King Henry III

Born: October 1, 1207

Winchester, Hampshire, England

Reign: October 19, 1216 - November 16, 1272 (56 years)

Died: November 16, 1272

Westminster, London, England (Age 65)


Henry of Winchester was born the eldest child of King John and his second wife, Isabella of Angouleme, on October 1, 1207. The prince’s birth was no doubt received with great joy, considering the fact that, other than John himself, there were no other legitimate male members of the house of Plantagenet to carry on the dynasty. There is very little to be said about Henry’s early childhood, but it must be assumed that he grew up with all the comforts of being the royal heir. The young prince’s life changed forever on October 19, 1216, when King John died suddenly. Later that month, a makeshift coronation ceremony was set up at Gloucester where the prince was crowned and anointed King Henry III at the age of nine, setting the stage for the first minority reign in England since the Norman Conquest.

As any biography of King John will tell us, the old king left a kingdom suffering from the pangs of civil war to his young son. Much of the English nobility was in revolt against the crown; Prince Louis of France controlled much of southern England and the midlands, while the King of Scots ravaged the north; and the system of government within the kingdom had suffered a near complete breakdown (undoubtedly helped along by the fact that, just days before his death, King John had lost much of the royal treasure on his travels). Luckily, the king also had some powerful allies on his side: William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke (known to history as simply “the Marshal”), and Ranulf, Earl of Chester, were staunch royalists with years of military experience. In addition, Henry had the full backing of England’s overlord, Pope Honorius III, represented within the kingdom by a papal legate, Cardinal Guala Bicchierri.

Since the king was obviously too young to rule independently, it was decided that a regency would be established. With near-unanimous support from the council, the Marshal was chosen to fill the post of regent. Due to his advanced age (he was indeed a man of around seventy at the time) and the daunting nature of the task, the Marshal was understandably hesitant to accept the honor, but was ultimately convinced to do so. The earl had faithfully served Henry’s father, uncle and grandfather during their respective reigns and he was one of the most famous knights-errant the world had ever known. For these reasons, the young king knew he was in good hands. While the Barons’ War continued on for some months after Henry’s accession to the throne, over time, many of the men who had rebelled against King John switched their allegiance back to the royal cause, seeing no reason to continue the hatred they had for the previous king to his young son. In May and August of 1217, the Marshal and the royal army achieved respective victories over the French-baronial forces at the Battles of Lincoln and Sandwich, forcing Prince Louis to agree to the Treaty of Lambeth and depart England, officially ending the Barons’ War.

Over the following two years, the Marshal worked tirelessly to restore order to the kingdom in the aftermath of the civil war, and made great strides in fixing its broken judicial and financial systems. When the elderly earl died in May 1219, he left the kingdom in the hands of the new papal legate, Pandulf (essentially putting England into the direct hands of her overlord in the process). The Marshal’s decision undoubtedly stung for such upstarts as Hubert de Burgh, England’s justiciar and the heroic defender of Dover Castle during the civil war, and Bishop Peter des Roches of Winchester, the king’s ambitious Poitevan tutor (who was actually from Touraine), who were both hoping to assert their own authority over the impressionable young monarch. But, the regent’s decision was final and, for the next two years, Pandulf ruled the kingdom in much the same way as his predecessor. In the summer of 1221, with the cajoling of Archbishop Stephen Langton of Canterbury, the Pope decided to recall Pandulf to Rome. The legate’s departure cleared the way for Hubert de Burgh’s rise to power and, for the larger part of the next eleven years, the justiciar would be the dominating voice in English politics, and the primary adviser to young Henry.

One of the lingering issues from the Barons’ War that was beginning to become a significant issue in the early 1220s was the occupation of royal castles. When the civil war broke out, King John left a vast number of castles in the custody of some of the most trusted members of his court for safekeeping. Once the civil war ended, the castellans assumed that they would continue to hold the fortresses until the new king came of age and was responsible enough to take control of them. Meanwhile though, these men became entrenched within the castles and built up an enormous powerbase within them. In many cases, they proved highly reluctant to relinquish them, knowing that their own wealth and power would be diminished in the process. Yet, these castles were supposed to symbolize the strength of the royal authority and the fact that they were in the possession of various powerful lords was not a healthy prospect for the crown. Having such powerful lords occupying royal castles for long periods of time could very well bring about another civil war. The problem also extended to men who held certain lucrative royal offices, such as sheriffdoms. A royal sheriff was, for all intents and purposes, governor of the shire which he represented and answered only the king himself.

This was indeed the extent of the situation in the spring of 1223 when Pope Honorius declared that Henry, now fifteen years of age, was mature enough to take control of his kingdom (though he was still restricted on the distribution of grants). With the king no longer a minor, the Pope ordered those in possession of royal castles to immediately return them to the crown. After being briefly distracted by a Welsh rebellion (which was put down with relative ease), the justiciar took the reins of royal authority and began to put the Pope’s policies into effect. Hubert, who himself held a number of important royal castles, was met with great resistance. The council took the step of confirming  that Henry was indeed officially of age to govern. This alone seems to have persuaded most of those who held out to submit to the royal authority, and by the spring of 1224, a majority of the castles were returned to the king, who subsequently put them into the custody of various bishops, to later be distributed at the king’s leisure, but under stricter control from the crown.

There were a number of losers in the royal castles crisis, with powerful men such as the Earl of Chester, Peter des Roches and even the justiciar being some of the most prominent examples (though the latter still maintained his dominant position at court). One man who was particularly affected by the crisis was Fawkes de Breaute, a well-known soldier who had fought for the royalists during the civil war. Fawkes faced financial ruin after he was stripped of his sheriffdoms (which along with the royal castles, were required to be submitted and redistributed, so as to reassert royal authority over them) and, to make matters worse, a series of lawsuits were levied against him, to all of which he came out on the losing end. Now in a state of desperation, Fawkes had his brother William kidnap a royal justice and hold him hostage at his – Fawkes’ – castle of Bedford. The king, under the guidance of the justiciar and Archbishop Langton, promptly besieged the castle and, after a siege of two months, captured it. William de Breaute and a number of others were hanged, while Fawkes himself, in light of his past service to the crown, was exiled.

