Introduction to Reign
1. The Reign of Henry III, 1216-1272
King Henry III ruled for fifty-six years between 16 October 1216 and 16 November 1272. His is the third longest reign in English history. During this period the social and political landscape of England was changed irrevocably. Henry’s reign saw the implementation of Magna Carta and the beginnings of parliament. There was population growth and economic expansion. England’s relations with Europe were also transformed. By the time of Henry’s death, the Angevins (England’s ruling dynasty) had secured marital alliances with the kingdoms of Castile, France and Scotland, as well as the empire. But achievement went hand-in-hand with failure. The money getting operations of Henry’s government were burdensome to the people and politically contentious. Henry’s relationship with the English aristocracy was volatile. In 1258, riding the waves of complaint, a group of barons swept to power and took control of central government from the kings’s hands. The barons initiated a three-year period of reform, which was ultimately to lead to a bitter civil war. Between the baronial victory at the battle of Lewes (14 May 1264) and the royalist triumph at the battle of Evesham (4 August 1265), the king was a captive of his brother-in-law, the earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort. Historical opinion is divided as to whether one of England’s longest-ruling monarchs was malevolent or misunderstood, benevolent and benign or fickle and foolhardy. Historians typically divide Henry’s reign into four chronological periods:
- The Minority of Henry III and its aftermath, 1216-1234
- The Personal rule of Henry III, 1234-1258
- The Period of reform and rebellion, 1258-1267
- The Final years, 1267-1272
2. The Minority of Henry III and its aftermath, 1216-1234
The minority of Henry III and its aftermath covers the period from the death of King John, on 16 October 1216, to the fall of the Justiciar, the bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, in April 1234. This was a turbulent time. Royal authority was weak and under attack. One of King John’s last acts had been to renounce the Charter of Liberties, Magna Carta, which had been promulgated in June 1215. The result was civil war. At the time of Henry’s accession, Prince Louis of France (later Louis VIII), who had been invited to take the throne of England by opponents of King John, held sway over most of Eastern England. He also had control of London. With Westminster Abbey and the royal regalia out of reach, on 28 October 1216, Henry was crowned at Gloucester with one of his mother’s circlets by the Papal Legate, Guala. In order to reassert his sovereignty over the baronial opposition, in 1213, King John had made England a papal fief. During Henry’s minority, Guala and his successor, Pandulf, had ultimate control.
Henry was a boy of nine when his father died. Working under Guala and Pandulf until 1219, the responsibility of government was entrusted to a regency council, headed by the earl of Pembroke and chivalric hero, William Marshal, till 1219. Henry’s mother, Isabella of Angoulême, was too much associated with the old regime and was given no role on the council. She returned to her native France. Isabella’s controversial career is discussed by Louise Wilkinson in her Fine of the Month for May 2006. By ostracising Isabella, Henry’s ministers were sending a very clear message about the attitude of the new government. In November 1216, the council clarified its position by reissuing Magna Carta in the king’s name. Given the volatile nature of the situation in England, the move was politic, but it was no short-term expedient. By ratifying the Charter, Henry’s ministers established a benchmark from which all future royal activity could be judged. The fine rolls shed new light on the importance of the Charter, as Susanna Annesley’s Fine of the Month for November 2007, and David Carpenter’s Fine of the Month for March 2008, show.
The Charter of 1216 was not that of 1215. Various clauses had been omitted, the most important of which was clause 61. In 1215, the so-called ‘security clause’ had made provision for a group of twenty-five barons to “distrain and distress” the monarch, should he be found guilty of contravening the Charter. The reissue of 1216 may have ensured the Charter’s survival, but crucially, in the absence of this clause, it was without any means of constitutional enforcement. If Henry’s long reign can be said to have one overriding theme, it is the story of how a king and his subjects came to terms with Magna Carta.
