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King Henry III

King Henry III

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Henry, the eldest son of John I and Isabella of Angouleme, was born in Winchester in 1207. Henry was only nine when his father died in 1216. Hubert de Burgh ruled as regent but in 1234 took over the administration of the country.

Henry III married Eleanor of Provence in 1236 and the couple had two sons and four daughters. Henry had a passion for castles and houses which he filled with works of art. He was an extremely religious man and spent a great deal of money on church buildings. The most important of these being the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey.

Henry also spent a lot of money on warfare. However, he was not a very successful soldier. Attempts to win back back territory in France that had been lost by his father, King John, ended in failure. Eventually he was forced to sign an agreement acknowledging that Normandy, Maine, Poitou, Touraine and Anjou were no longer part of the empire.

Unhappy with his rule, the barons, under the leadership of Simon de Montfort, forced Henry III to accept a programme of reform. Further conflicts with his barons led to the Battle of Lewes in 1264. Although defeated at Lewes, Henry III regained control of his kingdom after the death of Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Henry III died in 1272.

Simon de Montfort and the barons’ crusade: why rebel lords waged holy war against Henry III

The nobleman Simon de Montfort saw himself as a righteous general leading his army into a holy war. As Sophie Thérèse Ambler recounts, not only did he fight infidels overseas but, in the 1260s, he also challenged the authority of the crown on home soil.

This competition is now closed

Published: May 14, 2020 at 12:00 pm

As the darkness seeped away into the dawn, the army reached the crest of the hill and the men put down their packs. Each of them wore on his chest and shoulder an insignia: the cross. They were crucesignati, crusaders. Before they set out on their march through the early hours, a bishop had promised them remission of their sins if they fought hard in the hours to come. Now, as they readied for battle, they turned to listen to their leader. They were fighting today, he told them, for the honour of God, the saints and the church. May the Lord, he prayed, grant them the strength to do his work and overcome the wickedness of all enemies. Finally, he commended to God their bodies, and their souls. Then the men, in their thousands, sank to the ground. Laying their faces against the earth, they stretched out their arms, sending their own prayers for heavenly aid.

They went on to fight, and to win, that morning. Their battle, though, was not fought amid the arid mounts and plains of the Holy Land, but on a hillside in Sussex. Their enemy not the Muslim infidel, but the monarch of England. This was a new sort of holy war, for their objective was neither the taking of sacred ground nor the preservation of the Christian faith. It was a new way of ruling England, a way that had no effective place for kings. Their leader was Simon de Montfort – and his victory that day in May 1264 in the battle of Lewes would make him the most powerful man in the kingdom.

The movement had begun six years before, in the spring of 1258. A band of seven noblemen, de Montfort among them, had donned their armour and marched on Westminster Hall. Their threat was clear: Henry III must hand over the reins of power or they would take them by force. The threat struck home. “What is this, my lords?” the king had cried. “Am I, poor wretch, your captive?”

The nobles went on to set up a council of 15, which took control of the machinery of central government – the exchequer and chancery – and the instruments of royal power in the shires: the king’s castles and the sheriffs. The council would rule with the help of parliament. This had hitherto been summoned only at the king’s wish (usually when he needed consent to raise a tax) but was now to meet, come what may, three times a year to help make decisions about the running of the kingdom. These measures, and those that followed, came to be known as the Provisions of Oxford, after the parliament in the summer of 1258 at which they were drafted.

Listen: Sophie Ambler chronicles the dramatic life of Simon de Montfort, the 13th-century rebel who battled Henry III for mastery in England

The Provisions were nothing short of radical. Medieval Europe was accustomed to protests against improper royal rule in the form of rebellions, but those were demands for the restoration of good government by the king. This was the first attempt to overturn the political system, doing away with monarchy as a means of ruling and, in early 1265, producing the first parliament to which representatives of the towns were summoned. It was the first revolution in England’s – or indeed in Europe’s – history.

Low-key monarch

Yet, there was nothing in Henry III’s rule that warranted such drastic measures. Henry, unlike his father, King John, did not rule with disregard for the law and was not cruel – indeed, he was devout, generous and tolerant towards his nobles. But Henry was simplex, a term used by his subjects to mean that he lacked political nous and was easily led. In 1258, frustration with Henry’s simplicity peaked when he demanded a tax to fund his proposed conquest of Sicily – an eyewateringly expensive venture about which his subjects had not been consulted – and failed to bring to heel his half-brothers, the Lusignans, who were perpetrating illegal and insulting attacks on their fellow magnates. But in the historical parade of tyrannical or disastrous rulers, Henry III’s reign hardly ranked at all. There was no clear reason to turn to radical action. The barons did so, it seems, in the heat of the moment, as tensions and tempers flared in the crucible of a particularly rowdy parliament.

But even if de Montfort’s regime was hard to justify rationally, reasons soon emerged to preserve it. First, the council set out to provide justice to the numberless women and men of low status who had suffered under Henry’s rule (for the king, unable to extract the money he needed from his nobles, had borne down upon those who could not resist). The council introduced a stream of measures to alleviate their suffering and to offer them ready access to justice, so that the royal officers responsible for their maltreatment could be called to account. The ruling nobles also imposed upon themselves the same standards of good government that they demanded of the king – and offered the same right of redress to their own subjects.

There was a second moral buttress to the Provisions, too: an oath. At the Oxford parliament, all (except the Lusignans) vowed to support each other in defence of the Provisions. This was a sacred promise, made in the sight of God, and it required the staking of one’s soul.

It was this sense of sacred commitment that brought Simon de Montfort to the fore. It was de Montfort who seems to have driven the legal and social reforms, and insisted that magnates hold themselves to the new moral standard, and it was he who reminded those who wavered of their oath. He was “moved to rage” (as the chronicler Matthew Paris reports) at the Earl of Gloucester for hesitating to implement the reforms in his estates. “I have no desire,” he told his fellow noble, “to live or keep company amongst people so inconstant and false. What we are doing now we agreed and swore together.”

