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King John

Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta
Narrated by: Ric Jerrom
Length: 14 hrs and 1 min
Categories: History, British
4 out of 5 stars (256 ratings)

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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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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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

33 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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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.

15 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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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

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
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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.

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.

3 people found this helpful

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Narrator is worse than King John’s reputation

Gave up couple of chapters in as the narration is appalling. Narrator can’t decide if he’s telling a Jackanory story, reading the news or reading a script, but he’s certainly not reading a history book. He has a nasty and disrespectful habit of giving the character a ‘voice’ - yep, high pitched for a female, but the breaking point for me is ‘ze French accent’ for ‘ze naughtie French man’ ... wrong on so many levels. Marc Morris is a good and likeable presenter, and a knowledgeable historian who deserves better than this ‘hatchet job’ by whatever-his-name-is. Why didn’t Marc voice this? Narrator wastes what I can only imagine is a good book. Audible insists on a rating for performance so it’s one star, which is one star more than the pantomime ‘performance’ deserves.

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Tips for Listening/Reading

This might help anyone who wants to avoid wrestling with the sequence in which
the chapters are presented and to read/listen in a chronological order.
Certainly with the audio chapters, unnamed as they are, you would quite easily get lost
(still Audible - how difficult can this be ?)


Audio Chapter - Print Chapter

1 - Introduction
2 - 1 Under Attack 1203
3 - 2 The Family Empire 1120–1189
4 - 3 Refusing to Rally 1204–1205
5 - 4 A Pact from Hell 1189–1194
6 - 5 Stemming the Tide 1205–1206
7 - 6 Our Happy Success 1194–1202
8 - 7 King versus Pope 1207–1208
9 - 8 A Deed of Shame 1202–1203
10 - 9 The Enemy Within? 1208–1210
11 - 10 Tyrannical Will 1210–1212
12 - 11 The Hermit’s Prophecy 1212–1213
13 - 12 Ready for Battle 1213–1214
14 - 13 Runnymede 1214–1215
15 - 14 Fire and Sword 1215–1216
16 - Conclusion
17 - Magna Carta, 1215: A Translation

Audio chronologically :
1,3,5,7,9
2,4,6,8
10...

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Detailed

This is a full and very detailed account of a pivotal reign in English history. Very well written and performed. I would highly recommend it.

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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.