Henry III

Henricus of Winchester was the eighth monarch to rule England since the Norman invasion of 1066. Crowned at the age of nine, he was the first child king since Ælthered the Unready. Henry was the eldest son of King John, grandson of Henry II, nephew of Richard the Lionheart, and later father of Edward I. Due to his becoming king at such a young age, his general sound physical state and, on the whole, an ability to keep the peace, Henry ruled for 56 years, thus making him one of only 5 monarchs of Great Britain to rule for more than half a century. Though ridiculed as a simpleton by his critics, during his reign, England developed greatly. Thanks to the actions of Henry’s regents, the terms of Magna Carta became established. By 1266, these had evolved further with the permanent implementation of the Provisions of Oxford. Away from England, his reign was dogged by war with Wales, feud with France, and a forced acceptance to abide by the commands of the Papacy, following the submission of England to Rome by John in 1213. Though many focus on the war with Simon de Montfort, Henry III should also be remembered for the mass castle developments and the flourishing of the gothic cathedrals that still mark the landscape of England. The most famous, of course, is Westminster Abbey, which is rightly regarded as his life’s work.

Early Years and Minority

Henry of Winchester was born on 1 October 1207. He was the eldest son of King John of England and Queen Isabella of Angouléme. Named after his grandfather, Henry II, Henry became John’s official heir in 1209 and again in October 1216 when his father was bedridden at Newark Castle.

Henry was just nine years of age when he ascended to the throne. At the time of John’s death, England had been plagued by civil war for over a year, following John’s decision to encourage Pope Innocent III to annul the Charter of Liberties. He was crowned at St. Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester, on 28 October 1216 in the presence of only a small section of the barons and the papal legate, Gualo. Despite his coronation, the king controlled less than half of England, the majority of which fell under the authority of the rebel barons and their new leader, Prince Louis, son of Philip II of France.

Due to his youth, Henry was incapable of ruling alone. William Marshal, the Earl of Pembroke, was appointed as regent, to act as guardian for the king, alongside the justiciar (effectively prime minster) Hubert de Burgh, and Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, also the king’s tutor. The new arrangement was officially announced on 11 November 1216. One of their first acts was to reissue the Charter of Liberties, this time with the more restrictive clauses omitted. Despite the implementation of the charter, war continued with Louis into 1217. In May, the royalists achieved a significant victory over Louis at Lincoln and in August Hubert de Burgh defeated Eustache the Monk off the coast of Sandwich, leading to a decline in fortunes for the French. Peace was reached in September, thus beginning Henry’s undisputed rule. In November, the Charter of Liberties was issued for a third time, along with a separate charter of the forest. Henceforth, the Charter of Liberties became known as ‘Magna Carta’.

Louis’s departure saw the beginning of a new era in England. Progress was made in restoring order, including peace with Alexander II of Scotland. Gualo left England in 1218 and was replaced by a new legate, Pandulf, the same man who had received John’s homage to Rome in May 1213. Marshal’s death in May 1219 saw the regency fall primarily to the legate, though no new regent was appointed despite the king’s young age. In 1220 he was crowned a second time, this time at Westminster Abbey, built by Edward the Confessor.

The death of Marshal left divisions among the council. Hubert de Burgh’s rise in power saw a similar decline for many of the barons, all of whom were ordered to relinquish control of royal castles in their possession, as given to them by John. Henry retook the castles of William of Aumale by force and also agreed to give his sister, Joan, in marriage to Alexander II of Scotland. After overseeing the translation of the relics of St. Thomas Becket into the new shrine at Canterbury, the king saw off a rising from Aumale in early 1221 before witnessing the marriage of his sister. Pandulf departed, leaving England without a legate, less than a year after putting down the first stone of Salisbury Cathedral, the first purpose-built gothic cathedral in England.