The reissue of Magna Carta helped diffuse some of the animosity and distrust that had existed between the government and the baronial insurgents. Ultimately, the cessation of hostilities was decided by two military contests, both as spectacular as they were surprising: the siege of Dover Castle, which began on 10 July 1216, and the Battle of Lincoln, fought on 20 May 1217. Defended by the Justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, Dover Castle, ‘the key to England’, withstood a French siege (despite a breach in its walls) led by Prince Louis himself. Louis’s inability to take the castle, combined with a major naval defeat off the coast of Sandwich on 24 April 1217, had dire consequences the following year. Forced to divide their forces, the French suffered a decisive defeat at Lincoln, which David Carpenter, in his Fine of the Month for May 2007, regards “as second only to Hastings as the most decisive [battle] in English history.”
During the next decade, two further military encounters reveal much about the growing strength of the fledging government: the siege of Bedford Castle (1224) and the expedition to Poitou (1225). In June 1224, Falkes de Bréauté, a stalwart of John’s reign and sheriff of no fewer than six midland counties, rebelled. He was joined by his brother, William, who had seized a royal judge and imprisoned him in Bedford Castle. The ensuing royal siege of the castle, which lasted eight weeks (20 June – 15 August 1224) and ended with eighty of the garrison being hanged, was bloody and bitter, but it was a sign of the king’s increasing authority and confidence as a ruler. It was also the last occasion that Henry had to use force against erring subjects until the early 1260s. Using material from the fine rolls, the siege of Bedford is discussed in detail by Michael Ray in his Fine of the Month for July 2007.
The new king of France, Louis VIII, precipitated the second military challenge. Ever since the loss of Normandy in 1204, a series of truces, typically lasting four years, had been successively negotiated between the governments of France and England. However, in 1223, Louis refused to renew the truce. In 1224, at the height of the Bedford siege, he invaded Poitou. Simultaneously, Louis’s newfound ally, Hugh de Lusignan, whom he had lured from the English with the grant of Bordeaux, entered Gascony. The English government had been convinced that Louis would renew the truce, but reacted quickly, petitioning for a fifteenth – a 15 per cent tax on movables – to fund an army of conquest. The tax was conceded in return for the reissue of Magna Charter. The king also had to provide assurances that the money would be spent solely on the cause for which it had been raised. The yield of the fifteenth, just short of £40,000, is impressive given that the pipe roll for 1225 indicates annual Crown revenue was £16,500. To put this figure in context, an annual income of £15-20 was deemed sufficient to support the costs of knighthood. An unskilled labourer, earning a penny a day, could make just over £1 a year.
The events of 1224 and 1225 are a striking indication of Henry’s maturity and the capability of his government, but it must be remembered that the king, despite having had a second coronation at Westminster Abbey in May 1220, was still a minor. In 1224, he was seventeen years old.
As Henry’s twenty-first birthday approached, attempts were made to hasten his assumption of full sovereign powers. Since the resignation and death of William Marshal in 1219, two ministers, the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, and the king’s former tutor and guardian, the bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, effectively dominated the government of England. The men were bitter enemies and led rival factions at court. Both men wanted to preside over the king’s political emancipation and reap the inevitable rewards. David Carpenter’s Fine of the Month for August 2006 sheds new light on the struggles between these men. In December 1223, Hubert de Burgh implemented papal letters which declared the king to be of sufficient maturity – though not yet of age – to manage the affairs of his kingdom for himself. The letters had arrived at court in April, probably at the behest of the bishop of Winchester. Having helped quash the rebellion of Llywelyn, prince of North Wales, between September and October 1223, Hubert was riding high in the king’s favour. Consequently, he sought to use the papal letters himself to be rid of the bishop and his satellites. Initially, the plan seems to have had the desired effect. Hubert’s position was strengthened. However, the implementation of the papal letters provoked the revolt of Falkes de Bréauté, one of the bishop’s more bellicose supporters, which led to the siege of Bedford. In a dramatic change of fortune, indicative of the tit-for-tat shenanigans between these old rivals, the bishop was able to regain the king’s favour and, on 28 July 1232, he engineered the justiciar’s downfall. Using previously unknown material from the fine rolls, the ramifications of de Burgh’s dismissal are discussed in Benjamin Wild’s Fine of the Month for September 2006.
