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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 Robi 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


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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 Robi 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

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    Morris is a terrifically readable and accessible historian, and this account of John's reign reads almost like a novel at points, as it tells the story of his better documented and ever more screwed up later years with flashbacks to earlier events. Cracking writing, engaging presentation, and a very persuasive account of this flawed king and terrible human being. Now I feel like I need to read his book on Edward I but I don't wanna because he's a psychopath. (The king, not the historian.) Morris is a terrifically readable and accessible historian, and this account of John's reign reads almost like a novel at points, as it tells the story of his better documented and ever more screwed up later years with flashbacks to earlier events. Cracking writing, engaging presentation, and a very persuasive account of this flawed king and terrible human being. Now I feel like I need to read his book on Edward I but I don't wanna because he's a psychopath. (The king, not the historian.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bubu

    This is difficult to rate. I wish I had bought the Kindle version, which I still may or may not do. Not sure yet. The narration was superb but still difficult to follow because, as with every historical non-fiction book, it is very, very, very detailed. So much so, that I had to rewind quite often. That doesn't mean it was absolutely bad. Besides, I don't know enough of King John, the person, to ascertain how good or bad the book itself was. For those who wish to listen to the audio version, I re This is difficult to rate. I wish I had bought the Kindle version, which I still may or may not do. Not sure yet. The narration was superb but still difficult to follow because, as with every historical non-fiction book, it is very, very, very detailed. So much so, that I had to rewind quite often. That doesn't mean it was absolutely bad. Besides, I don't know enough of King John, the person, to ascertain how good or bad the book itself was. For those who wish to listen to the audio version, I recommend to read up a little on King John, as I found the number of places, persons and deeds quite overwhelming. Wikipedia, alone, would have been my friend here. Edit Okay, with about two days in between, I've noticed that I was still mulling over this book and what to make out of King John. As the narration in the first half of the book jumped back and forth, before John became king and after, a few points stick out (simplified): - His reputation at the time of his coronation was already heavily damaged. He had rebelled against his father in his father's last days, and joined the cause of his brothers; he later tried to take the crown from Richard Lionheart whilst he was in imprisoned. - The loss of Normandie in 1204 was a major setback. Trying to get the lost territories in France back, money was needed. The taxation (other, various words are used but I'll keep it simple) was heavy and seemed - in many cases - arbitrary. For a widowed mother to keep custody of her children to an heir to get a hold of his/her inheritance (to name only two of many ways John tried to raise money), nothing was out of the reach of the king. I say arbitrary for it seemed to be dependent on John's liking or disliking of a person whether said person had to pay the money at all or in what kind of instalments. Sometimes, even payments weren't guaranteed to fulfil John's demands as he could simply demand even more. - The death of Arthur I. of Brittany, his brother Geoffrey's only surviving son, and a serious contender to John's crown, at - supposedly - his own hands, further damaged his reputation and didn't necessarily lead for the baron's to trust their king. - His excommunication from the church over the question who should be Bishop of Canterbury was another blow that took years to mend. - The decline of the economy. Now, here's where I'm not sure if the author was trying to be too nice, as he didn't attribute it directly to John. At the end of the day, wars cost money. Money needs to be raised. Coins were debased. Taxes still needed to be paid, et voilá, the economy suffers. Simply put, of course. And of course, for an economy to suffer other components are important. But if put together, there's no wonder that the economy declined during his reign. - A strong French king who knew how to play the game of changing loyalties, and taking advantage of it. John's reign was catastrophic for the institution 'kingship', and though not everything was entirely his fault, one very important point remains. John's hubris to stand not only above the law but actually be the law, whatever it meant for those who had to experience setbacks which led to bad blood. Not that his ancestors didn't act similarly, but what John didn't seem to understand was the simple concept and consequences of 'action vs. reaction'. Nothing makes that clearer than his wishes in his dying days when he wanted to make amends to at least a few people he had wronged. In other words, he was not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it came to emotional intelligence.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thomas

    This is an absorbing life of King John who is generally and rightly regarded as one of England's worse kings. Marc Morris reviews his reign and his earlier life in detail which reveals John's weaknesses and dishonesty. He is fair in describing the King's good points but sets these against the full picture of a cruel man with weaknesses who had a singular capability to make a bad situation worse. Richard I comes out reasonably well as does Eleanor of Aquitaine; John does not but finishing the boo This is an absorbing life of King John who is generally and rightly regarded as one of England's worse kings. Marc Morris reviews his reign and his earlier life in detail which reveals John's weaknesses and dishonesty. He is fair in describing the King's good points but sets these against the full picture of a cruel man with weaknesses who had a singular capability to make a bad situation worse. Richard I comes out reasonably well as does Eleanor of Aquitaine; John does not but finishing the book will add much to the understanding of a man and a complex era. In 1066 and all that, Sellars and Yeatman did get John bang to rights. The book ranges widely across England, France, Ireland and Scotland and is rewarding reading for anyone wishing to know more of an age of complicated history and strong personalities. One minor carp is that the book does depart from strict chronology to no apparent benefit - at least for this reader.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mercedes Rochelle