Unfortunately, Henry’s success against Fawkes at home was tempered by a crisis abroad. Louis VIII of France, eager to continue his father’s conquest of the Angevin empire (and also to avenge himself on the English for defeating him during the Barons’ War), set his eyes on the English controlled county of Poitou. As soon as the ten year truce agreed upon by King John and Philip Augustus back in 1214 expired (in May 1224), Louis pounced on Poitou. By the end of the year, he had succeeded on conquering the entire county. Louis VIII was able to achieve his goal so swiftly and easily in part because of his alliance with Henry’s own stepfather, Hugh de Lusignan, the powerful Count of La Marche. Count Hugh (married to Henry’s mother, Isabella of Angouleme) had sworn allegiance to Henry just months before Louis invaded Poitou but, after the truce expired between England and France, the count felt it would be more pragmatic to pay homage to the French king, who was much closer to him and could easily send an army to his county if Hugh insisted on aligning himself with the English.

Once Louis finished his conquest of Poitou and departed back to Paris, Hugh was left with the responsibility of conquering the last remaining English possession on the continent: the duchy of Gascony, in the extreme southwestern part of France. Fortunately for Henry, Hugh was no general, and only succeeded in taking a few minor towns before withdrawing his army. To further cement his hold on the final morsel of the Angevin empire of his grandfather, Henry sent an army, under the command of his younger brother, Earl Richard of Cornwall, and his uncle, Earl William of Salisbury. The English force was able to thoroughly reassert the king’s authority in the distant duchy (at least for the time being). An excellent opportunity for Henry to wrestle back Poitou from French control came in the following year. It was at this time, November 1226, that Louis VIII suddenly died and left the French throne to his twelve-year-old son, Louis IX. Unfortunately, Henry severely underestimated the abilities of his cousin, Blanche of Castile, the queen mother and regent to her young son. Blanche immediately began consolidating her power and mustered an impressive force, forcing the English army to sue for peace.

While all of this was unfolding on the continent, Henry was now wielding considerably more power in England. For this reason, the justiciar and Archbishop Langton thought that it would be a wise idea for him to reconfirm Magna Carta, which he did in the year following the fall of Fawkes de Breaute. The goal of this exercise was for Henry to prove to the English nobility that he had no intention of returning to his father’s way of governing the kingdom and that their rights were perfectly safe. For the remainder of the decade of the 1220s, England was at peace (at least from a domestic standpoint). Henry continued to learn more about the art of kingship while Hubert de Burgh continued to be the dominating voice in English politics. The king showered the justiciar with vast amounts of money and land. To further Hubert’s meteoric rise, Henry, when he declared himself to be fully of age in 1227, created the justiciar Earl of Kent.

Unfortunately, a number of failed foreign expeditions very much help to sour the relationship between the king and his most powerful subject. The French campaign of 1230 caused a particularly sizable rift between king and justiciar. Henry had worked hard to form an alliance with Duke Peter of Brittany and hoped to travel to the continent and gain back as much of the old Angevin empire as he possibly could. Preparations for the ambitious journey dragged on, and Henry blamed Hubert, who was undoubtedly opposed to the whole plan from the start (given his own personal past bad experiences fighting the French). When the king saw that his fleet was not ready to sail by October 1229, he attempted to physically attack Hubert. This incident is seen as the beginning of the end for the justiciar. The English fleet finally landed in Brittany in May 1230 and what followed was a joke of a campaign. Henry saw very little in the way of fighting and, despite receiving the tepid homage of a majority of the lords of Poitou, gained no ground. The English army marched all the way south to Bordeaux, before turning back and returning to England in the fall. All in all, Henry’s “great enterprise” did nothing but drain the royal exchequer.

In the aftermath of the disastrous continental expedition (and a failed Welsh campaign that preceded it the following year) , it was becoming abundantly clear that Henry was becoming restless under Hubert’s tutelage and wished to be able to rule more independently. The conveniently timed return of Peter des Roches (who had been on crusade for the past four years) in 1231, provided the king with just the ally he needed to remove the powerful justiciar from his pedestal. In late 1231, Hubert’s failure (or rather, unwillingness) to do anything about the attack on foreign prelates (conducted through a brief rebellion by one Robert Tweng), which prompted an angry response from the Pope, gave Henry and des Roches further fuel to add to the fire that they were preparing to throw the justiciar into. Hubert must have been completely shocked when, in the summer of 1232, he was suddenly (and very much without warning) dismissed from office and replaced by one of des Roches’ followers. What followed was a swift and merciless persecution of the fallen justiciar at the hands of the king and his new group of counselors, which would assure that Hubert would never again wield the influence that he had for the past eleven years.

In the two years following the downfall of Hubert de Burgh, Peter des Roches was the dominant figure at the English court. Faithful followers of the wily bishop included Peter des Rivaux (des Roches nephew, or possibly son), who had been appointed to the important office of treasurer, and Stephen de Segrave, Hubert’s replacement as justiciar. Together, these men, with the king’s blessing, made it their goal to make sure that Hubert never returned to power. The fallen justiciar attempted to take sanctuary at various churches, but was ultimately brought into royal custody, where a whole slew of charges were levied against him by the king and the des Roches faction. Some of these charges undoubtedly had a grain of truth to them, but others were simply ridiculous (Hubert was actually charged with sorcery at one point). Hubert was also forced to surrender many of his lands and titles, and to hand over his massive treasure hoard to the king. Despite the king’s cries for independence, it was clear that he was under the firm influence of des Roches and his accomplices, and that Hubert was being unfairly prosecuted as a result. While the justiciar had never been a particularly popular figure (particularly amongst the nobility), most contemporaries seem to have believed him to have been a man who looked out for the crown’s best interests, unlike des Roches and his henchmen, who came off as almost completely self-motivated. In other words, the government  of bishop des Roches was even worse than that of the justiciar, in the opinion of many courtiers.

Henry’s favoring of the prelate prompted a moderately-sized rebellion led by Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, a son of the late regent. Hubert de Burgh was to act as a rallying cry for the revolt.  After forming an alliance with the powerful Llywelyn ap Iorwith of Wales, Marshal began to cause a great deal of trouble in the Welsh marches, one of several areas where he possessed a substantial powerbase. Henry attempted to stop the rebellion through military force, but he was no match for the Marshal, who was by far the superior general. Therefore, with the aid of the English bishops, a peace agreement was drawn up and ratified in April 1234. Knowing that affairs in England were under control, the Marshal decided that it was safe for him to travel to Ireland, where his lands were being threatened by rival claimants (ironically it was Richard de Burgh, Hubert’s nephew, who attacked the Marshal’s lands). Subsequently, the Marshal was gravely wounded in battle while defending  his territories. He died of his injuries a week after the ratification of the peace treaty.

