Book Corner: King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War by John Paul Davis

In 1204, the great Angevin Empire created by the joining of the dynasties of Henry II of England and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was fragmenting. At its height, the family landholdings had been among the largest the world had ever seen. From the border of England and Scotland in the north to south of the Pyrenees, it seemed there was nowhere in Europe destined to escape Plantagenet control. Yet within five years of his accession, King John’s grip on the family holdings was loosening. Betrayal against his father and brother, the murder of his nephew, and breaking promises made to his supporters were just some of the accusations levelled against him. When Philip II conquered Normandy, the chroniclers believed that an ancient prophecy was fulfilled: that in this year the sword would be separated from the sceptre. For the first time since 1066, England’s rule over the ancestral land was over. For John, troubles on the continent were just the beginning of a series of challenges that would ultimately define his reign. Difficult relations with the papacy and clergy, coupled with rising dissent among his barons ensured conflict would not be limited to the continent. When John died in 1216, more than half of the country was in the hands of the dauphin of France. Never had the future of the Plantagenet dynasty looked more uncertain. As the following pages will show, throughout the first eighteen years of the reign of Henry III, the future direction of England as a political state, the identity of the ruling family and the fate of Henry II’s lost empire were still matters that could have gone either way. For the advisors of the young king, led by the influential regent, William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, the effects of John’s reign would be long and severe. Successful implementation of the failed Magna Carta may have ensured his son’s short-term survival, yet living up to such promises created arguably a more significant challenge. This is the story of how the varying actions of two very different kings both threatened and created the English way of life, and ultimately put England on the path to its Lost Civil War.

What a fascinating book!

King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War by John Paul Davis is a study of the often overlooked civil war that took place between the First and Second Barons’ Wars of the 13th century. Very much overshadowed by King John’s struggles against the imposition of Magna Carta in 1215 and the later rise of Simon de Montfort, who was England’s ruler in all but name in 1264/5, the Marshal War often gets sidelined or ignored. Admittedly not as disruptive or even as violent as its more famous counterparts, the Marshal War was still an important event in the reign of Henry III.

In King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War, John Paul Davis takes the reader on a thorough investigation into the events and politics that caused the Marshal War. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, John Paul Davis examines the reigns of both King John and Henry III in order to explain the context and background to the short-lived rebellion of 1234 of the country’s leading magnates.

A howling gale tore through the streets of Newark on the evening of 18 October 1216. A mid-sized market town located some forty miles inland from the North Sea, it was rare for a storm to give rise to the levels of concern often felt by citizens of its coastal counterparts. Lying on both the Great North Road and the Fosse Way, the area was popular with travellers, especially cloth and wool merchants in town to sell their wares. The early twelfth-century bridge over the Trent had improved the trade links further, and by the reign of Henry II, the market had become well established. Though most of the buildings were of timber construction, even at the height of winter weather damage was often repairable.

This was not the first time the town had been forced to endure such a tempest.

Behind the sturdy stone walls of the nearby Norman castle, the abbot of Croxton had far more troubling issues to address. The south riverside fortress, though by no means immune to regular splashback, was far better prepared for nature’s challenges than the earlier motte-and-bailey that had preceded it. The same lack of worry, however, could not be said of the crisis that had brought him there. Renowned for his medicinal expertise, it didn’t take him long to realise that the patient he had been asked to treat was beyond hope of recovery. Rather than prolong the inevitable, he heard the dying man’s confession and performed the last rites. The storm was over by sunrise.

Blighted by a combination of chronic fatigue, dysentery brought about from years of poor diet and a sudden fever, King John passed away in the early hours of 19 October after more than seventeen years on the throne. His final year had been a black one for England. Accusations of betrayal against his own family and an inability to keep his allies on side had contributed in no small part to humiliating defeat on the Continent. By 1214, the loss of much of his ancestral birthright had been compounded by domestic discord. Loathed in equal measure by natural adversary and should-be follower, John’s life ended ignominiously amid a strange alliance of foreign invader and baronial rebel. Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, it ended through natural causes.

There are several instances where my own research crosses with John Paul Davis’s work and it was interesting to see William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and the son of Hamelin and Isabel de Warenne, make an appearance; William played a prominent part in the events surrounding the rebellion. I have to say, also, that King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War would be a perfect accompaniment to my own book Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England, which looks at the same years, though with the focus on the women.

The research is impeccable. John Paul Davis and I apparently agree on many aspects of the period, which is encouraging! If you have an interest in 13th century history, this is definitely a book for your library. John Paul Davis fills in many of the gaps between the First and Second Barons’ Wars, an often overlooked period of history.

Written in an engaging, accessible manner, King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War, is a thoroughly entertaining study of the politics, history and personalities involved in the first third of the century, from the devastating reign of King John, through the minority of Henry III and into the early years of Henry’s personal rule.

I can heartily recommend it!

King John, Henry III and England’s Lost Civil War is now available from Amazon and Pen & Sword Books.

About the author:

John Paul Davis is the international bestselling author of eleven thriller novels and four works of historical non-fiction. His debut thriller, The Templar Agenda, was a UK top 20 bestseller; The Cortés Trilogy has also been an international bestseller. As well as being a thriller author, his debut work, Robin Hood: The Unknown Templar, has been the subject of international attention, including articles in The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Yorkshire Post and Nottingham Evening Post, mentions in USA Today and The Independent and reviews in the Birmingham Post and Medieval History Journal. His second work, Pity for the Guy, was the first full-length biography of Guy Fawkes and was featured on ITV’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show in November 2011. His most recent work on Henry III, The Gothic King, was released in 2013. His latest work of non-fiction, A Hidden History of the Tower of London, also published by Pen & Sword, was released in February 2020. He was educated at Loughborough University and lives in Warwickshire. His websites are and Twitter: @unknown_templar.


My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.


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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly