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146 Reviews Church, S. D., ed., King John: New Interpretations, Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 1999; cloth; pp. xxvi, 361; 34 tables; 9 figures, 2 maps; R R P £45, US$75; ISBN 085115736X. This important collection of 15 essays on the hapless King John leaves the the abiding impression that John, for all his faults as politician, monarch, economist diplomat and husband, was a man embattled - under siege from all comers ofthe western European world including his own. This is no revelation, as S. D. Church's introduction makes clear. Nor is it the ultimate judgment of this collection, which attributes major personality and character defects to John, including the treachery long ago asserted by Bishop Stubbs. The collection claims to represent new interpretations, then, not on the basis ofthe question asked (was John a good or bad king?) but rather on the basis ofwhat a critical reading ofa variety ofsources might tell the m o d e m reader about this most complex of early thirteenth-century rulers. The collection begins and ends with essays on contemporary representations ofthe king. John Gillinghatn's exploration of'historians without hindsight', that is, those historians who wrote prior to the loss ofNormandy in 1204, demonstrates that even early on in John's reign, he was subject to criticism and distrust. Jim Bradbury's concluding piece compares John with his nemesis, Phillip Augustus,findingthat Phillip Augustus fared much better in contemporary opinion. The highlight of the collection is four essays on the English economy in the early thirteenth century. Here w e find just h o w important finance and economic policies were in contributing to political outcomes such as the loss of Normandy. In comparison to Richard I, V. D. Moss tells us that John's fiscal performance 'appears truly awful' (p. 116). John's incessant financial demands to fund his military campaigns and his policy of hoarding led to a reduction in money supply and higher prices throughout England. This period ofhigh inflation from 1199-1204, as J. L. Bolton points out, was followed by price stability, but at a higher level. This can be illustrated by Paul Latimer's study of wheat and oxen prices for the period. Overall, a recession lasting from 1204-14 was the result of poor economic management and increased military expenditure. An interesting comparison is teased out by Nick Barrat, who looks at the concomitant fiscal performance ofPhillip Augustus. Again, John does not acquit himselfwell. Three essays resist the notion of a 'Celtic fringe' to elucidate successfully the different political frameworks of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and John's encounters with each. As a separate kingdom, Scotland was already a 'distant political culture', according to A. A. M . Duncan, w h o asserts the consolidation of Reviews 147 Scottish autonomy in the early thirteenth century as a result ofJohn's minimal role in Scottish affairs. In Ireland, however, things were different. Sean Duffy describes the 'dubious legacy' (p. 245) lefttoHenry III by King John, whose military lordship ofIreland saw this 'unruly frontier society' (p. 239) demand more and more ofthe monarch's attention. In Wales, which was neither kingdom or lordship, conspiracy and split allegiances were the order ofthe day. For Ifor Rowlands, John's failure can be discerned in the stark contrast between the fairly strong position of the monarch in Wales in 1211, and the collapse of royal power there by 1216. Wales had been implicated so deeply in the affairs of England, that when John's power began to collapse in England, it could not help but fall apart in Wales, too. 'There was a stench of failure everywhere', concludes Rowlands glumly (p. 286). The situation in France is explored in detail, and, not surprisingly, we find that John was in some ways peripheral to the events that unfolded so disastrously around him. Jane Martindale reveals the fundamental political role still played by Eleanor ofAquitaine after 1199, while Nicholas Vincent shows that Isabella ofAngouleme also played a central role in Capetian advances and John's losses. Daniel Power argues that the disunited Norman aristocracy were variously happy to accommodate Phillip Augustus, indifferent to John, actively hostile to John or simply unable to...


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