Until 1234 Henry III had been overshadowed by two great ministers inherited from his father, first Hubert de Burgh and then Peter des Roches. Much of the political agenda had been set by quarrels over power and property that had originated during the early minority. Now Henry could determine his own course. In some ways he did so with success. During the near quarter-century of his personal rule he gave England peace and at least for a while increased his revenues. Money and stability enabled him to play a far stronger hand than before in both Wales and Scotland. Overseas he eventually reached a statesmanlike settlement of the old quarrel with the Capetian kings of France. There was, however, another, less satisfactory side to Henry’s rule. The settlement with the Capetians meant accepting the final loss of the Angevin empire. The attempt to offset this defeat by establishing the dynasty as a Mediterranean power was a fiasco. At home, Henry’s policies created factional struggles at court, and widened rather than reduced the political chasm between monarch and nation which had opened under the Angevins. As a result, the most fundamental developments during his rule, the emergence of parliament, the widening of the political community and the growing sense of xenophobic national identity were shaped by opposition to royal policies. Ultimately in 1258 Henry’s personal rule was ended by a political revolution far more radical than Magna Carta in 1215.
Henry’s ideology and ability were central to both his successes and failures. ‘A simplex and God-fearing man,’ remarked the Osney abbey chronicler, picking up two of Henry’s key characteristics. Henry’s piety was intensely personal and also highly political. He strove to recover what the Angevins (Richard for a while aside) had seemed to lose: the image and the reality of a kingship protected and inspired by God. Henry multiplied the days on which his choirs chanted the ceremonial hymns invoking the aid of Christ for himself and his realm (the Laudes Regiae), attended Mass assiduously and fed 500 paupers daily; on special occasions the halls at Westminster were filled with thousands of them. There were no beggars in the Strand in Henry’s day. At every place on his itinerary he made gifts to the local monasteries, friaries, hospitals and leper houses. Above all, from 1245 Henry rebuilt Westminster Abbey in honour of the saint who lay there, his patron saint Edward the Confessor, canonized in 1161. Entering by the great north door, the eyes of the worshipper were swept up to the statue of the Confessor high up in the south transept giving his ring to a pilgrim. The sequel was as well known, and so was the moral, for the pilgrim was St John the Evangelist, who would soon conduct the Confessor to heaven. The latter was a saint ‘of mighty power’ supporting the dynasty in this life and ready to lead Henry to the next.
Henry’s status as a rex piissimus had already steered him out of the crisis of 1234, and helps explain how his personal rule lasted as long as it did. There was also nothing very objectionable about his wider political ideology, although that has sometimes been suggested by modern historians. True in 1250, in a conversation with Matthew Paris, Henry asked plaintively why he could not abrogate rashly granted charters just like the pope, certainly a highly threatening question. Later an opposition tract, The Song of Lewes, written in 1264, implied that Henry defended his right to choose his own ministers, the great battleground of the reign, by citing the Roman law maxim, ‘the will of the prince has the force of law’. Henry’s ideology, however, formed little part of the general case made against him in and after 1258. His stated position was that he wished to govern in accordance with the law and custom of the realm. It was on custom that he usually stood when he defended his right to choose his ministers, that and on a homely analogy between the king and his magnates. If they could choose their own servants, why could not the king? Henry confirmed Magna Carta both in 1237 and 1253 with every appearance of sincerity. Fundamentally, after the disasters of the des Roches regime, he was at one with the great law book Bracton, the work of his chief minister from 1234 to 1239, William Ralegh, which stressed that the king was subject to the law, and must not disseise freemen of property ‘by will’. After all the Confessor himself, as Henry knew him from Matthew Paris’s Life, had been wise, courteous, just and peaceable, giving ease to all. Henry was thus well aware of the need to stand at one with his subjects. The crown’s rights needed to be secure, he declared, so that under its wings the rights of everyone else could flourish. ‘I depend on you and you on me. If I am rich you are rich, if I am poor you are poor,’ he told the assembled bishops.
Henry might seem an ideal king to tread carefully in the post-Magna Carta world, even more so because he had no martial talents and coveted the comfortable life. In place of John’s hectic itinerary, Henry spent long periods at Westminster both for business and pleasure and then, as far as possible, toured his southern palaces and palace castles (Woodstock the most northern), commissioning glazed windows, paintings, tiled floors, and wainscoting. ‘White bread, chambers and tapestries… to ride like a dean on a docile mount. The king likes better all that than to put on a coat of mail,’ commented a Poitevin satirist.
What then went wrong? The answer lay in an unfortunate combination of armchair enthusiasm and naivety. Henry might not lead in war, but he still schemed to recover his lost empire and otherwise play a part on the European stage. His expansive, warm-hearted personality sought an outlet not merely in building and piety but in open-handed favours to those he liked and loved. Such impulses were dangerous in one described by the Osney annalist and many others as simplex. The word could be used as a compliment, meaning guileless and straightforward. It could also mean plain stupid. Where Henry was concerned, it mostly meant naive. Henry’s long minority, surrounded by flattering ministers, had offered a poor political education. He found it very difficult to calculate what was practical, and see the likely consequences of his actions. As a result, the king who wished in his heart to stand with his nation ended by being separated from it. Whereas Louis IX, the great contemporary king of France, seized the initiative and carried through a series of domestic reforms in the 1240s and 1250s, in 1258 Henry III had reform forced upon him.
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After 1234 Henry’s court was of his own making. His first protégé was a noble much of his own age, Simon de Montfort. Montfort’s rise was extraordinary, for he was simply the younger son of a great French noble, the Simon de Montfort who had led the Albigensian crusade. In 1230 he arrived in England seeking to make good a tenuous claim to the earldom of Leicester (his father, nephew of the last Beaumont earl, had briefly held the title under King John). Quick-witted and silver-tongued, Montfort carried all before him, gaining a share of the Leicester estates in 1231, the title earl in 1236, and in 1238 (by which time he was a leading councillor) the hand of Henry’s sister Eleanor, the widow of William Marshal II. Henry had indeed been bowled over, yet he came to realize that Montfort was a man without ‘give’, quite different from himself, useful but demanding and dangerous.
Montfort’s arrival was followed by Henry’s marriage in 1236, a turning-point in the reign. His bride was Eleanor, daughter of the count of Provence. Her elder sister, Margaret, was already married to Louis IX of France. Her maternal uncles, from the ruling house of Savoy, had tentacles reaching throughout Europe: one, Thomas, became count of Flanders through marriage (1237–44) and then a count in Piedmont. Eleanor was therefore a wife of the highest status, yet she was only twelve on her marriage and brought no inheritance with her. She was vulnerable in other ways. In 1236 no queen consort had played a part in English government and politics since Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 1160s. Since then the framework in which queens operated had shifted to their disadvantage. The custom of giving queens substantial landed estates for their support had lapsed after 1154. Instead they simply received dower lands on the king’s death. Arguably too the growing bureaucratization of government gave queens less scope than the informal structures of earlier ages. Certainly the loss of Normandy in 1204 had much reduced the opportunity for them to act as regents. If the increasing popularity in sculpture and painting of the coronation of the Virgin, with Mary depicted praying before Christ, gave by extension some added force to queenly intercession, it was force in a rather humble and subordinate role. Eleanor of Provence cut through all this, wielding more power than any of her post-Conquest predecessors.
