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.
It comes as a great relief to learn from Frank McLynn's marvellously readable and stridently opinionated comparative double biography of John and his elder brother Richard that we do not, after all, have to rethink this traditional jaundiced view of 'Bad King John'. Revisionists who seek to defend arguably England's