1902 Encyclopedia > Henry III, King of England

Henry III, King of England

HENRY III. (1207-1272), king of England, eldest son of John and Isabella, was born on October 1, 1207, and was just nine years old on his father's death. Ten days after that event he was crowned at Gloucester (October 28,1216). His long reign falls into four periods,—that of the regency, ending with the fall of De Burg; that of government by favourites, which led to the Mad Parliament; the period of the Barons' War; and the short period between the close of the war and Henry's death. At his accession the whole country was in rebellion, and Louis with his Frenchmen held the east and south. In this crisis it was fortunate that the government fell into the hands of such a man as William Marshall, and that the pope gave him all the assist-ance in his power. The acceptance of the charter at once recalled many to their allegiance, and the defeat and retire-ment of Louis broke up the opposition. The charter was confirmed (1217) and order rapidly restored. The legate
Gualo aided the earl marshal and Archbishop Langton in the work. On Marshall's death (1219) Pandulf took Gualo's place, and asserted the papal authority in a way which obliged Langton to make a personal protest at Borne. Pandulf was recalled, and Hubert de Burg, the justiciar, ruled with Langton till the latter's death (1228), and alone afterwards. The influence of Peter des Boches, bishop of Winchester, the head of the foreign party and guardian of the king's person, was successfully resisted. Meanwhile a last outbreak of pure feudalism under Falkes de Breaute^ was put down, and the charter again issued in its final shape (1227). But the worst plague of the reign, the influence of foreign favourites, had already made itself felt, while another great evil, the financial exactions of Rome, was causing much discontent. An expedition to Poitou, opposed by De Burg, caused the first quarrel between him and the king. Shortly afterwards Peter des Boches re-turned from a temporary banishment, and gained such influence over Henry that he dismissed De Burg with insult and ingratitude (1232). From this point his real reign may be said to have begun.

The bad promise of his youth was amply redeemed in the events of the next twenty-six years. Under the influence of Beter des Roches, foreigners began to flock to the court, and even foreign mercenaries were introduced into England. Richard, earl marshal, who openly rebuked the king for this conduct, was outlawed, but other barons took up his cause, and collisions between them and the king's troops took place. Civil war appeared imminent, when Archbishop Edmund persuaded Henry to dismiss Peter des Roches, and the danger was avoided for the time (1234). But the king's partiality for foreigners was a constant source of dis-content. In 1236 he married Eleanor of Provence. Two uncles of the queen, William, bishop of Valence, and Peter of Savoy, came over with her, and were immediately placed in positions of honour and emolument. In 1238 Henry married his sister -Eleanor to Simon de Montfort, an event which nearly produced an outbreak. Resistance already centred in the Great Council, which in 1236 had declined "to change the laws of England," and supported the bishop of Chichester in his refusal to give up the great seal at the king's demand. Henry's personal extravagance caused him much embarrassment, and the extortions of the papal see pressed heavily on the church. In 1242 the barons refused to give the aid demanded by the king for another expedi-tion to Poitou, and when they met again after his return, they joined with the clergy in a general protest against his misgovernment (1244). In order to remedy this state of things, it was proposed that the king's advisers should be chosen by the parliament, as it now began to be called, but Henry found means of evading the demand. Hitherto his brother Richard, earl of Cornwall, had been the leader of the opposition, but Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, was now becoming the centre of constitutional resistance. In 1246 the king's step-father, the count of La Marche, died, and Henry's half-brothers came to England, bringing with them a fresh crowd of hungry followers. The demands made upon the great cities, especially London, upon the Jews, and upon the clergy, to meet the expenses caused by the king's favourites, were constantly on the increase. Owing to the cessation of the office of justiciar since the fall of De Burg, the judicial system was falling into decay, and crime of all kinds was rampant. At the same time the pope, engaged in his great struggle with Frederick II., regarded England as an " inexhaustible spring of wealth," and redoubled his demands. He won over most of the bishops by supporting them in their claim to inspect the monastic houses in their dioceses, and the church, deprived of its natural head,—for Boniface, an uncle of the queen, was archbishop cf Canterbury,'—was disunited and helpless.

Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, was almost alone in his efforts to follow in the steps of Stephen Langton. He and De Montfort were at one in their desire for reform, but the nation was not yet ready. Two mistakes on the part of Henry brought matters to a crisis. He had conferred the government of Gascony on De Montfort in 1248, and the latter had reduced the province to obedience. But accusa-tions made against him found ready audience with the king, who feared and disliked his brother-in-law. The result was a bitter quarrel (1252), which Henry followed up by super-seding De Montfort in his government, and sending his eldest son Edward to take his place. This had the effect of throwing the earl once for all into the arms of the national party. A little later an event occurred which forced that party to take active measures. The pope persuaded Henry to accept the kingdom of Sicily for his second son Edmund, and to bind himself to pay the expenses of its conquest, together with a large debt already incurred (1255). This important scheme was entered into without the knowledge of the parliament, and the nation suddenly found itself pledged to an undertaking which had purely dynastic or papal objects. The coalition of pope and king produced a corresponding union of the church and the baronage, and the troubles of the year 1257, Scotch and Welsh inroads, together with a failure of the harvest, united the nation against the Government.