Partly this was a matter of personality, for Eleanor grew up to be far tougher and more determined than her husband, while Henry, indulgent and admiring, gave her plenty of space in which to operate. Apart from some heated remarks during occasional quarrels, he felt they were very much a team. In the great hall at Dublin castle he ordered a painting of a king and queen sitting with their baronage; either side of the muniment room at Westminster Abbey (perhaps a throne room) were twin royal heads, large, confident and serene: Henry and Eleanor. Eleanor built up her own household (over a hundred strong), and soon ceased to be supported simply by Henry’s financial advances, gaining control of queen’s gold (a percentage levy on money offered the king for favours), and amassing and harshly exploiting a substantial landed estate derived from wardships. Eleanor’s far-flung family naturally gave her a role in diplomacy. It also gave her a power base in England, something no English queen had possessed since the Confessor’s Edith. Edith’s family was indigenous. She was the daughter of the great Earl Godwin. Eleanor’s was imported. All the kings since the Conquest had taken queens from outside the kingdom, but they had not taken their relations with them. Henry was different. Of Eleanor’s uncles, Henry made William, bishop-elect of Valence, his chief councillor (until his death in 1239), Peter of Savoy in 1240 lord of the great honour of Richmond, and Boniface of Savoy in 1241 archbishop of Canterbury. Alongside these stars there were numerous satellites, including Peter d’Aigueblanche, bishop of Hereford (1240–68) and Imbert Pugeis who became steward of Henry’s household. Eleanor also gained a major role through her children, who were brought up in her care at Windsor. She gave birth to the future Edward I in July 1239. Another son and three daughters followed. Eleanor’s determination to advance her offspring and further the interests of her Savoyard kin both in England and overseas formed the core of her politics.
Neither the introduction of Simon de Montfort (after an initial spat over his marriage) nor that of the Savoyards proved initially too disruptive. Peter of Savoy behaved with caution and sensitivity. Boniface became a respected and reforming archbishop. Perhaps encouraged by this success, in the late 1240s Henry introduced another wave of foreigners. These were his half-brothers, the sons of his mother’s second marriage to the great Poitevin noble, Hugh de Lusignan. In 1247 one of the brothers, William de Valence, married an heiress, gaining both Pembroke and lands in Ireland. (The last Marshal earl of Pembroke had died childless in 1245 and the inheritance had been split between the daughters of William I Marshal and their descendants, of whom Valence’s wife was one). Supported as well by money fees worth £833 a year and Hertford castle, Valence took up almost permanent residence at court. In 1250 Aymer de Lusignan, youngest of the brothers, became bishop-elect of Winchester. Meanwhile Geoffrey and Guy de Lusignan were granted pensions and wardships and made frequent visits to England. By binding the family to him, Henry hoped to keep a foothold in Poitou and protect the northern frontiers of Gascony. He also established a trusted family in England. William and Aymer were young (hence the latter remained bishop-elect) and very much his creatures. Nevertheless Henry had no vision of a foreign court dominated by Lusignans and Savoyards, from which native magnates were excluded. In the 1250s the young and ambitious Richard de Clare, earl of Gloucester and lord of Glamorgan, became a leading councillor. So did Hugh Bigod, younger brother of the earl of Norfolk. Both Norfolk and the earl of Hereford were themselves frequently at court. Above all, Henry depended on the loyalty and loans of his canny and wealthy brother Richard, earl of Cornwall, who had taken as his second wife Sanchia, Queen Eleanor’s younger sister. From the numerous marriages arranged between English families and Lusignans and Savoyards, in the latter case with urging from the queen, Henry hoped a harmonious court would emerge in which both native nobles and his foreign relations could flourish.
There were other ways in which Henry sought to appease his great nobles, native and foreign alike, to ensure peace and tranquillity. If lawsuits between magnates were still subject to manipulation and delay, there was no return to the disseisins ‘by will of the king’ which had defiled des Roches’s period of power. Thus the revolution of 1258, unlike that of 1215, was not followed by the restoration of property to large numbers of individuals complaining of unjust dispossession by the king. Nor – again in contrast to 1215 – was 1258 a rebellion of the king’s debtors. Henry rarely harried magnates to pay what they owed, and the level of their indebtedness was in any case reduced by Magna Carta’s financial provisions. Here the minority had not proved a false dawn. ‘Justice’ was still not sold; baronial and comital reliefs remained at £100; widows were not charged nearly as much, and then infrequently, for permission to marry or stay single (see below, p. 421). Nor, with one or two exceptions, were they pressured into marriage.
In spite of these accommodating policies, Henry failed to create a harmonious court. For a start, the foreigners did not form a united front. On the contrary, by 1252 the conflict between the Lusignans, usually supported by the king, and the queen’s party of Savoyards was acute. One reason was the competition over patronage. Henry formed queues, trying to bring some order to the chaos, but then jumped forward whoever was in favour, usually the Lusignans. Part of the problem was that Henry no longer had a large stock of crown land on which he could freely draw, so much of it having been given away by his predecessors. To safeguard what remained, after 1234 the doctrine that crown land was inalienable began to correspond with actual practice. Henry could still bestow money but it was land people really wanted, and for that he was dependent on the chancy flow into his hands of escheats, wardships and marriages. The immediate problem was that these were far less plentiful in the 1250s than they had been a decade earlier when the Savoyards were being established. As a result, only eight members of the Lusignan circle received land in England as opposed to twenty-eight Savoyards, but given the intensified competition, the favours to the former still created keen resentment. The Lusignans also had themselves to blame. Young and irresponsible, they fought out their quarrels with reckless abandon. It was one thing for legal actions brought against them by knights and lesser folk to be obstructed; quite another for the king to take their side in disputes over land and jurisdiction with the earls of Norfolk and Hereford, Archbishop Boniface, and Simon de Montfort who claimed Pembroke from William de Valence as his wife’s dower. By 1258 there was a great deal of combustible material at court waiting to explode.
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Another factor destabilizing Henry’s government was the failure of his continental policies. By 1258 their condition seemed as farcical as they were infuriating.