    King John is one of those villains who seems too wicked to be true. It was bad enough that he squeezed his countrymen again and again to fund his fruitless wars. But no man or woman was safe if caught by his displeasure, and even his contemporaries were horrified at his cruelty; starving his victims in dungeons seemed to be his favorite retribution. He behaved with little or no regard for consequences, until caught in the web of his own misbehavior. Once forced to retreat from an intolerable pos King John is one of those villains who seems too wicked to be true. It was bad enough that he squeezed his countrymen again and again to fund his fruitless wars. But no man or woman was safe if caught by his displeasure, and even his contemporaries were horrified at his cruelty; starving his victims in dungeons seemed to be his favorite retribution. He behaved with little or no regard for consequences, until caught in the web of his own misbehavior. Once forced to retreat from an intolerable position, he would charm his way back into the good graces of his barons; grants of land (often stolen from them in the first place), money and promises were proffered, though there was no way to know what he would take back in the future. He ruled through fear (often with mercenaries paid by extorted funds) and treachery. This is the kind of king you don’t read about for pleasure. I’ve read about him in the past, and the litany of evil deeds started to weigh on me like a heavy burden. I wasn’t sure I could shoulder more of the same, but fortunately Marc Morris was able to distance the reader from the perils of too much misery. Yes the events happened; it seems impossible that every year he forced more and more money out of rich and poor alike. Yes, he committed many murders, debauched many wives, broke almost all his promises. But we are able to see the events from an academic point of view rather than being thrust into the thick of oppressive bullying. I know he was a tyrant; I’m relieved that I didn’t have to suffer along with his victims. Because John’s younger days were not well documented, the author began with the early part of his reign (1203) when king Philip II of France began driving John from his continental possessions. This was certainly an interesting sequence of events and showed us how his reckless behavior was destined to make lots of enemies: “This frank exchange (with William Marshal) made John predictably angry, and he shut himself away in his chamber. The next day he was nowhere to be found in the castle, and his men were annoyed to discover that he had slipped out of Rouen without them; they eventually caught up with him on the coast at Bonneville-sur-Touques, more than fifty miles away.” Apparently John made a habit of slipping away like a thief in the night, especially when things started to get uncomfortable. Like his father, he was constantly on the move and could cover great distances in a remarkably short time. No one could figure him out, but his actions were usually not favorable. As I expected, in the second chapter we went back to his father’s reign so we could get some background. That was fine and necessary. But for the next several chapters, the author decided to take us back and forth from post-coronation to pre-coronation to post-coronation again, etc. As a reader I had a difficult time following the events; I couldn’t hang on to the chronology. Frustratingly, each chapter ended with a “bang”, and then the story picked up somewhere else, which slowed down the momentum. Every time I had to go back two chapters and figure out where he left off. It wasn’t until halfway through the book that the chronology finally “caught up”, and from then on the events were in proper succession. That worked a lot better for me. It was interesting to see just how far John was able to go before his barons presented him with the Magna Carta; the mystical power of kingship almost did give him unlimited dominion over his subjects. It was also curious to see how the Pope’s overuse of excommunication lost its potency. In the end, it seems, Might was Right and as usual in the feudal world, the guys with the biggest armies won. Throughout, the narrative flowed well and I'm glad I read this book, which I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nigeyb

    "He was a very bad man, more cruel than all others" - the Anonymous of Bethune Like most British people, I knew King John had signed Magna Carta and was generally known as “Bad King John”, but that was about it. I bought King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta by Marc Morris primarily because it was an Audible deal of the day and looked interesting. A very good decision as it turned out. In an unlikely tune of events, given John was the youngest son of Henry II, he became King of "He was a very bad man, more cruel than all others" - the Anonymous of Bethune Like most British people, I knew King John had signed Magna Carta and was generally known as “Bad King John”, but that was about it. I bought King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta by Marc Morris primarily because it was an Audible deal of the day and looked interesting. A very good decision as it turned out. In an unlikely tune of events, given John was the youngest son of Henry II, he became King of England on 6 April 1199. However, he soon lost the great Continental empire assembled by his ancestors (Anjou, Normandy and Brittany) and spent the remainder of his reign trying to regain it, often to the exclusion of all else. There are two concurrent narratives: John’s route to the throne, and John’s attempts to get his French land back. What clearly emerges are John’s shortcomings. His judgement was frequently awry, he was politically inept, he was often cowardly and cruel, his decision making was short termist and cack handed, indeed there’s very little to recommend him. Being charitable, he was full of energy, and generally on the move, and it’s no wonder he died relatively young in 1216 aged 49. King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta is an engrossing, pacy account of an incident-strewn reign and brilliantly compelling. I will be reading more history books by Marc Morris. I also now want to fill in more gaps in my historical knowledge. It’s also a great follow on from The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, which I recently read and greatly enjoyed. 4/5

  6. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    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 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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Blair Hodgkinson

    As expected, Marc Morris presents a well-researched and detailed study of the life and reign of King John. Morris sifts effectively through often-conflicting chronicles (both contemporary and subsequent) and scholarship to support his conclusions about the king's character and style of kingship. The text of Magna Carta is included. The book's emphasis on the importance of this event in John's reign is in the proper perspective of his time. (It was only later in history that the charter won great As expected, Marc Morris presents a well-researched and detailed study of the life and reign of King John. Morris sifts effectively through often-conflicting chronicles (both contemporary and subsequent) and scholarship to support his conclusions about the king's character and style of kingship. The text of Magna Carta is included. The book's emphasis on the importance of this event in John's reign is in the proper perspective of his time. (It was only later in history that the charter won greater fame and influence.) This is an excellent overview of John's life, covering all the major events that shaped not only his life, but much history of England. His behaviour as royal son and prince, king, brother, father and Christian is studied and evaluated. John's much-praised administrative ability is not overlooked in this study, but is placed in perspective to the rest of his kingship, where it is not, as some 20th century historians had it, his most important trait. Instead, John's whole character is reviewed, leading to the conclusion that for all John's genius as an administrator, he was wanting in many other areas required for effective medieval kingship. Picking this book up, I was expecting a fairly straight-forward bashing of John's character, but after having read it, my impression is that Morris has delivered as balanced a study of John the man and the king as is possible at a remove of eights centuries and after the accretion of countless lies, legends and errors to his historical aura. He neither overpraises nor underpraises John, recognizing his few virtues, his talents and his failings in a manner that struck me as quite fair.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Very well presented and researched - King John is one of my favourite historical figures (Good Lord what does that say about me??!!). I am more of an 'insights' person than a 'dates and figures' person and this book caters more to the latter but that's just my personal taste. I think I would have preferred to read rather than listen to this as the audio delivery was very dry and I would have liked the opportunity to skim read the bits that were boring me rather than rolling my eyes and shouting co Very well presented and researched - King John is one of my favourite historical figures (Good Lord what does that say about me??!!). I am more of an 'insights' person than a 'dates and figures' person and this book caters more to the latter but that's just my personal taste. I think I would have preferred to read rather than listen to this as the audio delivery was very dry and I would have liked the opportunity to skim read the bits that were boring me rather than rolling my eyes and shouting come on get to the good bits!!!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Morris shows how King John's disastrous reign led to the loss of the Plantangenet empire on the European continent during the early years of his tenure. He was an ineffective commander, leading troops by threats of punishment and tyranny rather than by inspiration. He was seen as a cruel and fickle ruler by his contemporaries. As a means for punishment, he would frequently lock away his enemies and starve them to death. He did not honor his promises or agreements, making him untrustworthy to his Morris shows how King John's disastrous reign led to the loss of the Plantangenet empire on the European continent during the early years of his tenure. He was an ineffective commander, leading troops by threats of punishment and tyranny rather than by inspiration. He was seen as a cruel and fickle ruler by his contemporaries. As a means for punishment, he would frequently lock away his enemies and starve them to death. He did not honor his promises or agreements, making him untrustworthy to his enemies and allies alike. His oppression of the Scots and Welsh ended up pushing both of these groups into an alliance with the English Barons, who, during the last years of John's reign, went into open rebellion against their King. The result of this was the Magna Carta, which stated that a king must govern within the law and was the first step in preventing a repeat of his type of tyrannical reign. The book begins a couple of years into his reign and continues chronologically every other chapter. In the first half of the book, the alternating chapters are flash-backs to John's childhood and early adulthood. These flash-back chapters are quite effective in revealing how his unsavory character began to develop and fit in quite well with the main timeline. I would recommend this book to those interested in delving into the details of King John's reign.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Collins

