Henry III (1 October 1207 – 16 November 1272), also known as Henry of Winchester, was King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine from 1216 until his death.
The son of King John and Isabella of Angoulême, Henry assumed the throne when he was only nine in the middle of the First Barons' War. Cardinal Guala declared the war against the rebel barons to be a religious crusade and Henry's forces, led by William Marshal, defeated the rebels at the battles of Lincoln and Sandwich in 1217.
Henry promised to abide by the Great Charter of 1225, which limited royal power and protected the rights of the major barons. His early rule was dominated first by Hubert de Burgh and then Peter des Roches, who re-established royal authority after the war. In 1230 the King attempted to reconquer the provinces of France that had once belonged to his father, but the invasion was a debacle. A revolt led by William Marshal's son, Richard, broke out in 1232, ending in a peace settlement negotiated by the Church.
Following the revolt, Henry ruled England personally, rather than governing through senior ministers. He travelled less than previous monarchs, investing heavily in a handful of his favourite palaces and castles. He married Eleanor of Provence, with whom he had five children. Henry was known for his piety, holding lavish religious ceremonies and giving generously to charities; the King was particularly devoted to the figure of Edward the Confessor, whom he adopted as his patron saint. He extracted huge sums of money from the Jews in England, ultimately crippling their ability to do business, and as attitudes towards the Jews hardened, he introduced the Statute of Jewry, attempting to segregate the community. In a fresh attempt to reclaim his family's lands in France, he invaded Poitou in 1242, leading to the disastrous Battle of Taillebourg. After this, Henry relied on diplomacy, cultivating an alliance with Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Henry supported his brother Richard in his bid to become King of the Romans in 1256, but was unable to place his own son Edmund on the throne of Sicily, despite investing large amounts of money. He planned to go on crusadeto the Levant, but was prevented from doing so by rebellions in Gascony.
By 1258, Henry's rule was increasingly unpopular, the result of the failure of his expensive foreign policies and the notoriety of his Poitevin half-brothers, the Lusignans, as well as the role of his local officials in collecting taxes and debts. A coalition of his barons, initially probably backed by Eleanor, seized power in a coup d'état and expelled the Poitevins from England, reforming the royal government through a process called the Provisions of Oxford. Henry and the baronial government enacted a peace with France in 1259, under which Henry gave up his rights to his other lands in France in return for King Louis IX of Francerecognising him as the rightful ruler of Gascony. The baronial regime collapsed but Henry was unable to reform a stable government and instability across England continued.
In 1263 one of the more radical barons, Simon de Montfort, seized power, resulting in the Second Barons' War. Henry persuaded Louis to support his cause and mobilised an army. The Battle of Lewes occurred in 1264, where Henry was defeated and taken prisoner. Henry's eldest son, Edward, escaped from captivity to defeat de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham the following year and freed his father. Henry initially enacted a harsh revenge on the remaining rebels, but was persuaded by the Church to mollify his policies through the Dictum of Kenilworth. Reconstruction was slow and Henry had to acquiesce to various measures, including further suppression of the Jews, to maintain baronial and popular support. Henry died in 1272, leaving Edward as his successor. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, which he had rebuilt in the second half of his reign, and was moved to his current tomb in 1290. Some miracles were declared after his death but he was not canonised.
Henry and Eleanor had five children:
- Edward I (b. 17/18 June 1239 – d. 7 July 1307)
- Margaret (b. 29 September 1240 – d. 26 February 1275)
- Beatrice (b. 25 June 1242 – d. 24 March 1275)
- Edmund (16 January 1245 – d. 5 June 1296)
- Katherine (b. 25 November 1253 – d. 3 May 1257)
Henry had no illegitimate children.
Henry as kingKingship, government and law.
Royal government in England had traditionally centred on several great offices of state, filled by powerful, independent members of the baronage. Henry abandoned this policy, leaving the post of justiciar vacant and turning the position of chancellor into a more junior role. A small royal council was formed but its role was ill-defined; appointments, patronage and policy were decided personally by Henry and his immediate advisers, rather than through the larger councils that had marked his early years. The changes made it much harder for those outside Henry's inner circle to influence policy or to pursue legitimate grievances, particularly against the King's friends.
Henry believed that kings should rule England in a dignified manner, surrounded by ceremony and ecclesiastical ritual. He thought that his predecessors had allowed the status of the Crown to decline, and sought to correct this during his reign. The events of the civil war in Henry's youth deeply affected the King, and he adopted Edward the Confessor as his patron saint, hoping to emulate the way in which the Anglo-Saxon King had brought peace to England and reunited his people in order and harmony. Henry tried to use his royal authority leniently, hoping to appease the more hostile barons and maintain peace in England.
As a result, despite a symbolic emphasis on royal power, Henry's rule was relatively circumscribed and constitutional. He generally acted within the terms of the charters, which prevented the Crown from taking extrajudicial action against the barons, including the fines and expropriations that had been common under John. The charters, however, did not address the sensitive issues of the appointment of royal advisers and the distribution of patronage, and they lacked any means of enforcement if the King chose to ignore them. Henry's rule became lax and careless, resulting in a reduction in royal authority in the provinces and, ultimately, the collapse of his authority at court. The inconsistency with which he applied the charters over the course of his rule alienated many barons, even those within his own faction.The term "parliament" first appeared in the 1230s and 1240s to describe large gatherings of the royal court, and parliamentary gatherings were held periodically throughout Henry's reign. They were used to agree the raising of taxes which, in the 13th century, were single, one-off levies, typically on movable property, intended to support the King's normal revenues for particular projects. During Henry's reign, the counties began to send regular delegations to these parliaments, and came to represent a broader cross-section of the community than simply the major barons.