The triumph of Peter des Roches was long in coming, but short-lived. The bishop deeply resented the limitations that Magna Carta imposed on royal authority, which did much to alarm Henry’s subjects. Des Roches was also a divisive character, promoting his adherents at the expense of other royal officials. The chief beneficiary of the bishop’s patronage was Peter de Rivallis, a close relative. De Rivallis accumulated a bewildering array of appointments, including the offices of Treasurer and keeper of the king’s Wardrobe. He also gained custody of over twenty counties. The actions of des Roches created an enormous amount of animosity at court. Moreover, there are clear indications that the king was also becoming wary of his former tutor.
In January 1227, some nine months before his twenty-first birthday (1 October), Henry ended his minority. The strength of the king’s position can be judged from the fine rolls in two ways. Firstly the value of proffers that were made to king increased. According to Sophie Ambler, who addresses this issue in her Fine of the Month for December 2007, “[t]he amount proffered in Henry’s first fine roll totalled an embarrassing 1,320 marks; in 1226–27 the king could attract proffers amounting to 11,723½ marks.” Secondly, now that restrictions on Henry’s authority had been lifted, holders of royal charters were encouraged to pay money to have them confirmed, as David Carpenter explains in his Fine of the Month for July 2006.
Henry was increasingly eager, and impatient, to exercise his full sovereign powers. In 1230, he led his first military expedition to Poitou. Under scrutiny and increasingly out of touch, the regime of Peter des Roches was dealt a fatal blow in 1234, when it was implicated in the death of Richard Marshal, son of King Henry’s former regent, William Marshal. The political fallout very nearly plunged the kingdom into civil war. It was becoming clear that Peter des Roches’s position was untenable. In April 1234, he was dismissed. At long last, at the age of thirty-seven, King Henry III could take hold of the reins of power without a great minister at his elbow.
- David Carpenter, The Minority of Henry III (London, 1990).
- David Carpenter, The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066-1284 (London, 2003), 300-37.
- Nicholas Vincent, Peter des Roches: An alien in English politics, 1205-1238 (Cambridge, 1996).
3. The Personal rule of Henry III, 1234-1258
When referring to the personal rule of Henry III, historians are describing a twenty-four year period between the fall of Peter des Roches in April 1234, and the opening of the reform parliament in April 1258. The personal rule is the most studied period of Henry’s reign. In order to explain why the king lost control of central government in 1258, historians examine the personal rule for clues. In particular, they want to know how Henry ruled and why his style of kingship came to generate such high levels of discontentment. Various themes should be highlighted.
An obvious place to start is with the king himself. Henry was pious. Each day he fed 100 paupers, 150 when the queen was at court. Each day he attended several sung masses. Henry adopted St Edward the Confessor as his patron saint and, in 1245, initiated a vast building project at Westminster Abbey to provide a suitably sublime setting for the Confessor’s tomb. The re-building of Westminster Abbey says much about Henry the aesthete. Like his father, Henry loved opulence. But unlike his father, Henry enjoyed sharing his wealth as much as displaying it. The royal wardrobe accounts that are enrolled on the exchequer pipe rolls record purchases of exquisite fabrics and cloths of gold. Rings, brooches, cups and belts, all decorated with gems, were acquired for the king, his family and courtiers. Largesse was a central part of Henry’s character and his kingship. An important question to consider, however, is what motivated Henry’s building, giving and praying. In 1968, Michael Clanchy suggested that Henry pursued a policy of sole royal authority; that he deliberately sought to create an exalted image of divinely inspired kingship. In contrast, and in response, David Carpenter argued that King Henry, mindful of his father’s legacy and influenced by stories of his patron saint, sought only to rule in concert and harmony with his political community. That Henry often failed to do so should be seen as more a result of personal weaknesses rather than political theory.
Subsequent historical writing has been heavily influenced by this debate, in particular, studies that focus on Henry’s relations with his barons. Following the dismissal of Peter des Roches, the mid-1230s were a time of rebuilding and reconciliation, internally and externally. In July 1235, Henry’s sister, Isabella, married the Emperor Frederick II. In January 1236, King Henry married Eleanor of Provence. Henry’s marriage brought an influx of new men to the English court; namely, the Savoyards. Boniface, Peter and William of Savoy were Eleanor’s uncles. Over the next decade these men established themselves in prominent positions. In 1236, William became de facto leader of the royal council; in 1241, Henry chose Boniface as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, despite never having met him. The Savoyards were important to Henry because of their diplomatic links with the empire and the papacy. Henry clearly hoped to exploit the network of Savoyard connections to recover the Angevin territory that had been lost to the king of France during the reign of his father King John.
The Savoyards were able to establish themselves in England without arousing too much hostility. In contrast, another influx of foreigners, Henry’s Lusignan half-brothers, were not. The Lusignans, or Poitevins as they are sometimes known, were the offspring of Henry III’s mother, Isabella of Angoulême and Hugh X, count of Lusignan. Unable to play a leading role during her son’s regency, Isabella had returned to her native France and married the son of Hugh IX count of Lusignan, the man to whom she had been betrothed before King John intervened. The most important of the Lusignan brood in England were Guy de Lusignan, Geoffrey de Lusignan, William de Valence and Aymer de Lusignan. The reason why the incoming Lusignans were so bitterly resented has everything to do with timing, as Huw Ridgeway has shown. When Queen Eleanor’s uncles came to England in the mid-1230s, the royal coffers were full and Henry had large reserves of land to distribute among his English subjects and his in-laws. However, when the Lusignans arrived in the late 1240s the situation was very different. The royal coffers were drained and there was very little land for the king to bestow. Appearing to favour his foreign relatives over his native subjects, Henry and the Lusignans attracted criticism. There was also a perception that the Lusignans were above the law and that it was virtually impossible to secure a judgement against them. Whilst the Lusignans attracted opprobrium, the criticism was levelled, with equal validity, against many men – ‘alien’ and English – who enjoyed the king’s favour.
The belief that Henry III distributed patronage in a profligate manner was linked to criticisms of the level of his spending. The volume of complaints increased in the wake of Henry’s expedition to Poitou between May 1242 and September 1243. The purpose of Henry’s second military venture was the same as his first: to recover the Angevin territory that had been lost by King John. Henry left England with an impressive war chest of around £35,000. At the time the sum that was roughly equivalent to the Crown’s annual cash income. The money had been raised by means of a period of financial reform. (Administrative readjustments at the start of Henry’s personal rule are discussed by Richard Cassidy in his Fine of the Month for May 2008). Unfortunately it was to no avail. Henry returned to England bringing only disappointment and debts, totalling £15,000.
The Crown was by no means impoverished, but in November 1244 Henry petitioned his barons and prelates for a new tax on movables. The barons were disinclined to acquiesce, arguing that previous financial grants had done little to benefit the kingdom. A grant was still possible, however, if the king were willing to consider certain reforms, the surviving draft of which has come to be known as the Paper Constitution. The barons were particularly eager for a new chancellor and justiciar. The justiciarship had been left vacant since Stephen Seagrave’s dismissal in 1234. The great seal had been kept by obscure clerks since it was taken from Ralph de Neville, the bishop of Chichester, in 1238. The king, however, would not be cajoled. Henry’s unwillingness, or inability, to negotiate successfully with his political community proved costly. According to John Maddicott, between 1232 and 1257 there were roughly thirty parliaments. Henry petitioned for a general tax at twelve of these, but was successful only once, in 1237. The king was granted a feudal aid three times, in 1235, 1245 and 1253, but failed to secure one on nine occasions.
