King Henry III – The Longest Reign in Medieval England

King Henry III was born in Winchester Castle on 1 October 1207, the eldest son of King John and Isabella of Angouleme. At the tender age of nine, his tyrannical father John died, and Henry of Winchester became King Henry III of England.

As Henry was too young to rule himself, the vastly experienced knight William Marshal, and the justiciar Hubert de Burgh, were appointed Regents of England until Henry came of age. 

King Henry III did eventually rule on his own, and proceeded to reign for longer than any other medieval king of England. However, his reign was chequered with rebellion, failed battles, and costly invasions.

King Henry III’s First Coronation

England was in the middle of the First Baron’s War (1215-1217), when King Henry III was crowned for the first time. Prince Louis VIII of France and English baron Robert Fitzwalter had rebelled against King John, and those loyal to the new king decided Henry needed to be crowned quickly. Henry was only nine when he became king on 19 October 1216, and on 28 October 1216 he was crowned at Gloucester Cathedral.

King Henry III should have been dressed in fine garments, jewels and a crown. However, his father John had lost much of the royal treasures in The Wash, a few months before. So Henry had to borrow some suitable robes, and use his mother’s gold circlet as a crown. He was first knighted by William Marshall, then crowned by Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. The coronation was overseen by Cardinal Guala, the papal legate to England.

Ending the Civil War

King Henry iii and the Barons

King Henry III started his reign with the daunting prospect of ending his father’s civil war. Cardinal Guala fully supported the new king, and set about improving relations between England and the Papacy.

During Henry’s first coronation, Cardinal Guala encouraged Henry to pay homage to the Pope, recognising him as Henry’s feudal lord. In effect, this made King Henry III more like a noble than a king, and the Pope essentially became head of state. This act enabled the Papacy to authorise Guala’s protection of Henry and his kingdom. Furthermore, Henry declared himself a crusader, further promoting his protection.

The venerable William Marshal, 1st earl of Pembroke, was appointed Regent of England, to help Henry defeat the rebels. Loyalist Peter des Roches became Henry’s tutor and guardian, and Hubert de Burgh ran the government as Justiciar. King Henry III now had the support he needed to regain peace in England.

Battle of Lincoln

Louis VIII returned from France in April 1217, where he attempted to gather reinforcements. In his absence, Cardinal Guala declared that King Henry III’s war against the rebels was a holy crusade. This caused many soldiers to abandon the rebellion and defect to the loyalist cause.

Louis separated his army, sending half to Lincoln Castle, while the other half remained on the coast to attack Dover Castle. William Marshall saw his opportunity, and marched to the aid of Nicola de la Haye, constable of Lincoln Castle. After some intense street fighting, Marshall broke the siege and defeated the rebels loyal to Louis. This victory was a turning point for Henry.

Prince Louis resigned to the fact his war on England and the throne was lost. Cardinal Guala led the negotiations, by which the French Prince would renounce his claim to the English throne. In exchange, Louis’ rebel followers would receive their lands back, and King Henry III would adhere to Magna Carta. However, these terms were not approved by some loyalists, who deemed them to be too generous towards the clergy rebels. Without an agreement, Louis remained in London with his army.

Battle of Sandwich

King Henry iii the Battle of Sandwich

On 24 August 1217 Louis’ reinforcements crossed the English Channel from Calais, and headed towards the coast of Sandwich, Kent. William Marshall, who was in Canterbury the day before, ordered the Cinque Ports (English fleet of ships and men prior to the creation of the Royal Navy) to meet the advancing French fleet.

Off the Sandwich coast, the English attacked the French and started the Battle of Sandwich (also known as the Battle of Dover). Pots of quicklime were launched onto the French decks, causing plumes of powder to cloud the French sight. With the French in disarray, the English threw hooked blades, normally used to cut rigging, bringing down the French sails. Once close enough, the English boarded the French ships and killed all on board. The flagship, containing knights, was the only one spared the slaughter, while 55 French vessels were lost.

When the news reached Louis, the prince once again entered peace negotiations with Cardinal Guala, alongside King Henry III and William Marshall.

The Treaty of Lambeth 1217

On 11 September 1217, the Treaty of Lambeth (also known as the Treaty of Kingston) was agreed. The treaty was signed in Lambeth, at the Archbishop Stephen Langton’s house. Prince Louis of France surrendered his castles in England, and released his loyal followers from their oaths.