    2.5 stars. I found this one a little dry, especially at first. I like the Plantagenets, and I enjoyed this author’s book on Edward I and his book about the Conquest, but this one seemed to frequently bog down in a litany of castle sieging, treachery, and relentless fundraising. It’s the fundraising that got John in the most trouble: he extorted money, through taxes, fines and fees, to an unprecedented degree. John is most famous for his role in Robin Hood’s story as the wicked Prince taking adva 2.5 stars. I found this one a little dry, especially at first. I like the Plantagenets, and I enjoyed this author’s book on Edward I and his book about the Conquest, but this one seemed to frequently bog down in a litany of castle sieging, treachery, and relentless fundraising. It’s the fundraising that got John in the most trouble: he extorted money, through taxes, fines and fees, to an unprecedented degree. John is most famous for his role in Robin Hood’s story as the wicked Prince taking advantage of the absence of his noble crusading brother King Richard. He’s next most famous for being such a bad king that his nobles forced the Magna Carta on him. John was the fifth and youngest son of the great Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, so far from the throne that his father had given all of the important provinces to his older brothers, leaving John with the nickname “Lackland”. But his brothers fell, one by one, until the death of Richard the Lionheart left John on the throne of England and at the head of the great Angevin empire: all of Britain and much of what is now France. John would leave to his own son a greatly reduced legacy. Explaining that John’s childhood and youth are barely documented, the author chose to begin the book in the middle of his reign, in 1206, just as he begins to lose his hold on his territory in France. The author then relates the earlier history in flashbacks. I think this was a mistake. First of all, the brief discussion of John’s predecessors (Henry I, Stephen and Maud, Henry II and Eleanor) would be unintelligible if you weren’t already pretty familiar with them. Then when the flashbacks reach Richard’s reign, it became confusing to bounce back and forth between the politics and military actions going on then and those happening after 1206. The text of the Magna Carta is printed in an appendix.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alan Tomkins-Raney

    4.5 Stars. First off: a great villain makes for an exciting story. King John takes the cake. This was a really fun and informative read. However, I had one small complaint about this book. The first few chapters jump back and forth in time relative to 1203, when John lost Château Gaillard, a pivotal moment in King John's disastrous reign. The author explains his reasons for structuring the narrative this way, but I regarded it as both unnecessary and sufficiently irritating to not give a full fi 4.5 Stars. First off: a great villain makes for an exciting story. King John takes the cake. This was a really fun and informative read. However, I had one small complaint about this book. The first few chapters jump back and forth in time relative to 1203, when John lost Château Gaillard, a pivotal moment in King John's disastrous reign. The author explains his reasons for structuring the narrative this way, but I regarded it as both unnecessary and sufficiently irritating to not give a full five stars to this otherwise superbly written biography of King John. Riveting and fascinating, it is objective and balanced. Even so, it is readily apparent what a cruel, devious, wicked, and cunning tyrant King John was. He was not the sniveling weakling I had presumed him to be as portrayed in pop culture. He was actually quite astute and talented at manipulation, exploitation, and extortion. He had the talent and capability to be a good sovereign. But his character and personality were manifested in devious scheming, treachery, and wanton cruelty. As a result, he lost the continental empire of his ancestors and left England divided and ravaged by war. After his death, his subjects did not mourn him. A contemporary chronicler, Matthew Paris, wrote, "foul as it is, hell itself is made fouler by the presence of King John." But his oppressions led to Magna Carta. And Magna Carta has guaranteed ever since that such egregious oppressions would not be repeated, and that subjects have rights that tyrants cannot abrogate. If you like medieval history, you'll enjoy this book. I definitely recommend it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marcus Pailing

    Excellent, as I expected. (It also made me actually *read* Magna Carta, the whole way through, for the first time!)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tweedledum

    Whoa, it was exhausting just listening to all the comings and going’s, seizes, assaults, feuds, battles, revenge attacks plots, etc etc etc that went on throughout John’s reign and in the long run up to it. Sellar and Yeatman 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England certainly seem justified in their summary ... King John - a bad king - but as Morris reaffirms the depth of his betrayals and attempts to extort money led in the end to the most important charter for everyone’s freedom and a Whoa, it was exhausting just listening to all the comings and going’s, seizes, assaults, feuds, battles, revenge attacks plots, etc etc etc that went on throughout John’s reign and in the long run up to it. Sellar and Yeatman 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England certainly seem justified in their summary ... King John - a bad king - but as Morris reaffirms the depth of his betrayals and attempts to extort money led in the end to the most important charter for everyone’s freedom and access to fair justice. I am glad I opted for the audio version as I am not sure I would have stuck with the print book and even so have little recall of specific details, but I feel rewarded with a deeper sense of the history of the period and John’s place in it. Pity Robin Hood was noticeably absent though even if John definitely appointed a pretty unpleasant sheriff of Nottingham. Postscript A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to visit Corfe Castle for the first time in nearly 50 years . A wonderful ruin . Shocking to read of how John used that castle to cruelly punish and dispose of some of those he deemed enemies and strange to realise how significant a place it was 7 or 8 centuries ago.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Wylie Small