Between 1254 and 1258, the king successfully raised two gold treasures, which testifies to his ability as an adroit financier. Henry’s activity is instructive. It should deter us against painting too grim a picture of royal insolvency. However, unable to secure consent for taxation through parliament, the king was increasingly forced to pursue other money-raising schemes, many of which were politically contentious. Firstly, the king pledged large quantities of royal jewellery and plate. Forced to negotiate with merchants and foreign financiers, royal dignity could not but be impaired. Secondly, the king placed increasingly onerous burdens on his sheriffs by imposing increments on the money they paid into the treasury. Prohibited under a clause of 1215 Magna Carta that was omitted from subsequent reissues, increments were sums of money that sheriffs collected over and above their traditional county payments. Inevitability, this meant that Henry’s subjects were put under ever-greater financial pressure. Moreover, in order to satisfy the king’s cash demands, and maintain a suitable profit for themselves, sheriffs became increasingly oppressive.
Political and financial tensions increased during the early 1250s. One of the main reasons for this was the deteriorating situation in Gascony. English control in Gascony had always been fragile. The kings of Aragon and Castile nursed claims to the duchy by virtue of their descent from Eleanor of England, the wife of Alfonso VIII of Castile. The Gascon frontier was further threatened by the dynastic ambitions of France and Navarre. Within the duchy, faction was rife. Individuals vied to defend their liberties. Their bonds of obligation to the English duke were weak. Two factors made this combustible situation explosive. In May 1248, Henry III appointed his brother-in-law, the earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort, lieutenant for a period of seven years. While Montfort was able to re-establish order, his strong-arm tactics alarmed the king, who received a stream of reports from disaffected Gascons, not least the queen’s cousin, Gaston de Béarn. Relations between the king and his lieutenant rapidly degenerated. In May 1252, Montfort was forced to address his detractors at Westminster. The proceedings were rancorous but revealed that Montfort, rather than the king, had baronial backing.
In early 1253, a coalition of Gascons, led by Gaston de Béarn, openly rebelled. Capitalising on English confusion, de Béarn intrigued with the recently crowned Castilian monarch, Alfonso X, who sought to make good his ancestral claim to the duchy. The furore caused by Montfort’s lieutenancy and the concerns over Alfonso’s accession induced Henry III to travel to Gascony in August. During the Gascon expedition, plans for a permanent Anglo-Castilian alliance were arranged. By treaty, in April 1254, Henry’s son, Edward, was to marry Alfonso’s half-sister, Eleanor. To cement the marital alliance, Henry III was to seek papal approval to transfer his crusading vow, made in March 1250, to assist Alfonso X in Africa. In return, Alfonso and his heirs would renounce their claims to Gascony. Edward’s marriage took place on 1 November 1254 at Burgos.
The Castilian alliance was an important triumph, but the Gascon expedition was a drain on resources. Nor was it the only drain on the royal coffers during this period. In March 1254, Henry accepted the papal offer of the Crown of Sicily for his second son, Edmund. In an audacious attempt to rid itself of the Staufen dynasty following the death of Emperor Frederick II, the papacy sought English men and money, totalling 135,000 marks (£90,000), to oust the present incumbent and king of Sicily, Conrad IV. Back in England, Henry’s barons were incensed that such a costly course of action should have been decided without their involvement. They were particularly indignant that those who had been consulted were foreigners.
At court, resentment toward foreigners was largely confined to the Lusignans. However, within England another group that attracted criticism (and, increasingly, harsh persecution) were the Jews. As a prosperous, protected and minority group of moneylenders, the Jews had suffered discrimination in England since the late twelfth century. During the thirteenth century, a concatenation of factors conspired to increase anti-Jewish sentiment to levels that were without parallel in Western Europe. Royal penury, which caused England’s monarchs to collect increasingly oppressive taxes from their Jewish subjects, especially between 1240 and 1260, forced many Jewish moneylenders to recall loans from barons, knights and religious houses. Animosity toward the Jews increased, but, paradoxically, so did Jewish insolvency. In order to raise money to pay their taxes, Jewish creditors brokered deals with their debtors whereby loans were repaid quicker, but at heavily discounted rates. As royal protection had been afforded to Jews on the basis of their wealth, their enforced poverty made them dangerously insecure. The papacy contributed to Jewish misery. An increasing number of papal councils and edicts, which questioned the Jewish interpretation of scripture and the place of Jews in Christian society, engendered suspicion and hostility, as did the sustained enthusiasm for the crusade because Jews were held culpable for the death of Christ.