In the aftermath of the Marshal’s tragic death, Henry and his advisers (i.e. the des Roches faction at court) were looked upon with great suspicion. Many members of the nobility and commons alike believed that it was no coincidence that, after the king and the Marshal had quarreled so fiercely, that the latter should be killed in a random skirmish so soon after the former had reluctantly agreed to a peace treaty that was disadvantageous to him. Rumors soon spread that Henry had staged the rebellion in Ireland to deliberately lure the Marshal there, in the hope of eliminating him from the picture. All of this is speculation, but if anyone had tricked the Marshal into walking right into his own demise, it was Peter des Roches. The Marshal had rebelled against des Roches’ regime, and the bishop hated him for it. Whatever the case may have been, Henry needed to make sure that suspicion was not levied on him personally. Therefore, it likely came as no surprise that des Roches and his henchmen were promptly dismissed from court shortly after the incident.

As for Hubert de Burgh, Henry made his peace with the fallen justiciar and returned him to royal favor (though not influence). The king again attempted to persecute him in 1236, but again Hubert was able to vindicate himself. After this last trial, Hubert retired from public life and died peacefully in 1243. Peter des Roches and his followers were also returned to favor (but, like Hubert, did not possess the influence that they once had) and the bishop remained a trusted councilor until his death in 1238. The downfall of these two great men – Hubert de Burgh and Peter des Roches – marked a major turning point in the reign of Henry III. Their effective dismissal from politics represented the true end of Henry’s minority reign (even though it had technically ended, de facto, in 1227). The shackles of his mentors had been removed and he was ready to become his own man. Unfortunately, events would soon enough prove that Henry was by no means the type of man who was fit to wield absolute power.

The years following the death of Richard Marshal, and the subsequent dismissal of the des Roches faction from court, were decidedly less dramatic in England. In January 1236, at the age of twenty-eight, Henry was married to Eleanor, the second daughter of Count Ramon of Provence, a girl fifteen years the king’s junior. With Hubert de Burgh and Peter des Roches now political non-entities, it was inevitable that a power vacuum of sorts would form. This gap was partially filled by the young queen’s maternal uncles of the house of Savoy. These Savoyards, as they came to be known, quickly inserted themselves into the thick of English politics and received very much in the way of patronage from their niece’s new husband. While the queen’s uncles were by no means disreputable men, many Englishmen were unhappy with foreigners gobbling up all of the royal favor, and for that reason the Savoyards were always looked upon with a certain amount of scorn, and suspicion.

Perhaps more notably, another foreigner, of Norman descent, really began to come into his own in England at this point: Simon de Montfort. Montfort, a younger son of the well-known crusader of the same name, had come to England back in 1230 to lay claim to his family’s lands in Leicestershire and had quickly gotten on the king’s good side. While he primarily remained a background figure for most of his first decade within his adopted country, Montfort etched his involvement in Henry’s regime in stone when he married the king’s sister, Eleanor, in 1238. The following year, he was created Earl of Leicester and was considered to be one of Henry’s closest confidants. Over the next quarter-century, Montfort and the king would display that their relationship was very much of the “love-hate” variety, and the earl was, by far, the most significant figure in English politics in the years 1258-65 (much to Henry’s detriment). For this reason, despite the fact that Montfort had not yet achieved this status, it is important to mention that his political fortunes were very much on the rise by this point.

In the summer of 1241, Henry saw another opportunity of regaining some of the lost Angevin territories on the continent. It was at this point that King Louis IX created his younger brother, Alphonse, Count of Poitou. The lords of Poitou, who were notorious for their independence, were not completely happy with this arrangement. At first, Henry’s stepfather, Hugh de Lusignan (the most powerful of all of the Poitevan lords), willingly accepted Alphonse’s sovereignty over the county. But, at the behest of his wife, Henry’s mother Isabella (who was Countess of Angouleme in her own right), he renounced his homage to the French prince and staged a rebellion. The situation was eerily similar to Hugh’s treatment of Henry back in 1224, when he swore allegiance to his stepson, only to switch his loyalties to Louis VIII several months later.

Apparently not learning his lesson the first time around, Henry jumped at the opportunity to go to the aid of his mother and stepfather, despite the fact that, at the time, there was a truce between England and France in effect. Henry quickly began making preparations for the voyage, but got little support (particularly from a monetary standpoint) from the English lords. Nonetheless, Henry travelled to the continent in the spring of 1242 with the intention of seizing back Poitou from French control. By the time the king arrived in Poitou, Count Hugh had already been defeated by the French and forced to submit. The other allies which Henry had recruited from the surrounding areas quickly followed suit. Henry himself lingered on the continent for over a year before realizing that there was no point in continuing the enterprise. He departed for England in the fall of 1243 and would not make another serious attempt to gain back the Angevin lands that he and his father had lost.

In the years that followed the failed Poitevan enterprise, it became apparent that gaining back lands that were clearly lost to him were the least of the king’s concerns. By the late 1240s, Henry was struggling just to hold on to the one piece of land that remained of the once vast Angevin empire: the duchy of Gascony. In retrospect, it is easy to look back and come to the conclusion that Gascony was more trouble than it was worth for a leader who was stationed in England. After all, it was surrounded by the hostile kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, Navarre and, most significantly, France; it was riddled by internal factions between the local lords; and it was autonomous by nature, making it a difficult place for any king or duke to establish any sort of consolidated government. Yet, the wine trade, based out of the coastal city of Bordeaux, was a major moneymaker for both England and Gascony, and was therefore beneficial to keep it flowing. On top of this, the Gascon citizens far preferred to be ruled by the distant King of England, as opposed to the adjacent King of France. For that reason alone was Henry able to sleep a bit more soundly. But, with Louis IX anxious to complete the conquest of the continental Angevin lands that his father and grandfather had begun, and the kings of the Spanish kingdoms to the south looking to press their own claims to the duchy, Gascony was in more danger than ever before.

Therefore, Henry decided to appoint a lieutenant to rule Gascony in his steed: his own brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Montfort was highly reluctant to take up the position, partly because, in order to do so, he would have to put his crusade to the Holy Land on hold, and partly because he knew it would be an extremely daunting task. In the end, the earl gave in and accepted the post, but expected to have both the use of Gascony’s revenues and the full cooperation and moral support of the king. It was agreed that Montfort would serve as lieutenant of Gascony for a term of seven years, starting in the spring of 1248. The earl began his tenure as lieutenant well enough, coming to peace agreements with Gascony’s hostile neighbors. But, it was not long before the Gascon people began to loath Montfort and his authoritative way of governing. According to the earl, he was only doing what his master ordered: reasserting ducal authority to a semi-contumacious land. To the people of Gascony, Montfort was a cruel despot who had stripped them of the precious autonomy, violated their beloved local customs, destroyed their justice system and made local rivalries even worse by taking sides. For the first two or three years of the lieutenancy, Montfort had the support of the king. After this, complaints starting pouring into England from the Gascon people.

