Henry III of England: History, Family Tree, Reign, Achievements, & Death
Reigning from 1216 to 1272, Henry III of England is most remembered for his admiration of luxurious religious occasions, feeding the poor and destitute, and remaining completely faithful to his wife, Eleanor of Provence. The English monarch, whose 56-year reign makes him one of the longest-reigning English monarchs, was also praised for his generosity as well as his spiritual devotion to Edward the Confessor.
Although Henry III of England is one of the longest-reigning English monarchs, having reigned for 56 years, it’s been noted that he only wielded real power for about 24 years, i.e. from 1234 to 1258.
Henry’s somewhat lack of concern was the reason why a number of English barons pushed for reforms, including the Provisions of Oxford in 1258.
Birth and early childhood
He was born in Winchester Castle in Winchester, England, on October 1, 1207. His parents were English monarchs King John of England (1166-1216) and Isabella Angouleme (1186-1246). He had four siblings and nine half-siblings (children from his mother’s marriage to Hugh X of Lusignan, Count of La Marche). All of his siblings survived into adulthood.
Not much is known about the early few years of Henry, other than the fact that his wet nurse’s name was Ellen. As a child, he received his education from Peter des Roches, the Bishop of Winchester. Henry received his military education from Philip D’Aubigny and Ralph of St Samson.
Right from his childhood, Henry carried himself in a pious manner; often times, he’d get very emotional during religious sermons.
Henry III’s father and the Magna Carta
Henry III was named after his grandfather, Henry II, a great expansionist who capitalized on the frailties of the French crown to expand into Normandy, Brittany, and Anjou, among other territories in northwest France. Henry II’s successor Richard I were able to consolidate their holdings in France; however, during the reign of John, England lost some of those territories to Philip II of France.
Hoping to bolster his military strength, Henry’s father King John raised money by imposing more taxes on his people. This ended in the barons revolting against John. In the end, John and the rebel barons were able to secure a deal in the form of the Magna Carta (in 1215), which clipped the crown’s abuse of power and guaranteed greater freedoms for the English barons.
A few months later, the First Barons’ War in England (1215-1217) erupted as both John and the barons did not honor the conditions in the Magna Carta. The rebel barons in England were supported by France’s Prince Louis (son of Philip II of France and later King Louis VIII).
With no side unable to secure victory, King John became ill and died in 1216, leaving his first son, Henry, to inherit the throne of England.
When was Henry III crowned king of England?
Before King John’s death, a regency council of thirteen men was set up to help steer the affairs of the kingdom during Henry’s minority (1216-1226). The council was headed by William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, the statesman who not only served Henry III but four other English kings, including Henry I, Richard I, and John.
King John’s allies and loyalists quickly crowned Henry to prevent any future struggle for the throne. Henry was also knighted (by William Marshal) to cement his status as heir.
On October 28, 1216, Henry, then 9 years of age, was crowned King Henry III of England. The coronation ceremony was officiated by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri, Rome’s legate to England. Henry III was anointed by Sylvester, the Bishop of Worcester, and Simon, Bishop of Exeter. His tutor Peter des Roches, the Bishop of Winchester, was the one who placed the crown on his head. Four years later, on May 17, 1220, he was given an official coronation at Westminster Abbey.
Second half of the First Barons’ War
By the time Henry III was crowned his kingdom was in disarray as rebel barons controlled about half of England. He leveraged on his close ties with Rome to stave off support for the rebel barons. In exchange for the Papacy’s support, Henry III agreed to recognize the Pope as the feudal lord of England.
As the First Barons’ War raged on, Henry III came to rely heavily on William Marshal (1147-1219) and Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester, among other loyalist barons. William Marshal was appointed protector of the young king. With hardly any resistance from loyalist barons, Marshal also became regent of the kingdom.