The English Church had an important, though less overt, role in shaping relations between the barons and the king. The murder of Thomas Becket, ostensibly at the orders of Henry III’s grandfather, Henry II, continued to haunt the Angevin dynasty, not least because of the exile of another archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund of Abingdon, in 1240. In addition, many of England’s comital families had regular contact with the episcopacy. Simon de Montfort was heavily influenced by the bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste (1235-53), who was as abrasive as he was scholarly (a rare combination). Grosseteste had connections with other comital families. In the 1240s he wrote a series of ‘rules’, extolling the virtues of Christian sobriety to the Countess of Lincoln, Margaret de Lacy. Grosseteste’s death in 1253 weakened the voice of the Church. It had suffered financial depredations during the past twenty-four years, and played no discernable part in the reform parliament of 1258.
As the 1250s drew to a close, Henry’s subjects were increasingly aggrieved, and vocal, about the financial and judicial record of the Crown. A growing sense of xenophobia and a divergence of interests between the king and his political community exacerbated these tensions. During a period of devastating famine, and in the wake of a disappointing campaign in Wales, the parliament that convened at Westminster in April 1258 was to propose, and implement, a radical solution to these multifarious problems that would not only end the personal rule of Henry III, but drastically curtail the authority of all English monarchs thereafter.
- David Carpenter, ‘King, Magnates and Society: The Personal Rule of King Henry III, 1234-1258,’ Speculum, 60 (1985), 39-70. Reprinted in his, The Reign of Henry III (London, 1996), 75-106.
- Michael Clanchy, ‘Did Henry III Have a Policy?’ History, 53 (1968), 207-19.
- Margaret Howell, Eleanor of Provence: Queenship in Thirteenth-Century England (London, 1998).
- Huw Ridgeway, ‘King Henry III and the ‘Aliens’ 1236-1272,’ in Thirteenth Century England II: Proceedings of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Conference 1987, ed. P. R. Coss and S. D. Lloyd (Woodbridge, 1988), 81-92.
- Huw Ridgeway, ‘Foreign Favourites and Henry III’s Problems of Patronage 1247-1258,’ English Historical Review 104 (1989), 590-610.
- John Maddicott, ‘An Infinite Multitude of Nobles’: Quality, Quantity and Politics in the Pre-Reform Parliaments of Henry III,’ Thirteenth Century England VII: Proceedings of the Durham Conference 1997, ed. M. Prestwich, R. Britnell and R. Frame (Woodbridge, 1999), 17-46.
- Robert Stacey, Politics, Policy, and Finance Under Henry III 1216-1245 (Oxford, 1987).
4. The Period of reform and rebellion, 1258-1267
On 30 April 1258 a group of barons, led by Roger Bigod, the earl of Norfolk and hereditary marshal, marched to the hall of the royal palace at Westminster and induced the king to initiate a programme of reform. The barons sought to address a raft of financial and judicial grievances that had arisen during the last twenty-four years of the king’s personal rule. The king accepted, believing the barons would further the ‘Sicilian Business’ in return. On 2 May, the reform movement set to work. The barons did not publish their reforms, nor, initially, their grievances, but two documents, known to historians as the Petition of the Barons and the Provisions of Oxford, drafted between April and June 1258, describe a series of problems and strategies which they discussed. 1 From these documents three areas of reform stand out.
The first concerned foreigners. Monopolising royal patronage, holding many of the kingdom’s most strategic castles and supposedly polluting the king’s mind against his native subjects, the ‘aliens’ at court, chief among them the king’s Lusignan half-brothers, were signalled out as a major cause for concern. The proposed remedy: the king’s Lusignan relatives should be expelled, native women should no longer demean themselves by marrying foreigners (Petition of the Barons, clause 6), and all castellans should be native-born subjects (PB cl. 4, Provisions of Oxford, cl. 18).
