Why is King John always the villian in movies? Because he really was awful, say historiansHistorians in the News
Surrendering lands in France, forced into a humiliating climbdown with the nobility and ex-communicated by the Church. Not to mention being blamed for the murder of his nephew.
The medieval reign of King John has been characterised by disaster and his reputation languishes among the lowest for all the kings and queens of England.
This poor standing is illustrated by his persistently negative appearances in British cultural life 800 years on. Depictions on television, stage and big screen, particularly in Robin Hood films, usually present a man who is treacherous and weak.
In 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, John (played by Claude Rains) is an overtaxing oppressor, while Disney's Robin Hood showed John as a cowardly lion sucking his thumb....
Make no mistake, he was a bad king, says John Hudson, of the Institute of Medieval Studies at the University of St Andrews.
"He was a very considerable failure as a king. He loses a large amount of possessions inherited, in particular lands in France, like Normandy and Anjou. He manages to surrender his realm to the pope and ends up facing a huge baronial rebellion, a civil war and a war with France. In terms of failures, he is one of the worst kings."...
...[I]t was the Victorians who made King John the pantomime villain he is today, says Paul Sturtevant, who is researching Hollywood depictions of the medieval period, at the University of Leeds.
"The Victorians used King John as a punchbag. Prior to the 18th and 19th Century, Robin Hood was not put in a historical place. It wasn't about the monarch at all, just Robin Hood and his adventures....
Most historians would agree he was quite a bad king but whether he was a caricature of evil is another question entirely, he says....
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