Founded 1946, by Geoffrey Beard

Stourbridge Historical Society



The vice president, Trevor Sidaway, welcomed 82 members and 27 visitors to a talk by Max Keen entitled King John. The worst or most useful King?

As his custom Max arrived in full costume explaining that the sword he was carrying was an exact copy of one depicted in a painting of King John by William Marshall which is believed to be a very good likeness of the King. John reigned from 1199 to 1216, was the youngest of five sons of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine and is buried in Worcester Cathedral. It is thought he died from either dysentery or poisoning. He was about 5’ 5’’ which would have been average height for the time and he had a shock of Plantagenet red hair.  He was the first English King since 1066 to speak English and he was very well read; he travelled with his own library. We also learned that he spent a significant amount of time hunting locally at Stourton Court.

King John lived in the shadow of his brother Richard who had earned a reputation for bravery. John by contrast has mostly gone down in history for his cruelty. He is of course depicted as the ‘baddie’ in the Tales of Robin Hood.  He had fits of rage, used blinding and castration as methods of torture and killed his own nobles in both England and France by starving them; a method that was even commented on at the time and was abhorred by Richard. He supposedly murdered Arthur his young nephew. He allowed a mother and child to starve to death in Windsor castle and abandoned his army in France and fled back to England; the height of cowardice.

In war in northern France in in 1202 but the lack of funds and his treatment of Norman Breton and Anjou nobles resulted in the collapse of his empire in northern France. He spent the rest of his reign trying to reclaim his lost land. Nobles had their castles taken away, he introduced excessive taxation, sold charters for new towns and even tried to appoint his own Archbishop of Canterbury.

King John’s greatest legacy is considered to be the Magna Carta signed at Runneymede 15th June 1215 in which the rights of the individual were protected from the power of the Monarch. It was drawn up by the Archbishop to make peace between the King and his rebel barons. It determined that no one should be above the law not even the King or Queen. It set down the rules for the Church, business and justice. A few months later King John sought permission from Pope Innocent III to have the Magna Carta annulled. It was however reissued by his son Henry III in a diluted form in 1216 and continued to impact on history from there on.

Max had begun by asking whether King John was the worst or most useful King and concluded by declaring that in his opinion he was in fact an idiot!

Trevor thanked Max for another entertaining talk and announced that the Society has two trips during the summer and that the next meeting is to be held on Thursday 20th September when Anthony Collis will talk on ‘’Victorians Batting for Stourbridge’’.