The remaining terms were similar to the previous terms after his defeat at Lincoln Fair, with the exception that the rebel clergy would not be granted their lands back. King Henry III reissued the Magna Carta for a third time and created the first Charter of the Forest.

King Henry III’s Second Coronation

And this crowning of the king was done with such great peacefulness and splendour, that the oldest men amongst the nobles of England who were present asserted that they never remembered any of his predecessors being crowned amid such concord and tranquillity – William of Coventry

King Henry iii Coronation

England was now at peace, with the rebels silenced and the French returned to France. The Pope insisted that Henry should have a second coronation, one that befits a true king.

On 17 May 1220, King Henry III was crowned for the second time, with all the splendour and pomp a coronation deserves, at Westminster Abbey.

Despite King Henry III having his second coronation, he still did not rule England outright. He was no longer the vassal of the Pope, but he did not yet have a majority government to rule. This came in January 1227, before his 21st birthday.

King Henry III and the Magna Carta

In February 1225, King Henry III issued his third version of Magna Carta, along with an updated version of the Charter of the Forest. Both charters were sealed for the first time with Henry’s own seal. Previous versions were sealed by William Marshall and the Papal legate, Cardinal Guala.

In the new version of Magna Carta, Henry made it clear that it was now given freely by the king. This gave his barons and the church much needed encouragement, as it demonstrated that the king was supporting the charter through his own free will.

It is these new clauses King Henry III sealed, that are still on the Statute book today. Henry and his son, Edward, would continue to confirm the Magna Carta, to keep their barons and the church from having any doubts. Needless to say, many of the clauses have been disobeyed by kings since then.

King Henry III Invades France

Under King John, Henry’s father, the English lands in France were all but lost. Henry was determined to reclaim his rights to those lands, and set about invading France. The French Prince Louis VIII, now king, died in 1226, and was succeeded by his twelve year old son, Louis IX. The young king, much like the young Henry, had a regency government and faced rebellions of his own.

In 1228, Norman and Angevin rebels called for King Henry III to reclaim his lands. However, Henry’s response was slow and he eventually landed in Brittany in May 1230. Taking advice from his loyal advisor, Hubert de Burgh, Henry marched south to Poitou. But Henry did very little while he was there, and eventually made a truce with Louis IX, finally returning to England in 1234, achieving nothing.

English Revolt

Henry lacked the military mind of his Plantagenet predecessors, and this lost him vital support at home. Henry further alienated his English nobles by bestowing positions of authority on foreigners, like Peter des Roches. In 1232, Hugh de Burgh, the loyal justiciar was removed from power, and replaced by Peter des Roches, who was a Poitevin.

Peter had support from the barons of Poitou, and they saw his ascendance as a chance to reclaim the lands given to supporters of Hugh de Burgh. Peter des Roches began stripping estates from English barons, infuriating Hugh’s followers, most notably Richard Marshall, William’s son.

Richard allied himself with Llywelyn of Wales, and rebelled against Peter des Roches and King Henry III. The Archbishop of Canterbury intervened, and Henry was forced to dismiss Peter des Roches. But through this distraction, Henry’s truce with France had now expired. Inevitably, Louis IX attacked Brittany, and Henry lost more territory.

King Henry III Marries Eleanor of Provence

Eleonor of Provence

In January 1236, King Henry III married Eleanor of Provence, the daughter of Raymond-Berengar, the Count of Provence, and Beatrice of Savoy, at Canterbury Cathedral. Eleanor was only twelve years old at the time. Through this marriage, Henry could create valuable alliances with France’s southern rulers. Eleanor’s older sister Margaret was married to Henry’s enemy, Louis IX of France.

In 1239, Eleanor gave birth to their first son, Edward, who would eventually succeed Henry, and become the formidable King Edward I Longshanks. Edward was named after Henry’s devoted saint king, Edward the Confessor. The couple would go on to have four more children, Margaret, Beatrice, Edmund and Katherine. They would spend most of their time at Windsor Castle, and they were all very close as a family.

The Savoyards

The marriage brought with it an influx of Savoyards from Savoy, Burgundy and Flanders, who were relatives of Eleanor. King Henry III once again alienated his own barons by authorising high powered positions for the new foreigners, including Eleanor’s uncle, Boniface, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1244.