The second concern was judicial. Justice, so it was argued, was impossible to obtain because the office of justiciar was vacant and the office of chancellor had become degraded, staffed by clerks of low standing. Royal favouritism, combined with heavy-handed sheriffs charged with satisfying the king’s demands for cash, meant justice was ‘shut out’ (PB cl. 16, 17 and 28). The solution: introduce new, local men as sheriffs who were to serve for just one year, receive a wage and answer for all the shire’s profits at the exchequer (PO cl. 17); launch a new eyre and enable litigants to initiate cases by word of mouth instead of having to purchase writs.
The third concern was financial. Over the past twenty-four years the king had apparently squandered revenues, alienated swathes of the royal demesne and burdened his subjects with an increasing number of taxes and tallages. He was also slow in paying debts (PB cl. 22 and 23). The reformers proposed two solutions. Firstly, they were to make the sheriffs answerable for all shire issues, secondly, and far more radically, they would centralise the system of Crown revenue and ensure that all monies were received into the treasury and disbursed centrally (PO cl. 14). The royal household was also to be reformed (PO cl. 20). The barons had high hopes, but very rapidly these big issues created tension and irritation, providing Henry with the opportunity to reassert his authority.
Between 14 November 1259 and 21 April 1260 the king was in France to ratify the controversial Treaty of Paris. Under the terms of the treaty, Henry and his heirs formally renounced their claims to Normandy, Anjou and Poitou in return for Gascony, which they were to hold as a fief from the king of France. The visit enabled Henry to evade the reformers’ sanctions. When he returned to England in the Spring of 1260, many of the reformers were demoralised and public support was evaporating. Securing a papal bull (1261), which proclaimed the reform movement to be unconstitutional and which absolved him and his family of the oath they had sworn to uphold the reforms, Henry began to reassert his authority by gaining control of the great seal and replacing the baronially appointed sheriffs. By November 1261 the majority of reform participants had made their peace with the king. Simon de Montfort, Henry’s brother-in-law and chief reformer, returned to his native France.
The resumption of royal authority suffered a major set-back in the early summer of 1263 when various members of the Lord Edward’s household intrigued with Montfort and encouraged him to return to England. It would appear that Queen Eleanor was concerned that her son was associating too closely with the Lusignans and thereby distancing himself from her party, the Savoyards. In a heavy-handed, and quite possibly vindictive, attempt to limit the Lusignan influence over Edward, Peter of Savoy, no doubt guided by the queen, sought to root out the objectionable members of Edward’s household. These men, chief among them, Roger de Leybourne, Roger Clifford and Roger de Stoke, were either fined or dismissed. They were replaced by Savoyard satellites.
Montfort arrived back in England on 25 April 1263. The slide into civil war had begun. Montfort had played an important role in the period of reform between 1258 and 1260, but it was only now that he emerged as sole leader of the reformist cause. His silver tongue, military prowess and diplomatic connections helped keep the baronial plan of reform afloat. Montfort’s commitment to the programme of reform was deep, but whether he was motivated more by piety or pragmatism and ambition is difficult to determine.
As soon as he returned to England, Montfort gathered adherents and began ravaging the estates of royal stalwarts, notably the former wardrobe keeper and bishop of Hereford, Peter de Aigueblanche, who had played a prominent part in the negotiations over Sicily. The Montfortian and royalist forces soon became locked in a bitter game of ‘cat and mouse’.
In order to end the political deadlock and hostilities, Henry and Montfort agreed to submit their arguments to Louis IX of France. In accepting the arbitration of the French monarch, Henry and Montfort agreed to accept, unequivocally, his judgement. Louis’s verdict, known as the Mise of Amiens, was delivered speedily and decisivily. He declared in favour of King Henry. In an illuminating sound-bite the French king added that he would rather break clods behind a plough than endure such restrictions. Montfort could not accept Louis’s judgement.
