‘Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty’ Part 2 – Henry III – 04/12/2014


Henry III funeral effergy in Westminster Abbey
Henry III funeral effergy in Westminster Abbey

Henry III and Simon de Montfort – “friendship that turned to hatred”
Led to civil war and changed monarchy forever
Henry III 1216-1272, came to the throne aged 9
1230 has been on the throne for fourteen years, but powers scaled back by Magna Carta, signed by his father, King John
Fourth Plantagenet king
Henry II was his grandfather – French lands lost by his father
Tough, warfare, politically savvy, justice, energy and appetite needed – Henry III lacks these qualities needed to be a king
Henry tried twice, but ended in expensive defeat
Barons stop lending him money, allowed to by Magna Carta; can’t raise taxes
Dreamer – big dreams like Westminster Abbey which he built
Henry not seen as a great king by his barons – not strong enough to take them on alone
Autumn 1230 Henry III first meets Simon de Montfort (minor French knight) who is a fanatic, backs belief with action
Henry sees a man with single-mindedness needed to achieve his dreams
So young when he takes the throne that others had always made his decisions for him – Henry drawn to de Montfort and vice versa

Simon de Montfort by François-Louis Dejuinne
Simon de Montfort by François-Louis Dejuinne

De Montfort wants the title Earl of Leicester – use each other
Quickly become very close, de Montfort becomes Henry’s right-hand man
National Archives = survived for eight centuries – reveals de Montfort’s ambitions 1236, refers to himself as Earl of Leicester, but didn’t have the title itself
Ambitious, rates his relationship with the king so highly, Henry signed copy off – good reason
Simon de Montfort marries Henry’s sister, Eleanor, the “greatest catch in the kingdom” – she should have made a political alliance
No dowry given to Simon de Montfort as Henry keeps it for himself – seeds of catastrophe
1239 Simon de Montfort made Earl of Leicester
At moment of triumph Simon goes too far and takes out a big loan using Henry as guarantor, but doesn’t ask him first
Simon tries to play it down, so Henry threatens to throw him and his sister into the Tower of London
Outrageous liberty
Simon and Eleanor flee to France – end of a friendship?
Henry will need Simon again
Three years later Henry in trouble – launched an attack at Poitou in western France, wanted to take it back but failed, barons used Magna Carta to deny him money
“Spectacularly stupid” – whole French army against them
Henry calls on Simon de Montfort to help him, just returned from crusade in the Holy Land
Simon de Montfort can’t salvage the disaster so Henry flees, men retreat
Simon de Montfort not used to losing and explodes at Henry who retreated, third failure in France
No chance barons will support his dreams in France
Henry gives Simon Kenilworth Castle, friendship holds for 5 years
1247 foreign crisis – all Henry has left of French empire is Gascony, feuding nobles and French king wanting to invade, but Henry not allowed to raise taxes
Henry asks for Simon de Montfort to cough up money and will pay him back

Effigy of William de Valance d.1296 in the Chapel of St Edmund at Westminster
Effigy of William de Valance d.1296 in the Chapel of St Edmund at Westminster

While Simon is in Gascony William de Valance gets Henry’s ear, and Henry relies on him, but head of a French family (dangerous and ruthless)
French get into English government and start to take load from Henry
No need for Simon de Montfort as he used to
French complain of Simon’s ruthlessness, so Henry puts him on trial
End of the friendship of Simon de Montfort and Henry III, case held before king and barons – de Montfort furious, and they row in the courtroom
Dig at Henry’s piety – don’t admit to mistakes but don’t learn from them
Oversteps the mark = political temperature taken by de Montfort, Henry miscalculates and the barons support de Montfort
Fed up of Henry and his methods and supporters
Love turned to hate – England will pay the price
Henry III sulks and lets the French off the leash so they plunder, grabbing land and property in violation of Magna Carta
Ransack the palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury
Confirms the baron’s ideas that he is spineless and not fit to be king
1256 seven hundred year old book – Chronicle of Matthew Paris, Henry III gave an order that effectively meant his French relations were above the law
Barons furious and squeeze finances further
Henry decides to do something bold and radical – invade Sicily, idea of the Pope
Henry jumps at opportunity to invade wealthy country but 1000 miles away and would cost a fortune to take – insane idea
April 1258 Henry demands taxes from barons, but de Montfort and others confront Henry in London
Westminster Hall, Henry III on throne, disappointed in barons
Not taking Henry captive
Want French relatives stripped of English property and thrown out, also a council of barons to control the king
They’re taking over – nightmare for Henry
Henry agrees under duress, then backtracks on all promises
8 weeks later there is a face-off in parliament, lots of armed knights
Country teetering on the verge of civil war – French have no intention of obeying orders
“Mad Parliament” = Simon threatens king’s French half-brother, give up castles or lose your head, all talk, or serious?
French relatives flee, and Henry has to accept baron’s demands

