What was Wrong with King John?

W.L. Warren makes an attempt to sift the facts from the lurid legend of an English monarch who has left a reputation for evil second only to Richard III’s. 

King John presenting a church, painted c.1250-59 by Matthew Paris in his Historia Anglorum
King John presenting a church, painted c.1250-59 by Matthew Paris in his Historia Anglorum

What was wrong with King John? Bishop Stubbs had no doubt about the answer to this seemingly simple question. In some of his most pungent prose he roundly declared that John was “a mean reproduction of all the vices and of the few pettinesses of his family.” It was not merely that John was a bad man, he was unspeakable: “what marks John out personally from the long line of our sovereigns good and bad is this —that there is nothing in him which calls out our better sentiments; in his prosperity there is nothing that we can admire; and in his adversity there is nothing that we can pity.”

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