• King John

  • Treachery and Tyranny in Medieval England: The Road to Magna Carta
  • By: Marc Morris
  • Narrated by: Ralph Lister
  • Length: 11 hrs and 26 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (151 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 a monster or a capable ruler cursed by bad luck? In this new book, best-selling historian Marc Morris draws on contemporary chronicles and the king's own letters to bring the real King John vividly to life. John was dynamic, inventive, and relentless but also a figure with terrible flaws. In two interwoven stories, we see how 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. 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; and the greatest level of financial exploitation since the Norman Conquest. 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.

©2015 Marc Morris (P)2015 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"The result is a traditional politics-and-war biography: a relentless succession of intrigues, quarrels, battles, sieges, negotiations, truces, and betrayals illuminated by lucid writing." ( Kirkus)

What listeners say about King John

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting, but confusing

Why Morris bounces back and forth chronologically is not clear, and it makes the book very confusing. There is a tremendous amount of interesting material here, but going from Henry and Richard's reigns to John's and bavk againmakes no sense and is hard to follow. Otherwise, good book.

2 people found this helpful

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Great Overview of King John

Enjoyed the book overall, but it was a little distracting, especially in an audiobook, at the beginning. the book jumps from his early reign to the reign of his father and brother. I don't think this would have been quite as detracting in print form.

2 people found this helpful

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The biased King John

Awkward organization, and very biased. Overall though, another solid effort by Marc Morris. Ralph Lister is very good.

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Informative, not entertaining

I started this thinking that it was an historical fiction (like war of the roses), but it’s really a narrative of the life of King John and lays out the background to the creation of the Magna Carta. It was interesting enough to complete the book, but just barely. The performance was good, but the reader speaks in a bit of a halting pattern which grated on my nerves at times.

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A Medieval Narcissist

Possibly not until 2016 has there been a greater example of one who is totally unsuited to rule than King John. As is the case with his modern counterpart, John abused the competent people around him, disgraced the state he led and ultimately undermined it. When he assumed the throne in 1199, after the death of King Richard the Lion Hearted, King John possessed most of the territory of the British Isles. Scotland was definitely a second rate power, the Welsh and the Irish were in the Angevin orbit and continental possessions included Normandy, Anjou, Brittany, Gascony and the Aquitaine. It was the mightiest country in Europe.By the end of John’s reign, the country faced civil war, foreign invasion from Scotland and France with rumblings from Wales and Ireland. Continental territory was largely lost.

How did this happen in only 17 years? Personality and character played a great deal in this decline. John was devious, but not so devious as to be cleaver to overcome the obstacles he faced. He was also easily manipulated by the vastly smarter foreign rival Philip Augustus, who whittled away at the empire that John was ultimately unable to hold onto. Some things never change! In the end, John’s profound cruelty and lack of impulse control were his undoing, with Magna Carta, intended to limit tyranny by the monarch, his signature accomplishment.

Marc Morris has done an exceptional job in reproducing the actions of a really evil man and monarch. I had a low opinion of John before I read this book, if anything reality was even more so.

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Thorough but narrow

Very detailed blow-by-blow account of John's life and reign. Could have used more analysis of underlying causes.

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Illuminating and intelligent

Excellent biography of this medieval king. Well sourced, clearly written, entertaining and illuminating. Ralph Lister is an excellent narrator.

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Great Review of a Terrible King

There's no disputing that King John was treachery defined. Marc Morris's "King John" goes into all of the details. Sometimes he gives John an abundance of the benefit of the doubt, while other times he truly puts his life in perspective. There isn't much positive to say about King John. The fact that his rule was so awful that it lead to the Magna Carta says all. All told, the book is balanced when it counts. Ralph Lister's narration is excellent.