In spite of both sides almost evenly matched, the war stalemated. Rebel barons – under the leadership of France’s Prince Louis (later King Louis VIII of France) – maintained a strong grip in London and several other places in eastern England
Des Roches was appointed guardian of the young king as William headed the regency government. This allowed William to lead loyalist barons against rebel barons during the First Barons’ War (1215-1217).
Re-issuance of the Magna Carta
Henry enticed rebel barons to his side by promising to restore their lands and titles. He also struck a deal with the barons by reissuing a version of the Magna Carta. The action of the young king proved to be a miscalculation as many barons got more incensed.
Fearing that Prince Louis’ reinforcement could tip the war in favor of the rebel barons, Cardinal Guala is said to have pronounced the young king’s efforts against the rebels as a religious crusade. Guala’s declaration caused many rebels to switch side to Henry.
Henry III versus Prince Louis (later King Louis VIII of France)
In 1217, William Marshal faced off against Louis and his English allies at the Battle of Lincoln. In that battle, many of the rebels were captured by William Marshal. The regent also took the city of Lincoln.
After Henry III defeated the rebels in 1217, Prince Louis’ influence in England evaporated. The French prince then sued for peace before heading back to France. As per the peace agreement (the final Treaty of Lambeth of 1217), Louis renounced his claims to the English crown and the rebel barons were giving back their tiles and lands in England.
Challenges during Henry III’s reign
For large parts of his 56-year reign, his royal authority was really low, compared to the kings that came before him. This was partly due to the incessant reforms that English barons pursued. Many of the rebel barons and loyalist barons blatantly refused to follow instructions of the king and his regency government.
On many occasions, county sheriffs abandoned their posts, which in turn harmed the king’s ability to collect taxes and other royal revenues.
Henry III also faced problems from Wales, which were fomented by the Welsh Prince Lylwelyn. Thankfully the Treaty of Worcester was signed in 1218, allowing Lylwelyn to be the justiciar (position similar to the prime minister) across Wales.
The death of William Marshal in April 1219 also compounded Henry III’s ability to effectively rule. Marshal, a veteran statesman who had served four other English kings before Henry III, helped steer the affairs of the country during Henry’s minority years. His death opened the door wide open for power-hungry statesmen and barons to fight each other for influence.
After the death of William Marshal, statesmen like Pandulf Verraccio, Peter des Roches, and Hubert de Burgh came to the fore. Unfortunately, there was quite a lot of bad blood between Hubert and des Roches. Hubert accused des Roches of treason and had him removed as the king’s guardian. Hubert then became the leader of the government.
When Henry took control of the government in January 1227, he kept Hubert as his justiciar.
In the years that followed, Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke and son of William Marshal, revolted. Richard and a number of major barons accused Henry of failing to protect their rights per the 1225 charters. In the mid-1230s Henry began taking full control of the royal government. He left the justiciar position vacant.
Henry III’s use of diplomacy to take back his lands in France
Because he could not compete with the France’s king in terms of resources, Henry III took a non military approach to take back his lands in France. The English monarch used diplomacy by going into alliances with a number of states that could pile up pressure on France in order to relinquish those lands. This meant that he had to get heavily involved in Europeean politics.
As part of his efforts to enhance his credibility in Europe, Henry III embarked on a crusade to the Levant following the defeat of France’s Louis at the Battle of Al Mansurah in 1250. Unfortunately his crusade plans were dashed as he had to suppress an uprising in Gascony in 1252. He went on to sign a peace treaty with King Alfonso of Castile, the monarch who backed the uprising in Gascony. To seal the truce, Henry’s oldest son Prince Edward was married off to Alfonso’s half-sister Eleanor. Edward also took possession of Gascony.
Henry III’s failed attempt to acquire the Kingdom of Sicily for his son Prince Edmund
Bent on a crusade in the Levant, King Henry III planned to use Sicily as his base to carry out his crusade in the east. For that to happen, he reasoned that he had to take the Kingdom of Sicily for his son Prince Edmund.
