King john and the magna carta

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king john and the magna carta

King John and the Road to Magna Carta by Stephen Church

King John doesn’t have the best reputation. He is known as the “Bad King”…The bad seed as opposed to his brother, Richard the Lionheart. So ‘bad’ that his actions pushed his subjects and barons to compose the Magna Carta—the predecessor of many modern-day constitutions (so perhaps it is a good thing that John was unqualified!). Stephen Church attempts to explore the foundation building up to the Magna Carta in, “King John: And the Road to the Magna Carta”.

Chruch’s aim with “King John” Is not to rehabilitate John or condone his actions. Rather, the target of the text is to explain the events which led to the Magna Carta and how/why John acted the way he did. “King John” succeeds in this by presenting an even-paced text that is academic but not dry and works as a solid introduction into King John’s reign but with enough detail to satisfy those familiar with the topic. Church’s prose is strong and his writing lacks biases and assumptions making “King John” quite compelling.

There are, however, issues with Church straying from the topic and going into detailed tangents losing his hypothesis begging the reader to ask what he is trying to prove. Sometimes, Church tries too hard to be unbiased and thus “King John” simply reads as a recitation of events a la, “This happened and then that”.

The amount of research is clearly justified in “King John” as Church alludes to documents and household books brimming with detail (although this may be “too much” for some readers). Uniquely, Church stipulates when sources quoted are secondary or written long after the fact which helps the reader gain a well-rounded view but with a grain of salt. Church also employs occasional detective work and cunningly works out how, when, or why an event occurred.

As “King John” progresses, a ‘point’ is seemingly lost as Church does explain events that disgruntled subjects (and thus led to the Magna Carta); but none of this seems dire or that ‘bad’. There have been worse kings before and since King John. Although, perhaps this indication is precisely Church’s goal (even though he says he does not aim to rehabilitate King John). There is also an issue with some repetition and backtracking which momentarily stalls attention.

There is a disconnect between the former portions of “King John” discussing events leading up to the Magna Carta and the sudden jump into exploring the various doctrines. The path is not cohesive and is quite abrupt. This effectively “throws off” the reader in some ways. This can similarly be said about the conclusion of “King John” which lacks emotion even though Church suddenly ties to enforce that John was a tyrant when the entire book never appeared to necessarily agree with that notion.

Some stylistic comments should be noted: “King John” contains various maps; however, they are coded per color shade which is a bit tricky when the map is black-and-white/grayscale. Color plates would also have been welcome (there is an absence of photos). However, the abundance of sources and length of bibliography will satisfy fact-checkers; as will both foot and end notes.

“King John” suffers from some flaws and doesn’t per se achieve Church’s aims. Yet, it is well-researched, detailed, and strong academically while being very readable and not dry. There is ‘something’ about “King John” which makes it quite a good read. “King John” is recommended for all readers interested in English history and I would certainly read more from Church in the future.
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Published 11.01.2019

The Story of Magna Carta

John, King of England

These are external links and will open in a new window. The Royal Mint has been criticised for featuring a picture of King John signing Magna Carta with a quill on a coin celebrating its th anniversary. A wax seal was actually used, but does the mistake really matter, asks Justin Parkinson? The meaning is obvious - he signed it. Actually, he didn't. John, like other medieval monarchs, used the Great Seal to put his name to the document, making concessions to England's barons in , following years of arguments over royal power. The Royal Mint has been accused of making a "schoolboy error".

After John's death, the regency government of his young son, Henry III , reissued the document in , stripped of some of its more radical content, in an unsuccessful bid to build political support for their cause. At the end of the war in , it formed part of the peace treaty agreed at Lambeth , where the document acquired the name Magna Carta, to distinguish it from the smaller Charter of the Forest which was issued at the same time. Short of funds, Henry reissued the charter again in in exchange for a grant of new taxes. His son, Edward I , repeated the exercise in , this time confirming it as part of England's statute law. The charter became part of English political life and was typically renewed by each monarch in turn, although as time went by and the fledgling Parliament of England passed new laws, it lost some of its practical significance. At the end of the 16th century there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta.

History has not been kind to King John of England (reigned –). Interpretations of his character have ranged from the cruel Prince John of the Robin.
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Medieval monks portrayed King John as an evil monster. Modern historians portray him as an energetic king who tried to increase his power in difficult circumstances., John was the most peripatetic of all English monarchs.

Professor David Carpenter and Professor Nicholas Vincent discuss the reign of King John, the grievances of the barons and the circumstances in which Magna Carta was created in John was a thoroughly nasty piece of work. He was a murderer, a womaniser, he was always trying to put people in their place, to get them down — do them down. The barons rebelled against King John for a variety of reasons, some of those reasons were long term. In Magna Carta asserted the fundamental principle that the king was subject to the law. But it also asserted that principle in certain key areas. One was money, it was trying to prevent the king taking your money in lawless ways and it was also asserting that principle in the area of justice.


  1. Laura S. says:

    Learn and revise about Magna Carta, which put into place laws that the king had to follow and gave rights to the people, with BBC Bitesize KS3 History.

  2. Simonj71 says:

    An original version of Magna Carta, agreed by John and the barons in Within a few months of John's.

  3. Baptiste G. says:

    Magna Carta Libertatum commonly called Magna Carta is a charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on 15 June

  4. Vick D. says:

    King John and the origins of Magna Carta - The British Library

  5. Danielle N. says:

    Kids learn about King John and the Magna Carta from the Middle Ages and Medieval times. How this historical document set the stage for democracy in the.

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