Fact of the day: 27th May

On this day in 1199 John became King of England.

John was King of England from 6 April 1199 until his death in 1216.

Following the battle of Bouvines, John lost the duchy of Normandy to King Philip II of France, which resulted in the collapse of most of the Angevin Empire and contributed to the subsequent growth in power of the Capetian dynasty during the 13th century.

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The baronial revolt at the end of John’s reign led to the sealing of the Magna Carta, a document sometimes considered being an early step in the evolution of the constitution of the United Kingdom.

Contemporary chroniclers were mostly critical of John’s performance as king, and his reign has since been the subject of significant debate and periodic revision by historians from the 16th century onwards.

Historian Jim Bradbury has summarised the contemporary historical opinion of John’s positive qualities, observing that John is today usually considered a “hard-working administrator, an able man, an able general”.

Nonetheless, modern historians agree that he also had many faults as king, including what historian Ralph Turner describes as “distasteful, even dangerous personality traits”, such as pettiness, spitefulness and cruelty.

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These negative qualities provided extensive material for fiction writers in the Victorian era, and John remains a recurring character within Western popular culture, primarily as a villain in films and stories depicting the Robin Hood legends.

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