Known for its wealth, the Kingdom of Sicily was in the possession of Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire, who at the time was a rival to Pope Innocent IV. That rivalry meant that the papacy sanctioned Henry III’s attempt to take Sicily from Frederick II. The pope even offered to contribute some resources to Henry III’s campaign to make Prince Edmund the king of Sicily.
Henry III’s debt to the Papacy
Henry’s war for the control of Sicily racked up a lot of debt. Much of that debt was owed to the Papacy. In 1258, Pope Alexander IV threatened to excommunicate Henry should he fail to honor his debt.
The Baronial Revolt in 1258
Henry III had to grapple with a revolt from some leading English barons in 1258. The barons complained about the manner in which Henry raised funds. There was a lot of angst about the influence of the Poitevins in Henry’s court. The king’s very costly and protracted war in Sicily also incurred the wrath of the barons.
Additionally, Henry had to deal with the problem of a revolt from Wales, which by then was in alliance with Scotland. To make matters worse, Henry was running low on money as the war in Sicily had put a huge strain on the royal coffers.
The baronial revolt was spearheaded by seven major barons, which included Peter de Savoy, Richard de Clare, John Fitzgeoffrey, Hugh Bigod, Roger Bigod, and Simon de Montfort. The goal of the barons was to clip the influence of the Lusignans in England. It’s been stated that Henry’s wife secretly supported the barons.
One of the barons, Roger Bigod, marched his army into Westminster and overthrew the King. In an attempt to avoid being sent to prison, Henry agreed to a deal where he would govern through a council of 24 barons and leading clergymen. He filled his half of the council seats with the Lusignans. Regardless, there was still ample pressure on the King to carry out reforms.
The Provisions of Oxford
Due to the immense pressure placed by the barons on Henry III, the king supported the reforms passed by his parliament. The reforms, known as the Provisions of Oxford, were passed in June 1258. Following the passage of the provisions, a 15-member council was created. Election of the council members, which explicitly prohibited Poitevins, was done solely by the barons. The provisions also allowed the barons to appoint the king’s justiciar, chancellor and treasurer. All those provisions were aimed at controlling what the barons perceived as the abuse of power by the king’s officials.
With the king’s power largely clipped, the barons proceeded to drive out leading members of the Lusignans. The properties of the exiled Lusignans were taken by lesser barons.
A year after the Provisions of Oxford were passed, a new set of reforms – the Provisions of Westminster (1259) – was passed to further reduce the power of the major barons. Those set of reforms were supported by Crown Prince Edward and Simon de Montfort.
Collapse of Henry’s government and the Second Barons’ War
Coupled with an intense Welsh incursion and the lack of adequate support from the Papacy, Henry’s government is said to have collapsed around 1263. As result, the country plunged into an all-out civil war.
The King’s opponents (i.e. rebel barons) were led by Simon de Montfort, who had come back from exile in April 1263. The rebels wanted to end the influence of the Poitevins in Henry’s court. King Henry was supported by his son Prince Edward, Hugh Bigod and a number of other barons.
Violence was aimed at the Jews by the rebels who owed quite a lot of money to the Jews. During Simon de Montfort’s march, about 500 Jews lost their lives. Henry found himself in a dire situation when Londoners revolted. The King and his wife Eleanor took shelter in the Tower of London only for them to be later taken prisoners by Simon who for the time being ruled in the King’s name.
When it had become clear that an all-out civil war was on the horizon, Simon agreed to submit the issue to arbitration by France’s Louis IX. The French monarch came out with a settlement (the Mise of Amiens) that favored Henry. Feeling that decision was too one-sided, the rebellious barons led by Simon took to arms, causing a civil war to break out in England immediately.
In May 1264, Simon secured an important victory at the Battle of Lewes. Although not crowned, Simon was in effect became the head of the government.