    Having very little knowledge about King John of England, except that his terrible leadership resulted in the Magna Carta, I was interested in learning more through Marc Morris' biography "King John." Was John really so terrible? Was he as cruel as many believe? Was the baronial revolt that resulted in the Magna Carta justified? After completing Marc Morris' book, the short answer is yes. Even before John became King, he demonstated treachery in trying to undermine his father, King Henry II, and, Having very little knowledge about King John of England, except that his terrible leadership resulted in the Magna Carta, I was interested in learning more through Marc Morris' biography "King John." Was John really so terrible? Was he as cruel as many believe? Was the baronial revolt that resulted in the Magna Carta justified? After completing Marc Morris' book, the short answer is yes. Even before John became King, he demonstated treachery in trying to undermine his father, King Henry II, and, later his brother, King Richard (the Lionheart). After Richard's death, John took no time in illustrating all the qualities that would lead to a terrible reign. He allegedly killed Richard's son Arthur (either directly or on orders); taxed the bejeezus out of everyone, from nobility on down; cruelly destroyed anyone who annoyed him, including walling up William de Braose's wife Matilda and their adult son in Corfe Castle and allowing them to starve to death; losing lands in France his family had gained; stealing a compatriot's 12 year old "fiancé" who quickly became his wife. He surrounded himself with paid mercenaries and pillaged and burned his way through England. After his death, chronicler Matthew Paris wrote, ‘Foul as it is, hell itself is made fouler by the presence of King John.’ Overall, this is an excellent book to give one an overview of a tyrannical king - a king so corrupt that there has never been another "King John" in British history. Recommend for history and medieval fans; an easy read and fascinating book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    Though sometimes disjointed (driven by flashbacks as it is), Morris's portrait of King John, one of England's several truly inadequate kings, is both complete (as far as the sources allow) and fair. It's hard to be patient with John. Even if he wasn't the figure many of us grew up detesting (the Prince John of the Robin Hood movies), he lost the English holdings in France and engaged in conflict with his nobles that he couldn't win. His reign did result in the Magna Carta, but it also led to mor Though sometimes disjointed (driven by flashbacks as it is), Morris's portrait of King John, one of England's several truly inadequate kings, is both complete (as far as the sources allow) and fair. It's hard to be patient with John. Even if he wasn't the figure many of us grew up detesting (the Prince John of the Robin Hood movies), he lost the English holdings in France and engaged in conflict with his nobles that he couldn't win. His reign did result in the Magna Carta, but it also led to more turmoil and instability (an invasion by the French, uprisings by the nobles) than even bad luck could produce. He even lost the national treasury while on the run from his nobles. His father's nickname from him, "Lackland" (because as the very youngest son he wasn't provided with a territorial base for much of his childhood) proved pedictive, given his losses to the French. Morris writes books that are a bit like those of Dan Jones (on the Plantagenets and the War of the Roses), though they are not organized quite as well

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lauren DeMers

    I enjoyed this book about King John and found it to be well researched. However the jumping back and forth between time periods in the first half, two thirds of the book caused a little bit of confusion for me. I had to keep stopping and thinking, "ok, what was happening two chapters ago so I can keep following along with the story." Great information in this book but the time hops is why I knocked it down a star. I enjoyed this book about King John and found it to be well researched. However the jumping back and forth between time periods in the first half, two thirds of the book caused a little bit of confusion for me. I had to keep stopping and thinking, "ok, what was happening two chapters ago so I can keep following along with the story." Great information in this book but the time hops is why I knocked it down a star.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Corpruga

