1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Henry III. of England
HENRY III. (1207–1272), king of England, was the eldest son of King John by Isabella of Angoulême. Born on the 1st of October 1207, the prince was but nine years old at the time of his father’s death. The greater part of eastern England being in the hands of the French pretender, Prince Louis, afterwards King Louis VIII., and the rebel barons, Henry was crowned by his supporters at Gloucester, the western capital. John had committed his son to the protection of the Holy See; and a share in the government was accordingly allowed to the papal legates, Gualo and Pandulf, both during the civil war and for some time afterwards. But the title of regent was given by the loyal barons to William Marshal, the aged earl of Pembroke; and Peter des Roches, the Poitevin bishop of Winchester, received the charge of the king’s person. The cause of the young Henry was fully vindicated by the close of the year 1217. Defeated both by land and sea, the French prince renounced his pretensions and evacuated England, leaving the regency to deal with the more difficult questions raised by the lawless insolence of the royal partisans. Henry remained a passive spectator of the measures by which William Marshal (d. 1219), and his successor, the justiciar Hubert de Burgh, asserted the royal prerogative against native barons and foreign mercenaries. In 1223 Honorius III. declared the king of age, but this was a mere formality, intended to justify the resumption of the royal castles and demesnes which had passed into private hands during the commotions of the civil war.
The personal rule of Henry III. began in 1227, when he was again proclaimed of age. Even then he remained for some time under the influence of Hubert de Burgh, whose chief rival, Peter des Roches, found it expedient to quit the kingdom for four years. But Henry was ambitions to recover the continental possessions which his father had lost. Against the wishes of the justiciar he planned and carried out an expedition to the west of France (1230); when it failed he laid the blame upon his minister. Other differences arose soon afterwards. Hubert was accused, with some reason, of enriching himself at the expense of the crown, and of encouraging popular riots against the alien clerks for whom the papacy was providing at the expense of the English Church. He was disgraced in 1232; and power passed for a time into the hands of Peter des Roches, who filled the administration with Poitevins. So began the period of misrule by which Henry III. is chiefly remembered in history. The Poitevins fell in 1234; they were removed at the demand of the barons and the primate Edmund Rich, who held them responsible for the tragic fate of the rebellious Richard Marshal. But the king replaced them with a new clique of servile and rapacious favourites. Disregarding the wishes of the Great Council, and excluding all the more important of the barons and bishops from office, he acted as his own chief minister and never condescended to justify his policy except when he stood in need of subsidies. When these were refused, he extorted aids from the towns, the Jews or the clergy, the three most defenceless interests in the kingdom. Always in pecuniary straits through his extravagance, he pursued a foreign policy which would have been expensive under the most careful management. He hoped not only to regain the French possessions but to establish members of his own family as sovereigns in Italy and the Empire. These plans were artfully fostered by the Savoyard kinsmen of Eleanor, daughter of Raymond Berenger, count of Provence, whom he married at Canterbury in January 1236, and by his half-brothers, the sons of Queen Isabella and Hugo, count of la Marche. These favourites, not content with pushing their fortunes in the English court, encouraged the king in the wildest designs. In 1242 he led an expedition to Gascony which terminated disastrously with the defeat of Taillebourg; and hostilities with France were intermittently continued for seventeen years. The Savoyards encouraged his natural tendency to support the Papacy against the Empire; at an early date in the period of misrule he entered into a close alliance with Rome, which resulted in heavy taxation of the clergy and gave great umbrage to the barons. A cardinal-legate was sent to England at Henry’s request, and during four years (1237–1241) administered the English Church in a manner equally profitable to the king and to the pope. After the recall of the legate Otho the alliance was less open and less cordial. Still the pope continued to share the spoils of the English clergy with the king, and the king to enforce the demands of Roman tax-collectors.