To emulate his father

In presenting the situation in these terms, de Montfort set in train the transformation of the rebels’ political programme: it would become a holy cause, for which he and his men would go on to offer their lives. In a culture that valued armed devotion to God and the church almost above all else, it was an alluring proposition.

But such fervour had a dark side – with terrible consequences, in particular, for England’s Jewish population. The year before the battle of Lewes, the Montfortians, seeking funds for their campaign and giving vent to their hatred, launched a frenzied attack on the Jewish people of London. “Sparing neither age nor sex”, as the chronicler Thomas Wykes reports, they “inhumanly butchered the aged and elderly… children wailing in the cradle, babies not yet weaned hanging from their mother’s breast”. Independent reports suggest that between 400 and 500 were killed. The massacre was part of a developing pattern in which Jewish people were persecuted systematically, but its furious nature was probably the result of crusading fervour.

For all its brutality, it was this fervour that gave de Montfort’s sentiments their wide appeal (attracting not only noblemen but bishops, monks, friars and many people from society’s lowest ranks to the cause). But as for de Montfort himself, his inspiration was personal – and it came from his father.

Simon de Montfort the elder, known to his followers simply as the Count, was elected leader of the Albigensian Crusade in 1209, charged with commanding the expedition against the Cathar heretics of Languedoc. The Count has been widely vilified, although this reflects subsequent attitudes more than medieval ones. (Modern audiences tend to be disturbed more by the killing of white Europeans than of Muslims of the Middle East). In his own time, the Count was greatly admired for his prowess and dedication to the holy cause, and was even chosen in 1212 by the barons of England plotting to replace King John. To de Montfort, who grew up listening to stories of his father’s deeds, the Count was a hero.

There was one element of the Count’s character that was emphasised above everything else in these stories: he held true to his oath to fight the holy war no matter what suffering he had to endure, while lesser men, those who were faithless, timid or selfish, abandoned their oaths and abandoned the Count. As de Montfort the elder’s story was committed to parchment, and tales of his heroic deeds were sung in the family’s feasting hall after his death, this became a model for leadership in holy war. The Count’s children, de Montfort the younger among them, were being exhorted to live up to his example.

Listen: Professor Nicholas Vincent discusses the life and reign of the infamous 13th-century monarch, whose reign saw military disasters abroad and the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215

And so when de Montfort the younger became leader of his own holy cause, he looked to his father’s memory for inspiration and appealed to this model of leadership, casting himself as indefatigable in his dedication and denouncing those who failed to keep their oath to the Provisions. When many of his allies submitted to the king in 1261, he reportedly proclaimed “that he would rather die without land, than withdraw from the truth as a perjurer”. After his great victory at the battle of Lewes, the song composed to celebrate his victory emphasised his unparalleled commitment: “Hence can they, who readily swear and hesitate little to reject what they swear… estimate with how great care they ought to preserve their oath, when they see a man flee neither torment nor death, for the sake of his oath… Woe to the wretched perjurers, who fear not God, denying him for the hope of earthly reward, or fear of prison or of a light penalty.”

There was a final example set for de Montfort to follow. The Count had been killed fighting his holy war in 1218 (his head was smashed open by a boulder from a trebuchet while besieging Toulouse), and other Montfort men were killed in the same campaign: the Count’s brother and the Count’s second son, Gui. De Montfort’s eldest brother, Amaury, survived this expedition only to die in 1241 on his way home from the Holy Land.

This extraordinary rate of attrition was the result of the Montfort family’s dedication to holy war. Death for noblemen was unlikely in European conflict between Christians at this time, because the values of chivalry protected those of knightly status and they would normally be taken captive for ransom. In holy war, whether in Languedoc or the Middle East, killing regardless of status was expected and the risk of knightly death was accepted. As de Montfort took up his oath-bound cause in England, and transformed that cause into a crusade, he did so knowing that death in holy war was a family tradition. And, just 15 months after his triumph at Lewes, he would follow in the footsteps of his martyred family members, in the expectation of a martyr’s reward.

Rebels brought to heel

Since the battle of Lewes, the Montfortian council had been ruling England, holding captive the king and his eldest son, Edward (the future King Edward I). But fortunes turned suddenly in the spring of 1265 when Edward escaped. He raised an army and, on 4 August 1265, caught up with the Montfortians at Evesham. He quickly secured the high ground de Montfort’s army, caught unawares, faced the dismal prospect of fighting, outnumbered, uphill. While withdrawal was still possible, he reportedly told his men to flee: “Fair lords, there are many among you who are not as yet tried and tested in the world, and who are young you have wives and children, and for this reason look to how you might save yourselves and them.” Turning to his old friend Hugh Despenser, he urged him to withdraw. Hugh could recover his position, for he would leave behind him “hardly anyone of such great value and worth”. Hugh did not hesitate in his reply: “My lord, my lord, let it be. Today we shall drink from one cup, as we have done long since.”

Carnage and cruelty

In the battle, Hugh would be cut down, one of the host of knights, together with thousands of non-noble troops, who chose to follow de Montfort to the end. That morning Edward had selected his 12 best men, who were charged with killing de Montfort on the battlefield. This calculated brutality continued after de Montfort’s death. Edward’s men set upon his corpse, cutting off his hands, his feet and his head, and cutting off his testicles and stuffing them into his mouth. His head was dispatched as a prize to the wife of the man who struck the lethal blow.

The barbarity did not end there. When the battle was lost, de Montfort’s men attempted to take shelter in Evesham Abbey, but Edward’s men broke the laws of sanctuary and hacked them down. “What was horrendous to see,” recalled one of the monks of the ghastly scene that confronted him, “the choir of the church and the inside walls and the cross and the statues and the altars were sprayed with the blood of the wounded and dead, so that from the bodies that were there around the high altar a stream of blood ran right down into the crypts… no one knew how many there were except God.”

