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Summary

The brilliantly compelling new biography of the treacherous and tyrannical King John, published to coincide with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

Authoritative and dramatic, Marc Morris' King John offers a compelling portrait of an extraordinary king whose reign marked a momentous turning point in the history of Britain and Europe. King John is buried in Worcester Cathedral.

©2015 Marc Morris (P)2015 Audible, Ltd

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Compelling Story

Since the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta last year I have read a few books about it but this was definitely by far the best! It really set the issue of Magna Carta in its historical context so you could understand how it came about. Even better than that, though, was the author's assessment of John himself and discussion of whether he was as cruel as we are led to believe. I felt it was written very fairly and objectively and I liked how he explained why he had chosen to give more or less weight to various sources. After reading this I felt that I had a much better grasp of the whole period and the abuses which led to Magna Carta. It did make me question how monarchy could ever have survived! If you are interested in Magna Carta and this period of history, I can't recommend this book highly enough.

18 people found this helpful

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Solid

You can hear Marc Morris talking about King John on the BBC History Today podcast. He's an engaging speaker with a PhD in medieval history so I decided this was worth a listen. What you get is a nuts and bolts life of John which comes to life when Morris uses his in-depth knowledge of life in medieval Britain to show how a strange alliance of nobles from East Anglia, the north of England, Wales and Scotland collaborated with the sharp witted merchants of London to create Magna Carta. He goes on to make the case that John was just as bad as his subsequent reputation suggests.

Morris is too disciplined a historian to offer similar character portraits of other characters in the story. That's an understandable choice but John Julius Norwich's "Shakespeare's Kings", which tackles similar material was fun because he was interested in characters and willing to stick his neck out. So at times this suffered a little for me by being a slightly flat retelling of events. In addition to that, the narrator adopts a slightly irritating tone of archness throughout so just three stars for him.

However, overall it's worth a listen on the basis of an interesting life illuminated by many interesting details of medieval life alongside a fascinating dissection of magna carta

35 people found this helpful

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Detailed review of a disastrous reign

Hitherto my impression of King John comes from Shakespeare and from childhood memories of the Robin Hood series in the late 1950s with Richard Greene as Robin ("riding through the glen") as a fictional supporter of Richard I against his conniving younger brother, John. My bad impression of the latter is reinforced by this biography which details his cruelty, extreme even by medieval standards, his misguided and costly wars and his excessive demands for money at every opportunity that in the end lead to the Baron's Revolt. Far from Magna Carta being his mitigating final gesture to fairness it was rung from him by force of arms.

The early structure of the book is confusing. I thought that the early chapters had been compiled in the wrong order as narrative jumped from Henry II's reign to John and then back to Richard I . So one has the strange experience of a king who was deceased in the previous chapter reappearing in the following one. I gather that this non-chronological approach was intended. Once the book finally moves back to John's reign the story is more or less chronological. There is a long section later on in the book describing endless battles in France that I found tedious but the story takes off again with the Baron's Revolt and the production of Magna Carta..

It's bleak period in English history that lends no credit to monarchy or the church. It often surprises me that the monarchy has survived and wasn't swept away as in France.

The narrator is excellent

4 people found this helpful

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Deeply informative

Deeply informative and interesting, especially in this year of Magna Carta commemoration. Well written and read but suffers from being a bit ponderous at times.

9 people found this helpful

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King John

A fascinating history of his reign. Reality being so gripping that one wonders why film makers find it necessary to rewrite & invent.

3 people found this helpful

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More than just the Magna Carta

Without the context before King John's reign, without an understanding of how he alienated his barons, and his attempts to break the Magna Carta afterwards, students of history simply understood John to be a poor king, and a dishonorable man. This book takes our understanding of the making of that man, the specifics of the barons grievances, and the risks these men took to secure a degree of judicial independance and the suffrage of 25 noblemen. Many times in the future kings would forget the oaths and obligations of the Magna Carta. In Henry VII and VIII's cases they got away with it. In Charles I a king paid the ultimate price. James II ultimately ensured the Magna Carta was updated and improved by the Bill of Rights in 1689 under Mary II. John is not alone as a disappointing ruler, they are the rule, not the exception, and a better understanding of his brother Richard's poor home record reduces the contrast which other historians have attempted to make between the good and the bad brothers. Henry II had 4 spoiled sons whose ruthless quests for power present us with an uncomfortable image. Rather than of a fight between good and evil, a lionheart and a villain, we see a long line of disappointing men who have brought so much misery to the populace. In each case the mistaken view that the populace serve them, rather than the other way round sits at the heart of the problem. Our present Queen stands almost alone in history in her understanding of the true nature of this relationship.

2 people found this helpful

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Maybe read it rather than listen!

Would you try another book written by Marc Morris or narrated by Ric Jerrom?

Yes, but I'd read it myself rather than have an audio book

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

His voice was quite dull ... I'm sure he can't change his speaking voice, but I'd have liked the book to sound more exciting and less like a dull lecture.

If this book were a film would you go see it?

Yes!

5 people found this helpful

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Truly enjoyable experience!


Brilliantly written, furthermore the narration truly enhanced the enjoyment of this book.
Must add history is not my first pick of favourite genre ; nevertheless I would strongly recommend this audio book. Greatly enjoyed it from beginning to end.

4 people found this helpful

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Brilliant Book

Excellent content and enjoyed the narration by Ric Jerrom. Would highly recommend this book Audible should however show the titles of each chapter so the listener knows what the content is prior to listening to recording.

1 person found this helpful

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Interesting and enjoyable

Marc Morris is a very enjoyable writer and makes everything interesting with wry humour!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Robyn
  • 23-06-15

Requires concentration

Having enjoyed Marc Morris's biography of Edward I and it being Magna Carta year, I started this book with great enthusiasm. At first I thought I must have accidentally set the reading speed to half pace but I soon came to appreciate Ric Jerrom's sedate narration because there is a lot to take in. But I found my mind wandering and the need for frequent rewinding and picking up the thread again is irritating. At least part of the problem for me is Morris's decision not to structure the book chronologically - with so many characters and battles and shifting alliances it is difficult enough to keep all the facts in the right place without the unnecessary complication of going backwards and forwards in time - someone who's dead and buried is suddenly back on the scene, alive and plotting. I accept that the problem is mine: Morris's command of the language and Jerrom's narration can't be faulted and I especially appreciate Jerrom's correct pronunciation of the many French nouns. I will definitely return to the book and give it another try at some time.