Trouble on the Welsh border was put down early in 1222. Following this, a rising occurred in London due to a lack of affinity with the king and discontent at the increased influence of Hubert de Burgh. Henry III held a great council in early 1223 at which he agreed further measures of compliance with the charter. In April the Pope declared that Henry, though still in minority, had the right to rule of his own accord. Problems with Wales heightened during 1223, forcing the king to encounter Llewellyn ap Iorwerth head-on though with limited success. At around that time, word reached Henry of a plot against the justiciar, which was put down in January 1224.

Philip II’s death in 1223 saw renewed conflict with Louis, now King of France. Pope Honorius III’s decision to encourage further crusade in the East, rather than continue the Albigensian battle against the Cathars in the south of France, saw Louis invade Henry III’s land in Poitou. As Henry prepared for war, John’s loyal baron, Falkes de Breauté, rebelled against Henry and set up his base at Bedford Castle, forcing Henry to abandon Poitou. The siege of Bedford took place from 20 July to 14 August, following which Breauté was banished. War with Louis was again mooted at the end of 1224. Following this, Hubert de Burgh requested an aid of 1/15th on all moveables to fund the expedition. In return for the magnates’ approval, Henry agreed to a fourth issue of the great charter, confirming its position in English law. In March he sent his brother, the recently knighted Earl of Cornwall, to Gascony. His successful campaign achieved the return of Gascony to Henry’s sovereignty.

A papal envoy arrived in England in 1225, apparently seeking a pardon for Breauté as well as to collect money for the papacy. In 1226 Henry was once again planning for war with France. However, this was delayed at the request of the Pope. Louis died in November 1226 and was replaced by his young son, Louis IX. Henry sought to capitalize on the event by seeking assurances from the French territories of their support for an invasion. Henry held a conference in Oxford in January 1227 following which he sacked des Roches and declared himself fully of age. With this, began the personal rule of Henry III of England.

Early Years of Majority

The first action of the king in his majority was to threaten to quash the charters of his minority. In these matters, he took his lead from a council in 1218, which had declared that all charters made during his minority would be subject to confirmation when the king came of age. The Magna Carta and Forest Charter were confirmed, though at a price, and the 1/15th awarded in 1225 was finally paid over. At around this time, Henry also entered into several marriage negotiations, though none were followed up. News reached Henry that any good relations with the lords in France had deteriorated after the lords had made peace with Louis, leading to further peace between England and France. A quarrel between Henry and his brother fuelled the threat of rebellion. Fortunately, this was resolved when the two came to terms. In 1228 Henry marched on Wales to subdue Llewellyn’s siege of Montgomery, leading to conflict with the Welsh and the capture of Henry’s lord, William de Braose.

Henry’s secret negotiations with Honorius saw the election of Richard Grant as the new archbishop of Canterbury, following which a papal envoy, Stephen, came to England to collect 1/10th of property as promised by the king. Later that year, news reached Henry from Poitou of the need for an invasion. Lack of planning by the justiciar, however, led to it being delayed for a year. Henry embarked from Portsmouth in April 1230 and reached Poitou in early May. Though the majority of the lords showed him homage, strained relations with his stepfather, Hugh de Lusignan, the count of la Marche, and the viscount of Thouars, saw him isolated. Henry left France after little progress in October 1230, leaving a small force.

Henry’s financial difficulties were for now overcome after he obtained aid from the clergy in response to his agreement to confirm the liberties granted to them by the charter. In April 1231 Henry and Grant quarrelled over the behaviour of the justiciar, following which Grant took his case to Rome but died while still abroad. The death of the eldest son of William Marshal, also named William, led to further trouble with Llewellyn. Progress of the English force was hindered by a lack of resources and poor planning, eventually leading to a retreat. At the same time, however, Henry received news that peace with France had been confirmed, largely thanks to the returned bishop of Winchester, des Roches.

