The life and death of King John

King John died in 1216 – 800 years ago. A few years after his death, the medieval chronicler Matthew Paris wrote about him that ‘foul as it is, Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of King John’.

His reputation has not improved over the centuries: King John is seen today as a cardboard villain – the archetypal Bad King – remembered chiefly for being such a tyrant that his barons rebelled and forced him to grant Magna Carta. But why does John have this terrible reputation? And is it fair?

Image of a black and white photograph of an 1899 production of Shakespeare’s King John, showing the moment of King John granting Magna Carta

King John grants Magna Carta, from an 1899 production of Shakespeare’s King John (catalogue reference: COPY 1/442/651)

We’re hosting a free panel event to discuss King John’s career and reputation, featuring three world experts on him. The event is in Kew at 18:00 on Tuesday 18 October – the 800th anniversary of the day on which John died.

Image of the Great Seal of King John, obverse side, which shows John sitting on a throne

The Great Seal of King John, obverse side (appended to DL 10/56)

Professor Stephen Church (University of East Anglia) has spent much of his career researching King John. His publications include a recent biography – ‘King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant‘ – which was one of The Financial Times’ Books of the Year 2015. Prof Church’s talk will focus on John’s life and career  before he became king – including his childhood as the youngest child of that formidable medieval couple, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his often fraught relationship with his older brother, Richard I (the Lionheart).

Bestselling historian and broadcaster Dr Marc Morris has published widely on medieval history and is author of ‘King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta’, described by The Times Literary Supplement as ‘a masterpiece of historical writing’. Dr Morris will look at John’s reign as king, illuminating key events such as his marriage to Isabella of Angouleme, his continental wars, the murder of his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, and his disastrous loss of Normandy.

Professor David Carpenter (King’s College London) is the foremost scholar of 13th century England working today. Among his many publications is ‘Magna Carta‘, one of The Guardian’s Books of the Year 2015.  Professor Carpenter will focus on the final crisis of King John’s reign, looking at the road to Runnymede, the intentions behind Magna Carta, the aftermath of its issue and its later significance.

As well as the individual talks there will be plenty of time for discussion within the panel and for questions from the audience. Join us for this unique opportunity to hear leading scholars discuss and debate the notorious king and this remarkable period in British history.

Book your ticket for ‘The life and death of King John‘ – it’s free, but places are limited. On the day, our bookshop will be open until 18:00 (normal closing time 17:00) and a pop-up book stall selling the speakers’ books will also run after the event. The speakers will be happy to sign copies of their books after the talk.

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