Henry III , King of England, a Plantagenet, was born in 1207, at Winchester Castle, eldest son and heir to King John and Isabella of Angoulême. He succeeded his father aged just 9 years old to a kingdom that had been divided by the havoc of his late father’s reign of misrule. A heavy burden to inherit, not having attained his majority both Henry and his realm needed good council and strong leadership. Fortunately such help, was at hand in the seasoned advisor William Marshall, Peter des Roches and Hubert de Burgh.
Prior to attaining his majority and his father dying, there were great divisions amongst the Barons who had suffered as the result of King John’s incompetencies and had welcomed the invasion of the French themselves into England itself. At this point event the Archbishop of Canterbury was backing the then Prince Louis.
- 1216 hastily 1st crowned at Gloucester Cathedral
- 1217 The French lose the battles of Lincoln and Dover and are driven back to France, aided by the wisdom and experience of William MARSHALL who had also been a notable soldier and courtier to Henry II.
- 1220 re-crowned at Westminster Abbey: required by Pope Honorius III because he did not believe the 1st coronation had been undertaken in accordance with Church law.
- 1222 De Burgh leads and successfully puts down the insurrection supporting Louis VIII’s claim to the throne.
- 1224 Poitou is overrun by King Louis VIII of France Henry did lose these rights permanently
- 1227 declared himself to be of age but did not assume outright control and rule of the government, retaining De Burgh as his advisor.
- 1232 Hubert de Burgh dismissed as King’s adviser.
- 1236 he married Eleanor of Provence (1223-1291) the daughter of Raymond Berenguer, Count of Provence and Beatrice of Savoy. Henry was devoted to his Queen, a lady of strong opinions including being anti-semitic, she was influential in the reign of her husband and their son (Edward I.) They had 5 children who survived infancy;
- Edward I (1239 – 1307 ) next King
- Margaret (1240 – 1275 ) married King Alexander III of Scotland
- Beatrice (1242 – 1275 ) married to John II Duke of Brittany
- Edmund (1245 – 1296 ) 1st Earl of Leicester and Lancaster
- Katharine (1253 – 1257 ) deafness was discovered at age 2 she died young.
- 1237 The Treaty of York with Alexander II of Scotland agrees the border between England and Scotland. Alexander was married to Henry’s sister Joan The specifics included;
- Scotland quits claims to England his hereditary rights to the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland
- Scotland quits claims to 15,000 marks of silver for provisions historically not met and frees Henry from agreements regarding marriages between Henry and Richard and various sisters of Alexander (Margaret, Isabella, and Marjory.)
- England grants Scotland certain lands within Northumberland and Cumberland, to be held by him and his successor with certain rights and exempting with the Scottish Steward sitting in Justice regarding certain issues that may arise and that such rights will be inherited by future Scottish Kings.
- Scotland makes his homage to Henry and both kings respect previous writings not in conflict with this agreement, and any charters found regarding said counties to be restored to the King of England.
- 1242 Humiliating defeat of the Taillebourg Campaign: when seeking to assist Hugh X of Luisignan rise up against the King of France. The history was that Henry’s father John had taken his Queen who had been betrothed to Isabella, which led the Lusignans to rebel against John, causing much of the loss of the Angevin Empire. Subsequent to his father’s death Isabella had returned to France and married into the Lusignan line as had originally been intended. The net result was a humiliating defeat for Henry III and the supremacy of France being asserted. He had costs England dearly and weakened his own credibility again with the English Barons.
- 1245 Henry III lays foundation stone for Rebuilding of Westminster Abbey: he was responsible for the essence of the building as it exists today.
- 1255 Sicilian Adventure Henry sought to secure Sicily for his son Edmund, by agreeing to pay Pope Alexander IV 135,000 marks but it was not within his gift, this was really just dispensation to attack and seize Sicily. H would have to defeat Manfred it’s ruler and as Richard of Cornwall had said, ‘it was like being asked to buy the moon’ impossible and not a good bargain. Such foolish decisions and his attempt to raise the money led to pressure on the King to agree to the Provisions of Oxford.
