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

King John - by Marc Morris
King John – by Marc Morris

Take a break from election news on May 7th and speculation about who will be running the country and go back 800 years to discover the most reviled ruler in history…

King John is familiar to everyone as the villain from the tales of Robin Hood — greedy, cowardly, despicable and cruel. But who was the man behind the legend? Was he truly a monster, or a capable ruler cursed by ill luck?

Bestselling historian Marc Morris draws on contemporary chronicles and the king’s own letters to bring the real John vividly to life in his new book. Marc, who has talked brilliantly before about his previous books on the Bigods, and King Edward I, is back in Chepstow to talk about the subject of his latest, a definitive new biography of King John published to coincide with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta..

John was dynamic, inventive and relentless, but also a figure with terrible flaws. He went from being a youngest son with limited prospects to the ruler of the greatest dominion in Europe, an empire that stretched from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees.

But having lost most of his lands in France, he battled for the rest of his life to win them back. His rise to power involved treachery, rebellion and murder. His reign saw oppression on an almost unprecedented scale: former friends hounded into exile and oblivion; Wales, Scotland and Ireland invaded; harsh fines and huge taxes, the greatest level of financial exploitation since the Norman Conquest. A quarrel with the pope led to the king being excommunicated and England being placed under Interdict; for six years, the church bells remained silent and the dead were buried in unconsecrated ground.

John’s tyrannical rule climaxed in conspiracy and revolt, and his leading subjects famously forced him to issue Magna Carta, a document binding him and his successors to behave better in future. The king’s rejection of the charter led to civil war and foreign invasion, bringing his life to a disastrous close.

Marc Morris talks about his new book.

Thursday May 7 7.30pm

The Drill Hall, Lower Church Street, Chepstow

Tickets £4 from and to raise funds for Chepstow Museum 01291 625981


Books available on the night for signing by the author. Tickets £4 available from and to raise funds for Chepstow Museum tel 01291 625981


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