Nigel Jones

Coeur de Lion, Coeur de Rat

Lionheart and Lackland: King Richard, King John and the Wars of Conquest

By

Jonathan Cape 564pp £20 order from our bookshop

In the long-gone days when they still taught proper history in schools, one of the key dates that had to be memorised by children was 1215. This was the year that a (temporarily) humbled King John was led, one imagines kicking and screaming, to a table at Runnymede on the Thames. There, teeth grinding in impotent rage, he affixed his Royal Seal to the Magna Carta, under which he pledged not only to go easy with the rebellious Barons who had compelled him to this humiliation, and patch up his shattered relations with the Church, but also to grant the first glimmerings of legal rights to his subjects. Naturally, these forced promises were not worth the parchment they were written on. Indeed, the red wax of the seal had hardly set before John was wriggling desperately to get out of them.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter