King John: Villain or victim? Leeds teacher makes a case for redemption

Tuesday 7 February 2012

King John was a monarch in need of some good PR, and a Leeds historian is bidding to restore his reputation by publishing new evidence that casts him in a more positive light.

Graham Seel, Head of History at the Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL), argues in an article in the scholarly journal History Today that King John was up against it. His portrayal as an evil ruler was largely due to chronicle evidence written by monks – almost the
only people who could read and write – and relations with the church were acrimonious.

He was also subject to unfavourable comparisons with two strong adversaries – Philip Augustus of France and Pope Innocent III. As Graham said, “John was the Andy Murray of medieval kings, he was operating at the peak of his powers in an era when there were other big hitters on the circuit.”

“As a teacher of history I try to be deliberately provocative and stimulate debate among the students – and I decided there was
sufficient evidence to counter the popularly held perceptions of King John and rehabilitate his reputation.”

Graham found this evidence in official records dating from the reign of King John – previously government business had been undocumented. Even once the records had been catalogued in the 19th century, they remained inaccessible to the general reader until Graham unearthed them in the library at the University of Cambridge.

The article is a precursor to the publication in the summer of Graham’s book King John: an underrated king by Anthem Press, which is aimed at A level and undergraduate students.

Read Graham’s article Good King John in History Today


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