Henry III

Royal 20.A.II, f.9

Henry III,

1216-1272

Born:

1 October 1207, son of King John and Isabelle of Angouleme, at Winchester

Crowned:

  1. 28 October 1216 at Gloucester Abbey
  2. 17 May 1220 at Westminster Abbey, London

Died:

16 November 1272 at Westminster Palace, London

Buried:

Westminster Abbey (body); Fontevrault Abbey, France (heart)

Married:

14 January 1236 Eleanor of Provence, at Canterbury Cathedral

Succeeded by:

Edward I (son)

oung Henry’s inheritance was a land plunged into war by his father’s misdeeds. Once John was dead, however, the English rallied around their child king and the French invaders withdrew. For the next seventeen years, regents governed on Henry’s behalf until, in 1234, he assumed personal control.

As a monarch, Henry had his good points. He was affable, pious and learned. Passionate about architecture, he updated the Tower of London, built the Great Hall at Winchester, undertook major work at the cathedrals of St. Albans, Salisbury, Lincoln and Wells and transformed Westminster Abbey into a soaring Gothic edifice.

Henry could also be indecisive, lacking in judgment and easily led. He invited his Lusignan half-brothers (from western France) and his wife’s Savoyard uncles (from southwestern France) to England, giving them and their multitudinous followers influential positions. The influx of “foreigners,” greedily scrambling to scoop up wealth and power, enraged the English. The country splintered, and a new voice was heard, that of Henry’s brother-in-law, reform-minded Simon de Montfort.

Henry, encouraged by his politically tone-deaf wife Eleanor, chose this moment to embark on an unrealistic plan to crown his second son, Edmund, king of Sicily. His finances in disarray, a crisis ensued.

Henry’s rule disintegrated and he was forced to share power with a council of fifteen, headed by de Montfort. Eventually, Henry was bottled up in the Tower by the citizens of London, and forced to banish all the “foreigners.”

De Montfort uneasily maintained his position for several years until a new royalist party gathered around Henry’s talented son, Edward. In the summer of 1265, Edward defeated (and slew) de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham. The 26-year-old prince then played a major role in pacifying and stabilizing the country before leaving on crusade. Henry III died during his absence, at age 65.

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