Henry III (1207-1272) was king of England from 1216 to 1272. His reign saw the rise of English nationalism and the development of a strong baronial claim to participate in government.

The eldest son of King John and Isabella of Angoulême, Henry III was born on Oct. 1, 1207. At the death of his father, he ascended the throne on Oct. 19, 1216, and was crowned at Gloucester. Ten days later William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, was appointed regent. On Pembroke's death in 1219, Hubert de Burgh, who served as justiciar, became the most powerful man in government. In the first years of the regency, England was under papal influence due to Henry's father, John. Efforts were made to maintain peace through negotiating with Louis of France in 1217, reconfirming the Great Charter in 1223 and making peace with Wales.

In 1223 Pope Honorius III allowed Henry to be declared of age for certain limited purposes. In January 1227 Henry declared himself of full age and commenced to attempt to regain the overseas French possessions that had been lost. In the preceding years he had lost most of his French possessions but by 1225 had recovered Gascony, and in 1228, for baronial support, he agreed to restore the forest liberties. By 1230 he was invading Poitou and Gascony, and the following year to obtain scutage (a form of revenue) he reaffirmed the liberties of the Church.

Henry, by 1232, hoped to act as his own minister and caused the dismissal of Hubert de Burgh. He then alienated the English barons by replacing English officers with Poitevin friends and was forced to back down in 1234 due to pressure from Hubert de Burgh and the barons. In 1235 to gain foreign support he married his sister Isabella to the emperor Frederick II, and on January 20 the following year he married Eleanor of Provence. This marriage, which resulted in two sons and three daughters who survived infancy, caused England to be flooded with his wife's worthless relations, and the period is marked by the rise of English nationalism as the barons saw the government passing into the control of foreigners.

By 1239 Henry's behavior was such that even his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort and his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, joined the opposition. Henry, while making minor concessions, continued to fill state and Church offices with foreigners. Baronial opposition to the misgovernment of the King continued to grow. In 1242 they refused a grant for the French war, and 2 years later both barons and the Church protested, but these efforts failed due to lack of leadership as Henry detached his brother Richard from the opposition through the marriage arranged with Sanchia, daughter of Raymond Berenger IV, Count of Provence.

In 1252 Henry alienated Simon de Montfort, who had been governor of Gascony, and a crisis developed when Henry agreed to finance Pope Alexander II's struggle with Manfred in return for the grant of the crown of Sicily to Prince Edmund, Henry's son. This "Sicilian Venture" would be of no value to England, and so the barons came to Parliament at Westminster, clad in armor and ready for a confrontation. With Montfort as their leader, in 1258 the barons met at the "Mad" Parliament and drew up the "Provisions," which gave the barons control of the executive and the right to nominate half of the Council as well as establishing a committee of 24 to institute reforms.

The barons soon quarreled as Montfort aimed at a more popular government, and the Earl of Gloucester became the leader of the more autocratic-minded barons. As a result, in 1261 Henry was able to regain power and obtained a papal bull absolving him from the terms of the "Provisions." In 1264 the conflict with the barons was referred to Louis IX of France for arbitration, and by the Mise of Amiens a favorable decision was given for the King. Although the decision was upheld by Pope Urban IV, the barons refused to accept the award, and civil conflict developed. After capturing Leicester and other areas, the baronial forces marched into the south for provisions. At the Battle of Lewes on May 14, 1264, Montfort defeated the King and forced a calling of Parliament.

Montfort's position now being too powerful, some of the barons deserted to the side of the King, whose forces led by Prince Edward defeated and killed Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. With the death of the opposition leader, Henry revoked all his recent acts, confiscated the lands of the rebels, and in the Battle of Kenilworth ensured peace for the rest of his reign. By now power had slipped from the hands of the King to his son Edward, and the last years of the reign saw the passage of some reforms at the 1267 Parliament of Marlborough.

Perhaps one of Henry's greatest achievements was the completion of Westminster Abbey in 1269. On Nov. 16, 1272, Henry died at Westminster, and his body was buried in the abbey 4 days later before the high altar, his heart being buried at Fontevrault.

Further Reading on Henry III

There is much literature on Henry III's long and important reign. F. M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward (2 vols., 1947), is the best biography. Kate Norgate, The Minority of Henry the Third (1912), surveys the early years. The baronial system and Henry's relationship to it are examined in E. F. Jacobs, Studies in the Period of Baronial Reform and Rebellion, 1258-1267 (1925), and R. F. Treharne, The Baronial Plan of Reform (1932). An excellent narrative is Tufton Beamish, Battle Royal: A New Account of Simon de Montfort's Struggle against King Henry III (1966). For general background on the period see F. M. Powicke, The Thirteenth Century, 1216-1307 (1953; 2d ed. 1962).

Additional Biography Sources

Bennetts, Pamela., The de Montfort legac, New York, St. Martin's Press 1973.

Carpenter, David., The minority of Henry III, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Carpenter, David., The minority of Henry III, London: Methuen London, 1990.

Carpenter, David., The reign of Henry III, London; Rio Grande, Ohio: The Hambledon Press, 1996.

Colvin, Howard Montagu., Building accounts of King Henry II, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1971.

Turner, Ralph V., The king and his courts; the role of John and Henry III in the administration of justice, 1199-12, Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press 1968.