The collapse of the Breton alliance in 1234 did not mean that Henry had given up hope of recovering his lost empire, but it was hard to see a way forward. Neither the marriage of his sister Isabella to the Emperor Frederick II in 1235, nor his own marriage in 1236, were of much practical help. Then in 1242 the chance seemed to come. Alienated by the establishment of Louis IX’s brother in Poitou, Henry’s mother and her husband, Hugh de Lusignan, at last looked for English help. Lusignan hostility had been fatal to Henry’s expedition in 1230. Now the hour for which he had kept up pensions to the Poitevin barons had come. His letters about the campaign breathed a passionate commitment. Yet when in July 1242 Louis IX gallantly led his army across the Charente at Taillebourg, Henry, his funds already exhausted, beat a hasty and humiliating retreat to Bordeaux. The failure in 1242 ended any hope of recovering his lost empire. With Louis IX’s brothers installed in Poitou, Toulouse and after 1246 in Provence itself, the Capetians seemed utterly dominant. In 1250 Henry transferred the rivalry to other fields when, inspired by Louis IX’s crusade, he took the cross. To fund the expedition he amassed a treasure all in gold, gold being the currency in the east. In the event the treasure had to be spent in Gascony.
After 1224 Gascony, broadly the land running south and south-east between the Gironde and the Pyrenees, was all that remained of the Angevin continental empire. Since the eleventh century it had marched with Poitou to the north and had been subject to the same dynasty, forming together the duchy of Aquitaine. Its retention by the Angevins, however, was far from impractical because the province, with its great town of Bordeaux, was tied to England by the wine trade. ‘How could our poor people subsist if they could not sell their wines or procure English merchandise?’ demanded a fourteenth-century Bordelais. The problem was that ducal revenues in the 1230s were perhaps £1,500 a year, no more than those of a great English baron. Since the towns were largely self-governing and the nobility had much allodial land, the pattern of local power was like a patchwork quilt, with the patches of ducal authority few and scattered. An attempt to expand them was bound to cause dispute. Gascony was also under external threat, with the kings of Castile and Aragon both nursing claims to the duchy, thanks to their descent from Eleanor, daughter of Henry II. By 1248 the situation in the province was anarchic. Henry turned to Simon de Montfort, self-confident, militaristic, and with many connections in the area. But Montfort’s abrasive rule soon set the duchy in flames, and prompted Alfonso X of Castile to assert his claims. So Henry sacked de Montfort and in August 1253 set sail for Gascony himself, leaving Queen Eleanor as regent (a striking vote of confidence), counselled by Richard of Cornwall. Henry’s expedition was by far the most successful of his three overseas. Sieging castles on the one hand, showering concessions on the other, he recovered hold over the duchy. In November 1254 Edward, Henry’s son and heir, married Alfonso X’s half-sister, thus extinguishing the Castilian threat, Gascony forming part of Edward’s appanage. Henceforth, it was stated, the duchy was to be inseparable from the English crown. It seemed the Angevins were now indeed an English dynasty with possessions overseas.
Even before Henry was free from his Gascon difficulties, entirely new vistas had opened up. Frederick II, king of Sicily and as emperor of the Romans titular ruler in both Germany and Italy, had died in 1250. The papacy looked for a candidate who would wrest the Sicilian kingdom (in its view a papal fief) from his Hohenstaufen successors. Henry was that candidate. In March 1254 he accepted the throne on behalf of Edmund, his second son. The kingdom, which included Naples and southern Italy, was wealthy. With no hope now of recovering the lost dominions in France, the dynasty would become instead a Mediterranean power. An extraordinary coup seemed to support such ideas. In January 1257, with the legitimate Hohenstaufen line now represented by a child, Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall, scattering money on the electors, was chosen as king of Germany, or at least that was his popular title. Officially he was king of the Romans, and the next step for every king of the Romans was to try and secure papal coronation as emperor itself. Were the Angevins about to become the dominant power in Europe?
To concentrate on these new horizons, Henry finally settled the great conflict with the kings of France. The eventual Treaty of Paris was ratified in December 1259, after Henry had lost control of government, but negotiations were in train well before the 1258 revolution. Under the treaty’s terms, Henry was to resign all claims to Normandy, Anjou and Poitou, and do liege homage for Gascony, retaining the title duke of Aquitaine. He thus had to abandon the titles duke of Normandy and count of Anjou, although on his new seal (to the pope’s amusement) he compensated by sitting on a much grander throne than before. Later, when the vexatious consequences were apparent, lawyers argued that Henry had foolishly converted Gascony, hitherto an allod held in full sovereignty, into a fief held from the king of France. Yet there is no sign at the time that Henry was aware of this alleged allodial status. He saw the treaty as bringing security to Gascony and friendship with the king of France. He was right to abandon empty titles. Neither he nor King Louis looked at the settlement in neat accountancy terms. They had met for the first time in Paris in 1254 and made friends. Louis certainly was a far stronger character. But the kings were united both by their piety, though Louis’s was more ascetic and intellectual, and their family life. Henry and Louis had married sisters. Relations between the courts were enlivened by teasing jokes at which Margaret, Louis’s queen, was adept, and a shared sense of values: courtesy, generosity and good nature, essentiallydébonnaireté (see below, p. 429). Henry and Louis wanted peace between their peoples. The aspiration was both laudable and realistic. The Treaty of Paris was to keep the peace for twenty-five years.
But there was no happy ending to the Sicilian affair. By the summer of 1255 Manfred, Frederick II’s illegitimate son, had secured the whole of the Sicilian kingdom and was threatening the papal states to the north. That April, Henry had already been required to lead or send an army to expel him. Before doing so, he was to pay the pope the £90,000 so far expended in the struggle. Thomas of Savoy, with his lordships in north Italy, had promoted the scheme, but in November 1255 he was captured by his enemies, and Savoyard money and diplomacy were thenceforth diverted to securing his release. Richard of Cornwall was occupied expanding his exiguous authority in Germany and never obtained papal coronation as emperor. In England, the church raised £40,000 towards the money demanded by the papacy, but it had little effect on Manfred’s position, and seemed totally wasted. That the pope preferred Henry’s cash to Henry’s army (for it was pointed out he could have one but not both) showed how desperate he was and how little faith he had in English military intervention. Henry had looked at things differently. He could never forget, as he often said, how papal legates had helped save his throne at the start of the reign. His devotion to the pope was profound. Surely a gift from him was a gift from God, and God and the Confessor would find a way. Yet the hard fact was that Henry had returned from Gascony heavily in debt. His chances of securing money and military support from parliament, given the general unpopularity of his government, were non-existent. To be sure, the scheme blocked for some years any Capetian move on Sicily. Ultimately it was Louis IX’s younger brother, Charles, who ousted Manfred. Yet such advantages were totally outweighed by the appalling damage done to Henry’s reputation in England, illustrating all too clearly what Matthew Paris called his ‘supine simplicity’.