No such battlefield slaughter had been seen in England since Hastings. The massacring of de Montfort and his fellow nobles was a mark of their transgression, for stepping far beyond the bounds of noble conduct when they trampled on the crown. But it was also tied up in a monumental change in military culture: the descent into intra-noble killing, on and off the battlefield. This would see terrible results, too, in the Sicilian wars of the 1260s–80s – indeed, in 1271, two of de Montfort’s sons would avenge their father’s death by butchering Henry of Almain, Henry III’s nephew, in the church of San Silvestro in Viterbo. Such intra-noble brutality would also be repeated in the British Isles in the Wars of Independence, and across Europe in the Hundred Years’ War.

De Montfort’s story is key to understanding how this happened, for his elevation of a political struggle to the level of holy war was part of a larger phenomenon. In the 1250s and 1260s, the papacy launched a preaching campaign across Europe to raise an army of crusaders to attack the Hohenstaufen dynasty (whose territorial expansion threatened papal power in Italy), while the papal legate sent to oust de Montfort’s regime was authorised to offer indulgences to those fighting for the English crown.

Men were now being told that taking up arms against fellow Christians was not only acceptable but laudable, and would gain them the same spiritual rewards as fighting in the Holy Land. If that was the case, was killing fellow Christians, regardless of status, equally acceptable? For two and a half centuries, the mental and geographical boundaries governing the conduct of war had been coterminous. Now, with no guidance as to which rules applied where and when, they began to disintegrate. It meant the death of chivalry, at least in the form that it had been known since the turn of the millennium.

Sophie Thérèse Ambler’s latest book is The Song of Simon de Montfort: England’s First Revolutionary and the Death of Chivalry (Picador, May 2019).

You’ll find a wealth of content on medieval battles, from podcasts to biographies, here


Henry was made Duke of Angoulême and Duke of Orléans in 1560, then Duke of Anjou in 1566. He was his mother's favourite she called him precious eyes and lavished fondness and affection upon him for most of his life. His elder brother, Prince Charles, grew to detest him, partially because he resented his better health.

In his youth, Henry was considered the best of the sons of Catherine de' Medici and King Henry II. Unlike his father and elder brothers, he had little interest in the traditional Valois pastimes of hunting and physical exercise. Although he was enjoyed fencing, he preferred to indulge his tastes for the arts and reading. These predilections were attributed to his Italian mother.

At one point in his youth he showed a tendency towards Protestantism as a means of rebelling. At the age of nine he refused to attend Mass. His mother firmly cautioned her children against such behaviour, and he would never again show any Protestant tendencies.

Reports that Henry engaged in same sex relations with his court favourites, date back to his own time. Certainly he enjoyed intense relationships with them. While other modern historians note her had many famous mistresses, that he was well known for his taste in beautiful women, and that no male sex partners have been identified. They have concluded that the idea he was homosexual was promoted by his political opponents who used his dislike of war and hunting to depict him weak.

Timeline of King Henry III

Timeline of King Henry III - Information - Timelines - Time Line - Time Lines - Facts - Middle Ages Timeline Info - Information about Middle Ages Timeline - History of Middle Ages Timeline - Key people - Key Dates - Timelines - Time Line - Time Lines - Interesting Facts and information with key dates - Medieval era - Medieval period - History - Timelines - Time Line - Time Lines - Facts - Middle Ages Timeline Info - Information about Middle Ages Timeline - History of Middle Ages Timeline - Key people - Key Dates - Timelines - Time Line - Time Lines - Interesting Facts and information with key dates - Medieval era - Medieval period - History - Timeline of King Henry III - Written By Linda Alchin

Henry III Plantagenet King 1207-1272

Henry III Plantagenet King of England, was born in 1207, at Winchester Castle, eldest son and heir to King John and Isabella of Angoulême. He succeeded his father aged just 9 years old to a kingdom that had been divided by the havoc of his late father’s reign of misrule. A heavy burden to inherit, not having attained his majority both Henry and his realm needed good council and strong leadership. Fortunately such help, was at hand in the seasoned advisor William Marshall, Peter des Roches and Hubert de Burgh.

Prior to attaining his majority and his father dying, there were great divisions amongst the Barons who had suffered as the result of King John’s incompetencies and had welcomed the invasion of the French themselves into England itself. At this point event the Archbishop of Canterbury was backing the then Prince Louis.

  • 1216 hastily 1st crowned at Gloucester Cathedral
  • 1217 The French lose the battles of Lincoln and Dover and are driven back to France, aided by the wisdom and experience of William MARSHALL who had also been a notable soldier and courtier to Henry II.
  • 1220 re-crowned at Westminster Abbey: required by Pope Honorius III because he did not believe the 1st coronation had been undertaken in accordance with Church law.
  • 1222 De Burgh leads and successfully puts down the insurrection supporting Louis VIII’s claim to the throne.
  • 1224 Poitou is overrun by King Louis VIII of France Henry did lose these rights permanently
  • 1227 declared himself to be of age but did not assume outright control and rule of the government, retaining De Burgh as his advisor.
  • 1232 Hubert de Burgh dismissed as King’s adviser.
  • 1236 he married Eleanor of Provence (1223-1291) the daughter of Raymond Berenguer, Count of Provence and Beatrice of Savoy. Henry was devoted to his Queen, a lady of strong opinions including being anti-semitic, she was influential in the reign of her husband and their son (Edward I.) They had 5 children who survived infancy
  • Margaret (1240 – 1275 ) married King Alexander III of Scotland
  • Beatrice (1242 – 1275 ) married to John II Duke of Brittany
  • Edmund (1245 – 1296 ) 1st Earl of Leicester and Lancaster
  • Katharine (1253 – 1257 ) deafness was discovered at age 2 she died young.
  • Scotland quits claims to England his hereditary rights to the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland
  • Scotland quits claims to 15,000 marks of silver for provisions historically not met and frees Henry from agreements regarding marriages between Henry and Richard and various sisters of Alexander (Margaret, Isabella, and Marjory.)
  • England grants Scotland certain lands within Northumberland and Cumberland, to be held by him and his successor with certain rights and exempting with the Scottish Steward sitting in Justice regarding certain issues that may arise and that such rights will be inherited by future Scottish Kings.
  • Scotland makes his homage to Henry and both kings respect previous writings not in conflict with this agreement, and any charters found regarding said counties to be restored to the King of England.
  • 1242 Humiliating defeat of the Taillebourg Campaign: when seeking to assist Hugh X of Luisignan rise up against the King of France. The history was that Henry’s father John had taken his Queen who had been betrothed to Isabella, which led the Lusignans to rebel against John, causing much of the loss of the Angevin Empire. Subsequent to his father’s death Isabella had returned to France and married into the Lusignan line as had originally been intended. The net result was a humiliating defeat for Henry III and the supremacy of France being asserted. He had costs England dearly and weakened his own credibility again with the English Barons.
  • 1245 Henry III lays foundation stone for Rebuilding of Westminster Abbey: he was responsible for the essence of the building as it exists today.
  • 1255 Sicilian Adventure Henry sought to secure Sicily for his son Edmund, by agreeing to pay Pope Alexander IV 135,000 marks but it was not within his gift, this was really just dispensation to attack and seize Sicily. H would have to defeat Manfred it’s ruler and as Richard of Cornwall had said, ‘it was like being asked to buy the moon’ impossible and not a good bargain. Such foolish decisions and his attempt to raise the money led to pressure on the King to agree to the Provisions of Oxford.
  • 1258 in a precarious financial position agrees to Provisions of Oxford, Following a campaign advocating rule by the Great Council that had continued since 1244, with the failure and disastrous result of his Sicilian Adventure he could not avoid the reforms demanded by the Provisions of Oxford. This increased the importance of the Great Council in reaching decisions as it had before Henry had reached his majority.
  • 1259 Treaty of Paris, he in effect renounced English claims on the prior lands held by his forebears as the Angevin Empire. He made no effort to regain those lands. The English King was recognised as Duke of Acquitaine but did homage to the French King and relinquished all claims to Normandy, a huge concession given the direct line between the English Kings and the Duchy of Normandy via WIlliam I. The additional concessions were renouncing all claims by England to Anjou, Maine, Touraine and Poitou. Henry had signed away any hope of establishing English dominion as it had been achieved at the height of the Angevin Empire.
  • 1259 Provisions of Westminster : this was a set of reforms concerned largely with English local administration. It was the next step, building on the provisions of Oxford (central government reforms) but these caused further division which was exploited by Henry III. The division was between the strata of the elite, the difference of opinion between the gentry and two factions of the aristocracy. They were happy for Royal administration to be controlled but not those of their own ‘local’ baronial lands.
  • 1260-1264 Henry continued to try to cast off the constraints of the Provisions of Oxfordand this led to further civil war with the Barons War. Defeated he was captured at Lewes (1264.) His throne was taken, in effect by Simon de Montfort, however short lived the damage was done:
    • 1261 Henry undermined the provisions of Oxford: exploiting the dissension over the Provision of Westminster he repudiates his oath to abide to the Provisions of Oxford.
    • it was this that led to the Barons War.
    • 1265 Henry’s eldest son Edward ensured he was restored to the Throne by victory at Evesham, he would later succeed his father. From this point on until his death he would rule in name only. He focused his efforts instead on Westminster Abbey, resulting in a contribution and legacy that continues to this day, long after the affairs of state have faded in our historical memory.
    • 1266 Dictum of Kenilworth restores Henry’s authority and annuls the Provisions of Oxford
    • 1267 Treaty of Montgomery, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd recognised as ruler of Wales by Henry.
    • 1272 Henry III died in Palace of Westminster

    Henry III had a long reign ,but was it successful?
    Consider possible criteria for monarchical success:

    • Succession: Edward I succeeds more by his own acts than those of his father, arguably he jeopardised that line by his inability to carry the loyalty of the barons.
    • Dominions Protected and expanded: he risked much and lost rather than attained new lands.
    • Peace: he did not lead England into sustained overseas conflicts but failed to unite the elite under his own leadership.
    • Development of society law and justice: the nominal advances building on principles of Magna Carta led to the Baron’s War and more is achieved by Simon de Montfort even if his motivations were suspect.
    • Social cultural and heritage: his later focus on Westminster Abbey was part of a lasting legacy.

    A long reign, one of few Kings to achieve over 50 years,was his lack of major achievements, the reason he survives and lasts so long, in a period when many kings reigns were short? He did resist the Barons, even his own son swapped sides and then reconciles with his father. Edward would be a very different King known as the Justinian.

    To investigate further the nature of Henry’s rule, there is a relatively new and excellent Digital Project for Henry III’s Pipe Rolls, under leadership of King’s College London, it s a sponsored and free to access resource, enabling you to localise your search by county or phrase, names etc and see if you can make your own intriguing connections to the reign of Henry III.

    10 reasons why Henry III may have been a great king

    Henry III reigned from 1216 until his death in 1272, making him the longest-serving English monarch until George III reached 56 years on the throne in 1816. But despite reigning for more than five decades, Henry has never been associated with greatness. Here, Darren Baker puts across a case for boosting the monarch's underrated reputation, drawing on key moments in his reign including the confirmation of Magna Carta, the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey and the establishment of the first parliament…

    This competition is now closed

    Published: November 16, 2018 at 9:04 am

    When it comes to naming the great kings of England, it’s usually the warriors who come to mind. There’s Richard I and his nickname “Lionheart”, Edward III and his Order of the Garter, and Henry V and his victory at Agincourt. But Darren Baker sees Henry III as a great king of England, if not the greatest. Here, he offers 10 facts to support his case…

    He issued and confirmed the Magna Carta we know today

    Magna Carta as we know it dates back 800 years to November 1217. That’s when the original document was revised to help reconcile the nation following the civil war that put Henry on the throne. Because he succeeded as a 9-year-old boy, Henry grew up with Magna Carta as a natural part of his rule. He had, moreover, the right temperament to ensure its ultimate success. Had he been a different sort of person, one inclined to bullying, debauchery and megalomania, Magna Carta could have ended up gutted or in the dustbin. Unlike his father King John, Henry put his seal to the charter willingly in 1225 (unchanged since 1217) and confirmed it three times. By the end of his reign, it was enshrined as the bedrock of English values.

    He established our first parliament

    Parliament came into existence during Henry’s reign. Because Magna Carta prevented any monarch from acting on a whim, he needed the counsel and consent of his barons, knights and clerics on matters of law and taxation. In 1236, the name parliament was first used to describe these assemblies of state. One of the more significant innovations in its evolution occurred in 1254 when, for the first time, the counties were ordered to elect representatives and send them to Westminster for an emergency session. In the later part of Henry’s reign, parliament became the battleground to see who had ultimate authority in the realm: the king and crown, or the baronial and clerical faction headed by Henry’s own brother-in-law Simon de Montfort. The king eventually came out on top, but the stage was set for parliament to begin slowly ebbing away at royal power.

    He rebuilt Westminster Abbey

    Any mark of greatness generally requires tangible evidence and here, none of the warrior kings can compete with Henry III. Indeed, his greatest achievement may well be the centrepiece of English pride and heritage. In 1245, he started rebuilding Westminster Abbey into the form we know it today. Progress was slow because Henry was always short of funds, but he kept at it until the glorious parts of it had been completed by his death in 1272. These include the Cosmati pavement in front of the high altar. In the intricately swirling shapes and patterns of this floor – surely one of the wonders of the medieval world – Henry sought to represent the universe at its creation and demise. This naturally meant he needed an age for the universe, but the number he came up with – 19,683 years – is more a testament to his famous wit and humour than to science or astronomy.

    He empowered his queen

    The queens of Henry’s Norman predecessors had been politically marginalised for the most part. When they did stir, it was usually against the highhandedness of their husbands, and the reaction they faced could be harsh. For all her glamour, Eleanor of Aquitaine ended up spending half of her husband’s reign in prison. Henry’s mother Isabella of Angoulême went back to her homeland in France while he was still a boy because his regents would not let her share in any power as queen dowager.

    Henry reversed this trend by empowering his own queen, Eleanor of Provence. He gave her patronage for financial independence and influence and respected her voice in governmental affairs. So complete was his confidence in her abilities that in 1253, he named her regent to rule the land while he was abroad. And she was heavily pregnant at the time.

    He was a faithful husband and adoring father

    Many an English king found it hard to be faithful to his queen. Henry I, II and King John had various mistresses and produced innumerable illegitimate issue, creating discord in the family and a need to provide for so many extra offspring. In contrast, Henry III is not known to have strayed once from his wife in their 36 years together and prior to their marriage, his only close personal attachments were to either nuns or his three sisters.

    Queen Eleanor in turn worked tirelessly on her husband’s behalf at the lowest point of his reign, when Simon de Montfort had taken over the government, and she remained true to Henry’s memory in her widowhood. They had five children, each of whom they adored dearly, and the death of their youngest at the age of three left both parents distraught. Their love and affection not only ensured stability in the family, and therefore stability in the realm, but set a good example for the next generation. Henry’s sons and sons-in-law were also loving and faithful husbands.

    He made pageantry a part of the monarchy

    Royalty as we know it did not exist in England before Henry III. Kings like his grandfather tended to dress down and eschew formality, not because they had the common touch, but rather they were greedy men who didn’t want to spend money. Henry’s first coronation had been a rushed affair because of the political situation, with spare solemnities and trappings and a makeshift crown for his head. After that, he went all out for state occasions. The coronation of his queen in 1236 was a dazzling affair. The royal pair was escorted by 360 horsemen, each carrying a gold or silver cup to use at the feast. Even chronicler Matthew Paris, who was well known for his gossip, was left speechless by the spectacle.

    In 1247 Henry put on a similar display when he carried a crystal vial of Holy Blood from St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey, wearing only a pilgrim’s cloak and walking barefoot for the whole two miles, even over uneven patches of road. Paris was a witness to that event as well, and, spotted by the king in the crowd, was invited to dine with him the next day. It’s likely that wine was served, because under Henry III, the stuff flowed. On his deathbed, his last order to the chancery was to settle the money he owed his wine merchant, nearly £1m in today’s money.

    His longevity ensured stability and contributed to great change

    Succession was always an uncertain time in medieval monarchies and Henry’s accession to the throne in 1216 was the clearest example of it. In their effort to depose King John, rebel barons had sworn allegiance to the crown prince of France. Since the prince was going nowhere, they had no choice but to get on with the war. Had they succeeded, Henry would have been made to disappear and that would have been it for the Plantagenets.

    While he owed his survival to the papacy and loyalists, Henry must have had some guardian angel all his life, because he later survived dysentery, plague, two battles, several military campaigns, and an assassination attempt. Again, he did better here than the warrior kings. The Lionheart was felled by gangrene, Henry V by dysentery, and Edward III had a slovenly decline, with the succession far from secure. The continuity of Henry III’s reign, which covered more than half a century, contributed to the great changes that took place during it, in administration, education, justice and the visual arts.

    He valued peace

    When asked what he had done for his people, Henry’s answer was always he had given them peace. Although that was true for the most part, he did launch military expeditions to the continent to recover lost English lordships, or keep what was left of them, but the costs in lives and money never came close to what the warrior kings inflicted on their subjects. Henry was never out to conquer and declined to do so when Wales was open to him in 1246.

    He actively promoted Edward the Confessor, another king of peaceful endeavours, to become the patron saint of the nation. Alas, as England descended into war and political terror over the next few centuries, Englishman St Edward had to give way to another warrior, St George, famed for his dragon-slaying exploits among other things.

    Henry’s greatest victory over his opponents never occurred on the battlefield, rather in the Tower of London. In 1261, secure behind its walls, he used pressure and diplomacy to overturn the Provisions of Oxford, the reforms that gave his barons the upper hand in government. When he emerged from the Tower just before Christmas (his favourite time of the year, by the way), he had won back all power and did it without shedding any blood, an absolutely unheard of thing in medieval and early modern England.