    I'm beginning to feel like Marc Morris's jam is taking on controversial English rulers, going through their positives and negatives in detail, and issuing an assessment. That's what A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain more or less was, and that's pretty much what this was, too. John's kind of famous for being the other bad guy in Robin Hood movies and being the "Magna Carta" king, both of which come up in that Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott Robin Hood movie. I've only seen I'm beginning to feel like Marc Morris's jam is taking on controversial English rulers, going through their positives and negatives in detail, and issuing an assessment. That's what A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain more or less was, and that's pretty much what this was, too. John's kind of famous for being the other bad guy in Robin Hood movies and being the "Magna Carta" king, both of which come up in that Russell Crowe/Ridley Scott Robin Hood movie. I've only seen that once, I should rewatch it some time. But anyway! Other things John's known for include losing the continental lands of the Angevin Empire--i.e. the ancestral lands of Normandy and Anjou--and thus being real unpopular for that. Morris's goal here seems to be to try and do a fair assessment and ask, was John really that bad? (Spoiler alert: yep.) The one downside of this book, for me, anyway, is Morris's decision to alternate between John's early life and his attempts to win parts of his empire back from Philip Augustus in the early 13th century. Mostly I dislike this because it was confusing to me, particularly listening via audiobook--many of the players involved are the same, and I'm not good at keeping track of dates in my head, and so we'd jump from a guy becoming Archbishop of Canterbury to that guy dying and I'd get real confused. Or we'd be talking about John doing something in Poitou in 1200, and then him doing something there ten years later, and I'd just be going "okay, what's the backstory there again?" I guess structuring the book this way gives one a little something different from the good ol' chronological order, but I think the fanciness was lost on me. It actually made it hard for me to get back into the book after I'd taken a few days off from listening to it--I felt like I needed a reminder of the timeline every time, like, "are we in early John at this point or later John?" And then of course the two timelines intertwine, so whatever. I liked the rest of it, though. I keep listening to audiobooks on the same span of time in English history, the 12th and 13th centuries, and I really like getting different writers' perspective on it. Some highlights for me were: a detailed accounting of what John got up to while Richard was crusading; Morris getting real snarky about William Marshal (whom I like as much as the next person, but I still snickered); the focus on John's hate-turned-love with Innocent III; straight-up including the text of Magna Carta in the appendix, because it's cool hearing about the specific grievances and demands the barons, Londoners, Welsh princes etc. had; more details on Henry II's failure as a father; more foreign mercenaries than you can shake a stick at; and the weird situation where his teenage wife and his ex-wife, both named Isabella, were apparently living together. As far as assessing John's reign, I think Morris is pretty fair about it--he gives John more credit for industriousness and caring about his kingship than he often gets, but as he pointed out, people generally weren't HAPPY about John getting more involved as a king, because he was so vindictive and exploitative. What's fascinating to me is, from this and other depictions of John I've encountered this summer, it seems like in some respects John was really clever--identifying when a moment was ripe for exploitation or when the situation had turned against him, taking advantage of opportune moments--but in some respects he seemed profoundly short-sighted, because his scheming caused people to dislike him and gave him a reputation for untrustworthiness that hurt his goals even in situations where he might have intended to keep his word. Like, he could have been known as a hero for getting William Longchamp removed as justiciar while Richard was on Crusade, but instead he overplayed his hand and got a reputation for stabbing his crusader brother in the back that kept on hurting him. He could have, like, not starved a bunch of prisoners to death or killed his teenage nephew, and that probably would have helped his reputation, too. The finances of the king's treasury at this period are kind of fascinating to me because I don't know that much about them, but John's exploitative relief policy just blew my mind. No wonder the barons got PO'd. I was kind of entertained by the end, where Morris is like, "It could have been really bad for the Angevins after John died, seeing as how Henry III was a little boy and William Marshal was an old man and they were in the middle of a civil war, but actually, just not having John and his reputation for being a sleazy liar around really helped Henry and Marshal out." Moral of the story: don't alienate your allies and barons and don't marry Hugh de Lusignan's fiancée on Philip Augustus's advice. Lesson learned, book enjoyed.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Wow, John really was just as bad as pop culture makes him out to be. (Worse, even.) This is a very readable biography of what we know about his life and his reign, and yikes, I'm glad I wasn't one of his subjects. Wow, John really was just as bad as pop culture makes him out to be. (Worse, even.) This is a very readable biography of what we know about his life and his reign, and yikes, I'm glad I wasn't one of his subjects.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marshall

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Here’s a book about a confirmed narcissist and always on the prowl for levying fines on people because despite being the greatest power on the continent, he is hard up for money (part of this was due to the policies of Henry II and Richard the Lion Hearted, who bought the loyalty of the nobles by giving them crown lands). John is disloyal, seeking to overthrow his father and brother, cruel, favoring starvation as a means of execution, distrustful, by the time he died, England was wracked by civi Here’s a book about a confirmed narcissist and always on the prowl for levying fines on people because despite being the greatest power on the continent, he is hard up for money (part of this was due to the policies of Henry II and Richard the Lion Hearted, who bought the loyalty of the nobles by giving them crown lands). John is disloyal, seeking to overthrow his father and brother, cruel, favoring starvation as a means of execution, distrustful, by the time he died, England was wracked by civil war, Scotland and France had invaded, the Welsh were detaching themselves, Ireland was restive, all the continental possessions were largely gone. He was sexually incontinent, and lacking in judgement. He was a disaster. Were it not for the 70 year old William Marshal’s subsequent military exertions, John would have been succeeded by Louis I, the son of Philip Augustus, The king of France. All that is missing for 1199 to be a twin with 2016 would be a poorly managed plague. Marc Morris concludes that it is due to the fact John was such an awful ruler that in the end, Magna Carta was formulated and this eventual check on the office he held was his only achievement.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David Warner

