King John has been much talked and written about in this eight hundredth anniversary of Magna Carta. The British Library held an exhibition. It’s website still has videos, interviews and documents. What more could you want? Click here to open a new window http://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/videos/800-years-of-magna-carta. His effigy, along with various bones and his will, can be viewed at Worcester Cathedral whilst one of the original copies of the Magna Carta is on display in Salisbury. There have been articles about him in History Today and several of the broadsheets have considered just how bad John actually really was…the conclusion being not as bad as Shakespeare might have liked. Marc Morris’s book Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta offers a clear oversight into the derailment of Henry II’s youngest son from monarch to man who lost his baggage. For younger readers of history, much to my delight, the Ladybird Adventure from History about King John is once again available – although possibly not presenting him in a particularly balanced light.
Lack of balance is certainly true of the Jean Plaidy novel about King John entitled ‘The Prince of Darkness’ which gives an unfortunate hint of the direction of John’s character as interpreted by Ms Plaidy. John was undoubtedly a much more complex man than that of out and out villain. Those complexities and ambiguities can be found, for those folk who like their history in novel form, in Sharon Penman’s books about Justin de Quincy – the first in the series is called The Queen’s Man. Inevitably novels containing Robin Hood feature John somewhere along the line – for fans of the outlaw, Angus Donald books are not to be missed. I know that there are many more – there is something about John that draws writers in, perhaps because he is much more than a cardboard villain.
The Angevin monarch is not without a future either. King John, is taught at Key Stage Three in schools and is also currently part of the AQA A level history syllabus (HIS3A: The Angevin Kings of England: British Monarchy, 1154–1216) as well as an OCR A level history qualification which will be examined for the first time in 2017.
Having recently taught a day school on King John I finished with a crossword. Here it is along with the answers: Click on the word puzzle to open up a new window. Some of the clues are straight forward, others require slightly more knowledge. None of them are too difficult.
2) Pope who tore up Magna Carta and triggered civil war (8).
6) Adrian IV’s surname before he became pope (10).
9) Fine issued by the court at the will of the king (10).
10) Chronicle which probably tells the tale of the death of John’s nephew accurately (6).
12) Keep where Eleanor of Aquitaine was besieged by her grandson (8).
13) Powerful Lower Poitou family (8)
14) Niece from Castile to be married to Prince Louis and fetched for that purpose by Queen Eleanor (7).
15) Prior sent by Canterbury monks to Rome as archbishop. (8)
17) John’s tutor (9).
18) John had two daughters by this name (4).
20) Place of John’s birth (6).
29) Scottish king who joined with the barons (9).
30) John sent ship loads of corn to Norway in return for these (7).
31) John was prone to demanding these of his enemies and his barons (8).
32) The son of John’s brother Geoffrey (6).
33) Count who dined with John on the same day that he switched to the french (7).
36) One of the causes of the dysentery said to have killed John (5)
41) As a consequence of the fall of the Angevin Empire John built one of these (4).
42) There was a Bishop of Durham and a Bishop of Lincoln who played active roles in John’s life (4).
43) Nickname of John’s early years (8).
44) What did Roger de Cressi do that earned him a fine of 12,000 marks and 12 palfreys in 1207 (7).
45) Matilda FitzWalter is said to have been poisoned by one of these having spurned John’s advances (3).
46) Town where John died (6).
1) Abbey founded by John (8).
3) Castle where 22 Bretton captives were starved to death (5).
4) Castle given to John by Henry II and where Welsh hostages were executed (10).
5) Bishop of Norwich selected by John as Archbishop of Canterbury (4, 2, 4).
6) 1214 battle that saw John defeated in France (8).
7) Chronicler writing many years after John’s death who was hostile to John (5).
8) Gossipy chronicler who travelled with John to Ireland (6).
11) Unfortunate chap called Henry whose wife was John’s mistress and who was used as an excuse to fine another man for the same offence.
12) Castle where John married his first wife (11).
16) Earl of Essex who paid 20,000 marks for his second wife (8, 2, 10)
19) Ambitious Justiciar (9).
