Sometimes, the universe likes to throw you one liners like that.
There’s a rather famous scene in an equally famous Mel Brooks movie known only as Robin Hood: Men in Tights. In it we have King Richard played by Sir Patrick Stewart when he appears in the third act for… mostly comedic purposes to parody the appearance of Sir Sean Connery in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. In that humorous scene (that some would argue outshines the original that it parodies) King Richard delivers a line that I found so humorously coincidental that I regret that I didn’t understand it’s full meaning until I was much older.
“Henceforth all toilets in the land shall be called ‘Johns’!”
Now at first I thought to myself, “Isn’t it great when life synchs up for a joke like that?” Then I started pondering if it wasn’t just life synching up. What if, at some point in history, it became popular in England to refer to toilets by the term Johns?
This pondering, for which I have yet to find an answer, led to a much more interesting story involving the historical Jon and how a single toilet led to a revolution.
Before I get to the toilet, our unlikely plot point of this tale, I have to explain a bit about King Jon so more commonly known in fiction as Prince Jon, the antagonist of Robin Hood. Man, how bad do you have to be for people to not even remember you were a King?
Dating stories about Robin Hood are probably one of the trickiest things to do, historically speaking. There are various references that show Robin Hood’s campaign against evil happening over the rule of three different kings of England, Richard to Henry the Third. Granted that’s only from 1189 to at least 1216 (Henry’s coronation) which is only a 27 year period really. Still it puts a bit of a point on whom Robin’s proper antagonist really was.
Most legends place the key time of Robin Hood before the coronation of King John in 1199 during the time King Richard was fighting in the crusades and left the care of England to John who was only a prince at that time. That means that the Ridley Scott version of Robin Hood is probably the most inaccurate historically accurate movie out there. Many of the events and lifestyle of the time are quite right, except Robin’s placement within is about as wrong as you can get. For fans of the beloved outlaw this is like what Hollywood did to Jason Bourne… Right forgot my audience.
This is like what happened in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
But onto the man himself. King John would take over England after the death of his brother Richard during the crusades. He was left with a country that was in debt from war and an oncoming invasion from King Phillip of France who wanted to take Normandy from England.
You see Normandy was the piece of what we know as France today that faced the majority of the English Channel so to say that it was the start point of a lot of English Invasion was an understatement. This had been the case since the Norman invasion of 1066 when William the Conqueror took over England and installed a Norman supremacy. So the French controlling Normady was a big thing on the to-do list. “But wait,” I hear you say, “Didn’t the evil French sail across the English Channel during the Ridley Scott Robin Hood film? How did they do that if England controlled Normandy at the time?” Well, the film goes through great lengths to make the arrival of the French army a surprise when in fact England very much knew they were coming. After all they would have had to go through Normandy. But we’re talking about the five time rewritten Ridley Scott film. I don’t expect much.
During his time King Richard made a powerful fortress called Chateau-Gaillard in response to King Phillip’s encroachments into Normandy. Philip actually got as far as Gaillon a mere ten kilometers from Gaillard around the time of its construction. Chateau-Gaillard was the pinnacle of castle engineering in its time. Despite being built in a year Richard had a castle made so well that the Philip would never take it as long as Richard lived. Considering that the castle was pretty much complete in 1198 and Richard died a year later that’s not much of a statement.
Anyway, at some point in Jon’s reign he had an addition made to the castle. A single, solitary toilet added to the chapel. A toilet that would write history!
So King Phillip sieged the castle and managed to get as far as past the outermost wall but he could do naught to penetrate the inner keep that was well fortified and hand enough food to keep the inhabitants going for a year, certainly long enough for English reinforcements. So the French military examined the castle to find a possible critical flaw to break the defenses.
One day, a singular soldier named Ralph (if record is to be believed) was walking around the castle trying to find such a weakness when he smelled a rather distinctive smell. The smell of human waste. He quickly realized the source was a toilet chute some meters above him that was accessible from the outside. After some rigorous planning he and a group of men climbed up to the chute and then scaled the inside of it as Philips men assaulted the outside at full force. Sure enough after some rigorous climbing through Morgan Freeman narrated conditions (during which I hope an off-color joke or two was made) Ralph and his men emerged within that very toilet room that John had installed in the Chapel. After that, the French quickly took the castle having the advantage of men on the inside to aid their access.
I should note that there’s some debate as to the veracity of these events but that’s history for you. The castle did indeed fall as its remains stand to this day but there’s some argument on how Ralph and his men breeched the inner keep.
The loss by John’s men at Chateau-Gaillard was only the beginning of a massive French invasion into English territory. Once it was all done King John was left with a massive rebellion on his hands arranged by the local barons. This had been a problem in England since the Norman invasion succeeded so things finally boiled to a massive head forcing King John to relinquish his power to the local barons of England ensuring that the rule of the Kings of England were no longer absolute and that no freeman or non-serf in this case, could be punished unless he had committed a crime. This magnificent document of liberty came to be known as The Magna Carta.
And all thanks to one little toilet.
So too does this work exist.