    This book has all the marks of having being cobbled together to tie in with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015, and while it is well told and fast paced, it has nothing new to say and is somewhat old fashioned in its approach. The narrative is non-linear and disjointed in the early part, cutting back and forth in time between chapters for the history before 1208, and this, despite Marc Morris' attempts to link events and people across these differing times, is unnecessarily confusing. T This book has all the marks of having being cobbled together to tie in with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015, and while it is well told and fast paced, it has nothing new to say and is somewhat old fashioned in its approach. The narrative is non-linear and disjointed in the early part, cutting back and forth in time between chapters for the history before 1208, and this, despite Marc Morris' attempts to link events and people across these differing times, is unnecessarily confusing. The way Morris tackles the reign of King John is overwhelmingly political, and while he nods to modern scholarship at times and socio-economic assessments of the reign, he is unashamedly traditional, save in regard to chronology, in placing John the person at the centre of his explanations for the failures of his government of England, 1199-1216, and the loss of Normandy, Maine, and Anjou in 1204. What he does not do is properly place the Angevin empire within the strategic context of its time, particularly in regard to the resurgence of France and the ability of Philip Augustus to better mobilise his resources against John, and therefore fails to properly address the question as to whether the loss of most of the Angevin continental possessions was unavoidable, and part of a historical process by which both France and England were coalescing into, if not nation states, national polities. Morris, suggests that John failed where Richard I would have succeeded, but this is mere conjecture, and fails to acknowledge not only that Richard died defending his Angevin lands - surely death is the ultimate failure for a king at war? - but also that his successes relied upon him spending most of his reign outside of England, while exploiting the realm to fund his adventures across the channel and on crusade. What Morris does not consider is whether rather than John succeeding to a strong inheritance, what John actually received from his brother in 1199 was an empire that was overstretched and under financed and a baronage exhausted by the costs of financing Richard's crusading and his ransom. The Angevin dominions were defensible under Henry II and Richard I, although they required increasing resources and time spent upon them, but it remains moot as to how much that was due to the weakness of the French, a weakness, relative and absolute, which had evaporated by the time John became king. Similarly, dismissing the effects of the inflation of 1180-1220, in one paragraph, Morris totally ignores the fact that while John's financial impositions were much higher than those of his father and brother in aggregate, so also were the costs he incurred, at a time when incomes and payments were mostly paid in fixed values and the concept of inflation was unknown, much greater. Yes, John's financial exploitation was excessive compared to his predecessors, but his costs and the demands he faced from an aggressive French king, and in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales were considerably greater too. If we accept that John's inheritance was not as golden as it seems superficially and that there were structural pressures that made the task of ruling the Angevin empire harder than for his predecessors, there is still no doubt that John's political failures made that hard task even harder, and in this, Morris is on firmer ground. John's cruelty and untrustworthiness are well attested and were counterproductive, turning potential allies against him, and alienating through his carnal demands and brutality many of the barons and greater landholders whose support he needed if he was, first, to defend Normandy and the other lands, and then, once, they were lost, win them back. Philip's victories in 1204 and 1214 were not inevitable, although the strategic balance was moving in his favour, but John's inability to engender the affection and respect in his noble subjects that Richard inspired by his character were significant factors in John's failures. However, in 1208-14, it is still unlikely that his English barons, however charming and liked he might have been, would have been willing to serve and pay for campaigning in Poitou. And, this brings the question back to the structural dispensation, and whether the Anglo-Norman nobility was becoming more English in outlook and therefore unprepared to fight for continental possessions in which they had little interest, excepting a few greater magnates. Even if Richard was the greater military leader, it is still that he might have found the English barons becoming less enthusiastic about fighting to defend the Angevin inheritance, and that faced by the particular circumstances encountered by John, he too would have been unsuccessful. Philip II had been wearing down the Angevin domains since the latter part of Henry II's reign, and it is likely that, whatever the conjectures, he or his successor would have succeeded one way or another in capturing Normandy, Anjou, and Maine, because of structural reasons no king of England could address regardless of his abilities or personality, and because increasingly the nobility of these lands were looking to the French king for lordship which he could better provide being closer at hand than his English counterpart with his increasing commitments within the British Isles. There is no doubt that John's reign was a failure and that John's political ability was significantly less than that of his predecessors since 1066, but he did face increasing problems and demands that would have stretched even a William I or Henry II, while, whatever the administrative sophistication of the English exchequer, the huge monies demanded by Richard I had stretched the kingdom's financial resources as far as they could go. What England needed after Richard was a period of consolidation and recovery, but instead it was immediately drawn into financing the defence of Normandy against Philip. John could not be regarded as his own worst enemy while Philip Augustus was around. Morris property contextualises Magna Carta within the situation provided after the defeat of the emperor Otto IV at Bouvines, as it was this which destroyed John's hopes of regaining his continental lands. Philip had split his army, sending the dauphin Louis south to watch John's forces, and when he encountered Otto at the bridge at Bouvines he gambled by giving battle before the imperial forces could bring their resources, particularly the cavalry, to bear against him. Had Philip been defeated, it is possible John would have been able to roll up the forces arraigned against him and re-entered his lost territories, as Louis drew back towards Paris to rejoin his father in face of Otto's advance. John was unlucky as it was a battle lost in which he did not fight which determined his final continental defeat, and provided the political dynamic which led to Runnymede. If Otto had won at Bouvines and John had regained Anjou and Normandy, Magna Carta would not have happened. The Great Charter is the defining event of John's kingship, serving as the epitome of evidence of his failures, but it was particular to the situation in 1214 when the nobility would no longer support a king whose yearly extortions and exploitations had resulted in defeat. After Bouvines, John was at his weakest, even more than during the Interdict, and his barons took their opportunity. Morris rightly makes no constitutional claims about Magna Carta, letting the events leading up to its sealing and then repudiation by John tell their own story. In this, his political approach is justified, but unfortunately that same focus limits his ability to properly contextualise it and explain a reign in which a poor king failed to meet challenges probably beyond any king. John failed in his particular way because of his own faults, but ultimately the Angevin empire in the face of an emboldened France under a strong monarch may have already reached its limits and been in structural decline before his accession, although John by his failures of governance and political incompetence certainly speeded up its demise. Morris has successfully recapitulated the case against Bad King John, but in doing so he has failed to adequately provide the structural and contextual evidence, which while not mitigating his failures, explains why a king such as John was probably unlikely to succeed even with the best of intentions. John does not require a defence from the historian - such would not acquit him of the charges he faced from contemporaries and since, particularly regarding the murder of Geoffrey of Brittany and the starvation of Matilda de Briouze and her son - but he does deserve greater understanding and explanatory sophistication than this book, rushed out for 2015, can furnish.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Les Wilson

    Very informative. I had not realised that my local castle of Hedingham was besieged and also later stayed at by King John. It also put. Me right in regards to my understanding of the Magna Carta.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kristi Richardson

    “To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Magna Carta I grew up with the evil King John from the Disney “Robin Hood” or the other tales told of King John as the evil King that ruled when Robin Hood was around. I also remember him as the pimply youth from “The Lion in Winter.” Mr. Morris shows us that he was much more complicated than we have been told. He also did not live in the same time as Robin Hood per scholars. This is King John’s story. He was not England “To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Magna Carta I grew up with the evil King John from the Disney “Robin Hood” or the other tales told of King John as the evil King that ruled when Robin Hood was around. I also remember him as the pimply youth from “The Lion in Winter.” Mr. Morris shows us that he was much more complicated than we have been told. He also did not live in the same time as Robin Hood per scholars. This is King John’s story. He was not England’s best King but was he truly the worst, or more a victim of the times. His family had only ruled England when his father Henry II took power and they were more French than English. His mother was the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine who divorced the King of France to marry Henry, but even that story is more legend than romantic tale. He was the youngest of his brothers and known as “Lackland” because his father had run out of lands to give him at his birth. He grew up in the shadow of his brothers Henry (the young King) and Richard the Lionheart. You can almost start to feel sorry for him. This book is well written and scholarly. If you enjoy English history than you will enjoy this book. My husband can trace his ancestry to King John so I have a special interest in this history. I felt that it read more like a novel than history because I felt very engaged in where the story was going. I especially liked the inclusion of the entire Magna Carta in the back of the book. When you read that you realize the significance of what the nobles asked of their King. I received this book from the publisher in order to write an honest review.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Annette