By the spring of 1252, Henry had lost all confidence in the earl to govern the duchy effectively and began to take the side of the Gascon lords as they put their complaints before him. Montfort was promptly put on trial for his offenses. The earl’s defense was simple: He was underfunded and underappreciated in his post. According to Henry, Montfort had overspent and over-governed the duchy and pushed its people to rebellion and discord. While Simon was ultimately exonerated in court, the king stripped him of his lieutenancy (in exchange for a sizable cash buyout), despite the fact that the earl still had three more years left on his contract. Henry then proceeded to grant Gascony as an appanage to his eldest son and heir, Prince Edward, now thirteen years of age. He then travelled to the duchy in person in the summer of 1253 in order to bring peace to his son’s new territory.

Surprisingly, Henry was successful in bringing the duchy under control. Whereas Montfort seemed to work against the Gascon citizens, Henry worked with them, and by the time he departed home at the end of 1254, the land was at relative peace. Perhaps even more importantly, Henry formed a significant alliance with King Alfonso X of Castile, who represented Gascony’s most powerful enemy to the south. Under the terms of the treaty, Alfonso was to renounce all claims that he had to Gascony. The agreement was sealed by the marriage of Prince Edward to Alfonso’s sister Eleanor. All in all, Henry’s pacification of Gascony was one of his biggest successes to date and he could now brag that he was able to accomplish something that even his brave and militaristic brother-in-law, Montfort, had failed at miserably. Unfortunately, as has already been seen on several occasions during his reign, Henry’s success would soon be tempered by a massive failure.

While still in Gascony, Henry began to plan what he hoped would be his next successful enterprise: the conquest of the kingdom of Sicily, which, since the 1190s, had been under the control of the house of Hohenstaufen, who also ruled as Holy Roman Emperors. Henry’s ambitions to gain Sicily, and award it to his younger son, Edmund, can be traced from two separate events which occurred in 1250. Firstly, it was in this year that Henry’s former brother-in-law, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (the widower of his sister Isabella), died. Rather can continue the alliance (made primarily against the French) with Frederick’s descendents, Henry decided to sever the ties between England and the Empire. This is due in large part to the quarrel between  the house of Hohenstaufen and the Pope, England’s overlord (which had led to Frederick’s excommunication). While Frederick lived, Henry felt he had an obligation to keep in maintaining good relations with him. With the emperor dead, the king had no reason to antagonize his overlord by siding with the latter’s enemy. Also in 1250, Henry had taken the cross and therefore was obligated to go on a crusade to the Holy Land at some point within the next few years.

By 1254, Henry was asking Pope Innocent IV to free him from his obligation to go on crusade so that he may concentrate his attentions on winning Sicily for Edmund. Wanting to dismember the power of the Hohenstaufens as much as possible, Innocent readily granted the kingdom to Edmund. Henry undoubtedly considered this to be another monumental victory. Unfortunately, what the king did not realize was that, in undertaking the task of winning a crown for his younger son, he had basically agreed to take on the financial burden of the papacy in its war against the house of Hohenstaufen. For the next four years, the Pope levied heavy taxes in England, which Henry had no choice but to allow. Since the barons refused outright to give any sort of financial support whatsoever for the Sicilian business (as the enterprise has come to be known), nearly all of the weight fell on the English clergy. By the year 1258, it was becoming abundantly clear that Henry was in over his head. On the brink of bankruptcy and threatened with excommunication if he did not fulfill his monetary obligations for the Sicilian business, Henry had no choice but to turn to the English nobility for aid in liberating himself from the overwhelming task that he had subjected himself to. And so began the baronial reform movement in England.

While Henry’s astronomical failure in dealing with the Sicilian business can easily be viewed as the direct cause for the outbreak of the reform movement, the English barons had actually been restless with the regime for quite some time by this point. Besides the desperate need for a near complete overhaul of the local justice systems (as well as other financial and feudal issues), the barons were none too happy with the fact that the most of the royal patronage was being greedily devoured by a small group of the king ‘s foreign relations of the houses of Savoy and Lusignan. While the Savoyards were relatively neutral within affairs (indeed some of them even joined in the reform movement on the side of the barons in the beginning), the Lusignans (Henry’s half-brothers, who had fled Poitou for England after the defeat and downfall of their parents in the 1240s) were greedy, haughty and ambitious, and had very few friends amongst the baronage.

When Henry turned to the barons for assistance, he did so with the understanding they he would, for all intents and purposes, become their humble servant. A council of twenty-four barons and clerics was promptly established (with twelve men being chosen by the barons, twelve by the king). Henry was not to make any important decisions without consulting the council and was to follow their advice in all matters. The council was soon after diminished to a group of fifteen, who were primarily members of the baronial party. After first negotiating a settlement with the Pope, which freed Henry from any obligation pertaining to Sicily (in exchange for a substantial cash payment), the barons set to work on reforming the kingdom. The fruits of their labor were the Provisions of Oxford, drawn up at parliament in June 1258. Simply put, the Provisions were a series of regulations which reformed many aspects of the judicial, financial and feudal systems within England, and greatly aided in putting limits on the king’s power. All barons, officials and clergymen were prompted to swear an oath to abide by the Provisions. When the king’s Lusignan brothers refused to do so, they were forced out of the kingdom.

The following year, the Oxford Provisions were superseded by the Provisions of Westminster, which added still more regulations and reforms. During the years of 1258-59, the king was really nothing more than a figurehead. While all decisions made within the kingdom ultimately had to have his stamp of approval, Henry knew that it was not in his best interest (at least not at the current time) to resist the barons. It would be difficult to make the argument that the king did not deserve to have his power checked after the disastrous Sicilian business, and much of the workings of government were certainly in need of some sort of reform. This is proven by the fact that, even some of Henry’s closest relatives were supporters of the movement, including his Savoyard uncle-in-laws; his nephew, Henry of Almain; and even his own son and heir, Prince Edward. Henry was most certainly down, but not out, during this turbulent period in his reign, but events would soon demonstrate that the barons would not be able to restrain their master indefinitely.

Meanwhile, as the reform movement was in full force within England, envoys were busy negotiating a definitive peace treaty between Henry and Louis IX of France. The groundwork for the Treaty of Paris (as it has come to be known) was laid down by the spring of 1258, but the document was not ratified until December 1259. One of the primary reasons for this substantial delay in the sealing of the treaty was the resistance of Simon de Montfort, who felt the need to bring his own personal dilemmas to the forefront of international politics. The main stipulation of the Treaty of Paris was that not only Henry, but several members of his family, had to renounce all claims to the old Angevin lands of Normandy, Anjou and Poitou (while Henry paid homage to Louis IX for Gascony). One of those who needed to renounce her claims was Henry’s sister Eleanor, Montfort’s wife. Montfort used his wife’s necessary renunciation as leverage to settle the age-old debate over her dowry lands from her first marriage, which had still not been granted to her after nearly thirty years had passed since her first husband’s death. In the end though, Montfort was forced to capitulate and the treaty was ratified. Due to this defeat, the earl would return to England an angry and bitter man.