A decisive victory was achieved by the Montfortians at Lewes on 14 May 1264. King Henry, his son and brother, were all captured. Using his position to enrich himself and his sons, Montfort, who was described by the mayor of London as a ‘quasi-King’, lost the support of one of his greatest supporters, the earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare. It was Clare who orchestrated Edward’s dramatic escape and guaranteed him the military support of the Welsh Marchers. In a desperate move, Montfort forced the captive king to make peace with Llywelyn of Wales in the hope that he would provide military aid. Llywelyn assented, and an infantry of Welsh foot soldiers did serve at Montfort’s final battle. On 4 August, Edward caught up with Montfort at Evesham. In the ensuing melee, Montfort and many of his supporters were brutally slain.
Montfort died at Evesham but the ideas of the reform movement did not. They continued to frustrate the royal revival. Fleeing Evesham and fearing for their lives now that the king had confiscated all of their lands, those still loyal to Montfort’s cause occupied his former stronghold of Kenilworth Castle and the Isle of Ely. Between 24 May and 20 December 1266 the might of the Crown was turned against these lingering insurgents in what was to become the longest siege in English history. Eventually, and inevitably, the reformers capitulated. The process of their rehabilitation was outlined in the Dictum of Kenilworth, promulgated on 31 October 1266. Individuals who wanted to reclaim their lands could do so for a fine, the rate of which was determined by the nature of their involvement in the ‘disturbance of the realm’. According to Clive Knowles, ‘the bulk of important Montfortians made their redemption agreements within two or three years of the end of hostilities.’ The royal recovery was also boosted by the grant of a clerical tenth, conceded in 1266.
- David Carpenter, ‘What Happened in 1258?,’ in his, The Reign of Henry III (London, 1996), 107-36.
- Margaret Howell, Eleanor of Provence: Queenship in Thirteenth-Century England (London, 1998).
- John Maddicott, Simon de Montfort (Cambridge, 1994), 151-345.
5. The Final years, 1267-1272
During the last five years of Henry’s reign there existed an uneasy truce. The restoration of royal authority continued, but the king was mindful of the recent tensions and aware that further outbreaks of civil disorder were still possible: clause 8 of the Dictum of Kenilworth threatened corporal punishment if anyone considered Simon de Montfort ‘holy or just’. In October 1269, Henry presided over the translation of his patron saint, Edward the Confessor, whose body was moved to its new shrine at Westminster Abbey. The occasion was intended to reflect the strength of the king’s position and demonstrate that rifts between Crown and political community had been overcome. But, fearing violence, the planned crown-wearing was cancelled.
The final years of Henry’s reign also witnessed a transformation in the Lord Edward’s political and financial position. On 20 August 1270, Edward, along with many of England’s barons, left for the East, taking with them the full yield for the lay tenth, which had been conceded to match the clerical tenth of 1266. Another theme of these years, perhaps the dominant theme, was loss. King Louis of France died in August 1270; Henry of Almain, the son of Henry’s brother, Richard, was murdered by the vengeful sons of Simon de Montfort in March 1271; Richard himself died on 2 April 1272. Seven months later, on 16 November 1272, King Henry III died at Westminster. He was buried on 20 November at Westminster in the former tomb of his patron saint, Edward the Confessor.
- Björn Weiler, ‘Symbolism and Politics in the Reign of Henry III,’ Proceedings of the Thirteenth Century England Conference IX: Proceedings of the Durham Conference 2001, ed. M. Prestwich, R. Britnell and R. Frame (Woodbridge, 2003), 15-41.
- Clive Knowles, ‘The Resettlement of England after the Barons’ War, 1264-67’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, fifth ser., 32 (1982), 25-41.
- These documents can be consulted in Documents of the Baronial Movement of Reform and Rebellion 1258-1267, ed. R. F. Treharne and I. J. Sanders (Oxford, 1973), nos. 3 and 5 respectively. Back to context...