‘Provisions of Oxford’ – one of the most important documents in British history, more extreme than the Magna Carta
Council of 15 barons to manage affairs of kingdom, parliament will meet 3 times a year
Simon de Montfort and the barons can make decisions without Henry’s input – if he breaks the provisions, the result is war
Basis of modern parliamentary system
Lost ancestral lands in France, and virtually powerless in England too
Vision of kingship shattered
Had to swear an oath to uphold the provisions of Oxford – history of breaking oaths
Simon is very religious and takes his oath very seriously (Blackfriars in Oxford), makes oath then stays up praying
Knows Henry will break his oath – expects it
Four years after, Henry breaks his oath, brings back French relatives
Henry believes the barons will turn a blind eye, because the alternative is civil war
Massive miscalculation by king – Simon de Montfort will keep the oath, whatever the cost, raises an army from barons still believing in provisions
1264 England plunged into civil war
Lewes = Henry and Simon de Montfort face off against each other in battle for first time
Simon taking on god’s anointed king – Simon a traitor
Simon de Montfort has a broken leg, and army massively outnumbered, the king is already behind the town walls
Winner takes all battle on Simon de Montfort’s terms
Massive gamble – Simon de Montfort moves army to a ridge overlooking the town, crusade for liberty, god on their side, king no longer calls the shots
King has more men, and his eldest son and heir is with him and fearless, really wants to kill Simon de Montfort
King comes out fighting
Battle of Lewes a complete disaster for the king – terrible general
Henry forced into Priory of St Pancras – king and his eldest son are captured
Simon de Montfort holds ultimate power in England, treason and betrayal of friendship

Portrait in Westminster Abbey thought to be of Edward I
Portrait in Westminster Abbey thought to be of Edward I

One Plantagenet who could still save the dynasty = future Edward I
Henry desperate and nemesis is running the country, Henry a prisoner
More than a year Simon de Montfort dominates the country from Kenilworth – Henry a puppet, and stays at Kenilworth with de Montfort
As much about greed as liberty
Simon de Montfort thinks the king short-changed him in his marriage and lands and wealth
Simon de Montfort makes an error of judgement – 25-year-old heir to the throne, Edward, escapes from custody, makes it a game of swapping horses to find the fastest
Captors see it as all fun until he finds the fastest horse
Prince Edward finds nobles who worry about Simon de Montfort taking the crown – barons defect back to Plantagenet cause, away from de Montfort
25-year grudge comes to an end
Edward catches up with Simon de Montfort at Evesham, pinned down and outnumbered
If Henry III gets free, the game is up – if de Montfort goes down, he is taking the king with him
Simon attacks first – dares again, last time he dared and won
Simon de Montfort gambles and thinks Plantagenet army will be nervous because he has the king, but he underestimates their need for revenge
Orgy of violence
Royalists cut down 4000 rebels, more than 30 of Simon’s knights are slaughtered
12-knight hit squad on battlefield to find and kill Simon de Montfort at Prince Edward’s command
Henry III almost taken out by his own hit squad
Simon de Montfort was already wounded, and so was easy to find and kill – killed on fields outside of Evesham, killing not enough
Simon de Montfort undermined what being a king meant
Message needs to be crystal clear – no one defies the king and lives, Simon de Montfort’s body is butchered, testicles cut off and put in his mouth, head cut off and paraded on a spear
Henry III has moment of glory
Son Prince Edward really delivers the victory
Henry still had to accept the reforms – deal that Prince Edward made
Won the battle but lost the war – idea of absolute power died with Simon de Montfort
Two great legacies = Westminster Abbey (palace to god), and parliament (seat of democracy still active today)
Born out of passion and fury of two best friends

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