    My Thoughts: John has a bad reputation. I must admit I’m not fond of him. However, my interest has been peaked from previous books I’ve read about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, and British royal history. A few things I learned: 1. During King John‘s reign, records or documents were kept unlike previous royals before him. 2. A book written about William Marshall tells about John’s reign. Marc Morris points out it was Marshall’s family who produced the book. The book is favorably slanted to Marshall My Thoughts: John has a bad reputation. I must admit I’m not fond of him. However, my interest has been peaked from previous books I’ve read about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, and British royal history. A few things I learned: 1. During King John‘s reign, records or documents were kept unlike previous royals before him. 2. A book written about William Marshall tells about John’s reign. Marc Morris points out it was Marshall’s family who produced the book. The book is favorably slanted to Marshall and not John. 3. John’s buried body was found in the 18th century. What I dislike about the book is jumping in time during the first part of the book. I prefer a nonfiction book be chronological in events. King John is not dry. It is an entertaining read. The story of King John is told in about 300 pages. This is an easy to digest biography. There are 45 pages with lists of the notes and sources for the study of King John. I feel this is a thorough examination of King John. Morris illustrates John’s life and show him to be a man who was harsh, vindictive, a liar, oppressive, and a sexual predator. However, John is known in at least one positive light because of the Magna Carta.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bev

    A first rate biography and for those of us brought up on a diet of Errol Flynn and other versions of Robin Hood, an eye opener as well. Someone once described John to me as a "total shite" and they were not far off the mark, he was a complete villain, but a complex one and also an unfathomable one, because again and again you are left open mouthed trying to work out his motivations. I get that he was money hungry and possibly power hungry, but he had enough of both if he had been sensible, but h A first rate biography and for those of us brought up on a diet of Errol Flynn and other versions of Robin Hood, an eye opener as well. Someone once described John to me as a "total shite" and they were not far off the mark, he was a complete villain, but a complex one and also an unfathomable one, because again and again you are left open mouthed trying to work out his motivations. I get that he was money hungry and possibly power hungry, but he had enough of both if he had been sensible, but he seems to have had some sort of self destruct button. Was he likeable? He must have had some charm because he was able to command loyalty from some, while making others despise him. Anyway, this is a beautifully written and beautifully researched book and well worth a read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim Kerr

    An incredible portrait of a terribly flawed man who happened to be a king. John is shown to be ruthlessly and unnecessarily cruel, incapable of even the most basic personal relationships, and a completly inept politician. John endlessly dissembled and had frequent changes of mind, often with disastrous results. One wonders what else we would know about him if John had lived in a time with additional documentary evidence.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    King John is one of those rulers that it is easy to hate.  To be sure, there are people who really appreciate that tax-grabbing absolutism, but those are the kind of people who are also easy to hate.  What this book does well is put the widespread dislike of King John both at the time and throughout history into a context that demonstrates why it is that people hated and disrespected King John at the time and why they continue to do so.  In doing so, the author manages to compile quite a lot of King John is one of those rulers that it is easy to hate.  To be sure, there are people who really appreciate that tax-grabbing absolutism, but those are the kind of people who are also easy to hate.  What this book does well is put the widespread dislike of King John both at the time and throughout history into a context that demonstrates why it is that people hated and disrespected King John at the time and why they continue to do so.  In doing so, the author manages to compile quite a lot of well-supported reasons why King John was and is so reviled--he was a terrible bully but also a coward when anyone stood up to him.  He was cruel and vicious but also unable to inspire people by courage or love or anything other than fear, and he had a great gift of alienating people to a high degree.  Even those people who served King John largely loyally, like William Marshal, were highly inclined to downplay this fact for the sake of their own reputations and often endangered themselves in principled opposition to him and his failed policies, which nearly destroyed the Angevin empire in France. This particular book of about 300 pages in length is divided into fourteen chapters with other materials.  The book begins with acknowledgements, a note on money, a list of illustrations, and maps and a family tree for the period.  After that the author begins the book in 1203 with King John's realm under attack by the King of France (1), before going back to the foundations of the Angevin empire and how it was built over the course of the 12th century (2).  Sadly, King John and his forces were unable to rally and lost almost all of his French domains in 1204 and 1205 (3), reminding everyone of the weakness and treachery that King John showed during the first half of his brother's reign (4).  Despite massive losses, King John was able to preserve some of his territory and dignity in 1205 and 1206 (5), after which the author jumps back to the period of John's greatest success at the end of his brother's reign and the early part of his own reign (6).  The author looks at the hostility between King John and Pope Innocent III (7) as well as the deed of shame when John killed his cousin (8), and struggled to deal with the enemies within among the high nobility, who he treated with rapacious brutality (9).  At this point the author discusses the last part of John's reign in sequential order, looking at John's expression of his tyrannical will from 1210-1212 (10), the trouble that was caused by the hermit's prophecy in 1213 (11), the loss of Bouviens and its crushing result for John's efforts to recover his French empire (12), the failed efforts to make peace with the barons at Runnymede (13), and finally, the end of his life spent in conflict over the fate of England (14), at which point John mercifully dies and William Marshal is able to recover England for his young son Henry III.  The book then closes with a translation of the Magna Carta, abbreviations, notes, a bibliography, and an index. The failures of King John indicate what sort of behaviors a medieval king could take in order to alienate the political population of his country.  Indeed, a great deal of his behaviors could be part of a guide on how to lose friends and alienate people--squeeze others ruthlessly for cash, by a great deal of dishonest means, including fining people for the privilege of being forced to marry one's ex wife, stealing a child bride who is engaged to someone else because of her attractiveness only to continually treat her like a child long after she has come to adulthood, engage in continual attempts to regain one's lost territory while lacking in any sort of bravery and courage in those efforts, and manage to inflame rebellion in one's relatives, friends, neighbors, as well as subjects, to the point where one is left to die unmourned and on the run from a multitude of enemies.  Had King John been brave and not so much of a "soft sword," he might have been such a historical disaster that no king has ever been named after him in the rest of English history, but at least England and her settler colonies got the Magna Carta out of John's disastrous reign so that liberty could be preserved for future generations.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    John was King of England from 1199 to 1216. He born in 1166 and was the son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He is often considered to be the most evil monarch in Britain's history for a variety of reasons and he is familiar in history as being the bad guy in contrast to his brother, the great warrior and crusader, Richard the Lionheart, and in fictional literature for using the Sheriff of Nottingham to persecute Robin Hood. I was always curious about him and as we approach the 8 John was King of England from 1199 to 1216. He born in 1166 and was the son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He is often considered to be the most evil monarch in Britain's history for a variety of reasons and he is familiar in history as being the bad guy in contrast to his brother, the great warrior and crusader, Richard the Lionheart, and in fictional literature for using the Sheriff of Nottingham to persecute Robin Hood. I was always curious about him and as we approach the 802nd anniversary of the Magna Carta, the document famously issued by King John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215, I read Marc Morris’ outstanding biography to try and get insight on this man and time he lived in. There’s no question that John was a tyrant with a capital “T”, cruel and cowardly as this book reveals. He was a very complicated man who lived in a very complicated time. The quote below is not from Mr. Morris’s book but it aptly describe King John’s reign: “He betrayed his elder brother, Richard the Lionheart, by trying to usurp the throne while Richard was on crusade. He extorted more money from his English subjects than any king since the Norman Conquest. He inherited a vast dominion on the Continent, including Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine, but lost almost all of it and failed to win any of it back. He took prisoners and hostages, several of whom he starved to death. His nephew and rival, Arthur of Brittany, was murdered on the king’s own orders. In the end John’s subjects rose up in arms against him and demanded reform, forcing the king to commit to Magna Carta. When he rejected the charter a few weeks later the result was chaos and civil war. The English barons offered his crown to the son of the king of France, who invaded and occupied half of the country, including London. John died with his kingdom in flames and his reputation deservedly in tatters.”