A year later, in 1265, Prince Edward was able to mount a strong fight and defeat Simon and the rebellious barons at the Battle of Evesham in Worcestershire. Edward, who was once captured by Simon and managed to escape, took charge of his father’s army to defeat Simon’s army that was about half the size of the royal forces. The battle was a complete fiasco for Simon, who was killed during the fight.
With Simon dead, the rebellious forces scattered and tried to mount a comeback, but to no avail. A strategic rebel stronghold at Kenilworth was taken by Edward and Henry in 1266. By the end of summer in 1267, all the rebels had laid down their weapons, surrendering to the royal forces. This brought an end to the Second Barons’ War.
The Dictum of Kenilworth
Henry was extremely harsh towards the vanquished barons in the months that followed the end of the Second Barons’ War. The King seized a huge chunk of the barons’ properties. The King later toned his punishment down and issued the Dictum of Kenilworth in October 1266. The royal pronouncement allowed the rebels to keep their lands and properties while exacting a high fine on them for their disloyalty. About a year later the Statute of Marlborough was passed. The statute, which put a lot of limitations on the major barons and local royal officials, did not limit the king’s royal authority.
To calm tensions in Wales, Henry struck a deal with Llywelyn in the Treaty of Montgomery. In the treaty, Henry recognized Llywelyn as the Prince of Wales.
Henry III’s final few years
Henry III’s final years saw relative peace in his kingdom. During those years, Henry III, a monarch known for his lavish religious ceremonies, held a grand ceremony to rebury Edward the Confessor (c. 1003-1066) in a new shrine.
Henry steadily gave his oldest son Edward greater role in government. This helped prepare the young prince for his life as king of England.
While his son Edward was fighting in the east during the Eight Crusade, Henry III died on November 16, 1272 in Westminster. He was aged 65. His oldest son Edward succeeded him to the throne.
Henry III was buried in Westminster Abbey, at the former resting place of Edward the Confessor. However, his son King Edward I moved his body to its current location in Westminster Abbey.
More Henry III Facts
Henry III was nine years old when he inherited his father’s throne in 1216.
Unlike his predecessors and many of his successors, Henry is said to have stayed faithful to his wife, Eleanor of Provence. Quite honorably of Henry III, he never had an illegitimate child, as he preferred being a devoted father and husband throughout his 36-year marriage.
His wife, Queen Eleanor, paid the trust he had in her by working diligently to support the king. It comes as no surprise that many of Henry’s sons and sons-in-law emulated the King by remaining faithful to their wives.
After several failed bids to secure a position in Henry III’s regency government, Henry’s mother went back to her home country France, where she tied the knot with Hugh X of Lusignan, Count of La Marche. She had nine children by Hugh.
He helped his brother Prince Richard get elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1256.
Henry III adopted Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor as his patron saint.
When it came to the pursuit of peace, Henry took several cues from his role model and fellow English monarch, Edward the Confessor. This explains why Henry made Edward the Confessor the patron saint of England.
One of his orders he gave out was the payment of monies owed to his wine merchant. The amount he owed the merchant in today’s dollars is about 1.5 million.
Major achievements of Henry III
Henry III held the record of longest-serving English monarch until 1816 when George III (reign: 1760-1820) surpassed that record. Henry III’s 56-year reign puts him in the top 10 of longest-reigning English monarchs.
Compared to the English queen consorts that came before Eleanor of Provence, Henry III’s wife, one could say that Eleanor of Provence had a stronger influence in the affairs of the country. Henry III even appointed Eleanor regent while he campaigned abroad.
Consecrated in 1065, Westminster Abbey holds a distinguished place in the history of England. Not only has it been a the coronation venue of English monarchs since William the conqueror in 1066, the Abbey has been use as the burial place for some of the most renowned personalities in British history, including Isaac Newton and Charles Dickens, and monarchs like Henry VII and Richard II. Henry III contributed immensely to this English pride when he began reconstructing the Abbey in 1245. By the time of his death in 1272, the building had been completed into the form that we have all come to admire. One of the modifications that he made was the Cosmati pavement, which is an intricately designed mosaic in front of the high alter. The mosaic was Henry’s way of depicting the universe at its birth and death.
