It is unfortunate that although Henry III was not magnificent, colourful, much of a warrior or generally bossy king he did reign by himself from 1227 to 1272, during a most busy and turbulent time, so it is necessary to make much of those years
As it will have been recalled in the previous chapter Henry’s minority had been one of turbulence what with French and Scots nobility marching all over the place and the Welsh Prince Llewelyn being more important than Henry; things had got so bad that his mother had tried to rule for him, although she was a spirited and brave Isabella at the time only Mathildas and Eleanors were allowed to rule England (see Vol I) so she went and married a Hugh who was also an X. However, thanks to the efforts of the Papacy William (a loyal and noble marshal) and Hubert (just a clerk) Henry was able to reach his majority.
At once Henry was faced by several challenges, as follows
France (of course)
During his father’s reign, lots of land had been lost to the French King; the French nobility disputed this pointing out it was their and why didn’t the English stay where they were as there were lots of Scots, Welsh and Irish to conquer. However, under the terms of the Magna Carta, to get back everyone’s lands in France it was a requirement that an English King should make war on French king at least once in his reign, so since there was only a little Louis (IX) and 1230 was neatly configured year Henry led an English army to France. Because his education of the geography of France was poor he marched south instead of north, also Louis was practicing to be a reformer and even worse, a saint which meant Henry was also moral disadvantage. Luckily for him his advisors arranged a truce, so the war didn’t count. He went home.
Revolting Barons (What else)- The First Lot.
Some barons felt that Hubert was acting far beyond the authority of was what expected of a just a clerk and forced him into a chapel, then without asking Henry stole lands belonging to other barons, some of whom allied themselves with Llewelyn (of Wales of course) and fought the first lot of barons. Henry became so confused he thought the war might be something to do with France; he was thus obliged to ask an Archbishop to sort things out. A compromise was reached where all the barons said they would stop fighting if Henry accepted that it was all his fault. He did this and was praised for his gullibility, which was later altered by some sycophantic commentators to ‘humility’
Henry Does Something About It
What with the barons and the French Henry resolved to make himself appear more kingish, he used several stratagems
Kingliness – Henry resolved that whatever he did he should do it with dignity, ceremony, the backing of the Church and some of the more cultured barons, thus even if he actually didn’t make a decision people thought he had and in such a noteworthy way.
Piety and Piousnessability – Because Henry had been crowned twice by The Church which had also excommunicated Louis (Prince, VIII, etc), Henry became very pious. In those days this did not mean being kindly and reserved; a king’s piety was judged by how much money and land he gave to the Church, how many masses he attended and if he persecuted folk who worshipped the wrong way. And just to make sure Henry also went about saying how good Edward The Confessor had been, even if he had been just an Anglo-Saxon.
Marriage– Henry wisely married an Eleanor in 1236, which under historical precedence (see Vol I ref: ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’) meant she could rule when he was away fighting French or Scots kings. As she did a better job than Henry this unsettled some barons who encouraged very common Londoners to throw cabbages at her; she countered by demanding ‘Queens Gold’ which entitled her to pass laws without telling Londoners and then fine them for breaking the laws for as much as she liked and when. Because Henry was devoted to her, no one argued, not because of him, but because Pope’s might excommunicate you if you did. They were so devoted they had many children. As Henry was pious there were no ‘natural children’; this avoided pretenders.
Jews– Due to a universal hopelessly incorrect reading of the Bible and financial hypocrisy amongst the nobility, the Jewish people were not liked. This was known as Anti-Semitism, or under its more correct term Idiocy. Like dysentery it was common Christian kingdoms but was not caused by not washing hands, but bypassing edicts or laws. As legally Henry owned all the Jews in England, he typically was not sure what to do but felt he should do something so he passed a law, which no one understood, but seemed to satisfy the Pope who was supposed to understand the Bible
Henry as King of England and Other Parts
Ireland– There had been an outbreak of death amongst the nobility who had been there for some time, probably caused by other nobles. On advice from his court Henry gave the land to supporters of his, who decided they didn’t want it and gave it back. In this way Henry found himself owning most of Ireland and he gave it to his son on condition that he wouldn’t give it back. No one consulted the Irish, this was not a good idea.