    He revived English fortunes abroad

    If Henry seemed obsessed with recovering the continental lands lost by his father to the French, it was because there was plenty at stake. Firstly, there was the honour of the Plantagenets and how the French Capetian dynasty had treated them with contempt.

    Secondly, there was the money, for Normandy alone generated as much royal income as all of England. That not only denied Henry the funds he needed for his many projects, but it allowed his rival Louis IX to undertake two very expensive crusades and lose them both. Needing closure, Henry eventually gave up his claims to the lost lands, but got compensation worth about £30m in today’s money and peace with France. The friendship that ensued between him and Louis, both of whom were married to sisters, was easily one of the great political achievements of the Middle Ages.

    Lastly, Henry’s international diplomacy was beneficial for education, art, and trade. Under his rule, construction and craftsmanship flourished, Oxford and Cambridge grew to maturity (despite the usual spring riots), and the wine coming in and wool going out made England among the richest countries in Europe.

    He believed in charity, humility, forgiveness

    Like many people of that age, Henry III was very pious and believed it was his duty to make sure the poor were fed. He fed hundreds of them on a daily basis, thousands on special occasions. Poor weather in the late 1250s ruined successive harvests, leading to famine throughout the land. It’s no coincidence that the reform of the realm was launched at this very time, with the king’s willing participation. The starvation of his people could only mean there was something wrong with his rule and he had to fix it. Henry was the type of man to take it on the chin, to welcome a new spirit of cooperation. Admitting mistakes and forgiving transgressions were key elements of his majesty.

    Darren Baker is also the author of With All For All: The Life of Simon de Montfort. He is currently working on The Two Eleanors of Henry III: The Lives of Eleanor of Provence and Eleanor de Montfort.

    This article was first published on History Extra in November 2017.

    The fine rolls of King Henry III

    As records of gifts offered to a monarch in return for favours, fine rolls offer a fascinating insight into the life of the nation. Here, David Carpenter picks out some interesting aspects of a new translation from the reign of Henry III

    This competition is now closed

    Published: March 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    What are fines, what are fine rolls and who indeed was Henry III? Good questions, one may think, especially when the Arts and Humanities Research Council is generously funding a project to put the rolls into the public domain.

    Henry III was the son of King John and reigned between 1216 and 1272. His reign saw the establishment of Magna Carta and the beginnings of the parliamentary state, as well as a transformation in the wider religious, social and economic life of the country.

    Fines themselves were offers of money to the king for concessions and favours, and were made by all sections of society. The rolls on which they were recorded, which also feature an array of other governmental business, were made on membranes of parchment sewn together. They are now preserved in the National Archives at Kew where there is a roll for every year of the reign. In total they contain two million words.

    The aim of the project – combining the history department and Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s College London, Christ Church Canterbury University and the National Archives – is to unlock the riches of the rolls and make them available to the wider public.

    Accordingly, the Latin rolls have now been translated into English, linked to a search facility, and made freely available to everyone on the project’s website here. The site also contains images of the original rolls and a ‘Fine of the Month’ feature, in which we analyse fines of particular interest in the rolls. There are over 60 of these now on the site – and an annual prize for the best ‘fine of the month’ contributed by someone outside the project.

    Here are just some of the areas on which the rolls shed light:

    A new commercial network

    The fine rolls contain numerous offers of money to the king for permission to set up new markets and fairs. Indeed, if you put the word ‘markets’ into the subject field of the search facility on the new Fine Rolls website, well over 100 such fines appear for the period 1216–42. A typical amount offered was £5, which translates into as much as £50,000 today.

    You can also refine your search to a county or place – for example, you’ll find a number of fines for markets in Yorkshire between 1216 and 1242. You can also cross a person with a subject in the search facility. This will tell you that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, set up two markets, one at Reculver in Kent and the other at Uckfield in Sussex. With thousands of people, places and subjects in the rolls, the search facility is a rich resource for all kinds of investigations.

    The peasants fight back

    A striking feature of the fine rolls is the way they reveal peasant communities offering money to the king for help in struggles against their lords. For example, they tell us that in 1242 the men of Brampton in Huntingdonshire spent all of £40 (£400,000 today) purchasing a letter patent designed to prevent their lord, Henry de Hastings, increasing their customs and services.

    When they heard that Henry was trying to ignore this concession, the villagers chased his bailiffs all the way back to Huntingdon with axes and staves, an event that is now known as ‘the battle of Brampton’. Later the peasants, under their leader John Kechel, continued the struggle, as the fine rolls show, by commencing a legal action against Hastings. Truly the 13th century was the training ground for the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt.

    The Jews are converted

    The most disturbing material on the fine rolls concerns the Jews, for it shows how Henry imposed eye-wateringly high taxes on them, and tried to convert them to Christianity. In 1232 Henry founded a house in Chancery Lane (now the site of King’s College’s library) for his Jewish converts. When it was full, Henry started sending the converts to monasteries around the country – the fine rolls have long lists of such converts and their destinations – only for many of them to be refused entry.

    When he heard the news Henry was furious and promptly sent the converts back to the monasteries – this time equipped with plaintiff letters complaining about the monasteries’ conduct and giving them a second chance to prove their devotion to him. Henry’s treatment of the Jews prepared the way for their expulsion from England by his son, Edward I, in 1290.

    Henry’s sense of humour

    The fine rolls contain both official government business and material of much more personal interest to the monarch. King John’s rolls record the extraordinary offer of poultry made by the wife of one of his ministers, Hugh de Neville, so that she could lie one night with her husband. Almost certainly she was John’s mistress and the fine is her joking reply to the king’s question: “What is it worth to have one night back with Hugh?”. Her answer was an insulting 200 chickens!

    Henry III also had a sense of humour – though one that was less salacious than his father’s. The fine rolls records him “playing a joke” on his clerk Peter the Poitevin in 1243. Henry enrolled on the fine rolls all kinds of ridiculous and fanciful debts that Peter had allegedly incurred while sailing home with the king from Gascony: 60 capons (castrated cocks) for an offence on the ship, £100 (a million in modern money) promised on the ship, and so on.

