The Official History Website of International Bestselling Author John Paul Davis

Henry III

Personal Rule


Peace with France was largely 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 originally 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 indignation, 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 came 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 bedchamber, 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 major 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 insurrection from his son, Dafydd, but the prince was detered 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 all the way 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 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 personal debts were large, 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 key 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 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 2 knights of every shire. After agreeing 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 in order 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.