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The tensions at court and the fiasco over Sicily were central to the revolution of 1258. But it would never have taken the form it did had not Henry also alienated wide sections of local society, in the process expanding the size of the political community and strengthening its sense of national identity.
Initially Henry seemed to strike an acceptable balance between revenue on the one hand and good governance on the other. From 1234 a court headed by professional judges (the first was William Ralegh) travelled with him. Later called ‘the court of king’s bench’, this gave the king greater expertise than before in both hearing great political cases and challenging encroachments on royal rights. In April 1236, urged on by William, bishop elect of Valence, who had arrived with his niece, the new queen, Henry formed a sworn council of twelve ministers, apparently the first time such a formal body had existed. They overhauled the running of the sheriffdoms and concentrated the king’s lands in the hands of two special custodians (hitherto they had been run by the sheriffs or dispersed in the hands of numerous individual keepers). These reforms increased the king’s income by some £1,500 a year. This was also a period of remarkable legislative activity, shaped above all by William Ralegh. Striking a balance between the claims of the king and competing groups of his subjects, a series of statutes introduced new legal procedures, clarified the workings of courts, and restrained the abuses of local officials. This was all part of the long-term trend in which more and more people sought the king’s justice both at the common bench at Westminster and before the general eyres. Indeed the eyres had such quantities of work that they now visited individual counties roughly once every seven years, the gap being filled by the appointment of judges – often county knights – with commissions to try criminals detained in gaols or to hear petty assizes. The demand of Magna Carta of 1215 (watered down in the subsequent versions), for assize judges to travel the counties four times a year and sit with four knights elected in the county court, a demand of great concern to local society, had not been fulfilled to the letter, but it had in spirit.
It was testimony to this co-operation that in January 1237 Henry once again confirmed Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest (for the first time when of full age) and a great council conceded him a tax on movable property. But all this was an end, not a beginning. William Ralegh left court in 1239 to become bishop of Norwich and then, after a long conflict with Henry, bishop of Winchester. It was not till 1270, despite request after request, that Henry secured another tax on movables, the result of increasing alienation from the political nation. None the less, for a while his revenues stood at a level considerably higher than earlier in the reign. Between 1241 and 1245 they averaged some £36,500 a year, against around £22,000 in 1230. Henry’s court increased in size and splendour. Its food and drink cost an average £6 a day in the late 1220s and probably some £20 a day twenty years later. Henry was able to mount the 1242 expedition to Poitou, enforce his power in Wales, and spend (after 1245) some £2,000 a year on Westminster Abbey. The trouble was that this money depended on exploiting sources of revenue which merely exacerbated the unpopularity which had prevented him securing taxation in the first place.
One result was that, for all his personal piety, Henry had alienated the institutional church long before the final denouement of the Sicilian affair. The revenues in the 1240s had owed a great deal to the ruthless way in which royal agents, in clear breach of Magna Carta, had exploited bishoprics while they were in the king’s hands, as Winchester was for six years following des Roches’s death in 1238. To be sure, Henry did not deliberately keep sees vacant (an important change) but the long disputes which followed his attempts to manipulate elections produced the same result. Another ecclesiastical grievance was the way the king’s judges challenged the right claimed by many abbots and bishops to have the amercements levied on their tenants. In 1257 an ecclesiastical council drew up a long schedule of complaint covering these and other issues.
Another group which suffered from Henry’s exactions were the Jews. In the early part of the reign, taxation on Jews had not been heavy, probably because their substance had been wasted by John’s exactions and the 1215–17 civil war. All this changed between 1241 and 1255 with demands totalling some £66,000, probably amounting to half the total wealth of the community. In 1233 Henry had made clear that he only allowed to remain in the kingdom Jews who were of service to the crown. With their wealth now being broken by taxation, the general expulsion of 1290 moved a step closer. Religious attitudes were also sharpening. Henry was keen to convert Jews and founded a special house for such conversi in what is now Chancery Lane. But beyond that, his statutes in 1233 and 1253, influenced by the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council, and measures in Capetian France, sought to prevent contact between Jews and Christians. In 1255 Henry put to death nineteen Jews from Lincoln on the grounds that they had kidnapped and crucified a small Christian boy (‘little St Hugh’), the first time the government itself had sanctioned belief in such delusions. The Jews themselves had no political clout, but the king’s exactions had a dire effect on those who owed them money – an increasing proportion were members of the gentry – from whom the taxation had ultimately to come. Aware of the source, the government was reluctant to intervene and concede such debtors lenient terms for their repayments. All this was part and parcel of a more general discontent with Henry’s rule which spread through the shires of England.
Part of the problem centred on the activities of the sheriffs, who were made by the exchequer to answer for sums of increasing size (called ‘increments’) above the old farms of their counties: by 1258 the total demanded stood at £2,500, as opposed to £1,540 in 1242 and £750 in 1230. The result was that the sheriffs, with little left for their own upkeep, resorted to bribes, forced entertainment, and other illicit exactions. At the same time, upstanding county knights (like those appointed in the reforms of 1236) seemed to be replaced as sheriffs by knights from other shires or minor professional administrators, men unconstrained by local loyalties and more amenable to exchequer control. Burdensome too were the justices of the general eyre, at least on the crown pleas side. The nation-wide eyre of 1246–9 raised some £22,000, a year’s annual revenue on the 1230 figures, and considerably more than the proceeds of the eyre of 1234–6. The forest eyres were likewise onerous, penalties totalling some £18,200 being imposed between 1244 and 1252; the demands were the highest since the reign of Henry II.
Alongside the unpopularity of the king’s local officials, there was also a rising tide of complaint against the abuses of magnates and their bailiffs, the first time such grievances had reached the political agenda. One grievance concerned the way that great lords had forced men to attend their private courts where attendance before had not been customary, an issue (‘suit of court’) dealt with in great detail by legislation in 1259. Another allegation was that during Henry’s personal rule lesser men found it impossible to obtain writs to begin legal actions against the king’s foreign relations, and other magnates and ministers. If lawsuits were conmenced then the judges feared to give judgements against such men and were even in their pay. ‘If I do wrong who is there to do you right?’ taunted William de Bussey, estate steward of the Lusignans. The increasing use of professional administrators like Bussey helped the magnates spread their power in the shires. So did a change in the nature of the sheriff’s office. In the past, kings had usually appointed a significant number of curiales as sheriffs. Often they were household knights. Their closeness to the king and the fact they were allowed to keep a good slice of the revenues from the farm meant they maintained a powerful royal presence in the localities. After 1236 the policy already mentioned of securing increasing revenue above the old farms of the shires meant the replacement of these curial sheriffs by county knights and minor administrators who were more amenable to paying in such additional sums. Although such sheriffs were perfectly able to enforce the king’s rights against the general run of the population, they were much less able than their curial predecessors to do so against magnates and their officials. As a result great men were better able than before to usurp the king’s rights and oppress their tenants and neighbours, this at the very moment when wider social changes made the latter better able to protest about such oppression (see below, p. 410).