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael Bully

    t's a difficult review to write. The reign of King John -which ran from 1199- 1216- is well chronicled and this biography is by a highly esteemed historian of this period. In 1199 the Angevin empire stretched from Northumberland to the Pyrenees, taking huge swathes of what is now western and northern France. When he died , the French possession were gone, large parts of England were in the hands of rebel barons and French invader,s with a ghastly civil war ranging. The books is based on sections w t's a difficult review to write. The reign of King John -which ran from 1199- 1216- is well chronicled and this biography is by a highly esteemed historian of this period. In 1199 the Angevin empire stretched from Northumberland to the Pyrenees, taking huge swathes of what is now western and northern France. When he died , the French possession were gone, large parts of England were in the hands of rebel barons and French invader,s with a ghastly civil war ranging. The books is based on sections which aren't in strictly linear order which is not to every read tastes. One sees how John's reputation is well deserved. His cruelty to opponents and their families,, his avarice, his endless betrayals, relentless taxation, murder of his nephew, ,come over very well in the book. Along with lesser known aspects such as his ill treatment of the Jewish population. The Magna Carta is translated as an appendix , and the attempt to put this document in wider context from looking at the laws and customs of the reign of Henry I onward is very helpful. The only drawback is the author's lack of analysis of the papal interdict's impact on England, in an age where religious faith was so powerful. Also a little more about how the collapse of the Angevin empire led to the rise of Medieval France would have been useful. But I read the book twice already, and will be coming back to it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chris Miller

    Morris has created as fair and balanced a look at a midieval king as possible in this intriguing biography. The King who as Prince John figures large in the Robin Hood b.s., is shown in a different but sometimes damning light as an historical figure. He is the youngest son in a royal dysfunctional family. He is never going to be a hero in his story, but then again, he is not nearly as villainous or pure evil either. Son of Henry II who had Beckett ‘removed’, and brother of the ‘blessed’ Richard Morris has created as fair and balanced a look at a midieval king as possible in this intriguing biography. The King who as Prince John figures large in the Robin Hood b.s., is shown in a different but sometimes damning light as an historical figure. He is the youngest son in a royal dysfunctional family. He is never going to be a hero in his story, but then again, he is not nearly as villainous or pure evil either. Son of Henry II who had Beckett ‘removed’, and brother of the ‘blessed’ Richard I, ‘Lionheart’, who bankrupted the country for his “King’s Ransom”, when he was captured in Bavaria, travelling incognito from the holy lands. John “Lackland”, with the help of his mother, Katherine of Aragon, becomes a force to reckon with. But with his constant attempts to maintain his foot hold in the continent, and beset by rebellious subjects in the British Isles was forced to use the power of the Exchequer and raise tax collection to a fine art. Unfortunately for John, his Barons and nobility took umbrage, leading to the Great Charter. Morris has done tremendous research and created a great biography.

  30. 4 out of 5

    A J

    This is not as good as Marc Morris’ other work. Like others who have reviewed this before me, I found the format confusing and therefore the book hard to follow. Morris explains why he has done this in this way, but in my opinion this doesn’t really work. However, the book is lacking the most important thing, which is the analysis of John himself and the context of his time. Some parts are there, he was an irresponsible arrogant youth, who blundered his expedition to Ireland. He shocked Christen This is not as good as Marc Morris’ other work. Like others who have reviewed this before me, I found the format confusing and therefore the book hard to follow. Morris explains why he has done this in this way, but in my opinion this doesn’t really work. However, the book is lacking the most important thing, which is the analysis of John himself and the context of his time. Some parts are there, he was an irresponsible arrogant youth, who blundered his expedition to Ireland. He shocked Christendom with his violent and brutal treatment of Arthur of Brittany. He was like his older brothers, he betrayed Richard to try and take the throne. But I didn’t get any further senses of John, like Morris has delivered in his other books. The book leaves a confusing, half tail and because of the format I felt that Magna Carta ‘appears’ suddenly, is discussed and then it’s back to war with Philip Augustus. I have come away feeling like I will need to read someone else’s work about John, which is disappointing.

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