Problems with Wales escalated in 1232 after the magnates refused to grant Henry an aid for war. In July he sacked Hubert and empowered des Roches and three other Poitevins. In September he obtained a grant of 1/40th all moveables, except spiritualities, to control debts that he had incurred to the Duke of Brittany during the previous two years. His promotion of the Poitevins to influential appointments in England led to strained relations at home, and with the Vatican. Also that year, the death of Henry’s long time ally the Earl of Chester saw the eldest surviving son of William Marshal, Richard, ascend to the head of the baronage. Civil war followed. In June Henry ordered a council, which none of the barons attended. A second saw the same result. At the third, Richard Marshal fled after receiving warning of des Roches’s intention to kidnap him. In response, Henry gathered his forces at Gloucester, joined by Poitevin mercenaries at Hereford, following which they took Marshal’s castle at Usk. After signs of progress with Marshal, Richard fled. Des Roches further infuriated the magnates at Westminster in October, leading to calls for the king’s ‘evil counsellors’ to be excommunicated by name. In November Henry continued to Gloucester and proceeded to invade Richard’s lands. Richard, meanwhile, retook Usk and regained the initiative, supported by Llewellyn and other rebel lords. As Richard continued to strengthen, Henry entered a truce with Richard in February, and agreed to the dismissal of his foreign counsellors. Unknown to the king, Richard had been killed in Ireland, the result of a deceitful plot. Henry reconciled with the lords, including Hubert. For Henry, 1234 marked a turning point. For the next 24 years year, he ruled as his own governor.

Personal Rule

Peace with France was primarily settled in July 1235 after an agreement was put in place with Henry’s stepfather, Hugh de Lusignan, over his claim to the Isle of Oléron as initially promised by John. In 1235 Henry agreed the marriage between his sister, Isabella, and Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1236 Henry himself married: his chosen wife, Eleanor of Provence, daughter of Raymond Berenger and sister of the new Queen of France. Eleanor and Henry married at Canterbury in January 1236 before Eleanor’s coronation at Westminster days later. With her, the queen brought several ambitious relatives, several of whom would be of great importance to Henry’s later reign.

After the wedding, Henry held a great council at Merton. At around that time rumour abounded that he had agreed to submit himself to the guidance of a 12-man council, led by Eleanor’s uncle, William of Valence. Henry’s actions caused much resentment, following which he took refuge at the Tower of London. In January 1237 he agreed again to abide by the charters. Around that time another legate, Otho, came to England at Henry’s request and immediately began to interfere with all matters state and clerical. In January 1238 Henry further aroused the discontent of the magnates after overseeing the marriage of his sister, Eleanor, widow of William Marshal, and the young Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort. As his brother, the Earl of Cornwall, threatened uprising, Henry agreed to reforms, yet Richard’s coming to peace with Henry and Montfort saw the scheme come to nothing. Trouble began in March 1238 when the legate, Otho, was nearly killed while visiting the canons of Oseney, near Oxford University, but this eventually passed. Later that year, Henry himself was the target of assassination when a clerk entered his bed-chamber, only to find it deserted, as the king was with the queen.

Des Roches’s death in June 1238 saw Henry seek to fill the see at Winchester with the election of Valence, but this was unpopular with the monks of St. Swithun’s. The following year he was blessed by the birth of his first son, Edward (later Edward I), and shortly after had a significant quarrel with Simon de Montfort. Valence’s death in 1239 saw Henry seek to obtain the see for another of his wife’s uncles, Boniface of Savoy, but he encountered similar difficulties. In 1241 he succeeded in obtaining Canterbury for Boniface but was unhappy when William de Raleigh was elected at Winchester.

Llewellyn’s death saw a vague threat of rebellion from his son, Dafydd, but the prince was deterred without the need for battle. In 1241 news reached Henry of the possibility of success in Poitou, leading to another expedition in 1242. There followed what was, according to Matthew Paris, the ‘first authorized account of a parliamentary debate’. Guided by the poor advice of his stepfather, Henry mounted a mission to recapture Poitou in May 1242. After some initial progress, the English were overrun by the French and harried to Bordeaux in Gascony. Henry waited in Bordeaux until October 1243

