Portrait of King John from Matthew Paris's Historia Anglorum

Description

One of the most significant works by Matthew Paris (1200–59), author, illuminator and monk of St Albans Abbey, is the Historia Anglorum, a chronicle of English history from the Norman Conquest to the year 1253. This copy of that text is prefaced by a gallery of eight Norman and Plantagenet kings of England, from William the Conqueror (r. 1066–87) to Henry III (r. 1216–72). Each king is shown seated on a throne, holding a representation of a building of which he was a patron. Most of these buildings are monastic: King John, for example, holds the Cistercian abbey at Beaulieu, Hampshire.

The benign depiction of John in this miniature is in sharp contrast with the hostile treatment he receives within the pages of Paris’s chronicle. Paris based his text on an earlier work by another St Albans author, Roger of Wendover (d. 1236), significantly expanding and amending it in the light of events through which he himself had lived. Shaken by the Interdict crisis of 1208–13 and its aftermath, Paris denounces King John as a traitor to the English Church, an oppressive force and a ‘tyrant rather than a king’.

This portrayal continues in Paris’s chronicling of the events surrounding the granting of Magna Carta. Although his account of those turbulent years is occasionally confused, he is steadfast both in his strong criticism of the king and in his support for the barons. Paris uses a report of a conversation among the barons in 1216 to insert his own characterisation of the king, one that was to be echoed by centuries of subsequent historians: ‘John, last of kings, principal abomination of the English, disgrace to the English nobility’.

Full title:
Matthew Paris, Historia Anglorum
Created:
1200-99
Format:
Manuscript / Illustration
Creator:
Matthew Paris
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Royal MS 14 C VII, f. 9r

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Magna Carta and kingship

Article by:
Dan Jones
Theme:
Medieval origins

When Magna Carta was created, England had endured 16 years of John’s kingship – a rule based largely on extortion, legal chicanery, blackmail and violence. Here Dan Jones discusses King John's infamous reign.

The origins of Magna Carta

Article by:
Nicholas Vincent
Theme:
Medieval origins

Professor Nicholas Vincent explores the medieval context in which the historic agreement at Runnymede was created, examining King John’s Plantagenet heritage, his loss of French territory and his relationship with the Church and the barons.

Early plans in the British Isles

Article by:
James Elliot
Theme:
Town and city

James Elliot traces the development of British town and country plans from the earliest examples in the Library’s manuscript, map and topographical collections to those produced towards the end of the 17th century.

Related collection items

Related people