John was a son of Count Henry (Heinrich) II "the Rich" of Nassau and Matilda of Guelders (German: Mathilde von Geldern). From 1262 to 1265, he was the archdeacon of Condroz.
After the death of Bishop Henry I van Vianden (Dutch: Hendrik I van Vianden) in 1267, the cathedral chapter of the Diocese of Utrecht elected John (primarily because of his military skills) as his successor. They were influenced in this decision by John's maternal relatives: his cousin Count Otto II of Guelders and Floris V, Count of Holland. But Pope Clement IV, at the instigation of the Archbishop of Cologne, Engelbert II of Falkenstein (1261–1274), did not agree with this choice. John was therefore never consecrated as bishop and he remained Bishop-elect.
He first of all had to deal with marauding gangs of insurgents from the north of the County of Holland and eventually had to flee Utrecht because of them. When he tried to return to Utrecht after the withdrawal of the marauders in 1268, the townspeople refused him entrance, so he had to take his headquarters to Deventer until 1270. Only with the help of Otto II did he succeed again in taking possession of Utrecht. John supported Otto II in his feud with Engelbert II of Cologne.
John of Nassau's administration is considered to be one of the worst in the history of Utrecht, due to his political weakness and poor financial management. In order to finance a lifestyle devoted to sensual pleasures, he pledged the castles of Vreeland and Montfoort. During his reign, Holland's influence on the Diocese increased sharply. In 1274, he faced an uprising of local nobles led by the powerful lords Gijsbrecht IV of Amstel, Zweder of Abcoude, Arnoud of Amstel, and Herman VI of Woerden, who held lands on the Diocese's border with the Countship of Holland (the areas of Amsterdam, Abcoude, IJsselstein, and Woerden). Gijsbrecht and Herman were supported by the craft guilds of Utrecht (who had seized power in the city), the peasants of Kennemerland (Alkmaar and surroundings), Waterland (north of Amsterdam), and Amstelland (Amsterdam and surroundings) and the West Frisians. John received the help of Floris V, but he had to pay heavily for this assistance. In 1277 he pledged the episcopal castle of Horst to his brother-in-law, John I of Cuijk (who had married John’s sister, Jutta of Nassau), who then gave it to Floris. In 1279, he was even forced by Floris to pledge the Diocese's lands held by the rebellious nobles to the Dutch count.
In 1281, confiscated money that had been raised in his diocese on the income of its properties since 1276 to finance a crusade. This prompted the archbishop of Cologne, Siegfried II of Westerburg (1274–1297), to excommunicate both him and Floris V. Floris, through appeals to the Pope, was eventually able to have the ban lifted.
In 1283–1284 John, with the help of the IJssel Hanseatic League cities of Doesburg, Zutphen, Deventer, Hattem, and Zwolle), tried unsuccessfully to free the diocese from the control of Holland.
In 1288, John took various measures to secure finances for the construction of the Utrecht Cathedral. For this reason he is regarded as its founder.
John of Nassau was dismissed by the cathedral chapter in 1288 and, in December 1290, was replaced by Pope Nicholas IV. He settled in Deventer, where he died on July 13, 1309. He was buried there in the Lebuïnuskerk (Church of St. Lebuinus).
Read more about this topic: John I, Bishop-Elect Of Utrecht
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