In the shires the sufferings under Henry can scarcely have approached those under John, for royal revenue even at its height never rose to pre-1215 levels. But this was a fast-fading perspective, especially when Henry’s exactions were no longer balanced, as they had been briefly after 1236, by much attempt to reform the realm. True, in 1250 Henry made a speech to the assembled sheriffs telling them to maintain his rights, cease their oppressions and monitor magnates’ treatment of their men. That magnates should themselves observe Magna Carta was indeed one of his constant refrains. Yet Henry’s pronouncements lacked teeth. ‘Discuss with the king’ minuted his justices when they discovered cases of local malpractice, but if the magnates were the culprits little came of such discussions. The fact was that the king’s need for money, his desire to indulge and placate those important at court and his general lack of drive meant that he turned a blind eye to the abuses of both royal and magnate officials. His rule brought peace but it was peace with injustice.
The alienation of the localities was compounded by important changes in the structure of central government, one related to the crucial question of access to and processes at court. The small number of men who spent long periods of time with the king – the justiciar, the chancellor, the stewards, the leading household knights, the keepers of the chamber and wardrobe – had a tremendous opportunity to further people’s affairs, and doubtless profit from so doing. ‘Now is the time and place since the king is with a small household and few magnates are with him,’ wrote one petitioner asking Ralph de Neville, Henry III’s chancellor, to intercede for a favour. The justiciar and chancellor were particularly important because they controlled the use of the royal seal. Sometimes consulting the king, sometimes not, depending on their judgement, they had the power in response to petitions to issue writs to the exchequer, to judges, sheriffs and all other branches of the administration furthering people’s affairs. Such writs were called ‘writs of grace’, thus stressing their discretionary nature and the distinction between them and standard ‘writs of course’ which initiated the common law legal procedures. Even the latter those in charge of the seal had the power to block, wrong though that was. One of the strengths of Henry III’s early rule had been his great ministers. Ralph de Neville, bishop of Chichester, had held the seal for twenty years from 1218 to 1238. Judging from the encomia of Matthew Paris, he discharged his office in an open, independent and even-handed manner. So, up to a point, had the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, between 1219 and 1232. Then everything changed. After Stephen of Seagrave’s dismissal as justiciar in 1234, Henry did not appoint a successor. After Bishop Neville was deprived of the great seal in 1238, Henry gave it to minor officials rarely dignified with the title chancellor. The most trusted councillor in the 1240s and 1250s was the clerk John Mansel, who was conciliatory and courageous yet lacked official position or independent status. It was precisely the independence Henry wanted to be rid of.
The disappearance of the great officers of state did not matter for the nobles at court who always had access to the king. It was much more serious for those on the outside, minor magnates, knights, freemen and small ecclesiastical institutions in the shires. For them, defined and navigable channels of communication between the centre and the localities were closing down at the very moment when their grievances were mounting. Correspondingly the new structure was much easier for those on the inside to manipulate and corrupt, hence the complaint that it was impossible to obtain writs to begin legal actions against great men while the latter obtained whatever writs they wished. The formation of a small sworn council in 1236 did nothing to remedy the situation. It may well have remained in being down to 1258, but no attempt was made to proclaim its personnel or (before the drawing up of an elaborate oath in 1257) define its duties.
Henry had alienated the political nation and expanded its size, making groups outside the baronage more vocal than ever before. There was another quite different reflection of that, namely the appearance in Henry’s reign of stories about Robin Hood. In 1261 an exchequer clerk, as some kind of joke, altered the name of a man called William, son of Robert Smith, to William Robehod. Clearly he thought the alias appropriate for Smith who was a fugitive criminal. Clearly too he was aware of tales about Robin Hood. The evidence for Robin Hood can indeed be found earlier still, as David Crook has shown. In 1225 the sheriff of Yorkshire seized the movable property of a fugitive called Robert Hood. In the same year he was ordered to hunt down and behead a notorious outlaw, Robert of Wetherby. Evidently he succeeded because he soon acquired a chain to hang up Wetherby’s body. Was Robert Hood the alias of Robert of Wetherby? Was Wetherby the original historic Robin Hood? It is far from impossible. Robert and Robin were interchangeable in common speech. Barnsdale, Robin’s haunt in the early stories (which only survive in written form from the fifteenth century) was in Yorkshire, the county in which Wetherby was hunted down. In those stories Robin’s enemy was the sheriff of Nottingham and it was indeed as sheriff of Nottingham that the Yorkshire sheriff Eustace of Lowdham, who captured Wetherby, had made his name. The unpopularity of Henry III’s sheriffs, justices and forest officials provided fertile ground for stories which transformed an outlaw into a hero. Robin himself belonged to the class of freemen between the gentry and the peasantry. The tales about him appealed across society to all those who felt oppressed by authority.
The unpopularity of Henry III’s government had served to consolidate that sense of community formed in opposition to the crown which had developed under the Angevin kings and been strikingly expressed in ‘the community of the land’ formed in 1215 to protect Magna Carta. Henry had also given to that community a new sense of its identity, its English identity, by pursuing policies which appeared to make the English a people under threat; this through the amount of favour he gave to his foreign relations and the objectionable way in which some of them behaved. There was a wider background here. The loss of Normandy in 1204 completed the long process by which all the king’s subjects could regard themselves as English (see above, p. 8). Criticism of royal ministers as foreigners contemptuous of English customs can be traced from the 1190s. During Henry’s minority such men had seemed to form a distinct and highly disruptive faction. Between 1232 and 1234 that faction had captured the king and imposed ‘the Poitevin tyranny’ on the English.
