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Was King John really the worst monarch in England's history?

All About History issue 114
King John is considered by some to be England's worst monarch, but is that fair? (Image credit: Future)

In All About History issue 114 (opens in new tab), on sale now, uncover the real story of King John of England, the much maligned monarch, sometimes described as the worst king in England's history. But was he really the monster that many have made him out to be? Was he really much more of a reformer than he's given credit for? How did his dysfunctional family play a role in the man he became? Learn all of this and more in All About History 114.

The magazine welcomes historian and author of "The Restless Kings: Henry II, His Sons and the Wars for the Plantagenet Crown (opens in new tab)" Nick Barratt to offer his insight into the reign of King John, from his lowly role as the youngest prince, unlikely to inherit anything from his father to becoming king, sealing the Magna Carta and dragging England into a civil war.

Also in All About History 114, learn about the anti-lynching campaign of pioneer journalist Ida B. Wells, the hunt for the lost city of gold El Dorado, what the apostles did after Jesus died and the debauched life if the Marquis de Sade. 

Related: Read a free issues of All About History

You'll also find an examination of the Able Archer incident when a NATO exercise nearly drew Russia into a war, turning the Cold War hot. And learn all about the Korean War, including a breakdown of the DMZ between North and South Korea and what goes on there.

King John: England worst monarch?

King John approves the Magna Carta

King John shown signing the Magna Carta (more accurately, he would have applied his seal to it) granting new legal rights to the lords and barons of England. (Image credit: Public Domain)

There have been 40 monarchs since William, Duke of Normandy, seized the English throne at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. King John, who reigned from 1199-1216, must be one of the worst – and that’s taking into account some pretty stiff competition among his successors. 

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All About History 114 cover

(Image credit: Future)

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Richard III murdered his nephews, Charles I sparked a full-scale civil war by raising illegal taxation, Henry VI lost all his continental lands, George III did likewise with the American colonies (both of whom suffered from bouts of insanity), George IV and Charles II were serial womanizers, and Richard II’s authoritarian regime triggered revolt and rebellion. Remarkably, John managed to cram all of the above, and more, into his 17 eventful years. No wonder the medieval chronicler Matthew Paris wrote: “Foul as it is, Hell is made fouler by the presence of John.”

With the passing of time, it’s very easy to write simplistic caricatures of long-dead historical figures such as John, portraying them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ according to our own biases and standards. Nothing is ever that simple.

Read more in All About History 114 (opens in new tab).

What happened after Jesus died?

The twelve apostles

After the death of Jesus, history reveals much about what his closest disciples did next. (Image credit: Public Domain)

It was a dark night for the disciples of Jesus. The man they believed to be the Messiah had just died the brutal and humiliating death of a criminal on a cross. One question faced them: what would they do now?

If the story of Jesus and his disciples ended with them retiring to quiet lives we might only know of Jesus as just another of the religious prophets of the 1st century whose cults went nowhere. Instead, improbably, miraculously, this band of Apostles helped spread a religious movement that has shaped history and is today followed by around 2.6 billion people. To make sense of how Christianity got here we must look at the extraordinary lives of those who knew Jesus in the flesh.

Learn more about what history reveals the apostles did next in All About History 114 (opens in new tab).

Ida B. Wells: American heroine

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells was a pioneering investigative journalist, suffragist and activist against lynching. (Image credit: Public Domain)

In 2022, Ida B. Wells is becoming visible in the United States. She was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 2020, and a major boulevard now carries her name in Chicago, her long-time home. The family residence is a landmark there and The Light of Truth monument has been installed in her honor. Academic studies have spawned a growing shelf of children’s and young adult books about her, and an Ida B. Wells doll just dropped as part of Mattel’s Inspiring Women series. Many of these recognitions are the result of the  advocacy of Wells’ great- granddaughter, Michelle Duster. The Black Lives Matter movement provides context for the recovery of lost voices for racial justice in the United States – but why so late? And what is the fuller story of this previously neglected and now celebrated figure?

After the Plessy v Ferguson Supreme Court decision of 1896, ‘separate but equal’ became law in the United States. African Americans who faced segregation in employment, education, housing and public accommodations now lacked recourse, yet white people crossed the color line without consequences. These conditions were normalized in the dominant society by negative, animalistic stereotypes about African Americans that circulated through a wide variety of media: newspapers, photography and, eventually, movies. The everyday enforcement of racist ‘Jim Crow’ laws was frequently carried out through extralegal violence, including torture and murder. 

Uncover more about the life of Ida B. Wells and the movement she pioneered in All About History 114 (opens in new tab).

Jonathan Gordon
Editor, All About History

Jonathan is the Editor of All About History magazine, running the day to day operations of the brand. He has a Bachelor's degree in History from the University of Leeds. He has previously worked as Editor of video game magazines games™ and X-ONE and tech magazines iCreate and Apps. He is currently based in Bournemouth, UK.