The Savoyards gradually integrated into society, through marriages and time, providing Eleanor with a strong supportive network. In 1253, King Henry III left for Gascony, and Eleanor was made Queen consort of England.

King Henry III and Statute of Jewry

Since 1095, Europe had sent crusades to the Holy Land, and by the mid 13th century Christian Lords were returning from their 7th Crusade. As a result, England, along with other European countries, were witnessing a rise in antisemitic feelings towards their local Jewish populations. King Henry III decided to impose a restrictive Statute of Jewry in 1253, which was intended to segregate the Jews.

The Statute including imposing the wearing of a Jewish badge. The reaction to Henry’s restrictions were so strong, that the arch-presbyter of England’s Jews asked if they could leave England. Henry refused the request.

King Henry III and Simon de Montfort

Simon de Montfort

Simon de Montfort was the 6th Earl of Leicester, and brother-in-law to King Henry III, and would become the leader in a revolution against the king. He had a dubious claim to the earldom of Leicester, as it was initially handed to The Earl of Chester by King John. However with no heirs, the Earl of Chester was approached by de Montfort and was persuaded to hand down the earldom. It took another nine years before Henry formally approved it.

Battle of Taillebourg

King Henry iii The Battle of Taillebourg

In 1241, Hugh de Lusignan, King Henry III’s step-father, requested military support from Henry in his rebellion against Louis IX of France. But with little support, Henry eventually arrived in 1242 only to discover Hugh de Lusignan had defected to Louis’ side.

The doomed campaign was to get worse. Upon arriving in Taillebourg, facing the enemy at a bridge over the Charente River, the French knights charged. Overwhelmed by the advance, Simon de Montfort managed to hold off the French long enough for King Henry III to escape. De Montfort was furious with the king’s incompetence, and Henry was forced to negotiate another truce with Louis. This only made things worse back in England, with the baronial support for the king falling again.

The Lusignans

The failed revolt in France led Henry to invite his Lusignan relatives (the Poitevins) to settle in large estates, much like the Savoyards had done before. By 1250, a bitter rivalry was developing between the established Savoyards and the Lusignans. The Lusignans began taking personal issues into their own hands, with little regard for the consequences. King Henry III did very little to stop them either. The English barons now despised this second influx of foreigners, and Simon de Montfort was beginning to lead the revolt.

Kingdom of Sicily and Excommunication

Pope Innocent IV began to search for a suitable ruler for the kingdom of Sicily, one who favoured the Papacy. King Henry III decided that this would be an excellent opportunity for his son Edmund. The Pope agreed on the condition that Edmund would remove Manfred, the son of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, from Sicily.

King Henry III agreed, but when Pope Innocent IV was succeeded by Alexander IV, the Papacy demanded compensation for the money spent on the war so far. Henry turned to Parliament in 1255, only to be rejected as the sum was too high (135,541 marks). Further attempts to raise the money for the “Sicilian business” were also rejected, and in 1258 the Papacy sent an envoy threatening to excommunicate Henry. So the king had to extort the money from the church, forcing the clergy to provide unlimited funds.

However, the grant of the kingdom of Sicily was revoked by the Pope. Adding another fruitless campaign to Henry’s reign.

King Henry III Signs the Provisions of Oxford

By this point, in 1258, the baron’s support for King Henry III has reached an all time low. Simon de Montfort gathered his followers and brought in the Provisions of Oxford. The provisions forced Henry to accept a new form of government. A council of 24 members, half chosen by the crown and half by the barons, were to create a 15 member Privy Council. The Privy Council would chose the chief ministers, the Justiciar and Chancellor. These reforms would also branch down to local government, where the discontented voices of freemen were heard, and the Provisions of Westminster were formed.

The Provisions of Oxford were designed to make decision making fair and easy. However, disagreements between leading barons over radical reforms soon came to fore, with Simon de Montfort once again at the centre of change.

Treaty of Paris

In 1259, King Henry III left for France to sign the Treaty of Paris, along with Simon de Montfort and other leading officials. On 4 December, the treaty saw the Plantagenet lands in France being signed over to King Louis IX, with the exception of Gascony and parts of Aquitaine. This effectively ended the 100 years of conflicts between Capetian and Plantagenet dynasties.