The second marriage of Alexander II of Scotland following the death of Henry’s sister saw a breakdown in relations between the two nations, almost leading to military conflict. Also of pressing concern was conflict with Wales. In 1244 another papal collector, Martin, came to England and aroused discontent among the magnates for his hard-line stance on collecting money from the clergy. In June 1245, around the time of the council of Lyon, Martin came to the king, complaining of his treatment, to which Henry responded angrily, following which Martin left England. The English envoys at the council of Lyons remonstrated against hard papal actions, but in vain. In 1245 Henry led another campaign against the Welsh. In 1246 his monetary concerns were particularly pressing, leading to further arguments with the magnates. In 1247, he joined with the prelates in bringing his complaints to the ears of the pope, but again to no avail. By July 1247 the opposition was withdrawn, forcing England to pay first 11,000 marks to the papacy in 1247 and a further 6,000 in 1248.

Further problems for the magnates came around that time following Henry’s decision to offer a home in England for his half-siblings from his mother’s second marriage. William de Valence immediately married the widow of one of the Marshals, thus inheriting the earldom of Pembroke, while his sister, Alicia, married the young Earl of Warenne. Henry’s other brother, Aymer, was mooted to replace Raleigh as bishop of Winchester, and was eventually made bishop-elect. Henry’s financial constraints came firmly under the microscope in early 1249 when a further request for aid was dismissed due to previous poor management. Henry’s debts were indeed a matter for concern. Issuing of new coinage in 1248 helped prevent mutilation, but his debts were substantial, including 200,000 marks to his brother, who had made use of the wealthy Cornwall earldom. In 1250 Henry declared his intention to crusade, and began preparations for its financing.

The years 1248-52 were of crucial significance for Henry. By 1248 what remained of the ‘Angevin Empire’ had become increasingly scattered, leading to Henry’s decision to appoint Simon de Montfort as seneschal. As the son of the ruthless Albigensian crusader, Simon immediately set to work on quietening elements of dissent, notably Gaston de Béarn, uncle of the queen. Simon’s actions brought much cheer among the magnates, though by 1251 Henry was concerned that the earl’s actions were becoming tyrannical. In May 1252 he ordered an investigation into Simon’s dealings, leading to his removal by Autumn 1252.

Henry watched over the marriage of his daughter to Alexander III of Scotland in 1251, following which his attention lay solely on a crusade. In October 1252 he put before the prelates a papal mandate for expenses, which was refused by the bishops. In 1253 the matter moved forward after Henry once again agreed to abide by the charters. Of pressing concern was Gascony. Amid fears of an invasion by Alphonso X of Castile, Henry agreed to the marriage of his son, Edward, to Alphonso’s half-sister, Eleanor, and travelled to Gascony. As with previous endeavours, progress was limited, though the return of Simon brought about order. In April 1254, with the king still abroad, a parliament met at Westminster, including for the first time two knights of every shire. After agreeing on the marriage of his son, Henry and Eleanor travelled through France, visiting the tomb of his mother and the former archbishop of Canterbury, before paying a visit to Louis.

While Henry had been in France, the wheels were set in motion for one of the biggest problems of his reign. Following the death of the Holy Roman Emperor, Pope Innocent IV had become entwined in a bitter struggle with the emperor’s son, the King of Sicily, and offered the crown to one of Henry’s sons, should Henry abide by certain conditions, notably meeting the costs. Henry accepted Sicily for his son, Edmund, and agreed to fund the expedition. In October 1255 the lords refused him an aid due to past wastage. By February 1256 the problem of funds compromised the new agreement, at which time Henry’s debts to Rome for the arrangement stood at some 135,501 marks. In 1257 the pope sent the archbishop of Messina to Henry to obtain funds, at which time the prospect of success was all but extinguished. The Earl of Cornwall’s election as King of the Romans also lost Henry the opportunity to borrow from his brother. While the project looked hopeless, Henry was grieved by the death of his young daughter, Katharine, and further trouble with the Welsh, now under the leadership of Llewellyn ap Griffith. Military action against the Welsh proved fruitless, following which Henry returned to England, now facing excommunication for his debts to Rome.


