Who was Henry III of England?
Also known as Henry of Winchester, Henry III was king of England, Duke of Aquitaine and the Lord of Ireland. He was born in 1207 as the heir to the royal English throne after King John, his father. His reign as king started at a very tender age of 9, and Henry III was prophesized to be a great ruler, but somehow, he fell quite short on the greatness scale as far as his military and political triumphs were concerned. He is widely popular in the history as a coward, egoistic, arrogant ruler who happened to invade France twice, but to no great success. However, his rule did manage to suppress the Baron rebellion at the battles of Lincoln and Sandwich in 1217; just a year after Henry assumed the throne. But still after that, Henry spent quite a chunk of his life trying to suppress them, eventually leading up to the first arrangement of England’s parliament in 1264. His father, King John, also remained a controversial figure and was quite unpopular but Henry III’s unpopularity was a little bit redeemed by the fact that under his reign, England opened up to a certain degree of prosperity and political and social advancements.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in the royal palace of Winchester on 1st October 1207 to King John and Isabella of Angouleme, Henry was named after his grandfather, Henry II, who was a very effective ruler and under his reign, the English Empire grew wide, covering many areas of south-west and north-west France. Henry’s father, John was an incompetent ruler, who lost many French territories to King Philip II of France.
So weak was his reign that King Philip’s son, Louis dreamed of having the English throne for himself and political incompetency of John made way for the First Baron’s War in England, with the Barons aided by Prince Louis, who later became King Louis VII of France. However, Barons were unable to win, so was King John, and he died amidst the struggle, leaving his eldest son, Henry as the heir to the throne.
Henry was brought up amidst all the chaos, but he was away from the war and political turmoil as a kid. He was close to his mother, and his mother loved him way more than his siblings. His formal education commenced in 1212, and was the responsibility of Peter des Roches, who happened to be the bishop of Westminster. Henry was subsequently given the training in war, politics, military, combats and horse riding to prepare him as a ruler.
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Coronation & Reign
The day his father died, Henry was at the Corfe Castle with his mother. The king had ordered before his death that the throne was in great danger and Henry’s coronation must take place as quickly as possible. William Marshal, King John’s good friend and supposedly the greatest knight in all England, was to be made the guardian of young Henry. Henry was proclaimed the king by the crown loyalists, William Marshal knighted him and the official coronation ceremony took place on 28th October 1216. Henry was just 9 years of age.
King John had left Henry in a very complicated situation, with the general public criticising the royalty for having half the country occupied by the rebels. With the help of William and Guala Bicchieri, Henry somehow managed to curb the rebellions. The main cause of Baron’s dissatisfaction was the fact that Henry’s father, King John, was a bad ruler and his policies were insensitive and brainless. Magna Carta was reissued in Henry’s name, first in 1216 and again in 1217.
In what was later known as one of the most decisive battles in the English History, William Marshal led a force to Lincoln and defeated the Baron rebels at the battles of Lincoln and Sandwich in 1217.
When William died of sickness in 1219, Henry was still very young and somehow unable to rule on his own and hence, Hubert de Burgh became his chief advisor and played a great role in reconfirming the charter in 1223 and established peace with Wales. Pop Honorius III declared in the same year that Henry was finally coming of age and he could make decisions in certain matters of royal importance and in 1227, Henry proclaimed to take back the land which King Louis of France had promised, but didn’t adhere to it.
Henry declared war (‘war for inheritance’); by then King Louis VIII had died, and his son Louis IX had become the king of France. The French kingdom seemed to be in weaker position compared to the English and as Henry gathered his forces against France to reclaim the lands in Brittany and Poitou in 1230, it turned out to be a military and political failure. After years of struggle, Henry finally gave up on his claims and signed a peace treaty with King Louis IX of France. In 1934 Henry returned empty handed to England. This colossal failure did cost the crown a lot of fortune and Henry invited hatred and indiscipline and challenge to his authority from all corners of his kingdom.
In an attempt to reach further peace, Henry married Eleanor of Province in 1236. Eleanor was known as a much better royal and a ‘strong-headed personality’. They were married in the Canterbury cathedral, and at the time, Henry was 28, while Eleanor was just 12. But he treated her gently, causing love to bloom between the two, despite it being a political arrangement for the most part. Eleanor gave birth to five children. This marriage opened ways for French to have a place in the royal court of England, and although this move was considered bold, it did create some trust issues with the barons.
By 1239, Henry had gained notoriety and one of his family relatives, Simon de Montfort, along with Henry’s own brother, Richard, joined the rebels. Henry managed to bring his brother back to his side by arranging a marriage for him, and once that was done, the rebellion grew weak. Simon was alone and was constantly blaming the King for bringing foreigners to the royal court and the church in the important positions, while ignoring his own countrymen. This put barons and the church against Henry and de Montfort, being a charismatic leader, managed to motivate many barons and warriors to side with him.
The battle finally took place, with Henry’s eldest son Edward leading the charge against de Montfort. By 1263, de Montfort had captured most of the South eastern England and in the battle of the Lewes the next year against Prince Edward’s troops, he emerged victorious. Somehow, the battle was lost and Henry and his children were put under house arrest by de Montfort. De Montfort rose to power and came extremely close to eliminate the Monarchy completely, but most of the barons who supported him earlier, didn’t approve of that.
Barons who followed de Montfort into the war started suspecting him of trying to change their way of life, which was represented by the monarchy, which they thought was ‘too bold’ a decision and most of them didn’t support it, which led to decline in de Montfort’s power. And worse, Prince Edward managed to escape the house arrest with the help of one of his cousins, and in the battle of Evesham in 1265, he defeated de Montfort and Henry regained his throne.
In 1270, Prince Edward left for France and Henry became severely ill. He called for Edward, but he didn’t respond. King Henry III breathed his last on 16th November 1274 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. At the time of his death, his wife stood by him. He was survived by four out of five of his children - Edward, the heir; Margaret, Beatrice of England and Edmond Crouchback.
Although he wasn’t a very popular ruler, but Henry III was appreciated for the love he had for art. He ordered to build Westminster Abbey in a gothic style, which was a bold choice. Under his reign, England became financially prosperous due to the tax reforms.
In popular culture, Henry III has been a part of many folk tales and poems, but not as much as other English royals. In Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’, Henry III is shown brooding outside a door. And even though William Shakespeare wrote plays about several popular monarchs, he avoided writing about Henry III, for which he received some level of criticism.