- 1258 in a precarious financial position agrees to Provisions of Oxford, Following a campaign advocating rule by the Great Council that had continued since 1244, with the failure and disastrous result of his Sicilian Adventure he could not avoid the reforms demanded by the Provisions of Oxford. This increased the importance of the Great Council in reaching decisions as it had before Henry had reached his majority.
- 1259 Treaty of Paris, he in effect renounced English claims on the prior lands held by his forebears as the Angevin Empire. He made no effort to regain those lands. The English King was recognised as Duke of Acquitaine but did homage to the French King and relinquished all claims to Normandy, a huge concession given the direct line between the English Kings and the Duchy of Normandy via WIlliam I. The additional concessions were renouncing all claims by England to Anjou, Maine, Touraine and Poitou. Henry had signed away any hope of establishing English dominion as it had been achieved at the height of the Angevin Empire.
- 1259 Provisions of Westminster : this was a set of reforms concerned largely with English local administration. It was the next step, building on the provisions of Oxford (central government reforms) but these caused further division which was exploited by Henry III. The division was between the strata of the elite, the difference of opinion between the gentry and two factions of the aristocracy. They were happy for Royal administration to be controlled but not those of their own ‘local’ baronial lands.
- 1260-1264 Henry continued to try to cast off the constraints of the Provisions of Oxfordand this led to further civil war with the Barons War. Defeated he was captured at Lewes (1264.) His throne was taken, in effect by Simon de Montfort, however short lived the damage was done:
- 1261 Henry undermined the provisions of Oxford: exploiting the dissension over the Provision of Westminster he repudiates his oath to abide to the Provisions of Oxford.
- it was this that led to the Barons War.
- 1264-1268 Barons War: led by Simon de Montfort 6th Earl of Leicester, married to Henry’s own Sister Eleanor, crusader, soldier and statesman. He was one of the leaders to formulate the Provisions of Oxford, he summoned Parliament and can be seen as the founder of the principles of the House of Commons, upon which the British system of democracy still relies. In retrospect he was also self-seeking and looking to enrich his own dynasty, led the rebellion and paid ultimately with his own life, inspiring both fierce loyalty and hatred in his opponents.
- 1265 Henry’s eldest son Edward ensured he was restored to the Throne by victory at Evesham, he would later succeed his father. From this point on until his death he would rule in name only. He focused his efforts instead on Westminster Abbey, resulting in a contribution and legacy that continues to this day, long after the affairs of state have faded in our historical memory.
- 1266 Dictum of Kenilworth restores Henry’s authority and annuls the Provisions of Oxford
- 1267 Treaty of Montgomery, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd recognised as ruler of Wales by Henry.
- 1272 Henry III died in Palace of Westminster
Henry III had a long reign ,but was it successful?
Consider possible criteria for monarchical success:
- Succession: Edward I succeeds more by his own acts than those of his father, arguably he jeopardised that line by his inability to carry the loyalty of the barons.
- Dominions Protected and expanded: he risked much and lost rather than attained new lands.
- Peace: he did not lead England into sustained overseas conflicts but failed to unite the elite under his own leadership.
- Development of society law and justice: the nominal advances building on principles of Magna Carta led to the Baron’s War and more is achieved by Simon de Montfort even if his motivations were suspect.
- Social cultural and heritage: his later focus on Westminster Abbey was part of a lasting legacy.
A long reign, one of few Kings to achieve over 50 years,was his lack of major achievements, the reason he survives and lasts so long, in a period when many kings reigns were short? He did resist the Barons, even his own son swapped sides and then reconciles with his father. Edward would be a very different King known as the Justinian.
To investigate further the nature of Henry’s rule, there is a relatively new and excellent Digital Project for Henry III’s Pipe Rolls, under leadership of King’s College London, it s a sponsored and free to access resource, enabling you to localise your search by county or phrase, names etc and see if you can make your own intriguing connections to the reign of Henry III.