Things were looking bleak for Henry in early 1258. Three years of famine, disease among the cattle and rising food prices compounded problems with the papacy and Henry’s magnates. When parliament met on 9 April, they were in far from compliant mood. Murmurs of dissent were beginning to increase among the magnates, some of whom had been drawing up plans for reform. Henry’s money problems, notably for Sicily, brought further request for aid from the papal visitor, this time for 1/3rd of all moveables and immovables, an amount hitherto unheard of. Two days after the request, on 30 April, the king was startled by the appearance of the lords at Westminster in armour, though leaving their swords at the door. When Henry asked their leader, Roger Bigod, ‘what is it, my lords? Am I your prisoner’ they responded with courtesy. Yet for the king, things had now reached a watershed. Over the coming days, Henry and the prince agreed to what later became known as the Provisions of Oxford.

The key developments were that a 24-man council be appointed, half chosen by the king, half by the opposition, led by Simon de Montfort. After Henry reluctantly agreed, the barons met at Oxford on 11 June to ensure its implementation. A list of grievances was presented and the temporary council of 24 appointed. Among its actions was to put forward preparations for the establishment of a permanent 15-man council. Parliament was to meet three times every year, including the 15-man council and a separate committee of 12, responsible for discussing the actions of the 15. An independent body of 24 was also selected to arrange a one-off aid. For the first time in 24 years a party existed to be responsible for national government. Its style was oligarchic, rather than the previous arrangement where the king ruled without a senior magnate. A justiciar, treasurer and chancellor were all chosen, while sheriffs were appointed to hold office for only one year at a time.

Among the early actions was the requisition of the royal castles, due to be held by castellans for 12 years. Not surprisingly, this action infuriated Henry’s royal favourites, notably William de Valence who took refuge at Wolvesey Castle near Winchester Cathedral. Valence surrendered on 5 July and headed abroad. The following month, Henry agreed again to the rights of the 24 and did so again in October. When Richard, now King of the Romans, returned to England in January 1259, he was allowed re-entry to England only on condition that he swore an oath to uphold the Provisions of Oxford.

Peace with Wales was followed by the Treaty of Paris in 1259, during which Henry agreed to give up much of his birthright in Poitou, Normandy and Anjou in exchange for certain courtesies. Relations with Louis had improved, thanks to the work of Simon de Montfort. Henry returned to England early in 1260 with hopes still of acquiring Sicily for Edmund.

In England, many of the opposition were growing restless with the lack of progress in implementing reforms since the agreement of the Provisions of Oxford. The Earl of Gloucester was increasingly alienated from Simon. Late 1259 saw Edward take up the wishes of the opposition and pass the Provisions of Westminster. Before Henry’s return, news reached him that Edward was in league with Simon. On his return, Henry took up accommodation at St. Paul’s while the Earl of Gloucester, recently returned from France, sought to advance on the city. Both Henry and Simon had good armies, but Henry’s reconciliation with Edward brought his alliance with Simon to an early end.

Henry’s desire to escape from the Provisions of Oxford finally came to fruition in June 1261 after obtaining papal bulls from Pope Alexander IV which declared the provisions null and void, following which Henry sacked the justiciar. In January 1262 he wrote to the new pope, Urban IV, asking for clarification of the continuing validity of the papal bulls and soon received confirmation. In an attempt to resolve his feud with Simon, it was decided that the matter should be put forward to the arbitration of Louis. As troubles with Wales escalated, Henry agreed to the provisions, though also sending word to Louis regarding his desire for the conditions to be placed under the arbitration of the French king. As Henry’s health weakened in March 1263, he ordered an oath of allegiance to be taken to Edward as his rightful heir. In July he agreed to the mediation of Cornwall, aliens were banished back to Poitou and the justiciar reappointed. In October Henry and Simon finally sailed to France for arbitration, but returned without progress. As things continued to heat up in parliament, Henry again crossed to France in December, this time without Simon who had been injured after falling from his horse. At the end of 1263, Louis agreed that the provisions of Oxford were illegal and the award known as the Mise of Amiens made in January 1264.

