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King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    MARC MORRIS(Author)

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The youngest son of Henry II, John (1166-1216) became king on the death of his brother, Richard I, in 1199. He inherited a vast and possibly ungovernable dominion, extending across the Angevin empire in France as well as England, Ireland and Wales. In this biography, Morris draws on contemporary sources to describe a tyrannical and murderous reign that saw the loss of the French lands, the rebellion of the English barons and, despite the signing of Magna Carta, civil war.

The youngest son of Henry II, John (1166-1216) became king on the death of his brother, Richard I, in 1199. He inherited a vast and possibly ungovernable dominion, extending across the Angevin empire in France as well as England, Ireland and Wales. In this biography, Morris draws on contemporary sources to describe a tyrannical and murderous reign that saw the loss of the French lands, the rebellion of the English barons and, despite the signing of Magna Carta, civil war.

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  • PDF | Unknown pages
  • MARC MORRIS(Author)
  • Windmill (2016)
  • English
  • 2
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Review Text

  • By Phillip Taylor MBE on April 14, 2015

    A FIRST CLASS HISTORIC APPRECIATION OF THE MOST VILE KING OF ENGLAND WE HAVE EVER SEENAn appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green ChambersMarc Morris comes to this subject with that rare pedigree of excellent story-telling combined with an excellent sense of history and the understanding necessary to appreciate why we needed Magna Carta 800 years ago.During this anniversary year there are many books available on the subject of John and his sealing of the Great Charter at Runnymede. “King John” published by Hutchinson leads the way with an extremely readable account of what happened from the substantial research which Morris has undertaken. The end product is a highly professional statement which we hope will be of great value to anybody who has even a passing interest of those terrible times in the early thirteenth century. The sub-title is “Treachery, tyranny and the road to Magna Carta” which gives the reader a glimpse of how excessive and appalling John really was.For those readers who have never visited the various places referred to, Morris brings them to life both with the importance of castles such as Corfe and Rochester which, even today, are both forbidding and intriguing. But it is of course the story of how John behaved which is the real menace throughout the book.Whilst the title is highly readable, the research conducted and the referencing is magnificent. It is a tribute to Marc Morris that he has spent so much time consulting primary and secondary sources to compile what we feel is a definitive work on this terrible man. It is fair to say that in 2015, even with the behaviour of rogue states and mass murdering psychopaths in some parts of the world today, it is difficult to comprehend what John really did as probably what we do have by way of records only just scratch the surface of the barbarism John inflicted on his people.As with all the other admirable anniversary titles now out to remember the sealing of Magna Carta at Runnymede, “King John” by Marc Morris stands out as one of the best because his use of English describes the tensions of the time without hyperbole but gets to the very meat of the issues between the monarch, the barons and the people. We do not get so worked up about Magna Carta in Britain, probably because of our inherent and somewhat unflappable view of ten centuries of history since the Norman Conquest. The Americans look at it differently and built the main monument at Runnymede… and it is understandable why they did so because of George III.We can away from reading this book with a sense of gratitude for what the barons did, albeit for their own personal reasons, on Runnymede Island. The book ends with a translation of Magna Carta which is the epilogue for this most vile monarch- it is not religious, and it is even more basic than the politics of intrigue: it is the basis of what rights we should have living together as people in our communities- hard fought, cherished and here to stay.

