From a renowned medieval historian comes a new biography of King John, the infamous English king whose reign led to the establishment of the Magna Carta and the birth of constitutional democracy
King John (1166-1216) has long been seen as the epitome of bad kings. The son of the most charismatic couple of the middle ages, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and younger brother of the heroic crusader king, Richard the Lionheart, John lived much of his life in the shadow of his family. When in 1199 he became ruler of his family's lands in England and France, John proved unequal to the task of keeping them together. Early in his reign he lost much of his continental possessions, and over the next decade would come perilously close to losing his English kingdom, too.
In King John, medieval historian Stephen Church argues that John's reign, for all its failings, would prove to be a crucial turning point in English history. Though he was a masterful political manipulator, John's traditional ideas of unchecked sovereign power were becoming increasingly unpopular among his subjects, resulting in frequent confrontations. Nor was he willing to tolerate any challenges to his authority. For six long years, John and the pope struggled over the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury, a clash that led to the king's excommunication.
As king of England, John taxed his people heavily to fund his futile attempt to reconquer the lands lost to the king of France. The cost to his people of this failure was great, but it was greater still for John. In 1215, his subjects rose in rebellion against their king and forced upon him a new constitution by which he was to rule. The principles underlying this constitutionenshrined in the terms of Magna Cartawould go on to shape democratic constitutions across the globe, including our own.
In this authoritative biography, Church describes how it was that a king famous for his misrule gave rise to Magna Carta, the blueprint for good governance.
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About the Author
Stephen Church is a professor of medieval history at the University of East Anglia and the author of The Household Knights of King John. He lives in Norwich, England.
Table of Contents
2. Ireland, 1185
3. Brother in Arms
4. Troublesome Brother
5. Winner Takes All
6. Retreat to the Citadel
7. Inside the Citadel
8. The Citadel Under Siege
9. Lord of the British Isles
10. The Enemy at the Gate
11. The Garrison Turns on Its Leader
12. The Walls Breached
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Medieval scholar, Stephen Church’s insightful, sweeping biography of the infamous King John titled King John and the Road to Magna Carta sheds some new insights into the complex historical factors which precipitated the revolt of the English barons against King John and the subsequent document which was sealed by King John and is known today as the Magna Carta, 1215. The British government established a Magna Carta trust fund to honor the 800 year celebration of the Magna Carta on June 15, 2015. It has enabled scholars such as Stephen Church to review, reassess and reexamine chronicles, historical and legal documents. Also, there has been an ongoing search for lost and/or misplaced manuscripts and charters. In the book, King John and the Road to Magna Carta, one learns that as the youngest son of King Henry II and Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, John became well educated in Latin and French. Kingship had not been destined for him in accordance with his family position. However, it was the unexpected death of his older brother, King Richard, which enabled him to acquire the throne of England. The tides of fortune turned against King John throughout much of his reign. Some, he brought upon himself through what appear to be misjudgments and miscalculations. Economic and political factors on the continent as well in the British Isles caused cataclysmic changes to the scope and ability of an island Kingdom rule to maintain control of historic Angevin lands such as Normandy. In the twentieth century, we are faced with many of the same issues which beset England at the time of King John. The problems of a highly centralized government, the difficulty of waging warfare in distant lands, the jurisdiction and usage of undeveloped forests and extremely high taxation rates placed unwillingly upon a populace. In summary, Stephen Church’s book, King John and the Road to Magna Carta, should be read and pondered by everyone who cares about democracy, freedom and the rights of the individual because, “The Magna Carta of 1215 may well be said to be the Bulwark of Western Civilization.”