Revising our view of ‘bad’ King John

King John.
King John.

A HARROGATE historian is making a bid to restore the reputation of the much-maligned King John by publishing new evidence that casts him in a more positive light.

Graham Seel, 48, fromStudley Road in Harrogate and head of history at the Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL) makes the argument in defence of King John in the academic journal History Today.

He postulates that his portrayal as an evil ruler is largely down to the writing monks, one of the few groups in the period that could read or write, and bad relations with the church may have unfairly influenced that presentation.

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

He goes on to suggest that King John may have suffered further from unfavourable comparisons with two strong adversaries, Philip Augustus of France and Pope Innocent III.

“John was the Andy Murray of medieval kings,” said Mr Seel, “He was operating at the peak of his powers in an era when there were other big hitters on the circuit.”

Mr Seel unearthed the evidence in the library at the Univerity of Cambridge from official records kept during King John’s reign, and wrote the article as a precursor to a book he’s producing on the subject, King John: an underrated king, aimed at A level and undergraduate students.

l You can read Mr Seel’s article Good King John at