King Henry III 1216-1272

King Henry III 1216 1272
King Henry III 1216 1272

Henry, son of King John and Queen Isabella of Angouleme was born at Winchester on 1 October 1207. On 28 October 1216 on the death of his father and at the tender age of nine years he became King Henry III of England. He inherited a domain that had suffered from civil war between the late king and his barons.

King Henry III 1216-1272

The Early Years

During Henry’s minority England was governed by a regency council headed first by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and then, on the earl’s death, by the justiciar, Herbert de Burgh. Under these two men royal authority over the barons was gradually restored and the royal treasury replenished.

In 1227 Henry declared himself of age and in 1234 took full control of his realm. He ruled with a light touch, fostering good relations with his nobles and adopting a passive approach to foreign affairs. After the strife of John’s reign England enjoyed a period of relative peace and prosperity.

The Latter Years

In 1236 Henry married Eleanor of Provence and this union triggered the arrival in England of a number of foreign relatives, notably the Savoyards and the Lusignans. Henry granted them both lands and privileges which caused resentment amongst Henry’s barons, who increasingly thought of themselves as distinctly English at a time when the country was beginning to develop a sense of national identity.

Henry’s weak style of kingship also began to attract criticism as he failed to properly dispense justice through the law courts and allowed corrupt royal officials to go unpunished. Eventually discontent led to action and in April 1258 the king was compelled to accept the Provisions of Oxford and agree to constitutional reform.

Leader of the reforming party was Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester who sought to take reform further forward than some nobles would accept. Gradually the king regained power as the impetus behind the Provisions began to fade. The two parties became increasingly polarised and inevitably this led to conflict and civil war.

On 14 May 1264 at the Battle of Lewes in Sussex, Simon de Montfort’s army inflicted a spectacular defeat on the royalists and both King Henry and his son, Prince Edward, were captured. But de Montfort failed to consolidate his powerbase and when Prince Edward escaped and raised a new royalist army the earl’s days were numbered. On 4 August 1265 after a skilful military campaign Edward defeated and killed de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in Worcestershire.

The Final Years

Restored to the throne, Henry preferred to leave government to the more energetic Prince Edward while he concentrated his efforts on rebuilding Westminster Abbey where the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor lay buried. Throughout his life Henry expressed an intense devotion to the cult of Edward the Confessor and on his own death in 1272 he too was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Henry III was a pious king who preferred a quiet life to the rough world of royal politics. During his long reign he ruled over a country that experienced both peace and turmoil. History has largely passed over the story of Henry III; his reign overshadowed by that of his dynamic and warlike son, Edward I, but the majestic Westminster Abbey remains both his tomb and his legacy.

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Ken Wells