Travels in Southern England – The Bath Literature Festival

Day 2

2 March 2015

Today I visited Bath’s Guildhall to hear a talk by historian Marc Morris on his about to be published book on King John. There has always been a debate about John on whether he was good or bad. Eight hundred years ago he signed the Magna Carta which brought about the beginnings of democracy and there are currently celebrations marking the event. So he must have been good. But there is evidence that he treated his contemporaries appallingly so he has been thought of as bad.

I was reminded yesterday of Winston Churchill and the Suffragettes. Churchill died fifty years ago this year and there have also been occasions this year to mark the passing of a leader who led England in its finest hour of the Second World War. However, yesterday’s speaker told how as Home Secretary he encouraged the police to sexually molest the Suffragettes because there was not enough room in Britain’s then overcrowded prisons to lock them up.

A TV dramatization of Hillary Mantel’s novel “Wolf Hall” about Thomas Cromwell has just finished on television. Hither to regarded as a villain he was portrayed in the novel and TV series as a good guy. Today’s speaker described him as the new improved Thomas Cromwell.

What is certain is that how great figures of the past are portrayed will change in time and between different points of view. Their very greatness means that they are larger than life characters so the good and bad that they do is bound to be perceived differently from ordinary mortals. As far as King John is concerned, today’s speaker definitely considered him as bad.

IMGP6095Outside Bath’s Guidhall

Inside Bath's GuildhallInside Bath’s Guildhall

Keith Jahans
Editor, Peatmore Press

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