Once Henry’s personal rule began he was well placed to close this gap between monarchy and people. He was far more English than any king since 1066. He lived almost exclusively in England and called it his homeland. His devotion to Edward the Confessor, after whom he named his eldest son, linked the dynasty to the Anglo-Saxon past. But in fact the gap widened rather than contracted. ‘He loved aliens above all the English,’ the Osney abbey chronicler dolefully remarked about Henry. In the 1240s and 1250s Matthew Paris ranted on and on about the king’s favourites: how they fed on the wealth of England and oppressed its people so that the very race seemed in danger. Whether such views were exactly shared by the great English families around the court who had often intermarried with the king’s foreign relatives is questionable. For the victorious faction in 1258 the revolution was aimed at one group of foreigners, the Lusignans, not foreigners as a whole. Indeed the Savoyards were actually part of the revolutionary party. More generally, the workings of commercial and ecclesiastical life depended absolutely on England being a full member of the community of Europe. Yet, for all these qualifications, there can be little doubt that Paris’s views were widely shared, particularly outside the court. The great tides of xenophobia which swept England in the 1260s are incomprehensible on any other basis. The issue was particularly live at the frequent parliaments of the 1240s and 1250s, hence the constant demand there that the king should govern in concert with his ‘natural’, that is native-born, subjects. At such assemblies, composed as we shall see of far more than just a small number of great magnates, the king’s foreign courtiers must have been very obvious. Stories of the marriages arranged for such men, the castles they held (including Gloucester and the Tower of London) and the oppressions of their local officials doubtless spread. If those officials were little worse, and certainly far less numerous, than those of the great English earls, their foreign connections gave an entirely different dimension to their misdeeds. Thus a Lincolnshire knight abusively described William de Bussey, chief local agent of the Lusignans, as a Poitevin although in fact he was English, a striking example of how the issue of foreigners played in local society. Not surprisingly therefore it is in a schedule of demands from 1258 which reflected the views of the wider community that the most striking expression of xenophobic national identity appears. In the view of the ‘Petition of the Barons’ (as it is misleadingly called), strategic castles should only be entrusted, and women only married, to men ‘born of the English nation’. Otherwise the realm would be in danger and women ‘disparaged’. Here what unified the English was their hostility to foreigners.
We have mentioned parliament as the focus of opposition to Henry III and its development was indeed the central constitutional fact of the reign. Up to a point when the name first appeared in an official record in 1237, to be used with increasing frequency thereafter, it was simply a new word for an ancient body, one called the ‘witan’ under the Anglo-Saxon kings and the ‘council’ or ‘great council’ under the Normans and Angevins. Yet a new name was apposite because under Henry III fundamental changes took place in the power of such assemblies, foreshadowing equally fundamental changes in their structure.
It was the king’s novel need for taxation that gave parliament its new power. The background here was the financial weakness of the crown. Even at their height in the 1240s, Henry’s revenues were still around £20,000 a year less than John’s between 1207 and 1212, and probably half those of the Capetians. Valiant efforts to build up a reserve between 1250 and 1253 yielded a gold treasure worth some £20,000, a puny sum compared with the £133,000 John boasted in 1213. In peace, Henry could live within his means as the saving of his gold treasure showed, but he could scarcely accumulate the resources to fight a prolonged war. After 1255, moreover, Henry’s annual revenue (thanks in part to the appanage created for Edward, his eldest son, the exhaustion of Jewish wealth, and the general bestowal of patronage) fell back to under £30,000, leading in part to his failure in Wales in 1257 and his inability to resist the revolution of 1258. Faced with this problem, what could the king do? John’s general mulct of the kingdom, exploiting all available sources of revenue, required great energy and had provoked Magna Carta. An easier way out was simply to levy general taxation in the form of percentage levies on movable property. The tax of 1225 had raised £40,000 and saved Gascony. But in practice such taxes, however much the clause on consent had been left out of later versions of the Charter, could not be levied without the sanction of the realm. None of this had bothered the twelfth-century kings. They hardly needed such taxation, but the changing face of royal finance placed their successors in a very different position.
The great lever, refusal of supply, which was the source of all parliament’s power against the king, had thus appeared. Between 1232 and 1257 Henry demanded taxation at fourteen or more assemblies, and only obtained it at two of them in 1232 and 1237. In the 1240s and 1250s he was refused supply at parliament after parliament save on conditions he deemed unacceptable. At the debates in these assemblies the tensions between the king and the political community came to a head. In the process parliament itself gained an altogether new sense of its identity and place in the constitution, one the reforms of 1258 sought to enshrine with the stipulation that parliament should meet three times a year to discuss the affairs of the kingdom. Parliament had indeed arrived.
Intimately related to the power of Henry’s parliaments was the way they came increasingly to represent the wider realm, a development which foreshadows the establishment of the House of Commons. Magna Carta had stipulated that to gain common consent for taxation the greater barons were to be summoned individually by letter, and the lesser tenants-in-chief generally through the sheriffs. Despite the omission of the clause from subsequent versions of the Charter, this was almost certainly the way great assemblies were convened from the start of Henry’s reign. Although not all the lesser tenants-in-chief attended, many probably did and they embraced a wide social spectrum, including many minor landholders of knightly or even less than knightly status. Henry’s parliaments were therefore able to focus the debate between the king and the whole political community. Even so, there was a growing feeling that this informal and haphazard representation of the wider realm was not enough. In 1254 the county courts were ordered to elect two knights to come and grant taxation ‘on behalf of everyone in the county’. This was the first known occasion when representatives of the shires were summoned to parliament. In 1225, 1232 and 1237 tenants-in-chief alone had given ‘common consent’ to taxation, just as envisaged in Magna Carta. Thereafter no tax was ever granted without the consent of knights from the shires. The need for such consent was the main factor in establishing the commons in parliament in the later part of the thirteenth century.
Ideas were important here, as was ecclesiastical example. The Roman law tag ‘what touches all shall be approved by all’ had been familiar in England since at least the 1220s. The same principle, when it came to taxation of the church, was enshrined in canon law. Bishops in resisting taxation by both the pope and the king made it plain (in 1226 and 1240) that they could not answer for the lower clergy (deans, priors, archdeacons and parish priests). The latter must be separately consulted. In 1254 representatives of the lower clergy were summoned to parliament together with the knights from the shires. If, however, theory was important, more important still were the simple facts of power (discussed in more detail below, pp. 395–410). One of the knights nominated to serve for Middlesex in 1254, Roger de la Dune, had only one principal manor, yet he served as a collector of the tax granted by the 1237 parliament and as a justice of assize. Some of his colleagues in other counties had soldiered in royal armies. Few had discernible connections with great magnates. These men could not be taken for granted. Dune himself refused to accept election in 1254, probably protesting against the proposed tax which indeed was never conceded, the conditions doubtless being unacceptable to the government.
Initially the demands made in return for taxation had been palatable enough for the king. In return for the tax of 1225 he conceded the definitive versions of Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest; for the tax of 1237 (granted by the first parliament eo nomine), he issued the first confirmation of the Charters while of full age. Yet the belief was gaining ground that the Charters, although they had made a difference, were not enough. Even if they were enforceable, which they were not, they said nothing about who the sheriffs were to be and on what financial terms they were to hold office. Likewise they said nothing about the conduct of magnates and their officials. All these were important issues for those in the localities. Magna Carta was also silent about control of central government. The king remained free to choose ministers, bestow patronage and determine policy just as he liked. That freedom as Henry exercised it brought to a head longstanding problems over counsel and consent.