    The idea, presumably, was for Peter to see the debts on the fine rolls and wonder “O my God, what is going on?”. Henry, however, was careful not to let the joke go too far, for when Peter was not looking, he had the debts crossed out so that they would not be exacted.

    From Magna Carta to the parliamentary state

    Research fellows on the fine rolls project, Dr Paul Dryburgh and Dr Beth Hartland, have added up the money offered to Henry on the rolls and compared it to the sums proffered to King John. The results are startling. Whereas the annual value of fines on John’s surviving rolls averages £25,000, only one of those in the first half of Henry’s reign (1216–42) achieves £10,000 – and many are of less than half that amount. This was not because the number of fines was diminishing. In fact, they markedly increased, but they were mostly for small sums – for example, in fines for writs to initiate law cases (testimony to the spreading tentacles of the common law). However, these offers could not compensate for the virtual disappearance of the huge fines that John extracted from his barons for ‘favours’ like succeeding to their inheritance.

    It was Magna Carta that put an end to such arbitrary exactions, and, as a result, royal revenue plummeted. The only way to fill the gap was to secure taxation voted for by parliament – a major step along the road to the parliamentary state.

    David Carpenter is professor of medieval history at King’s College London, principal investigator of the Henry III Fine Rolls Project and author of The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066–1284 (Penguin, 2004).

    The History of Tutbury Castle

    Our Mary Queen of Scots tour included a visit to Tutbury Castle. Mary spent time there when she was being held in genteel custody by Queen Elizabeth I of England. I had always heard that Mary hated this castle so I was curious to see it. I wasn’t disappointed. Not much of the castle is left but what remains is very atmospheric and a jumble of interesting buildings. After looking into the history of the castle, I now understand why.

    Recent excavation at Tutbury has unearthed items from the Stone Age and it may have been a residence of the Saxon kings of Mercia. It is easy to see why the site has been inhabited for many eons. The castle sits high up on a slope that overlooks the River Dove which winds slowly by. From the top of the slope there are splendid views of the Dove plain stretching out to the Derbyshire hills. The site is in a superb defensive position.

    Shortly after William of Normandy conquered England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Tutbury was granted to Hugh d’Avranches. Hugh was a councilor to William and his father had funded sixty ships for the expedition to England. A motte and bailey castle was constructed sometime between 1068-9 on the site. In 1071, the title of Earl of Chester became vacant and William bestowed it on Hugh. Upon his promotion, Tutbury and the surrounding territory were granted to one of William’s Anglo-Norman knights, Henry de Ferrers who had fought at Hastings. There is a listing in the Domesday Book of 1086 for Tutbury Castle and the borough.

    The North Tower of Tutbury Castle (Photo by the author)

    Henry was one of the most powerful of William’s magnates and an able administrator in Staffordshire and Derbyshire. Henry, along with his wife Bertha, founded Tutbury priory along with two manors. In the early twelfth century, the wooden tower on the motte was replaced by a stone keep. From 1114-1146, the castle was the chief residence of Robert Ferrers, third son of Henry. In 1138, Robert participated in the Battle of the Standard during which English forces repelled an attack by David I, King of Scots. As a reward, Robert was made 1st Earl of Derby.

    In 1153, during the civil war called the “Anarchy” between the Empress Matilda and King Stephen, Tutbury was besieged by Matilda’s son Henry of Anjou who later became King Henry II. The castle is described as being highly fortified and impregnable. By the 1170’s, the Ferrers family was in conflict with King Henry II and supported his son Henry the Young King in his rebellion against his father. Tutbury Castle was besieged by Rhys ap Gruffydd, Prince of Debeubarth on behalf of King Henry. William Ferrers eventually settled with the king but Henry ordered the castle be destroyed.

    Interior of the South Tower of Tutbury Castle (Photo by the author)

    In the late twelfth century, a chapel was erected on the grounds, the foundations of which can be seen today. The castle was being reconstructed by the early thirteenth century and in November of 1251, King Henry III spent a few days at Tutbury and in 1257, Henry’s queen, Eleanor of Provence moved to Tutbury. By 1263, Robert de Ferrers was in conflict with the King and in the next year, King Henry’s son, the future King Edward I, attacked Tutbury doing terrible damage. The estates of Robert were confiscated and given to King Henry’s younger son Edmund Crouchback in 1266.

    Edmund began restoring the castle and was given the title of earl of Lancaster, making Tutbury part of the Lancaster estate. By 1298, the castle had been fully restored and built with a garden, a walled yard, vineyard, meadow and fishpond. Either Edmund or his son Thomas built a great hall and a range of buildings to the south. Thomas made the castle his primary residence from 1304-1319 and built a tower over the gateway entrance costing £100.

    Entrance gate to Tutbury Castle (Photo by the author)

    On March 10, 1322, Thomas was one of the leaders of a rebellion against King Edward II. Edward was marching with his army toward Tutbury and Thomas hoped to stop him at Burton Bridge which he had fortified. It was supposedly the only crossing over the River Trent but Edward found another crossing over a ford at Walton. He surprised Thomas who was utterly defeated. He retreated to Tutbury where he expected reinforcements from Scotland. They never arrived and Thomas was forced to flee. The King had Tutbury Castle demolished and Thomas was executed at Pontefract on March 22.

    Interestingly enough, Thomas had with him a hoard of coins which were probably going to be used to pay his troops. When the King attacked the bridge, the coins were hidden in the banks of the River Dove. In 1831, the coins were found and are known as the Tutbury Hoard. They include coinage from England, Ireland, Scotland and mainland Europe, numbering between one hundred and three hundred thousand with coins from the reigns of Henry III, Edward I, Edward II of England and Alexander III of Scotland. The Hoard now resides in the British Museum.

    By 1326, Tutbury was granted to Thomas’ younger brother Henry. In 1334-5, Henry’s daughter Mary was married to Henry de Percy at Tutbury. Upon Henry’s death in 1345, his son Henry de Grosmont inherited Tutbury. King Edward III made Henry the first Duke of Lancaster in 1351 for services rendered, especially during the naval Battle of Winchelsea where he allegedly saved the lives of King Edward’s sons the Black Prince and John of Gaunt.

