King John: Treachery and Tyranny in Medieval England: The Road to Magna Carta

King John: Treachery and Tyranny in Medieval England: The Road to Magna Carta

Author:

Hardcover, Pages: 400

Genres: History, Biography, Nonfiction, Historical

Language: English

Reads: 19

Downloads: 1239

Rating: Rated: 598 timesRate It

King John: Treachery and Tyranny in Medieval England: The Road to Magna Carta
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Description

A rousing and authoritative new biography of the notorious King John, by Wall Street Journal bestselling author Marc Morris.

King John is one of those historical characters who needs little in the way of introduction. If readers are not already familiar with him as the tyrant whose misgovernment gave rise to Magna Carta, we remember him as the villain in the stories of Robin Hood.

Formidable and cunning, but also cruel, lecherous, treacherous and untrusting. Twelve years into his reign, John was regarded as a powerful king within the British Isles. But despite this immense early success, when he finally crosses to France to recover his lost empire, he meets with disaster. John returns home penniless to face a tide of criticism about his unjust rule. The result is Magna Carta – a ground-breaking document in posterity, but a worthless piece of parchment in 1215, since John had no intention of honoring it.

Like all great tragedies, the world can only be put to rights by the tyrant’s death. John finally obliges at Newark Castle in October 1216, dying of dysentery as a great gale howls up the valley of the Trent. 16 pages of color and B&W illustrations

Reader Reviews
  •    Kajirn Gerarder
    2020
    Whilst Richard III has found his supporters in ever-growing numbers in recent years, there has been no such reevaluation or redemption for England's other black legend, King John. And, as Marc Morris ably demonstrates, there is good reason for this. Richard III didn't reign for long enough for any real evaluation of his reign, and his track record prior to his accession was one of proven loyalty and steadfastness. Richard III was damned by history effectively because he lost at Bosworth - had he gone on to a long and stable reign it is unlikely we would view him as the evil hunchback bequeathed to us by Shakespeare.

    John on the other hand had a history of treachery and betrayal as long as your arm, even before he became king, betraying his father on his deathbed and his brother Richard whilst the latter was on crusade. He most definitely did murder his nephew Arthur, potentially even by his own hand. He was cruel beyond even the standards of his time, murdering hostages, starving captives to death, defying the chivalric convention that expected defeated noble enemies to be held in honourable captivity. He was an incredibly poor politician, alienating his barons by his excessive financial demands, needlessly provoking them with his high-handed behaviour before trying to woo them back once he needed them. And whilst he did not shy away from warfare, he was not personally courageous, often cutting and running in the face of conflict, earning himself the sobriquet 'Softsword' to go alongside his youthful nickname of 'Lackland'.

    It was a turbulent era, with a great deal of back and forth of military fortunes and political infighting and conflict, but Morris lays it out in a concise and readable manner, neither condescending to the reader nor assuming too much knowledge. I had previously read and enjoyed his book on Edward I and this book was equally as enjoyable a read, although the chapter-by-chapter jumping back and forth of the chronology threw me a little bit. Whilst this is by no means a whitewashing on John's reign (and it would be impossible to do so without resorting to flights of fantasy), neither it is a thorough castigation.

    John's legacy, after all, is a mixed one. As Morris points out, John may have lost all of the Continental possessions of his ancestors, reducing the once mighty Angevin Empire to little more than the kingdom of England, but it was through his tyranny that the Magna Carta was bequeathed to posterity. Whilst in his lifetime John never came to terms with the Great Charter, seeking to evade its provisions through appeal to the Pope, the Charter came to signify the rights of subjects against a tyrant, enshrining the concept for the first time that the king could not act entirely without the consent of the governed, that no-one, not even a king, was above the law. It is a legacy John himself would have loathed, but history ought to thank him for that at least.
    Reply

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