The Norman and Angevin kings often proclaimed that legislation had been issued and major decisions taken with the ‘counsel and consent’ of their lay and ecclesiastical magnates. It may be that such assemblies both before and after 1215 were usually summoned in the way laid down by Magna Carta, but they had no precise constitutional powers. If in practice both taxation and legislation required common consent, Henry had been quite able to sign up for Sicily without any consent at all, as was frequently pointed out. In any case kings rarely dealt with their magnates in a single body even during great councils. Nothing is more revealing of royal methods than the accounts, found in monastic chronicles, of Henry II, Richard I and John settling (or trying to settle) disputes on such occasions, now conferring with small groups (‘You, you and you, the rest wait outside’), now with much larger ones, moving all the time according to the size of the meeting between chapel, chamber, chapter house and refectory, in a kind of ritual of the rooms. There was also a whole range of decisions, especially in the vital area of patronage, which kings routinely made outside great councils, taking advice as they wished from the ministers and magnates (often overlapping groups) who happened to be at court. In the hands of an able monarch, these structures could work well. It was a different matter if the king was malevolent or incompetent. And under Henry the king’s incompetence was given a new framework both by the disappearance of the great offices of state and the formation of a small council, with the resulting question of its powers and personnel. There were no lack of ideas about how to deal with these difficulties. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were a great age of constitution-making, in towns, universities, monasteries and the international religious orders of the Cistercians and the Friars. Everywhere there were elected officials and large and small councils or chapters, hence ultimately the king’s small council in 1236. The idea that the great council in England should wield considerable authority had been sanctioned by practice during Richard’s crusade and captivity. In 1215 Magna Carta laid down that it needed to consent to taxation. During Henry’s minority the great council had chosen the king’s ministers. Ralph de Neville indeed, appointed to keep the king’s seal in 1218, had resisted dismissal by the king in 1236 on the grounds that only a great council could remove him. His reputation for fairness and independence seemed to demonstrate the value of ministers chosen in that way.
All this was the background to the so-called ‘Paper Constitution’ concocted at a parliament in 1244 (‘Paper’ because it was never implemented). The Constitution sought to deal with the problem of counsel at its two vital levels, that of the great council and the small. It thus stipulated that the great council or parliament should have sole authority to appoint and remove four of the king’s small council, including the justiciar and chancellor, those offices thus being restored. These four were then to manage the king’s treasure, hear everyone’s complaints, and choose the justices of the common bench and the officials of the exchequer. In effect they were to control central government. The kind of scheme in the ‘Paper Constitution’ could certainly appeal to ministers and magnates at court who might feel that decisions over lawsuits, patronage and policy would be better taken if Henry had to listen to their advice. This indeed was the background to the councillor’s oath drawn up in 1257, under which the councillors swore to refuse patronage offered by the king unless their fellows consented – a remarkable attempt to restrict the king from inside the regime itself. ‘The ‘Paper Constitution’ had even more attractions for the lesser magnates, knights and freemen in the shires who had suffered most from the disappearance of the justiciarship and chancellorship, and were represented in parliament, as we have seen, by the minor tenants-in-chief. They had an additional incentive to be vocal: more than anyone else, they would have to pay the taxation which was to be offered in return for the Constitution’s acceptance.
The kind of demands found in the ‘Paper Constitution’ were put, in various forms, at parliament after parliament after 1244 and were finally implemented in 1258. Their proponents did not find them hard to justify. The Song of Lewes was hardly treading new ground when it averred that since ‘the government of the realm is the safety or ruin of all’, the whole realm was rightfully concerned about who was set over it. Henry was thus drawing a false analogy when he sought the same freedom to choose his ministers as any earl or baron. There was equally a widespread view that if the king ruled badly it was the duty of the baronage, representing the community, to ‘bridle’ him. The baronage had in effect done just that at the Gloucester council of May 1234, an episode alluded to byBracton and not with disapproval. In any case, since in form the revolution of 1258 was carried out with the king’s consent and in his name, no elaborate justification proved necessary. It was indeed only later chroniclers, like Thomas Wykes, who grasped the revolutionary significance of what had occurred.
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The crisis of 1258 was set off by the intensification of the struggles at court. By this time Edward, the heir to the throne, was nineteen, and already masterful and martial. After his marriage to Eleanor of Castile in 1254 he had received an appanage including Gascony, Bristol and the king’s lands in Wales and Ireland. He was therefore badly affected by the resurgence of Welsh power in the 1250s, and in 1258 he turned to the Savoyards for help. When they could not supply it, stretched by their continental commitments, he got money instead from the Lusignans. Edward was already irked by restrictions imposed by his father on the running of his appanage, and bored by his rather staid entourage (including Peter of Savoy), mostly selected by his mother. He found the young William de Valence and his flashy circle far more congenial. Queen Eleanor was horrified. She seemed to be losing her son to her greatest enemies. She was quite ready to condone, perhaps encourage, the ensuing revolution.
In this tense atmosphere the touch paper was set alight. On 1 April 1258 at Shere in Surrey, during a dispute over the advowson, a posse sent by Aymer de Lusignan, bishop-elect of Winchester, attacked men of the magnate/courtier John fitz Geoffrey, killing one of them. A week later, a great parliament opened at Westminster. The harvest of 1257 having failed, it was a time of famine, with villagers flocking to London for food and vagrants dying everywhere of starvation. At the parliament fitz Geoffrey at once demanded justice from the king; Henry excused the bishop and refused it. John was incandescent. The whole episode seemed to sum up the arrogance of the half-brothers and how Henry’s protection placed them pre-eminently above the law. Debates over Wales made matters worse. William de Valence (with his lordship of Pembroke attacked) accused both Montfort and the earl of Gloucester of conniving with the Welsh, while Montfort demanded justice against Valence, probably referring to his wife’s claims to Pembroke. On 12 April Montfort, the earls of Gloucester and Norfolk, Hugh Bigod, Peter of Savoy, John fitz Geoffrey, and Peter de Montfort (no relation of Simon), all courtiers or close to the court, banded together. Savoy’s presence reflected the blessing of the queen. They intended to deal with the Lusignans and reform the realm.
The Sicilian affair, the reason for the summoning of the parliament in the first place, produced the denouement. A papal envoy, Arlot, threatened the king with excommunication and the realm with Interdict if the money owed the pope was not forthcoming. Henry, having oppressed his subjects, failed in Wales, and denied justice to John fitz Geoffrey, now dutifully requested the necessary tax, a tax heavier than that of 1225. The answer came on 30 April. Unrestrained by Richard of Cornwall who was away in Germany, a group of magnates led by Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk, marched in full armour into the king’s hall at Westminster. Henry was a sitting target. His small treasure had been exhausted by the 1257 campaign in Wales, the number of his household knights had dwindled, and there was still a gap in the new walls of the Tower of London on which (after a scare in 1238) he had initially spent large sums of money. For a frightening moment he thought he was a prisoner. Instead he was made to accept a general reform of the realm. It was to be more than seven years before he fully and finally recovered power.
