History Today subscription

The Opponents of King John

For the cogent reasons explained here by Anthony Beadles, the revolt against King John was led largely by the Northern barons.

The rebellion against King John that produced Magna Carta is as well-known an event as any in medieval English history, commemorated both in this country and in the United States by memorials and exhibitions. People flock to Runnymede to catch some aura of the event. Yet you will not find there any record of the men who really created Magna Carta - I do not mean the mediators like Marshal and Langton, but those who forced John into accepting the terms: the opponents of the King. They remain remarkably anonymous.

Yet this was a great rebellion: it involved a large part of the English baronage; it captured the capital of the kingdom; it invited the French Dauphin to claim the throne; it went on past John’s death until it ended in the streets of Lincoln in 1217; and it produced the great medieval document - Magna Carta. Yet it has no heroic leader to become a legend, not even a Robert of Gloucester or a Strongbow, certainly not a Simon de Montfort or a Richard of York. There is no one whose statue could be put up outside Westminster Hall.

This lack of a striking personality in the ranks opposing John tells us immediately something about the nature of the reign for the historian -its dearth of records. John’s reign was not well served by the chroniclers. The great period of historical writing seems to have come to an end around 1202. Unlike his father and brother, John had no close companions who wrote his life. Gerald of Wales, Walter Map, William of Newburgh, Adam of Eynsham, John of Salisbury were all dead or had ceased work.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.

 

X

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week