    The tearoom, kitchen and South Tower of Tutbury Castle (Photo by the author)

    John of Gaunt married Henry de Grosmont’s heir, Blanche of Lancaster thereby becoming the next Duke of Lancaster. Tutbury Castle had been abandoned since 1322 and the King allowed John to rebuild the castle which became his principal residence. He stayed at the castle many times with his second wife Constance of Castile who personally laid out the gardens. When John of Gaunt died in 1399, Tutbury came into the possession of his eldest son Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby. Henry deposed his cousin King Richard II to become King Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king. The castle was now crown property.

    New walls and towers were added to the castle between 1404 and 1450. Tutbury was given to Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI in 1449. She was mistress of the castle until 1461. By 1480, some of the buildings were unsteady and in danger of falling. King Henry VII invested in a new range of buildings and a garden. In 1511, King Henry VIII visited Tutbury. In 1516, the kitchen roof fell down. In 1523 there was a survey of the castle. Many buildings were found to have defective roofs and the curtain wall had a huge split. From 1561 to 1566, some repairs were made. In 1568, Mary Queen of Scots was deposed. After a dramatic escape from the castle of Loch Leven, she arrived in England and began her nearly twenty years of custody. Queen Elizabeth I ordered Tutbury be made ready as a prison to hold Mary.

    In February of 1569, Mary arrived at Tutbury under the care and guardianship of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. Almost immediately, Mary complained bitterly of the damp, the wet plaster and the draughty ill-fitting carpentry of the castle. She said the wind whistled through her chamber. Much of the castle was in ruins and there was a large marsh located just below the castle which emitted humid, noxious and unpleasant fumes. Mary was used to exercise taken outdoors and she loved to hunt. Her days at Tutbury were spent reading and doing needlework with Bess of Hardwick, Talbot’s wife. She found her imprisonment depressing and her health suffered.

    Part of the ruins near the entrance to Tutbury Castle (Photo by the author)

    Mary was moved between Talbot’s properties at Sheffield, Wingfield Manor, Chatsworth, along with Tutbury and others. She spent most of 1569 there and part of 1570. She returned to Tutbury for a longer stay in 1585 under a new guardian, Sir Ralph Sadler, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Sadler found his commission distasteful and treated Mary kindly. She was allowed to have a billiard table and Sadler would let her hunt in the park with fifty to sixty horse guards. When Elizabeth received word of this she was furious. A new gaoler, the puritan Sir Amyas Paulet was appointed in April of 1585.

    One of the first things Paulet did was remove Mary’s cloth of state over her vociferous objections. Mary had been allowed to walk in the gardens and Paulet stopped this. Some of her servants had been allowed to use the wall walk near the gate and to carry pistols. All this was curtailed. He no longer allowed Mary to give alms to the townspeople. In July Mary was permitted to hunt deer with her greyhound in a nearby park. In August Mary was lobbying to be moved so Tutbury could be “sweetened” but suitable lodgings were not available. By Christmas, she was taken to Chartley Castle. Shortly after this she was found to be plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth and place herself on the throne of England. She was found guilty and executed at Fotheringhay Castle on February 8, 1587.

    When Queen Elizabeth died, Mary Queen of Scots’ son James became James I of England. Both James and his son Charles I used Tutbury as a hunting lodge. When the English Civil War began, Tutbury’s defenses were strengthened. Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of Charles I, lodged in Tutbury after the Battle of Naseby in 1645. The castle was one of the last bastions to hold out for Charles I and came under siege by Parliamentary forces in 1643 and 1646. Sir William Brereton captured the castle after the last siege. The castle surrendered under the condition that it be destroyed. The Protector, Oliver Cromwell paid for Tutbury to be demolished. It took about two years, leaving most of the ruins we see today.

    The “folly” of Tutbury Castle, built in the 18th C. (Photo by the author)

    With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 a few repairs were made but in 1662, some of the timber and stone was confiscated for use by the local population to build their own homes. More demolition occurred in 1751. From 1780-92 the castle was leased by Lord Vernon of Sudbury. He built the mock ruin or “folly” seen on top of the hill today. In the early nineteenth century, farm buildings were erected which today hold the kitchen and tearoom. In 1832, it was proposed that Tutbury be used as a prison but the Duchy refused to consider it.

    In 1847, tickets were being sold to tour the castle and by 1952, it was no longer used as a farm. From 1955-60, excavations revealed the entire foundation of the chapel. Queen Elizabeth II has visited Tutbury several times and in 1999, the Smith family began leasing the property. In 2000, the staircase to the Great Hall was rediscovered and reopened. While our tour visited, curator and historian Lesley Smith gave us a show in the Banqueting Hall, acting as Mary Queen of Scots and telling us her story. That made our visit even more special.

    Curator of Tutbury Castle, Lesley Smith as Mary Queen of Scots in the Banqueting Hall (Photo by the author)

    History of fashion in the Middle Ages

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    Lessons Learned for King Edward

    The lessons learned from Evesham would serve Edward well when he was crowned King Edward I in 1272. His tactical and strategic sense as well as his ability to inspire and lead men to victory would be vital during his tumultuous reign.

    Simon’s year of virtual rule in England came to an abrupt end for many reasons, not the least being his reliance on his sons. Simon left so much wealth and power in their hands that animosity and jealousy arose among his previous allies, most notably de Clare, turning them into enemies. In addition, Simon’s failure to subdue the marcher lords allowed Edward a ready-made base of power for his assumption of leadership over the Royalist forces.

    In 1918, a cross was erected at Simon de Montfort’s burial site, and on each Sunday that falls nearest the anniversary of the Battle of Evesham, services are held there. Although Simon’s revolution and rule are still controversial, his resolve in bringing a political voice to more people is remembered today.

    Watch the video: Γυναίκες ψαράδες στο Αιγαίο!! (June 2022).


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