In the aftermath of the Treaty of Paris, Montfort intended to dedicate himself to upholding the Provisions in England. For this reason, he called for a parliament when he returned home from France (as was stipulated within the Provisions). However, Henry was still in France, perhaps recovering from some sort of illness, or perhaps simply stalling to prevent the parliament from meeting so that no further reforms could be put into effect that were detrimental to the crown. Montfort assumed the latter. With the help of Prince Edward, Montfort held the parliament in London. This was a blatant act of defiance towards the king and Henry intended to have his revenge. Knowing that it would be unwise to return to England with only his personal entourage, Henry swiftly mustered an army of mercenaries and returned to his kingdom in April 1260. The intimidating presence of the king’s army was enough to thoroughly frighten Prince Edward, who surrendered himself unconditionally to his father, and would not go against him again. Montfort was put on trial for his part in the disturbances, but defended himself with a simple statement: He was only upholding the Provisions. The trial ended prematurely, partly because of the lack of substance to the charges against Montfort, and partly because of a Welsh rebellion that was underway.

Over the following months, Henry publicly praised the Provisions, while he was secretly consolidating his power and awaiting a papal bull that would absolve him from his oath to the troublesome document. When the bull arrived in the spring of 1261, Henry immediately denounced the Provisions and accused the magnates of overreaching and attempting to usurp royal power. The barons defended themselves admirably enough, but it was clear that Henry had effectively seized back control of the government from them. A brief rebellion was staged against the royal party, but the king was well prepared and the barons were forced to agree to a treaty that was less than advantageous to them. Montfort departed for France in a fit of anger. Unfortunately, the royal resurgence would not last for very long, as it soon became apparent that Henry had not learned his lesson. The Lusignans were back at court and all of the parts of the Provisions that had been appealing to the local shires had been done away with. It was at this point that a group of disgruntled, minor noblemen (most of whom were unhappy with the fact that their master, Prince Edward, was depending more on foreign mercenaries than on them) invited Montfort back into the kingdom to aid them in their fight against the king’s poorly run regime.

While Montfort had undoubtedly been one of the major voices in the reform movement when it had first begun in 1258, he had only been one member of a cohesive group of barons (which, again, included some of the king’s own relatives) who felt that the English government was in dire need of some significant changes. He now resurfaced as the clear leader of an opposition party, going up against an unjust system. When Montfort returned to England in April 1263, he wasted no time in taking back power. After the king promptly  brushed aside the baronial demands to uphold the Provisions at all costs, the earl and his followers proceeded to cause mass devastation throughout the realm, ravaging and pillaging lands of all those who were suspected of supporting the royal cause. In particular, the baronists targeted foreigners, and a major theme of this revival of the reform movement was indeed a call for foreigners (at least those whom the baronial party disapproved of) to be ousted from the kingdom completely. As Simon gained control over much of southern England, even the queen was not safe from persecution, as she was bombarded with trash by the Londoners (who were now supporters of the reform movement) as she attempted to escape from the city on the Thames. Henry himself was forced to take refuge in the tower.

Just as quickly as Montfort had lost power, did he gain it back with a vengeance. In returning to power so swiftly though, Montfort had created a whole new set of problems for himself and his cause. During the violence which the earl likely deemed as necessary to bring his party back to the forefront of English affairs, not all of those affected were staunch royalists and foreigners whose goal was to do away with the Provisions. Many were innocent citizens who had no political ties whatsoever. The devastation inflicted by the baronial party was not limited to laymen either, as many church lands were attacked without scrutiny. Combine these attacks with the assault on the queen by the Londoners and it was clear that Montfort and his men had engaged in some truly disgraceful behavior. For many of the men whose lives had been turned upside-down by the actions of the earl’s men, the baronial cause was permanently tainted. Montfort did his best to provide recompense for those whose lands had been spoiled, but the earl had clearly overstepped.  Just months after the baronial coup, the momentum was already returning to the king’s party.

With a substantial number of desertions from the baronial party taking place, Henry slowly but surely began to (once again) take back his kingdom. But, with tensions between the two parties at an all-time high, both sides felt it necessary to bring in an impartial third party to moderate the situation: Louis IX of France. This was not the first time since the Treaty of Paris was ratified that the French king was brought in to arbitrate a matter between the royal and baronial parties in England. Several years earlier, he had passed down a ruling in favor of Montfort and the barons, claiming that Henry was obliged to honor his oath to the Provisions. But things had changed since then and Montfort’s violent rise to power in the spring of 1263 did nothing to further endear him in Louis’ eyes. For these reasons, neither side knew what kind of ruling to expect from the French king, but both parties agreed to obey whatever that decision was.

In January 1264, Louis, through the Mise of Amiens, handed Henry a decisive victory, as he ruled that the Provisions were completely invalid and that the English king was free to rule his kingdom as he saw fit, and with whatever advisers he pleased (Montfort had previously replaced many of the king’s men in the major governmental positions), so long as he obeyed the stipulations within Magna Carta. Louis’ decision to rule in favor of his fellow monarch was undoubtedly due in large part to the violent atrocities that Montfort and his armies had committed against the church, the innocent citizens of England and Queen Eleanor. After all, Louis was a man of strict religious and moral principles (both were traits that had bonded him with Montfort in the past) and the English queen was his sister-in-law. For these reasons alone, the attacks Montfort waged in his quest to uphold the Provisions must have been appalling to the French king. The fact that, had he ruled in favor of Montfort, Louis would have been setting a dangerous precedent against monarchs in general must have also played a role in his decision-making process, as did the fact that Montfort, having broken his leg in a riding accident, was not there to defend himself in person. As can be imagined, Montfort was infuriated by the French king’s ruling. Civil war had now become inevitable, and seemingly unavoidable.

When Henry returned to England the month following Louis’ ruling in his favor at Amiens, he found that the country was already at war, as Montfort and his supporters were laying waste to the Welsh marches, where a number of the king’s most powerful allies were based. Fortunately, Prince Edward was able to surprise the barons, as they were attacking the castle of Gloucester, and force peace talks. As these talks were going on, the king and prince took it upon themselves to storm the rebel stronghold of Northampton. While it may not have been the noblest of actions to attack their opponents during peace negotiations, the strategy worked for the royalists, as they were able to rout the baronial forces and take Montfort’s son, another Simon, captive. The royalist victory at Northampton clearly took the idea of peace off the table (the fact that Montfort’s men had been mustering troops there did not help the situation either), and Montfort responded accordingly: with further violence.