Circumstances favoured Henry’s schemes. Archbishop Edmund Rich was timid and inexperienced; his successor, Boniface of Savoy, was a kinsman of the queen; Grosseteste, the most eminent of the bishops, died in 1253, when he was on the point of becoming a popular hero. Among the lay barons, the first place naturally belonged to Richard of Cornwall who, as the king’s brother, was unwilling to take any steps which might impair the royal prerogative; while Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, the ablest man of his order, was regarded with suspicion as a foreigner, and linked to Henry’s cause by his marriage with the princess Eleanor. Although the Great Council repeatedly protested against the king’s misrule and extravagance, their remonstrances came to nothing for want of leaders and a clear-cut policy. But between 1248 and 1252 Henry alienated Montfort from his cause by taking the side of the Gascons, whom the earl had provoked to rebellion through his rigorous administration of their duchy. A little later, when Montfort was committed to opposition, Henry foolishly accepted from Innocent IV. the crown of Sicily for his second son Edmund Crouchback (1255). Sicily was to be conquered from the Hohenstaufen at the expense of England; and Henry pledged his credit to the papacy for enormous subsidies, although years of comparative inactivity had already overwhelmed him with debts. On the publication of the ill-considered bargain the baronage at length took vigorous action. They forced upon the king the Provisions of Oxford (1258), which placed the government in the hands of a feudal oligarchy; they reduced expenditure, expelled the alien favourites from the kingdom, and insisted upon a final renunciation of the French claims. The king submitted for the moment, but at the first opportunity endeavoured to cancel his concessions. He obtained a papal absolution from his promises; and he tricked the opposition into accepting the arbitration of the French king, Louis IX., whose verdict was a foregone conclusion. But Henry was incapable of protecting with the strong hand the rights which he had recovered by his double-dealing. Ignominiously defeated by Montfort at Lewes (1264) he fell into the position of a cipher, equally despised by his opponents and supporters. He acquiesced in the earl’s dictatorship; left to his eldest son, Edward, the difficult task of reorganizing the royal party; marched with the Montfortians to Evesham; and narrowly escaped sharing the fate of his gaoler. After Evesham he is hardly mentioned by the chroniclers. The compromise with the surviving rebels was arranged by his son in concert with Richard of Cornwall and the legate Ottobuono; the statute of Marlborough (1267), which purchased a lasting peace by judicious concessions, was similarly arranged between Edward and the earl of Gloucester. Edward was king in all but name for some years before the death of his father, by whom he was alternately suspected and adored.
Henry had in him some of the elements of a fine character. His mind was cultivated; he was a discriminating patron of literature, and Westminster Abbey is an abiding memorial of his artistic taste. His personal morality was irreproachable, except that he inherited the Plantagenet taste for crooked courses and dissimulation in political affairs; even in this respect the king’s reputation has suffered unduly at the hands of Matthew Paris, whose literary skill is only equalled by his malice. The ambitions which Henry cherished, if extravagant, were never sordid; his patriotism, though seldom attested by practical measures, was thoroughly sincere. Some of his worst actions as a politician were due to a sincere, though exaggerated, gratitude for the support which the Papacy had given him during his minority. But he had neither the training nor the temper of a statesman. His dreams of autocracy at home and far-reaching dominion abroad were anachronisms in a century of constitutional ideas and national differentiation. Above all he earned the contempt of Englishmen and foreigners alike by the instability of his purpose. Matthew Paris said that he had a heart of wax; Dante relegated him to the limbo of ineffectual souls; and later generations have endorsed these scathing judgments.
Henry died at Westminster on the 16th of November 1272; his widow, Eleanor, took the veil in 1276 and died at Amesbury on the 25th of June 1291. Their children were: the future king Edward I.; Edmund, earl of Lancaster; Margaret (1240–1275), the wife of Alexander III., king of Scotland; Beatrice; and Katherine.
Original Authorities.—Roger of Wendover, Flores historiarum (ed. H. O. Coxe, 4 vols., 1841–1844); and Matthew of Paris, Chronica majora (ed. H. R. Luard, Rolls Series, 7 vols., 1872–1883) are the chief narrative sources. See also the Annales monastici (ed. H. R. Luard, Rolls Series, 5 vols., 1864–1869); the collection of Royal and other Historical Letters edited by W. Shirley (Rolls Series, 2 vols., 1862–1866); the Close and Patent Rolls edited for the Record Commission and the Master of the Rolls; the Epistolae Roberti Grosseteste (ed. H. R. Luard, Rolls Series, 1861); the Monumenta Franciscana, vol. i. (ed. J. S. Brewer, Rolls Series, 1858); the documents in the new Foedera, vol. i. (Record Commission, 1816).
Modern Works.—G. J. Turner’s article on the king’s minority in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, New Series, vol. xviii.; Dom Gasquet’s Henry III. and the Church (1905); the lives of Simon de Montfort by G. W. Prothero (1871), R. Pauli (Eng. ed., 1876) and C. Bémont (Paris, 1884); W. Stubbs’s Constitutional History of England, vol. ii. (1887); R. Pauli’s Geschichte von England, vol. iii. (Hamburg, 1853); T. F. Tout in the Political History of England, vol. iii. (1905), and H. W. C. Davis in England under the Normans and Angevins (1905). (H. W. C. D.)