The Second Barons' War

Henry III returned to England in February 1264 with several reinforcements. Predictably, Louis’ ruling was rejected by the opposition, again in alliance with Llewellyn, due to its one-sidedness. Negotiations at Oxford in March came to nothing, following which Henry summoned his forces and took Simon the Younger, son of Montfort, at Northampton. Montfort, meanwhile, was present in London when the city erupted into violence and proceeded to lay siege to Rochester. When Henry’s forces moved south to relieve the castle, Montfort also moved on. After augmenting his rule over the Cinque Ports, Henry took refuge at Lewes, setting up base at the priory. Montfort was also on the move. After Simon’s last offer of peace was rejected, the rebels’ forces came to Lewes on the morning of 14 May after staying the previous night at nearby Fletching. Despite a numerical advantage, Henry army was defeated. Edward’s rashness in harrying the Londoners from the field cost the Royalists dear, leading to Simon’s victory and Henry’s forced acceptance of the Mise of Lewes.

For the next 15 months, Henry had little choice but to abide by Simon’s rule. On 22 June 4 knights from each shire were summoned to parliament, another landmark moment. As Simon feared invasion from Henry’s queen, who had remained in France since the previous October, he vigilantly guarded the coast and winter passed without invasion. In January, another important parliament was held, where representatives from the shires, boroughs and cities were summoned. On 14 March Henry agreed to the new constitution. As the year progressed the Earl of Gloucester endured further strained relations with Simon, leading to his defection. When Edward escaped Simon’s guard, the tide turned. While Simon and Henry spent the night at Evesham Abbey on 3 August, Edward’s forces closed in. In the ensuing battle, Simon was defeated, his remains interred in the nearby abbey. The citizens of London submitted on 6 October, and so did most of the other rebels. When Henry returned to power, he revoked recent legislation and disinherited those who had fought against him. Nevertheless, much of what was introduced in the parliament of 1258 was accepted.

Those who were disinherited took up refuge at Kenilworth castle, surviving until December 1266. A minor revolt continued throughout 1266 and 67, led by Simon the Younger, eventually leading to peace. Peace was also made with Llewellyn, at significant gain to the Welsh. By November 1267 the country was in a state of repair. Representatives of the counties were summoned to parliament at Marlborough, during which most of the agreements of 1258 were implemented, though the king retained control over the appointment of ministers. By 1270 Henry had overseen the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey, the crowning achievement of his reign. In August Edward departed for crusade. The king’s health deteriorated seriously over the next two years and on 16 November 1272, he died. Four days later he was interred in the new abbey, at the spot where the body of Edward the Confessor, the saint to whom King Henry III had been most devoted, had once lain.

Richard, Earl of Cornwall

Henry’s younger brother, Richard, was made Earl of Cornwall in 1225 and was a key supporter – and at times critic – of Henry throughout his reign, not least concerning the reforms of 1258–65 that witnessed the Provisions of Oxford – in some ways the successor to Magna Carta – as well as the Second Barons’ War, 1264–67. In 1257, seven years after the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, Richard was crowned King of the Romans. He still holds the distinction of being the only English noble to ever sit on the throne of a foreign power.

Both men were born at Winchester Castle and baptised at nearby St Swithun’s. Tintagel Castle became Richard’s property as part of the Earldom of Cornwall, and he added many of its key features. As founder of Hailes Abbey, he was also responsible for much of its early development.

The Dominicans

The order still exists and has done so since it was established in the early 1200s by the Spanish monk, St Dominic, on the back of his undertaking of a mission in the Languedoc, preaching against heresy. Pope Honorius III approved the order in 1217, and the first base in England was set up in 1221. Dubbed the Watchdogs of God, the order, also known as the blackfriars – so named due to the colour of their dress – were successful in their attempts to rid the Languedoc of the Cathars, thanks mainly to their hard approach. They were the official interrogators in the Inquisition, during which torture was promulgated. In England, every king from Henry III to Richard II had a Dominican as his confessor.