21) Abbey where John stayed after losing his baggage in The Wash (10)
22) Castle besieged by John in 1215 (9).
23) Isabella of Angouleme’s father (5).
24) Cathedral where John is buried (9).
25) John’s daughter who married Simon de Montfort (7).
26) Eustace d’_ _ _ _ _ substituted another woman for his wife when John demanded her in his bed (5).
27) Hugh de Neville was responsible for administering it and it extended during John’s reign until Magna Carta (6, 3).
28) Another word for excommunication when applied to a region or country (9).
31) Anglo Norman baron granted kingdom of Meath (4,2,4).
34) 1200 treaty that saw John accept the overlordship of the French (2, 6).
35) 1209 treaty that saw peace between England and Scotland on John’s terms (6).
37) Lands in Normandy by which John was known after Richard’s accession (7).
38) Marcher earl who was often the victim John’s paranoia about treachery in 1203 and 1204 (7).
39) Dacus, danish merchant, who sailed tax free on condition he bring one of these whenever he came to England (4).
40) King who succeeded John (5).
To reveal the answers click on the word puzzle below.
I enjoyed this as you seem to have melted a bit since the topic of John first came up in your manifest. Now fiction tinged with slight knowledge of history must ,to my mind, be burnt in the oil bins. Plaidy in particular as it misleads the struggling A leveler into being sort of cock shore that certain fact he had read someplace? Jean Plaidy being that exact place. Research being a boring subject to some was born in me as better than gambling on fact or drinking away ones allowance from home. I found certain peace and joy at learning how to trace fact. My small library of some six thousand works collected over sixty years have been my reference library and first place to look for anything. The other is a clean mind that stores fact away like collectors love items. I see quite why you mention this writer as she could not have been further from knowing John by five miles. Complicated yes so are all the true blooded members of his family to date. My own cousin wants my head on a plate just because I AM ME. I took the last title available and rose for Hons to Baronet through vast knowledge on Heraldry and historic fact. He ,and others in fact, wanted it all on nothing.
Actually I have warmed to John somewhat – though I still wouldn’t have wished to have met him. And there’s lots of other people out there who want to know about John the number of people who read the posts on John is really very high in comparison to some of the others – maybe I should veer towards historical tabloidism? Or there again perhaps not!
I know exactly what you mean about the problem of fiction -it can be worse. You should try marking an essay on Romeo and Juliet where the writer has only ever watched the film set in modern times and one of the characters is shot with a gun. It is most demoralising.
Why have I warmed to John? There’s a limited amount of material and texts about him but enough to make him interesting so you can get into the the period very quickly and gain an oversight of the reign and its key events. His travel itineraries are fascinating. There’s always the potential for more research as you say. He was also , sadly for him, an unlucky king – its an old examination question but a very good one. In many respects he paid far more attention to the country than Henry II or Richard yet what we’re left with is a king who lost France and almost England. History is not kind to those monarchs who slide down the snake on the royal snakes and ladders board.
The story teller in my likes the conspiracy theories – was he murdered? Will part of the lost baggage ever be recovered? Its the contradictions that make him fascinating as well- murdering his nephew but sending his niece jewel encrusted saddles. He was just as good a general as his father and brother but also made some monumental mistakes and had them all chronicled by that gossip Gerald of Wales – how unlucky is that?
And then there’s the fiction. For many history is dry old stuff and they wouldn’t touch a history book with the proverbial barge pole but fiction brings history to life and sneaks it in. If you’re lucky, as clearly you are, you don’t need someone else to bring a scene to life but not everyone has that ability. Good historical fiction is excellent and, equally, bad historical fiction is terrible and can do terrible things to our understanding of events and people. I recently borrowed a library book set in the reign of Elizabeth I and had to take it back the following morning because a character in the opening chapter asked for and received a bottle of beer that required a bottle opener…but just because there are some real howlers out there doesn’t mean that they’re all bad. I suspect this debate will run like a thread through our conversations. A lazy student is a lazy student irrelevant of the breadth of material available to him or her – oh dear, I seem to have written rather a lot. Time I think to finish. Best wishes as always.