Stephen D. Church

Författare till King John: And the Road to Magna Carta

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Church, Stephen D.



Part of a series of short books about English monarchs; previously reviewed are Aethelred the Unready and James I. I didn’t know much about Henry III, but it turns out he was responsible for some fairly important events in English history – although usually because they happened on his watch, not because he instituted them.

Everybody knows that King John was granted the Magna Carta; as it turns out what everybody knows isn’t quite true. John signed off on the Magna Carta, alright, but abrogated it within ten weeks and was back at war with his barons. When John died, his young son Henry (age 9) became king. Author Stephen Church notes this was the first time a minor had been crowned King of England since Aethelred. The barons who had gone to war with John weren’t having any more of this abrogating their rights stuff; the regents who took over immediately saw to it that the Magna Carta was reissued. When Henry finally came to his majority, he had nothing but trouble with the barons; it had been established that the King didn’t have arbitrary power; in particular that he couldn’t raise taxes on his own without the consent of the taxed. This led to the establishment of Parliament as a permanent body (Church notes there had been “parliaments” before, but starting with Henry III they are referred to with a Capital P, as “Parliament”).

Henry III didn’t like the idea of restrictions on royal power, but wasn’t competent to do anything about it; the baronial party found a leader in Simon de Montfort. Montfort turned out to be an effective military commander – unlike Henry – and rather quickly became the de facto ruler of England, keeping Henry III under close watch. Unfortunately for him he turned out to be rather poor at politics and eventually alienated his supporters; he was killed at the battle of Evesham after making the fatal mistake of assuming Henry III’s son Edward was as incompetent at military affairs as Henry. (Edward set up a “death squad” specifically to hunt down and kill de Monfort, and they were successful).

Henry III’s other noteworthy accomplishment was rebuilding Westminster Abbey from the previous Romanesque building to the Gothic church that’s there today.

A quick and easy yet instructive read. Contemporary illustrations, endnotes, and suggestions for further reading.
… (mer)
setnahkt | Nov 20, 2021 |
This was the first of several titles on my reading list for my studies on early English Feudalism, the government and the Magna Carta. In this regard I found it useful. I understand some reviewers have found it slow or dry, and this may be the case, but perhaps it was intended to be more academic than written for a popular audience. It should be stated early on that this book is not primarily focused on the Magna Carta, but more on the life, political and military career of John as youngest son, heir of Richard and eventually King.

It is about his relations and interactions with family members and the nobility, the circumstances and decisions which shaped his career, and the events that led up to him losing his hold on power, and dying a virtual fugitive in his own kingdom. It is not a wholly negative appraisal, for it emerges that there were times when the King genuinely wanted to do what he thought to be the right thing- to fight to retake Normandy, and his subjects seemed to regard him as a promising ruler at the beginning.

The passage on the death of Prince Arthur also proved enlightening- John almost certainly did kill him, but it appears that by the teens dealings with Phillip of France to cede land or do homage for it, John and his adherents considered him to be giving away the family inheritance, and so guilty of treason. Not that this justifies the action, but it helps the audience to get an impression of what might have happened and why.
It also sheds a useful light on the workings of the political and administrative system of the age- and why it was so difficult for one person to resist the King. To be successful, there had to be a large scale rebellion.
Perhaps the book fails to draw any definitive conclusions about John’s character and legacy, but does help to demonstrate maybe not all the misfortune of the early 1200s can be attributed wholly to John’s tyranny. The loss of Normandy proved disastrous for England- an event John attempted to fight against and to resolve, but the raising of revenue by taxation, always unpopular, seems to have been particularly problematic and controversial, leading some of the abuses later mentioned in the Magna Carta.

Overall The Making of a Tyrant was a useful and pertinent title for useful contribution, amongst several, to the scholarship on this period. The bibliography and other such might be of more interest to researchers than general readers, but I would still recommend it to those interested in the style, approach and scope of the work.

I received a free copy of this book directly from the publisher for review. This did not affect my opinions, which were freely expressed and entirely my own.
… (mer)
Medievalgirl | 2 andra recensioner | Oct 4, 2016 |
This is a great story of the English King who inadvertently caused his nobles to write up the Magna Carta. We should all read a book about the Magna Carta in 2015, the 800th anniversary of the cornerstone of our liberties and freedoms and this is a lively entertaining tale.
bhowell | 2 andra recensioner | Jul 26, 2015 |
A worthy, but somewhat pedestrian account of the life and reign of England's most despised king. In this the 800th anniversary year of Magna Carta, interest in King John has been much in evidence, and there sure sure to be a swag of books about him, his reign, and the significance of the Great Charter. Its to be hoped that the next books are just a bit more lively than this one. Meticulously researched, well organised and put together, but never really fleshes out John's character, and he remains really just a depiction of the documents that recorded his reign. I never have much time for people who say history is boring, but I can probably understand where are they coming from when I read books like this. I actually did enjoy this book and found it very interesting and informative, but then I am accustomed to reading the driest of academic texts and finding them interesting too. Content-wise, this book is excellent. Church book-ends the story with the two things most associated in the modern mind with John - one fictional, one factual. They are, of course, Robin Hood and Magna Carta. He disposes of the Robin Hood myth in one terse paragraph in the introduction, pointing out that John was not associated with the Robin Hood legend until more than two centuries after his death, the creation of a writer from the Tudor era. He then deals with the Magna Carta properly, in its chronological place at the end of the book, coming as it did towards the end of John's life. In between, the story basically deals with John's catastrophic dealings with France, in which he managed to lose virtually all of the territories he held across the Channel. Despite the title of the book, Church never does really nail down whether or not John was a tyrant, although the question of whether he was a disaster as a king seems quite comprehensively settled. As I said, I did find this book worth reading and interesting, but whether it would appeal to a wider audience, I'm just not sure.… (mer)
drmaf | 2 andra recensioner | Apr 17, 2015 |


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