When does advice become Criticism? Criticising John Lackland before Magna Carta

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This article focuses on criticism of John Lackland, the head of the Plantagenet dynasty from 1199 to 1216 which had, since the mid-twelfth century, ruled large parts of western Frankia as well as England and had dominated much of the lands adjacent to them. The essay focuses on the notion that John found it difficult to differentiate between advice given in good faith and criticism. It was the duty of the king’s men to offer him advice and equally it was the duty of the king to listen to that advice, honestly given. The argument presented here is that John found it difficult to differentiate between advice and criticism and that his subjects were forced into being vehement critics of John precisely because their words of advice were received by their ruler as criticism. As his reign went on, and his ambitions became more at odds with the interests of his major barons, both secular and ecclesiastical, the forcefulness of his baron’s advice increased until it became outright criticism of John’s rule. As his barons sought to bring John under control, John in his turn looked to others for advice, men who gave him the advice he wished to hear. Eventually, driven to a point of despair, John’s barons stopped giving advice and began to levy outright criticism against him; some amongst their number even began to contemplate the unthinkable: the removal of their lord in favour of another who would be more willing to rule them justly and to listen to their advice as a just lord should, creating a febrile atmosphere in the kingdom. One case, concerning a Cornish man, Baldwin Tirrel, is used to illustrate the extent to which the criticisms of John by his barons had an impact far down the social scale, as the kingdom teetered on the edge of hysteria, ready to believe any rumour concerning the king, including ones which spoke of the king’s death. This article, therefore, gives the context to the Magna Carta crisis which characterised the last years of John’s life (1214–1216). Magna Carta was the ultimate form of criticising the ruler because it sought to limit John’s power and to force him to listen to, and take heed of, the advice of the English magnate class.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCriticising the Ruler in Pre-Modern Societies – Possibilities, Chances, and Methods
Subtitle of host publicationKritik am Herrscher in vormodernen Gesellschaften – Möglichkeiten, Chancen, Methoden
EditorsAlheydis Plassmann, Karina Kellerman
Place of PublicationBonn, Germany
PublisherBonn University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9783847010883
ISBN (Print)9783847110880
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2019

Cite this