For the next month, the rival forces attacked each other’s lands, causing havoc throughout most of the kingdom. Both sides anticipated a decisive battle to end the quarrel. This opportunity came in mid-May of 1264 when the considerably-smaller baronial force handed the royal army an embarrassing defeat at the Battle of Lewes. When the battle commenced, Prince Edward made the grave mistake of concentrating all of his forces into chasing a contingent of Londoners miles away from the battlefield (most likely, in part, to their treatment of the prince’s beloved mother the previous year). This allowed Montfort to seize the advantage and defeat the main royal force. In the aftermath of Lewes, Richard of Cornwall and his son, Henry of Almain, were captured (along with nearly all of the important noblemen who fought for the royalists), while the king and prince were forced to take sanctuary in local religious houses. Henry had been beaten and now had no choice but to return to the negotiating table, where terms would not be in his favor.

In response to their glorious victory, Montfort and his party drafted the Mise of Lewes. Unfortunately, this document does not survive, but it has become clear as to what some of the stipulations were. For example, the captured marcher barons, a majority of whom had fought on the royalist side, were to be set free (despite the fact that they were dangerous enemies of the baronial party) because their presence in the Welsh marches was necessary so as to keep the Welsh from causing trouble in western England. In order to assure the marchers’ good behavior, and to make sure that baronists had the cooperation of the king, Prince Edward and Henry of Almain were to become baronial hostages. This arrangement was to last until the final ratification of the Mise. For the time being, Montfort had succeeded in setting up a puppet regime where his voice would be heard above all others, including those of the king and the heir to the throne.

Montfort proceeded to set up a provisional government which was supposed to keep the kingdom in order until the ratification of the Mise, whenever that may have been. Unfortunately, the earl was destined to face some serious challenges to his authority. On the continent, Queen Eleanor and a number of English royalist barons who had fled the country after their defeat at Lewes had gathered a large army of mercenaries, with the financial aid of Louis IX, and had intentions of invading England. This prompted Montfort to muster a massive force of his own and to keep the island kingdom in a constant state of alert. He was able to do so by persuading the Englishmen that it would not be to their benefit should a large force of foreigners invade their country, even if one of them was their own queen. Luckily enough for the barons, the queen’s forces were so enormous that it was impossible to monetarily sustain them for any extended period of time. For this reason, Eleanor was forced to dissolve her army and call off the invasion. Montfort achieved a further victory when he was quickly able to suppress a brief uprising courtesy of the dangerous marcher lords, who were still embittered by their defeat at Lewes.

While the second of these two crises was occurring, Montfort seems to have been concerned enough to take some sort of action to protect the baronial government. The result of the earl’s concerns was the Peace of Canterbury. If the Mise of Lewes was considered to be a devastating defeat for the royal party, the Peace was nothing short of apocalyptic, as it put even more restrictions on the king and prince. Within the Peace, it was stipulated that the Provisions were to be the official laws of the land and that Henry and Edward were not to challenge them, or to attempt to punish those men (Montfort in particular) who had put them into effect. This government was to remain in effect throughout the remainder of Henry’s reign, and even into Edward’s. While the Peace was supposed to be a temporary solution (that is, until the Mise was ratified), the case can easily be made that it was nothing more than a harsher rebuke of royal power, and that Montfort had no intention of putting forth an alternative or easing his restrictions on the authority of the crown.

During the negotiations of the Peace of Canterbury, Montfort faced yet another challenge from his authority, this time from the Pope himself, who attempted to send a papal legate, the Bishop of Le Puy, into England to aid the king in his battle against the barons and their Provisions. The legate (who himself would become Pope the following year) was denied entrance into England and ultimately forced to pass sentences of excommunication against Montfort and a number of his followers. But, since the sentences were only published in France, and not England, they were generally ignored and considered invalid. The legation lapsed when the bishop succeeded to the papacy as Clement IV and Montfort was successful in upholding the Provisions yet again. At the end of 1264, the earl achieved still further success when he was again able to put down an uprising by the marcher lords, who in the aftermath in their failed plot were forced to depart England for a year and a day (though this would never end up happening). After surviving all of these challenges against his puppet regime, it would not be inaccurate to say that Montfort was now at the height of his power.

For this reason, he felt that he had supreme bargaining power when it came to negotiating the release of Prince Edward. The terms of Edward’s “release” from captivity were extremely humiliating for the heir to the throne. Not only was the prince to uphold the Provisions in every way, but he was forced to hand over a large majority of his important castles to Montfort. While Edward was to be recompensed with other lands (supposedly of equal value), this can be looked at as a huge power play by Montfort, who assured that the prince would not be able to build up a substantial powerbase. The deal was especially sweet for the baronial party because, despite the fact that Edward was technically free from captivity, he was still to be kept under close surveillance, and his movements were heavily restricted. If the prince did not obey the terms of his “release” unconditionally, he faced the prospect of disinheritance.

With the king and prince both firmly under his control, it comes as a major surprise that Montfort’s power was on the verge of completely disintegrating, with fatal consequences for the ambitious earl. The most significant reason for Montfort’s ultimate downfall and defeat seems to have been the alienation of his most powerful supporter: the young Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. Gloucester was none too happy that, despite the fact that he had been instrumental in bringing the baronial party to power (and therefore Montfort), he had been, in many ways, left out of the loop by his fellow earl. Instead, many of the important posts and responsibilities in the realm were awarded to Montfort’s close personal associates, in particular his sons. Gloucester had not supported the baronial cause simply to switch one avid nepotist for another, and began to become restless with Montfort’s regime. By April 1265, it was clear that Gloucester had defected from the baronial party (though Montfort was not completely aware of this fact just yet), and had brought a number of important noblemen with him. Just weeks later, he helped free Prince Edward from his captivity.

For the next three months, a struggle for power ensued. While Montfort still had possession of the king, of London and of the important Cinque Ports, the momentum was clearly on the side of the royalists, and they most certainly had the superior army. The royal forces, led by Gloucester and Prince Edward, proceeded to take back baronial-held castles, while Montfort and his contingent had no choice but to do everything they could to avoid a pitched battle. Montfort was hoping to receive reinforcements from his son, Simon the Younger, or from Prince Llywelyn of Wales (or both), but neither of these provided the baronial forces with any substantial relief. Finally, in August, Montfort was cornered by his royalist opponents and had no choice but to fight. At the Battle of Evesham, the royal forces defeated their baronial counterparts in decisive, and brutal fashion. Montfort himself, his son Henry and a majority of his staunchest supporters were killed in the battle. The earl’s body was castrated and mutilated by the angry royalists. Henry was wounded during the battle (he was actually brought onto the field by Montfort, likely as a ploy to show that he had the king’s “support”), but it can be assumed that this mattered little to him, for the man who had posed the greatest threat to the welfare of his regime was now gone forever.

