Monday, October 24, 2016

“King John” by Marc Morris

I have to admit that my knowledge of King John (1167-1219, ruled 1199-1216) came primarily from two sources – my vague recollection of what happened at Runnymede with the signing of the Magna Carta, the 1968 film “The Lion in Winter,” and the Walt Disney 1973 children’s film “Robin Hood.”

Then I read King John: Treachery and Tyranny in Medieval England by British historian Marc Morris. It turns out my recollections were indeed vague, and mostly wrong, and certain elements of the King John character in the 1968 movie and the Disney animated film were accurate.

John was the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. This was medieval Europe, and kings and queens and their children were almost by definition pawns on a continent-wide chessboard. All of John’s older brothers (included Richard the Lionhearted) died before him, and he became king almost my default. Richard reportedly favored a nephew, named Arthur, as his successor. The French king Philip Augustus also favored Arthur. John eventually had Arthur killed.

John had a lot of people killed. And imprisoned. He made grants of landed, cities, castles, and estates, and often revoked them. He seemed to have been forever at battle – with the French, with his brothers (he plotted against Richard), with his own earls and barons, with relatives, and often with allies (allegiances in this period were extremely fluid).

Based on meticulous and in-depth research, especially from contemporary sources, Morris draws a detailed picture of King John and his times that is complex, nuanced, and highly readable. (The British seem to excel at the writing of history, especially the “highly readable” part.) John’s fortunes ebbed and flowed; he gained all of his family’s territory in France and lost it, and often regained part of it back. He battled the king of Scotland and some of his own nobles in Wales, Ireland, and England. He relied upon mercenaries to an extraordinary degree. He argued almost continually with the pope, until he adroitly turned the tables on everyone and made the pope one of his chief defenders.

Marc Morris
The story of King John is a surprising one. Morris is more than fair in his assessment of the ruler and the man; John did many things that rightfully earned his tyrannical reputation. But one thing he wasn’t – he was not a weak, indecisive ruler who gave up his kingly rights at Runnymede. In fact, within two weeks of signing what came to be known as the Magna Carta, John was already plotting and preparing to renew his battle with the barons.

The Norman Conquest (2013); and several other books on medieval British history. His doctorate on the 13th century earls of Norfolk was published in 2005. He lives in England, and is a lecturer, broadcaster, and academic castle tour guide. He presented the television program “Castle” and wrote the accompanying book.  

King John is a history that is both absorbing and entertaining, reflected solid research and a deep understanding of whom this man was, what he did, and how he accomplished what he did in vary trying, dangerous times.

Illustration: An illuminated painting of King John on a stag hunt, scanned from the book The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson, ISBN 1855142287., Public Domain, via Wikipedia.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Rahab’s sign

After Hebrew 11:31 and Joshua 2:1-14

They knew to come to me
though how they knew
is unknown.
I’ve waited for their hordes
to approach, knowing God
was with them, knowing they
would prevail, knowing
my city would fall.
So they come, these two,
and I hide them on the roof,
and I lie for them,
and I help them escape.
The scarlet rope is our contract,
the sign of our salvation.

Photograph by Dawn Hudson via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Saturday Good Reads

A friend asked me if I would be glad when the election is over. I thought about it, and said, no, actually I won’t be. Because then we’ll have the next four years. Watching the mainstream media hurl themselves like lemmings off a cliff is already making me embarrassed that I have a journalism degree; if you haven’t realized by now, we don’t have journalism in this country any more. And that’s both a sad and dangerous thing.

You may not know who Neville Marriner was, but he was influential in the world of music, created a thing of beauty at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields Church, and was something considered unusual in the music conducting world – a gentleman. American Conservative has a good story about him, and now I know whom to thank for those concerts at the church on Trafalgar Square.

The Babylon Bee likes to puncture our evangelical balloons, and Emily Belz at World Magazine has the story behind the satirical site and its founder. A wonderful story in the London Review of Books about a J.M.W. Turner painting. Stunning photographs of palm fronds. Why a quarter-life crisis and a mid-life crisis are good things. A confession of faith. Good poetry.


The Guardians – Brendan MacOdrum at Oran’s Well.

Floyd Casey – Megan Willome.

Letters on a Japanese Moth – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

A Sonnet for St. Luke’s Day – Malcolm Guite.

Poetry gives words to the wordless – Donna Pucciani at National Catholic Reporter (Hat Tip: J of India).

Life and Culture

The Necessity of a Quarter-Life and Mid-Life Crisis – Jon Mertz at Thin Difference.

Art and Photography

The Chase: Turner’s “Rain, Steam, and Speed” – Inigo Thomas at the London Review of Books.

Palm Fronds – Tim Good at Pics, Poems, and Ponderings.


CREDO: This is My Confession of Faith – Diana Trautwein at She Loves Magazine.

When the hurricane hits – Troy Cady at T(r)oy Marbles.

British Stuff

Remembering Neville Marriner – R.J. Stove at American Conservative.

Behold Our God – Sovereign Grace

Painting: Woman Reading in a Garden, oil on canvas (1902-1903) by Henri Matisse; private collection.