King John; treachery, tyranny and the road to Magna Carta – Marc Morris

Another not-quite-satisfying royal biography.  At least this one was more balanced, looking at all aspects of King John, in so far as they are known.

And this is the key problem with this particular book, at least for me.  King John is another medieval character about whom not that much is known.  This makes the book very definitely a political/public life biography.

I finished the book knowing a lot more about John’s political machinations and the instability throughout Europe during the lives of his parents (Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine), the reign of his brother (Richard II/Richard the Lionheart) and during his own reign.  This has helped to reinforce what I’ve learned from other reading and to see different viewpoints.

It was also good to see King John in a different way from the two-dimensional villain he is usually portrayed as in Robin Hood-type films and stories.

However, it is frustrating to not know more about John as a person and to learn hardly anything about Isabelle of Angouleme, his children with her and his numerous illegitimate children.  Who were they?  What happened to them? Who did they become?

Despite its shortcomings and frustrations though the book was definitely worth reading…if only for the fabulous quote of the chronicler Matthew Paris, almost a contemporary of john, who said:

“Foul as it is, hell itself is made fouler by the presence of King John”

A popular King then!!!!

Click here to find out about Magna Carta in Lincoln Castle

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