The death of Simon de Montfort was, undoubtedly, a fatal blow for the reform movement and, in the aftermath of the royalist defeat at Evesham, there were mass desertions from the baronial party. However, there were still pockets of resistance throughout the realm. Most of these disturbances were easily enough put down, but Montfort’s son, Simon the younger, continued to hold out with a sizeable force at the castle of Kenilworth, a nearly-impregnable Montfortian stronghold. At first, Henry and the prince pursued a relatively conciliatory approach towards the remaining rebels, even granting a safe conduct to young Simon to meet with them and discuss a peaceful solution to their quarrel. When Montfort turned down the king’s offer, claiming the terms were too harsh, Henry became enraged, and consumed by vengeance. He now remembered that young Simon and his father had been responsible for the imprisonment of his son and brother, for forcing his wife into exile and for making him a slave in his own kingdom, and he vowed to be revenged on every man who had aided the Montfort family. Therefore, Henry announced that all men who had participated in Montfort’s rebellion would be forced to forfeit all of their lands to the crown. This created a group that has come to be known to history as the “disinherited.”

Once the king’s announcement was made, the rebels’ lands were simply given away to anyone who might lay claim to them. The earldom of Leicester (and all the lands and incomes that went with it), which technically should have gone to the younger Simon de Montfort, based upon the rules of inheritance, was granted to the king’s son Edmund. Knowing that a siege of Kenilworth castle was inevitable, young Simon decided to depart his stronghold and seek help from fellow rebels in other areas of the kingdom. He was ultimately captured by Prince Edward and taken into custody. As a deal was being worked out, which seems to have been centered around Montfort willingly departing the country in exchange for a yearly pension, young Simon escaped his captors and fled to France. Montfort’s escape seems to have emboldened the remaining rebels to take a final stand against the crown, and disturbances occurred accordingly in various places throughout the realm, including the Cinque Ports, where most of the commerce of England was controlled. Kenilworth continued to be the rebel headquarters. Unfortunately, the royalists continued to control the momentum and the Cinque Ports swiftly fell to them. In the late spring of 1266, Henry and Edward finally decided to lay siege to Kenilworth. For the next six months, the rebels held out in their stronghold, with the hope that young Simon would arrive from France with an army to relieve them. The hope of a Montfortian invasion of England emboldened rebels in other areas too, and a new center for resistance emerged in the Isle of Ely. These new developments forced Henry to call a parliament outside Kenilworth, which proceeded to form a committee of twelve men (a combination of barons and prelates) who were responsible for bringing peace to the realm. The result of this committee was the Dictum of Kenilworth.

While a complete and original copy of this important document has not survived, the primary stipulations within it are fairly straight forward. The rebels were to acknowledge that the king was restored to his full and rightful authority and that he had no obligation whatsoever to regard the Provisions, or any other law forced upon him during the reform movement, as legitimate. In exchange, Henry promised to uphold the law of the land as written within Magna Carta and to choose his councilors wisely and with regard to the well-being of the kingdom. Most importantly, all the men who had sided with Montfort, and to this point had been disinherited, were to be given the opportunity to plead their cases before the royal court and the committee of twelve, and to receive their lands back.  While the rebels, in most cases, would be forced to buy back their own lands at inflated prices, the Dictum was still a fairly generous offer, considering the fact that these men had rebelled against their king. Yet, it was not accepted at first. The rebels at Kenilworth still held out hope that young Simon would return to rescue them. Unfortunately, this aid was not forthcoming and, in December 1266, the rebels surrendered themselves to the king’s mercy and agreed to obey the terms of the Dictum.

The downfall of Kenilworth was a major victory for the king, but scattered disturbances still persisted, even at this late and seemingly hopeless stage of the reform movement. Rebel activity was now based primarily in Ely, where the baronial captain John D’Eyvill still held out. Negotiations were opened up between the royalists and the rebels, but neither side seemed interested in compromising. The rebels wanted the Provisions to be upheld and to face no punishment for their actions, while the king was set on nothing less than complete submission. It was at this point that the Earl of Gloucester, who had been instrumental in both Montfort’s glorious victory at Lewes and his devastating defeat at Evesham, stepped in as a sort of defender of the disinherited. The earl’s motives for involving himself in such a way are not completely clear, but it is highly likely that he had genuinely believed in the reform movement, and had only gone against it because he did not approve of the way in which Montfort was running it.

Once it became clear to the king that Gloucester had taken up the cause of the disinherited, the earl was summoned to London by Ottobuono, the papal legate (who, since his arrival in England, had been one of the primary voices in peace negotiations between king and rebels). Gloucester did indeed travel to London, in April 1267, but he did so with an army. He was then joined by John D’Eyvill and the two men proceeded to occupy the city with their forces. Henry was undoubtedly furious with Gloucester’s treachery, but it seems that the earl had a plan all along. Just as the royal forces were preparing to lay siege to England’s capital, cooler heads prevailed and peace negotiations were opened up. Two months after Gloucester had arrived in London, peace was proclaimed. With the rebels finally agreeing to obey the terms of the Dictum of Kenilworth, it appeared that, at long last, the Second Barons’ War had come to an end.

With England now at peace, Henry set his attentions to Wales. Llywelyn ap Grufydd, the self-proclaimed Prince of Wales, had thrown his support behind Simon de Montfort during the Barons’ War (even if only halfheartedly), because he was no friend of the English marcher lords. Since the marchers fought for the king, it was only natural that Llywelyn would choose the opposite side to support. With the Barons’ War now over, the crafty Welshman knew that it would be in his best interest to make peace with Henry, and to acquire the best terms that he possibly could. In September 1267, Henry and Llywelyn agreed to the Treaty of Montgomery. The basic terms of the treaty are simple: Henry was to officially acknowledge Llywelyn as Prince of Wales, and Llywelyn was to pay homage to Henry as his vassal. While these negotiations were going on at Montgomery, the committee of twelve (which had been formed at the parliament which ultimately produced the Dictum of Kenilworth) was busy drawing up the Statute of Marlborough, which was basically a revamped version of the Dictum. The Statute covered many of the important forms which had been such a major part of the Provisions, but did not restrict the authority of the crown as the latter document had.