Scotland– At that time the scots didn’t see much point in invading England since they had enough fighting of their own to go around particularly as they had managed to go to war over The Isle lands (as opposed to the Highlands) with Norway which had stopped being Vikings. Henry sent daughters north to marry Scotsmen, and the king Alexander III said whereas he would be son-in-law of Henry, he would pretend not to recognise Henry if Henry dressed up as a king, which Henry pretended he had not heard.
Wales– Because Llewelyn had died in 1420 and his son Dafyd died in 1426 without recognisable sons another Llewelyn from the same family took over, he continued for some time to make Henry wish there was some way he could pretend he didn’t know Wales was there. He was spared further embarrassment when Llewelyn and his brother decided to have their own war.
Henry and International Affairs
Henry was very surprised in 1241 when he found out he had relatives in France who were rebelling against saintly Louis, so hoping the Pope was still on his side, Henry rapidly took a year to invade and didn’t do very well as he’d forgotten which French were for Louis and which ones weren’t. This was such a muddle that the most well known of all the Simon de Montforts being both English and French and having been on a crusade felt so exasperated that he authorised himself to suggest Henry should be re-named Charles, imprisoned and made to wear a wimple, as had happened in 910, luckily for Henry de Montfort went back to crusading. Henry meanwhile on his way back home met Louis and found out they could be friends which enabled their wives, ie Eleanor and her sister Margaret to broker a deal between the two nations.
Back home Henry attempted to be diplomatic and to be friends with the Holy Roman Emperor, buy Sicily for his son Edmund and go on crusade. None of these worked. He had to reluctantly go back to domestic affairs.
Henry and the Economy
Because parliaments were becoming popular and insisting that Henry explain why he wanted money, Henry attempted to try and reform the economy by making the silver coins longer than they used to be and claim that people’s money could go further, he was helped in this by his brother Richard. Once this was completed he then accumulated gold and spent it on Richard becoming King of The German in 1256, which was different from being Holy Roman Emperor, even though it was on the same land. Thus, Henry avoided any barons getting their hands on his gold. He therefore established a tradition which is now known as Market Trading.
Barons, Revolts and Parliaments
Because Henry had cluttered up his court with French relatives and Simon de Montfort had come back from crusading there was much discontent gathering amongst barons and parliaments. This became more tense in 1258 when de Montfort decided to organise parliament so that the king couldn’t influence it, By June 1258 the barons and parliament had become so powerful they told the king he could only buy his provisions in Oxford. This caused more turmoil amongst competing factions so that by 1259 Henry’s son Edward and some barons said he could only shop in Westminster. Naturally this led to another revolt which would become the Second Baron’s War, though everyone had to wait until 1263 for Simon de Montfort to return to England so they all knew which side they were on. This started quite well for de Montfort and Henry ended up either hiding in the Tower of London or being captured but thanks to the efforts of his son ie Edward and some other barons in 1264 at Evesham de Montfort was slain and slaughtered and Henry was found.
To spare Henry any more problems several bishops and barons gathered in 1266 to sort things out, this resulted in a rather bad-tempered document known as the Tantrum of Kenilworth. This said quite plainly that the king could get his provisions wherever he wanted to and appoint who he wanted to and that all the rebels (who had survived) had to pay large fines and get their provisions where the king wanted them to. Also, Parliament should only advise and agree to any taxes the king asked for. As additional penalty on barons, common people were allowed to go back into the forests. All the king had to do was read Magna Carta occasionally. Thus, did peace and stability return to the realm.
The Final Years
Now that he was in his declining years Henry finally had time to go on a crusade and started out in 1270, but half way there reflected that his queen would make such a splendid dowager queen and his son a good king that he both chivalrously and piously died in 1272. His wife, Eleanor hoping he would become a saint dug him up to display the length of his beard, but this did not convince the Church and everyone had to wait until the 1950s before historians thought about writing books about him.
In the following chapter, we shall consider how these Isles had to cope with Edward I