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King John (English Monarchs) Paperback – October 9, 1978

4.7 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Warren was professor of modern history & dean of theology at The Queen's University, Belfast
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 362 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (October 9, 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520036433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520036437
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,312,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
W.L. Warren begins this biography with an explanation of how and why King John ended up with the dastardly reputation we all know from Robin Hood stories and other popular fiction. John, Warren says, suffered from a confluence of factors that have rendered a slanted and warped portrait of him. Historiography methods of the past concentrated almost entirely on contemporary chronicles, practically ignoring administrative records and other types of extraneous material. John especially suffers under this kind of examination, since the chroniclers who wrote about his reign were all either poorly informed, outrageously prejudiced, or both.

John is mocked with the name "Softsword" for having lost his hold on the French domains his father, Henry II, and his brother, Richard I, worked so hard to keep. Warren points out, however, that such far-flung territories could never have been maintained, and, even had Richard lived, the French outcome would probably have been the same. Far from being a military do-nothing, John is the founder of the Royal Navy. Warren marvels that a nation that came to treasure its naval superiority as England did could so completely vilify the founder of its navy.

But this book is no whitewash, either. John was duplicitous and grasping and didn't trust anyone who wasn't beholden to him. He surrounded himself with baseborn hangers-on, excluding and alienating the barons of his realm. He took money for dispensing justice and then still ruled against the side that paid him. He was cunning and conniving, and was known to issue decrees that said one thing while secretly issuing instructions that ran exactly counter to what he wrote.
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Format: Paperback
If you've been conditioned by the Robin Hood stories to think of King John as the ultimate bad guy, read this book. It will show you that, while he was not a saint and not the best ruler of England, he really was not all that bad. I found this to be a useful, informative, and well-written biography. One of the points I came away with was that King John was apparently the founder of the great British navy, that pride of later generations. His struggles with Pope Innocent III show him to be a nationalist, even a patriot of sorts. And those rebellious barons who forced the Magna Carta upon the king may have had some valid arguments, but it can also be argued that John was doing the best he could. This book shows that John compares favorably with his much more popular brother Richard the Lionheart.
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Format: Paperback
While this is the best overall modern biography of King John, it is a bit dated with so much new research having been done in this field. For those seriously interested in this subject, the works of Ralph Turner and S.D.Church should also be considered. If possible, the best overall biography still remains Kate Norgates but it is ancient at this point.
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I was a little hesitant about ordering this book at first for fear it would be dry and complicated. I was very happy to discover it was neither. It is well researched and well written. Warren gives you a good feel about the period and the challenges John faced. I even found myself asking "what would I have done in his place?" This book busted a few of the "Bad King John" myths as well as some of the "Good King Richard" ones. This is a very readable book provided you have an interest and a little knowledge about the period. If you are looking for a "Robin Hood" type story this isn't it. It's not a page turner but nor should it be. This is the story of a complex man during a complex time and Warren did a great job of bringing it to life without making it dull.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
King John the first, last, and only is famous for two things, and one of those things he did not really do. As a prince, he is known to have chased around Robin Hood--that is fiction. As the King of England, he signed the famous Magna Carta; he did do that, but Warren points out that it is not quite the historic event that many thought it was. W.L. Warren attempts in this biography of King John to strip way the myth--particularly negative myth--about a ruler who in his view was quite competent but just really unlucky.

Historical giants surround King John throughout his life. His father is the famous King Henry II who established Common Law in England. His mother is the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was the wife of two kings and the mother of two kings . His famous brother Richard the Lionhearted, was a celebrated and overrated crusader. His archrival is King Philip II of France, known as Philip Augustus, who begins the process of transforming France into a nation by expanding French royal power at the expense of King John. Amongst these great people John seems small by comparison and his reputation suffers.

"The persisting images are of Henry as a strong and beneficent ruler, of Richard as a glamorous hero, and of John as a villainous failure; but these sharp contrasts reflect the attitudes of the more influential of the chroniclers rather than real differences of personality. The dominant impression of Henry is closest to reality, that of John furthest removed." (p.4)

Warren describes John as the son who was most like his father--who is generally regarded as great monarch. Like his father, John is interested in governing his kingdom.
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