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Welcome to Episode 223 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that goes behind the curtain and into the real life and history of William Shakespeare.

While King John isn’t one of the more popular Shakespeare plays performed by companies today, taking a look back at monarchs of the past was a favorite pastime for Elizabethan England. To better understand the real history behind Shakespeare’s version of this famous monarch, we’ve invited our guest and author of the book King John for The Medieval World, Ralph Turner here today to share with us the context of King John’s life, impact on the legacy of England, and exactly what led to him being so villainized for centuries to come.

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Ralph V. Turner is Distinguished Research Professor of History (emeritus) at the Florida State University, where he taught for over thirty years. His research field is the period of the Angevin kings of England and the common law. Prof. Turner has remained in Tallahassee, Florida, after his retirement where he continues to do historical research and writing.

I’ll be asking Ralph Turner about:

  • Why was France so invested in the King of England?
  • In Shakespeare’s version of events, young Arthur dies rather graphically in the play. Do we know how much of his story is true? What do we know about how Arthur died? 
  • In Shakespeare’s version, John dies from poison. Was he actually poisoned in real life, and who becomes King after all is said and done?
  • …and more!

Books and Resources Ralph Turner recommends:

Crouch, David, William Marshal: Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1142-1219 (Harlow, Essex, 1990)

W. L. Thomas, Hugh, Power and Pleasure: court life under King John, 1199-1216 (Oxford UP 2020)

Warren, Henry II (Univ. of Calif., 1973)

Turner, Ralph, King John, The Medieval World, 1994

Here’s what’s inside this week:

  • King John’s Effigy
  • Illustrated map of the Angevin Empire
  • Genealogy diagram showing how John is related to Arthur
  • Silver piece with King John’s image on it
  • Drawing of King John with hunting dogs
  • Self Portrait of Matthew Paris
  • Illustration of the murder of Prince Arthur
  • Picture of the castle where William the Conquerer was born
  • Picture of King John’s Tomb
  • Portrait of King John
  • Photograph of Rochester Castle
  • Copy of the Original Magna Carta
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If you have a question for our guest, or for me, leave a comment down below. Often guests will visit their episode and respond to you directly, and of course as the host, I look forward to chatting with you here!

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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time! Goodbye 😉