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

Written by Marc Morris
Review by E.M. Powell

The year 2015 is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and there has been much renewed interest in King John. A number of new books have been published about him and his reign, Marc Morris’s biography among them. John’s popular reputation is vile and for many people is taken from the tales of Robin Hood. Such tales are, of course, legend, and Morris goes back to contemporary chronicles and John’s letters to sort the facts from the fiction. And what he finds is not a man who has been misjudged, but that John was arguably the worst king to ever occupy the throne. Morris’s text is pacy and compelling. He soundly refutes any attempts that have been made by others to suggest that John was misunderstood. Morris brings sound charges of cruelty, treachery and lechery against him. Add in a hefty dollop of incompetence and it really is a case of guilty as charged. Out of such wickedness came one extraordinary result: Magna Carta. Morris’s lively and entertaining prose makes this one a great read. Highly recommended.