King Henry III Faces a Revolution

Stability in England was fragile. Simon de Montfort was now leading the radicals, and civil war loomed against Henry, his son Edward and the conservative barons.

The Second Baron’s War

King Henry III appealed to Pope Alexander IV to release him from the Provisions of Oxford and Westminster. The Pope, who favoured royal power, agreed and Henry renounced his oaths to both provisions in 1262.

Simon de Montfort and his rebels were outraged, and threatened the king with civil war. Henry appealed to King Louis IX of France to mediate the argument. Louis agreed, and in January 1264 issued the Mise of Amiens in favour of Henry. Simon de Montfort could not let this go, and civil war broke out in April 1264.

The Battle of Lewes

King Henry iii The Battle of Lewes

On 14 May 1264, King Henry III and his forces met Simon de Montfort and his rebels at Lewes, Sussex. Henry occupied Lewes Castle, and chose to engage the enemy using Edward’s cavalry charge to route the rebels. Edward chased the enemy away from the castle, leaving Henry exposed. Henry sent in his troops up Offham hill, where Simon de Montforts men had the positional advantage at the top.

Henry’s troops were defeated, and they fled back to the castle. Henry had no choice but to surrender, and Henry was forced to sign the Mise of Lewes, transferring royal powers to the Simon de Montfort, and reinstating the Provisions of Oxford and Westminster.

However, the rebels were unable to maintain their power for long. Queen Eleanor was making plans to invade England, supported by Louis IX of France. Furthermore, Edward had managed to escape capture and formed a new army with royal supporters from the Welsh Marches.

The Battle of Evesham

King Henry iii Death of de Montfort

Simon de Montfort started to make his way home to Kenilworth Castle, to join up with his son’s forces. Together they would outnumber Edwards new army. But Edward, who was a far better general than his father, struck first, and defeated de Montforts son at Kenilworth.

Edward then marched south west to intercept Simon de Montfort, who was still trying to get to Kenilworth with King Henry III as prisoner. The two sides met at Evesham on 4 August 1265, and it was Edward who had the larger force. Simon de Montfort realised his doom:

God have mercy on our souls, for our bodies are Sir Edward’s

The rebel army was defeated, and Simon de Montfort was killed. His body was mutilated, cutting of his hands, feet and genitals. Henry, who was not wearing his own armour, was nearly killed by royal forces had he not cried out:

Save me, save me, I am Henry of Winchester!

King Henry III Makes Way for Edward

Despite the royal victory, the rebel cause was still present. King Henry III knew he could not return to the old ways before the provisions, and his time was coming to an end. The last of the resistance fighters were forced to surrender, and Henry reissued the provisions to enable stability. In September 1267, Henry signed the Treaty of Montgomery, recognising Llywelyn ap Gruffydd as the Prince of Wales, bringing about peace to the region. Edward became Steward of England, and assumed government duties, before leaving on the 8th Crusade.

Aside from being a poor military leader, Henry possessed a keen eye for the arts and culture. He rebuilt the royal palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey in a Gothic style, spending a vast £45,000 in lavish decorations (£15,000,000 today). Henry revered Edward the Confessor, and in 1269 Westminster Abbey was consecrated, and the saint’s body was translated to a new shrine.

While Edward was away, on 16 November 1272 King Henry III died in Westminster, and was buried in the Abbey. His body was later exhumed in 1290, to be moved to a grander tomb. It was noted that his beard was still intact, a sign of saintly purity, but Henry was never canonised.

King Henry iii Effigy

King Henry III Facts

  • Henry was born on 1 October 1207, Winchester
  • His father was John
  • His mother was Isabella of Angouleme
  • He was crowned twice on 28 October 1216 at Gloucester Cathedral, aged 9; and on 17 May 1220 at Westminster Abbey, aged 12
  • He married Eleanor of Provence
  • He had 9 children, including Edward I
  • He died on 16 November 1272 at Westminster, aged 65
  • He was known as Henry of Winchester before becoming king
  • He has the longest reign of any king in medieval England
  • He is most famous for fighting the infamous rebel, Simon de Montfort
  • He reissued the Magna Carta and Provisions of Oxford and Westminster a number of times

3 thoughts on “King Henry III – The Longest Reign in Medieval England”

  1. I have a ? I am checking on Henry III of England, did he have a daughter called Blanche de Bretagne who married Philippe I d’Artois


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.