  • By JPS on April 6, 2015

    This is a rather good book targeted at the general reader on the reign of the infamous King John. Even if there is nothing really original in its contents and if the presentation is mostly conventional, it goes a good job in showing to what extent this King deserved and lived up to his horrid reputation.First of all, it shows to what extent John’s reputation was already sullied and tarnished even before he became King. He had betrayed both his father Henry II and his brother Richard Lionheart while the later was a prisoner and had attempted to grab the crown from him. Second, it also shows to what extent things became worse with the murder of his nephew Arthur, his botched defence of Anjou, Maine, Touraine and Normandy and his flight back to England even before the fall of Normandy. To all extents and purposes, and by 1204 already, Marc Morris shows very well how John had earned for himself a reputation of being traitorous, cowardly, a poor soldier and an even worse ruler.A further point that is well made is his oppressiveness and cruelty. Marc Morris describes clearly his treatment of prisoners, his taking of hostages from his main barons and his awful and atrocious tendency, even for the times, to starve them to death. Another excellent point which is well made is his financial oppression which started right at the beginning of his reign with increasingly heavy scutages just about every year during the first seven or eight years of his reign. He also required huge and extortionate reliefs to allow heirs and heiresses to come into possession of their lands. He seems to have essentially rendered justice in favour of the highest bidder and also applied arbitrary financial measures to squeeze additional resources out of the Church, keeping sees and abbeys vacant in order to benefit from their revenues.What made things worse was that, unlike his predecessors who also levied heavy and exceptional taxes to finance costly wars, he had little or nothing to show for them. He seems to have largely wasted the huge amounts that he extorted. Further, the book shows that he had somewhat of a talent in alienating just about everyone almost simultaneously, starting with those – his nobles and the church – which he could ill afford to turn against him.The portrait drawn by Marc Morris is rather clear-cut and quite relentless with the author giving at times the impression that he could do no good whatsoever and got it all and increasingly wrong. He became increasingly tyrannical, untrustworthy, paranoid and traitorous over time. This does seem to have largely the case and it is a mark of the author’s talent that it so well described and shown.However, the picture, as the author seems to recognise himself at times, is perhaps a bit one-side and there may be one – slight – problem with this book. This is largely the price that the author has had to pay for adopting a chronological narrative of this King’s reign. Such a narrative, backed up by a clear story written in plain and easy to understand English and well supported by maps and illustrations makes this book very accessible and informative. However, the lack of thematic analyses means that his (wasted) achievements, although mentioned, get drowned in an ocean of reckless, tyrannical and arbitrary measures and decisions that keep back-firing on him. Some points could perhaps have been treated separately and more thoroughly.One is that John was essentially “the runt of the litter” and must have felt it every day. He was treated as such by his whole family – his parents and his brothers, but also his enemies (starting with the King of France). In other words, he was not respected and despised by all before he became King. A typical example is Richards’ very condescending attitude and mercy towards him after he had been freed and had reconquered his kingdom. This obvious lack of self-confidence at a time when the King’s personal leadership and charisma was so important certainly had some very unfortunate consequences and made him appear as hesitant, weak, indecisive, incapable and cowardly. The impact of his vassals seems to have been quite disastrous. Some of them, for instance the Lusignans in Poitou, could feel that they could rebel against him, play him off against the King of France, and get away with it. Others increasingly refused to provide him with the feudal military service that he was owed under various pretexts, especially after the loss of the French provinces.This was one of the major causes of John’s inability to launch the many expeditions that he planned and organised to reconquer lost territory for a decade (between 1204 and 1214). In turn, such defiance shown to him must have increased his paranoia, leading him to take measures, such as taking hostages from his own magnates or relying on a small number of favourites and on mercenaries who only served him because he could pay them. This would further increase his immediate financial needs and lead him to more extortionate measures to obtain such resources.The main problem that King John seems to have had was his total inability to generate goodwill and trust at a time where both were so necessary.This is perhaps another point which, while mentioned in the book, could have done with more emphasis.Interestingly, and while he is often portrayed as a poor ruler and a poor soldier, he did have successes in both areas. For the latter, his victory at Mirebeau and his successful siege of Rochester could have turned the tables on his enemies if they had been properly exploited. The same goes for his two remarkable diplomatic triumphs – his alliance with Innocent III, which allowed him to turn the tables on his own church and secure the pope’s lasting support, and the alliance he managed to cement with the Emperor Otho IV and the Counts of Boulogne and Flanders, which allowed for the invasion of France on two fronts. Here again, however, he was unable or incapable to fully benefit from the advantages that he had secured.The dual disasters in France in 1214 showed once again that he was incapable of reconquering his French heritage. To some extent, Magna Carta, which Marc Morris presents in its real context, was a consequence of these and of all of his reckless and tyrannical behaviours over the past decade and a half. However, one can only agree with the author’s conclusion that “perhaps the most clinching argument for the personal nature of John’s failure and the loathing he inspired is the speed with which the situation in England was retrieved once he was gone.” Even the most sympathetic biographer can only view him and his reign as an utter failure…Five stars


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