated his powerful cousin and rival Charles (the Bad) of Navarre, who remained John's most dangerous subject throughout his reign. In 1355 the war with the king of England, later called the Hundred Years War (1339-1453), resumed. John sustained a stunning defeat by Edward the Black Prince at Poitiers on Sept. 19, 1356. Captured by the English, he was taken in 1357 to England as a prisoner until his enormous ransom could be paid.
John's misrule had created a social and economic crisis in France. As early as 1351 the coinage, for example, had to be debased, and his humiliation and disaster at Poitiers inspired a revolutionary faction of the Estates General to make strong demands for reform upon the regent, John's son Charles, later King Charles V. From 1356 to 1358 these demands and the later uprising known as the Jacquerie threatened France with political and social chaos. By 1359, however, Charles had managed to restore some public order, and in 1360 he signed the Treaty of Brétigny, which set John's ransom at an impossibly high figure, and promised to give hostages to the English until the ransom was paid.
John returned to France to resume his governance and raise his ransom, but with little success or good judgment in either project. In 1363 one of his sons escaped from the English, to whom he had been given as a hostage for his father. John II returned voluntarily to England to finish his own captivity. He died in England in April 1364.
Although John's reign failed to guide France in its quarrel with England or forestall its economic and social crisis, it did witness the beginning of a standing army, the regularization of extraordinary taxation, the patronage of the arts, and, in spite of John's repeated personal failures, the immense, politically creative prestige of the king of France.
There is no adequate biography of John in English. The best and most recent discussion of John's reign and its contemporary background is in Kenneth Fowler, The Age of Plantagenet and Valois (1967). A lengthier discussion is in E. Perroy, The Hundred Years War (1945; trans. 1951). The contemporary view of John's reign is in Jean Froissart, The Chronicles of England, France, and Spain (many editions). □