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A contraction of Johannes (Johʹn). The French contract it differently, Jean—i.e. Jehan or Jehann; in Italian, Giovanni.


John I. died wretchedly in jail.

John II. and III. were nonentities.

John IV. was accused of heresy.

John V., VI., VII., were nonentities.

John VIII. was imprisoned by Lambert, Duke of Spoleʹto; at a subsequent period he was dressed in female attire out of mockery, and was at last poisoned.

John IX. had Sergius III. for a rival Pope.

John X. was overthrown by Gui, Duke of Tuscany, and died in prison.

John XI. was imprisoned with his mother by Alberic, and died there.

John XII. was deposed for sacrilege, and was at last assassinated.

John XIII. was imprisoned by his nobles and deposed.

John XIV. was deposed, and died imprisoned in the Castle of St. Angelo.

John XV. was a nonentity.

John XVI. was driven from Rome by Crescentius.

John XVII. (antipope) was expelled by Otto III., and barbarously treated by Gregory.

John XVIII. abdicated.

John XIX. was deposed and expelled by Konrad.

John XX. was a nonentity.

John XXI. was crushed to death by the falling in of his palace at Viterbo.

John XXII. was charged with heresy.

John XXIII. fled in disguise, was arrested, and cast into prison for three years.

Certainly a disastrous list of Popes.

John. A proverbially unhappy name with royalty, insomuch that when John Stuart ascended the throne of Scotland he changed his name to Robert; but misfortune never deserted him, and after an evil reign he died overwhelmed with calamities and infirmity. John Baliol was the mere tool of Edward I.; John of England, a most disastrous reign. John I. of France reigned only a few days; John II., having lost the battle of Poitiers, died in captivity in London; to France his reign was a tissue of evils. John of Bohemia was slain at Cressy. John I. of Aragon was at ceaseless war with his subjects, by whom he was execrated; John II. was at ceaseless war with his son, Don Carlos. John I. of Constantinople was poisoned by Basil, his eunuch; John IV. had his eyes put out; John V. was emperor in name only, and was most unhappy; John VI., harassed with troubles, abdicated, and died in a monastery.


John I. of Sweden was unhappy in his expeditions, and died childless; John II. had his wife driven out of the kingdom by his angry subjects. Jean sans Peur of Burgundy engaged in the most horrible massacres and was murdered. John of Suabia, called the Parricide, because he murdered his father Albert, after which he was a fugitive and a vagabond on the face of the earth, etc., etc.

N.B. John of Portugal was a signal exception.

Ivan IV. of Russia, surnamed the “Terrible” (1529–1584). He murdered with his own hand his eldest son; Ivan V. (1666–1696) was dumb and nearly blind; Ivan VI. (1737–1762) was dethroned, imprisoned, and put to death. (See Jane.)

King John and the Abbot of Canterbury. John, being jealous of the state kept by the abbot, declared he should be put to death unless he answered three questions. The first question was, how much the king was worth; the second, how long it would take to ride round the world; and the third, what the king was thinking of. The king gave the abbot three weeksʹ grace for his answers. A shepherd undertook to answer the three questions, so with crozier, mitre, rochet, and cope, he presented himself before the king. “What am I worth?” asked John. “Well,” was the reply, “the Saviour was sold for thirty pence, and your majesty is a penny worse than He.” The king laughed, and demanded what he had to say to the next question, and the man replied, “If you rise with the sun and ride with the sun, you will get round the world in a day.” Again the king was satisfied, and demanded that the respondent should tell him his thoughts. “You think I am the abbot of Canterbury, but I am only a poor shepherd who am come to ask your majesty’s pardon for him and me.” The king was so pleased with the jest, that he would have made the shepherd abbot of Canterbury; but the man pleaded that he could neither write nor read, whereupon the king dismissed him, and gave him a pension of four nobles a week. (Percy: Reliques, series 2, bk. iii. 6.)

Mess-John or Mass-John. A priest.

Prester John. The supposed Christian king and priest of a mediæval kingdom in the interior of Asia. This Prester John was the Khan Ung who was defeated and slain by Genghis Khan in 1202, said to have been converted by the Nestorian Christians. He figures in Ariosto, and has furnished materials for a host of mediæval legends.

“I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from the farthest inch of Asia; bring you the length of Prester John’s foot: fetch you a hair off the great Cham’s beard … .”

The three Johns—an alehouse picture in Little Park Street, Westminster, and in White Lion Street, Pentonville—is John Wilkes between the Rev. John Horne Tooke and Sir John Glynn (serjeant-at-law). (Hotten: History of Signboards).

St. John the Evangelist is represented writing his gospel; or bearing a chalice, from which a serpent issues, in allusion to his driving the poison from a cup presented to him to drink. He is sometimes represented in a cauldron of boiling oil, in allusion to the tradition of his being plunged into such a cauldron before his banishment to the isle of Patmos.

St. John. The usual war-cry of the English of the North in their encounters with the Scotch. The person referred to is St. John of Beverley, in Yorkshire, who died 721.


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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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Jobbing Carpenter
Jocelin de Brakelonda
Jockey (To)
Jockey of Norfolk
Joe or a Joe Miller
Joggis or Jogges
John-a-Nokes [or Noakes
John Anderson, my Jo
John Audley
John Bull
John Chinaman
John Company
John Doe
John Dory

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Apostles, where buried
Great (The)
Kings, etc., of England
Wise (The)

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