Despite the various charters, the provision of royal justice was inconsistent and driven by the needs of immediate politics: sometimes action would be taken to address a legitimate baronial complaint, on other occasions the problem would simply be ignored. The royal eyres, courts which toured the country to provide justice at the local level, typically for those lesser barons and the gentry claiming grievances against the major lords, had little power, allowing the major barons to dominate the local justice system. The power of royal sheriffs also declined during Henry's reign. They were now often lesser men appointed by the exchequer, rather than coming from important local families, and they focused on generating revenue for the King. Their robust attempts to enforce fines and collect debts generated much unpopularity among the lower classes. Unlike his father, Henry did not exploit the large debts that the barons frequently owed to the Crown, and was slow to collect any sums of money due to him.
Personal rule (1234–58)Marriage Early chronology showing Henry (top) and his children, (l to r) Edward, Margaret, Beatrice, Edmund and Katherine, 1300–1308
Henry investigated a range of potential marriage partners in his youth, but they all proved unsuitable for reasons of European and domestic politics. In 1236 he finally married Eleanor of Provence, the daughter of Raymond-Berengar, the Count of Provence, and Beatrice of Savoy. Eleanor was well-mannered, cultured and articulate, but the primary reason for the marriage was political, as Henry stood to create a valuable set of alliances with the rulers of the south and south-east of France. Over the coming years, Eleanor emerged as a hard-headed, firm politician. Historians Margaret Howell and David Carpenter describe her as being "more combative" and "far tougher and more determined" than her husband.
The marriage contract was confirmed in 1235 and Eleanor travelled to England to meet Henry for the first time. The pair were married at Canterbury Cathedral in January 1236, and Eleanor was crowned queen at Westminster shortly afterwards in a lavish ceremony planned by Henry. There was a substantial age gap between the couple – Henry was 28, Eleanor only 12 – but historian Margaret Howell observes that the King "was generous and warm-hearted and prepared to lavish care and affection on his wife". Henry gave Eleanor extensive gifts and paid personal attention to establishing and equipping her household. He also brought her fully into his religious life, including involving her in his devotion to Edward the Confessor.
Despite initial concerns that the Queen might be barren, Henry and Eleanor had five children together. In 1239 Eleanor gave birth to their first child, Edward, named after the Confessor. Henry was overjoyed and held huge celebrations, giving lavishly to the Church and to the poor to encourage God to protect his young son. Their first daughter, Margaret, named after Eleanor's sister, followed in 1240, her birth also accompanied by celebrations and donations to the poor. Henry's third child, Beatrice, was named after his mother-in-law, and born in 1242 during a campaign in Poitou. Their fourth child, Edmund, arrived in 1245 and was named after the 9th-century saint: concerned about Eleanor's health, Henry donated large amounts of money to the Church throughout the pregnancy. A third daughter, Katherine, was born in 1253 but soon fell ill, possibly the result of a degenerative disordersuch as Rett syndrome, and was unable to speak. She died in 1257 and Henry was distraught. Henry's children spent most of their childhood at Windsor Castle and he appears to have been extremely attached to them, rarely spending extended periods of time apart from his family.
After Eleanor's marriage, many of her Savoyard relatives joined her in England. At least 170 Savoyards arrived in England after 1236, coming from Savoy, Burgundy and Flanders, including Eleanor's uncles: Boniface became the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Williambecame Henry's chief adviser for a short period. Henry arranged marriages for many of them into the English nobility, a practice that initially caused friction with the English barons, who resisted landed estates passing into the hands of foreigners. The Savoyards were careful not to exacerbate the situation and became increasingly integrated into English baronial society, forming an important power base for Eleanor in England.
Edward left for the Eighth Crusade, led by Louis of France, in 1270, but Henry became increasingly ill; concerns about a fresh rebellion grew and the next year the King wrote to his son asking him to return to England, but Edward did not turn back. Henry recovered slightly and announced his renewed intention to join the crusades himself, but he never regained his full health and on the evening of 16 November 1272, Henry died in Westminster, probably with Eleanor in attendance. He was succeeded by Edward, who slowly made his way back to England via Gascony, finally arriving in August 1274.
At his request, Henry was buried in Westminster Abbey in front of the church's high altar, in the former resting place of Edward the Confessor. A few years later, work began on a grander tomb for the King and in 1290 Edward moved his father's body to its current location in Westminster Abbey. His gilt-brass funeral effigy was designed and forged within the abbey grounds by William Torell; unlike other effigies of the period, it is particularly naturalistic in style, but it is probably not a close likeness of Henry himself.
Eleanor probably hoped that Henry would be recognised as a saint, as his contemporary Louis IX of France had been; indeed, Henry's final tomb resembled the shrine of a saint, complete with niches possibly intended to hold relics. When the King's body was exhumed in 1290, contemporaries noted that the body was in perfect condition and that Henry's long beard remained well preserved, which at the time was considered to be an indication of saintly purity. Miracles began to be reported at the tomb, but Edward was sceptical about these stories. The reports ceased, and Henry was never canonised. In 1292 Henry's heart was removed from his tomb and reburied at Fontevraud Abbey with the bodies of his Angevin family.
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