A parliament which met at Westminster (April 1258) forced Henry to promise reform, and elected a committee of twenty-four to act for the king till a complete scheme could be drawn up. On June 11th the assembly, called afterwards the Mad Parliament, met at Oxford. A coun-cil of fifteen, of whom two-thirds were on the baronial side, was appointed, who, together with twelve repre-sentatives of the " community," were to take charge of the government and meet in parliament thrice a year. Hugh Bigod was named justiciar, other offices were filled up, the castles were entrusted to Englishmen, and four knights were summoned from each county to declare grievances. These reforms, together with certain general enactments, went by the name of the Provisions of Oxford. The king's authority was completely superseded, and the rule of a baronial oligarchy established. Next year, owing to the demands of the knighthood, who felt themselves neglected, a further series of Provisions was issued. The Sicilian project was formally repudiated, and a final peace made with France, in which the claim on Normandy and other districts was renounced. But beyond this the baronial Government did nothing. The nation testified its disappointment, and a quarrel took place between the earls of Leicester and Gloucester which divided the baronial party. The king took advantage of this state of affairs, and in 1261 obtained absolution from the Pro-visions at the hands of the pope. He then fortified the Tower, deposed the baronial justiciar, and soon began to rule as before. In this crisis the baronial party made a bid for popular favour by summoning representatives of the counties to a parliament, but the reaction was for the time complete, and Henry had leisure to go to France in order to win over Louis IX. to his side. In 1263 hostilities broke out on the Welsh border, and the barons seized the opportunity to renew their attack on the king. After some months of desultory warfare, it was agreed to submit to the arbitration of Louis. That king, in the Mise of Amiens, decided in favour of Henry, and annulled the Provisions. Leicester at once appealed to arms. The battle of Lewes (May 14, 1264) was a complete victory for him, and put the king and his eldest son into his hands. For a time he was master of the country, but the party he headed was not that which had been dominant six years before, and Henry now had many adherents among the greater barons. Nevertheless, for more than a year he remained practically a prisoner in the hands of De Montfort. At a parliament which met in June 1264, and at which knights of the shire were certainly present, a constitution was drawn up, which, while preserving to the king a high position as head of the executive, placed supreme power in the hands of the " community." Early next year, in a parliament to which members from the boroughs as well as from the counties were summoned, this constitution was confirmed, and Henry swore to observe it. In accord-ance with the settlement made at Lewes, Edward was now to be released. His father was already supposed to be at liberty, but in reality both he and Edward were kept in restraint. Edward's escape (May 1265) caused an im-mediate renewal of the war, and at the battle of Evesham (August 4, 1265) De Montfort was killed and Henry set free. Two years later the war was practically concluded by the capture of Kenilworth. Henry had little to do with the conduct of the war, and acquiesced in the arrangements made by his son for the pacification of the country. His triumph was, however, complete, and for the rest of his reign the kingdom was at peace. He died on November 16,1272, leaving behind him the memory of one whose virtues were of the priestly kind, and whose worst vices were those of indulgence, ill-temper, and prodigality. As a subject he would have been harmless, and even perhaps respectable; as a king he was weak, hasty, imprudent, equally incapable in the position of a ruler, an administrator, or a general.

Original Authorities.—Roger of Wendover, Flores Historiarum; Matthew Paris, Historia Major (with its Additamenta), and His-toria Minor; William Rishanger, Continuation of Matt. Paris, and De duobus Bellis, &c.; the Annals of Burton, Dunstable, Tewkes-bury, Waverley, Melrose, and other places ; Thomas Wikes, Chronicon; Nicolas Trivet, Annates; Walter of Gisburne (or Hemingburgh), Chronicon; Bracton, De Legibus Angliaz; Robert of Gloucester, Chronicle; Royal Letters (ed. Shirley); Letters of Grosse-teste (ed. Luard); Monumenta Franciscana (ed. Brewer); Liber de Antiquis Legibus (Camd. Soc); Folitical Songs (ed. Wright).

Modern Authorities. —Pearson's History of England, vol. ii.; Blaauw's Barons' War; Prothero's Life and Times of Simon von Montfort; Pauli's Simon de Montfort; Brewer's Preface to Monum. Franciscana ; Luard's Preface to Letters of Grosseteste. (G. W. P.)

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