His reign saw the confirmation of Magna Carta. The original document of the Magna Carta goes back to 1217, when English barons set out a set of clauses to limit what they perceived as King John’s abuse of royal power. Henry wholeheartedly supported the reisuuance of the charter in 1225. His 56-year reign saw him confirm the Magna Carta three times, making the charter a key document in maintaining the peace between English barons and the monarchs.
Parliamentary gatherings started in 1230s and 1240s – during the reign of Henry III. The parliament composed of large gatherings of the royal court that met to discuss issues primarily pertaining to raising of taxes. As time went on, probably in 1254, delegations from the counties began participating in those gatherings in Westminster. The gatherings at the time pitted the crown against leading barons and English clerks under the leadership of Henry’s brother-in-law Simon de Montfort (wife of Eleanor, Countess of Leicester). Although Henry III often had his way on the issues that were discussed in parliament, his royal power steadily got reduced towards the latter part of his reign.
Henry III of England goes into the history books as one of the most charitable English monarchs of all time. Taking inspiration from Edward the Confessor, Henry is said to have thrived for a pious kind of life. In spite of his financial woes (i.e. the mounting of debt he owed the Papacy and many other English barons), this English king set aside a considerable amount of resources to feed the poor and destitute. And when England was struck by a poor harvest (due to bad weather conditions), Henry wholeheartedly backed reforms that benefited the ordinary Englishman.
In a very bold move, Henry III took the decision to end his war campaign against France’s Louis IX over the continental territories England lost to France. One of those prized lands was Normandy, which was as rich as England. By giving up his claims, peace prevailed between England and France for some time. Historians also praise the strong ties that Henry and Louis were able to build, a rare happening in the Middle Ages.
Towards his latter reign, Henry III abandoned his military campaign against France and sued for peace instead. With the exclusion of his military campaigns to take back lost English lands on the continent, Henry never sought out to conquer any nation. It’s been said that he had the opportunity to bring his Welsh neighbors under his rule, but never did so. The King valued peace above everything else. Again, such a trait was quite rare for an English monarch, or for that matter an European monarch, in the Middle Ages.
His reign of 56 years was also a rarity for the age. In an era when violent uprisings and revolts sprung up very easily, the fact that Henry was able to reign for more than half a century is testament to his political prowess. Some historians credit his longevity to sheer luck. But that is debatable in the sense that Henry did not die in the typical way warrior English kings – like Henry V, Richard, the Lionheart, and Edward III – died. He somehow survived many near-death situations that were thrown his way, including the plague, dysentery, and an assassination on his life.
Henry III and Louis IX of France were brothers-in-law. Henry’s wife Eleanor of Provence was a younger sister to Margaret, Queen of France and wife to Louis IX of France. Henry secured good marriages for his sisters and daughters as well.
His younger sister Joan of England (22 July 1210 – 4 March 1238) married Alexander II of Scotland (1198-1249) on 21 June 1221, at York Minster. Alexander was 23 while Joan was 11. They had no children. Joan was Queen consort of Scotland from 1221 until her death in Essex in 1238.
Henry’s second sister Isabella of England (1214 – 1 December 1241) married Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250), Holy Roman Emperor (from 1220), King of Sicily (from 1198) and King of Germany (from 1212).
His eldest daughter Margaret of England (29 September 1240 – 26 February 1275) was Queen of Scots by marriage to King Alexander III of Scotland (1241-1286).
Henry III had a very strong bond with his eldest son, Prince Edward (later Edward I of England). Henry was very disappointed when Edward allied with Simon de Montfort during the Baronial rebellion in 1260. The father and son patched things up later and took back control of England by defeating de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in Worcestershire in 1265. Henry and his grandson, John, Edward’s first son, died in 1272 and 1271 respectively. Their deaths devastated Edward, with the future king grieving more for his father than his son.