Henry III was crowned King of the English on 28th October 1216. He took over a troubled and divided country, which had suffered greatly from the unsuccessful reign of his father, King John.
Born in Winchester on 1st October 1207, Henry was only nine years old when his father died. Too young to rule independently, he left the governance of England to the well respected William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, who shared the Regency of England with the Baron Hubert de Burgh.
Henry III took control of the kingdom at the age of 19, in 1227. He was determined to restore the lands his father had lost to the English Crown. His first attempt was an unsuccessful expedition into Gascony in 1230, to try and regain the Plantagenet ancestral lands in France.
In 1236, Henry married Eleanor of Provence, the second daughter of Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence (1198-1245) and Beatrice of Savoy (1206-66). Only a year after his marriage, in 1237, Henry was having problems with the barons, who disliked the fact the King was taking advice about ruling England from his Savoy relatives. The situation became worse in 1242, when Henry’s half brothers involved him in a disastrously expensive military venture into France. This prompted parliament to demand new blood on the council to act as ‘conservators of liberties’ and oversee royal finances. Then, with defeats in Wales as well as in France, the biggest crisis of Henry’s reign began.
In 1258, the barons imposed The Provisions of Oxford on the king, to oversee the countries administration by creating a 15-member privy council. This brand new Parliament was to be held three times a year. By 1260, the system broke down, with quarrels between the Earl of Gloucester and the ambitious Simon de Montfort, and civil war broke out, a situation that wasn’t helped by the unpopularity of Henry’s Queen Eleanor, who was hated in London. In July 1263, she was pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables whilst sailing down the Thames in her barge. Her son Edward, never forgave the population, and was always harsh on the people of London thereafter.
In May 1264, the ring leader of the baron’s rebellion, Simon de Montfort, won a resounding victory at Lewes and set up a new government. His victory was short lived however, as in May 1265, Henry’s eldest son Prince Edward, rallied the royalist forces, and killed de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham.
The last years of Henry’s reign were spent resolving the problems created by the rebellion. It wasn’t until 1270, that England was sufficiently settled for Prince Edward to leave his father, and set off on crusade. Henry III died at his Palace of Westminster on 16 November, 1272 aged sixty- five. He became the first Plantagenet king to be buried within Westminster Abbey.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.