The final years of the life and reign of King Henry III were remarkably similar to the opening years of the reign, when the First Barons’ War had just ended and William Marshal ruled over the realm as regent. Though Henry was now a man in his early sixties (as opposed to the ten-year-old boy who sat on the throne in 1217), the years 1268 – 72, like the years 1217 – 19, were a time of peace in England. In both situations, the kingdom had just come off of several years of chaotic and divisive civil war, in which reform was brought on the hard way – through violence. Therefore, both times were consumed by the process of reconstruction, where the kingdom slowly but surely returned to normalcy, as was necessary after a country has suffered a period of social unrest. One of the most serious issues in the last years of Henry’s reign was the dire state of the royal exchequer.

During the Barons’ War, the financial system had not been able to function properly, therefore stripping the crown of much of its usual incomes. Again, we are reminded of the situation in which the Marshal was faced with when he finally rid the realm of Louis of France. Henry was in need of funds for three primary reasons: Firstly, he had agreed to provide an aid to the disinherited, many of whom were struggling to come up with the money to buy back their lands at the inflated prices which were stipulated within the Dictum; Secondly, the king and the prince wished to participate in the Ninth Crusade to the Holy Land and, as was common knowledge, crusades were very costly endeavors; Finally, Henry needed funds for the basic upkeep of the realm (i.e. to pay off loans; pay royal officials; etc.).

Much of the aid for these expenses came from the purses of the church of England, one of the only entities that was left fairly unscathed (at least financially) by the Barons’ War. The clergy were forced to submit to numerous rounds of taxation during Henry’s final years and, for the most part, did so willingly if they knew it meant keeping the realm financially stable, and at peace. When the clergy could pay no more, Henry was forced to tax his lay subjects, and the citizens of England were indeed forced to pay a property tax for the first time in over thirty years. These taxations did not completely solve the kingdom’s financial problems, but they were certainly a start to putting the realm back on track. It is also worthy of note that one of Henry’s prouder achievements of his reign occurred during these final years: the completion of the remodeling of Westminster Abbey.

Up until the summer of 1270, Henry still had intentions of crusading to the Holy Land, but ultimately thought better of it, and transferred his vow onto his son Edmund. Prince Edward left the realm shortly after, never to see his father again. In the spring of 1271, Henry fell ill, and was believed to be at death’s door. Surprisingly, the old king recovered and renewed his crusading vow, though nothing ever came of this. Henry’s reprieve from death was only to last for another year and a half. He died, aged sixty-five, on November 16 1272, after a reign of fifty-six years. Since his heir, now King Edward I, was still on crusade, England was ruled by several regents, until the new king returned in 1274.

Assessment and Analysis

For over seven hundred years, King Henry III has continued to puzzle historians. It is perhaps for this reason that no true standard biography has been dedicated to him. Yet, a man who reigned over a rising superpower for fifty-six long years cannot simply be ignored completely, and he certainly deserves his due diligence. Henry’s reign can be categorized as unique for several different reasons, all of which must be analyzed to some extent. Through this exercise, the goal is to attempt to shed some light on the long life and career of this enigmatic, medieval monarch.

Firstly, it must be noted that Henry began his reign at the young age of nine, becoming the first child monarch in England since the reign of King Ethelred “the Unready,” who took the throne in 978, at the age of no more than twelve. The two monarchs began their reigns in very similar positions, being that they were both too young to rule independently, and were therefore dependent on a series of regents, protectors and counselors to run their kingdom effectively. In the case of Ethelred (whose nickname commonly translates to “without counsel”), these counselors did the realm no favors, and dragged the reputation of their young master down with them.

However, Henry was fortunate enough who have some of the ablest men in England as his mentors. In the beginning of the reign, William Marshal guided the kingdom through a civil war, a serious foreign invasion and a period of reconstruction during his tenure as regent, before handing his responsibilities off to Pandulf, the papal legate, who ruled in very much the same way. For the next ten years after the legate’s dismissal, Hubert de Burgh took the reins of government into his own hands and, while it cannot be denied that the justiciar was a highly ambitious man, assured that the everything ran smoothly for his master. Unfortunately, as reassuring as it must have been to have able men such as these guiding him, Henry thrived his independence, and once Hubert and Peter des Roches had fallen from power, he began to rule on his own. The people of England, in general, did not like what they saw.

What they saw was a feeble military commander, a poor administrator and a man who seemingly had no common sense when it came to choosing the men that he surrounded himself with. It was obvious that Henry was weak in these areas because he had never played a substantial role in government before the 1230s. He had become too dependent on men such as the Marshal, the papal legate, the justiciar and bishop des Roches and lacked the ability to make clear-cut decisions for himself. This would be a problem with future child monarchs, such as Richard II and Henry VI, both of whom took the throne at very young ages and were ultimately deposed and murdered by their usurpers, who were much stronger men. Yet, despite all of the similar weaknesses that Henry III shares with these particular monarchs, he did not suffer the same fate that they did.

It is true that, when faced with strong opposition from the barons (Simon de Montfort in particular), Henry folded under the pressure and almost immediately gave way to their every demands. After his defeat at the Battle of Lewes, he was virtually ineffective as a monarch. Yet in the end he preserved. Besides the fact that Montfort had ultimately overreached and played a large role in destroying himself, much of Henry’s perseverance can be credited to his son, Prince Edward, who would go on to be a considerably stronger monarch than his father. If it were not for Edward’s escape from captivity and his defeat of the rebels at Evesham, it would have come as no surprise if Henry III went the way that Richard II  and Henry VI would eventually go.

There were bright spots within Henry’s reign that are worthy of mention. For example, he did a fine job of cleaning up the diplomatic mess that Simon de Montfort had left behind after his lieutenancy in Gascony was cut short. He also effectively seized back power from the baronial party on several occasions, showing near-brilliant political skills in the process. But, despite these few glimmers of competency, Henry’s overall record of kingship is mediocre at best. It would not be fair to call him a tyrant, as many historians have branded his father, yet it would be giving him far too much credit to call him a strong leader, as his son would go on to be. One might say that Henry III simply “was.” All in all, the great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, is completely justified when, in his Purgatorio, he describes Henry as “the simple king who sat alone.”

Reference & Further Reading

Carpenter, D. A. The Minority of Henry III

Carpenter, D. A. The Reign of Henry III

Hutton, William Holden, The Misrule of Henry III

Norgate, Kate. The Minority of Henry III

Powicke, F. M. King Henry III and the Lord Edward

Weiler, Bjorn K. U. Henry III of England and the Staufen Empire, 1216-1272

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