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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 constitution--enshrined in the terms of Magna Carta--would 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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-02-23
- Reviewer: Staff
Medieval historian Church (The Household Knights of King John), a noted scholar of the reign of King John, traces the steps and missteps that led to the defeat of the king and the creation of the Magna Carta. Church begins in John’s childhood, looking for potential roots of the failures in judgment that caused his downfall. John’s role during the reign of his brother, Richard the Lionheart, receives meticulous treatment, and Church vividly describes the machinations, intrigue, and duplicity of court life surrounding the young count. In Church’s view, John’s worst fault was that he was “a man all too willing to play at brinkmanship, but who ultimately lacked the fine judgment to know when he had gone too far.” This trait revealed itself many times, especially in John’s demand for uncustomary tithes and his alienation of his English subjects, who refused to support his foreign wars. John was also unfortunate in that his opponents were strong, especially King Phillip II of France, who took over much of John’s French territory, and Pope Innocent III, the most powerful of the medieval popes, with whom John refused to compromise. Church dramatically relates the tragic twists of the king’s fall in this story of power gone awry, with echoes that resonate in the present. (Apr.)