The crash of Henry’s regime in 1258 should not obscure the fact that for nearly a quarter of a century it had brought peace to England.
Indeed, apart from the castle sieges of the minority, and the Marshal war in 1233–4 (largely confined to Wales and Ireland), there was peace in England from 1217 to 1263. It was that which made possible the proliferation of markets and fairs, the accelerating money supply (helped by Henry’s re-coinage with a new style ‘long-cross penny’ in 1247), and the general economic recovery after the 1215–17 civil war. The stability of Henry’s regime owed something to the resources of Ireland. It also enabled him to be far more assertive than before in Wales and Scotland.
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For twenty years after 1234 Ireland provided Henry with valuable support. Treasure was constantly shipped across to England, between 1240 and 1245 averaging some £1,150 a year. Henry also turned to Ireland for the patronage he so desperately needed, the beneficiaries being Savoyards, Lusignans and native English courtiers. In the process there were significant changes in the political structure of the lordship. Henry was helped by a remarkable succession of deaths in the 1240s which brought a stream of wardships, widows and heiresses into royal hands. As in Wales, exercise of the king’s ‘feudal’ rights in such circumstances could quickly transform patterns of local lordship. Henry made one gain himself: Ulster reverted to the crown on the death of Hugh de Lacy in 1242. The year before, on Walter de Lacy’s death, Meath was divided between his two granddaughters, one of whom (in 1252) married the queen’s lifelong friend Geoffrey de Joinville, Ireland thus becoming a mainstay of his extraordinary international career (see above, p. 25). Meanwhile Leinster, with the childless death of the last Marshal earl in 1245, was divided between the descendants of the old regent’s daughters, with Wexford (as well as Pembroke) passing to the wife of William de Valence. Henry also resorted, much as John had done, to speculative grants of land in territory largely held by native rulers. In Thomond, beneficiaries were the queen’s first household steward, Robert Mucegros, and John fitz Geoffrey, justiciar of Ireland (1245–54), later to play that key role in the crisis of 1258, another man very close to the queen. On the other hand, in the ‘King’s Cantreds’ between Meath and Connacht, Henry granted land worth £500 to Geoffrey de Lusignan. If these grants could be implemented they would bring a considerable expansion in the territorial extent of the lordship.
In 1254 Ireland formed part of the appanage granted to Henry’s son, the Lord Edward. As with Gascony, the grant stipulated that the lordship should never be separated from the English crown, ruling out the kind of concession to a younger son that Henry II had made to John. Ireland’s future as a crown colony was assured.
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The 1240s saw a transformation in the king’s position in Wales. During the two previous decades Henry had made limited efforts to challenge the dominance of Llywelyn the Great, apart from trying to maintain the 1218 Treaty of Worcester’s baseline by denying him the homages of the native rulers. One reason for inaction had been Llywelyn’s alliance with successive earls of Chester, which effectively ruled out any invasion of Gwynedd. In 1237, however, the last earl had died without direct heirs. Previous kings had often held the earldom in wardship. Now Henry, wisely counselled, bought out the numerous co-heirs and acquired Cheshire for the crown, perhaps the best move of his career. He was to go on to replace Gwynedd’s dominance in Wales with his own. Yet for all these advances, Henry’s policy towards Wales still showed something of the lack of ambition characteristic of earlier years.
On the death of his father Llywelyn the Great in 1240, Dafydd did homage to King Henry for the whole of Gwynedd, including the Four Cantrefs; his elder brother Gruffudd was therefore excluded, the object for which Llywelyn had laboured for so long. If Dafydd was accorded no princely title in royal letters, he was knighted by Henry and at the same ceremony wore a coronet ‘the insignia of the principality of North Wales’, as the Tewkesbury annalist described it. Henry thus accepted Dafydd as a ruler of unique status while (in line with previous policy) making him repeat Llywelyn’s acknowledgement of 1218 that the homages of the other native rulers belonged to the crown. Dafydd’s real trouble lay less with the king than with the territorial ambitions of the marcherbarons and Welsh rulers who claimed to have been disappropriated by his father, often in breach of the 1218 Treaty. In the south, on Llywelyn’s death Gilbert Marshal had immediately seized Cardigan, at last possessing what the king had granted him in 1234. Between Wye and Severn, Ralph de Mortimer soon made good his claims to Maelienydd. Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn was equally determined to recover southern Powys, for the tenure conceded to Llywelyn in 1218 had expired years ago with his majority.
It was Dafydd’s resistance, courageous and resourceful, to these and other threatened losses (like that of Mold) which produced King Henry’s invasion of August 1241. Like John in 1211, he enlisted native rulers from all over Wales, including Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, and (from within Gwynedd itself) the long-excluded claimants to Meirionydd. He also envisaged partitioning Gwynedd between Dafydd and Gruffudd, giving dangerous currency to the belief that the division of princely inheritances was sanctioned by Welsh law. Henry penetrated as far as Rhuddlan, whereupon Dafydd submitted. Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn recovered his portion of Powys and Dafydd surrendered Builth, a grievous blow to his position in the south. He also agreed that should he rebel again or have no heirs by his wife then Gwynedd should be forfeit to the crown. Curtains! Yet in other ways the settlement was less severe than John’s in 1211. Dafydd was deprived not of the Four Cantrefs but only the most eastern, Tegeingl, which Henry now held down by building a castle at Diserth, high above the valley of the Clywd. For the rest, the rulers of Meirionydd were restored and did homage to Henry, but no major division of Gwynedd was implemented. Gruffudd simply swapped Dafydd’s prison for the Tower of London.
In 1241 the king did not merely profit at the expense of Dafydd. When Gilbert Marshal died in a tournament in June, Henry accepted his brother Walter’s succession to the earldom of Pembroke but secured his surrender of Cardigan and Carmarthen, although held by the royal grant of 1234 in hereditary right. Thus the two great royal bases in the south which John had lost to Llywelyn in 1216, and Henry had foolishly granted away to de Burgh and then to the Marshals, were recovered. In his triumph, the king’s attitude to both Dafydd and the men of Tegeingl (who were to be treated according to Welsh law) was conciliatory, partly because his mind was now set on an expedition to Poitou. But his new officials both in the north and south were highly aggressive. Even the loyal Gruffudd ap Madog of northern Powys needed reassurance about their activities. Dafydd, of course, could never be reconciled to his losses and the death of his half-brother Gruffudd, killed in a fall while trying to escape from the Tower of London in March 1244, freed him from a rival and created grievances he could exploit. In 1241 the Welsh rulers had for the most part sided with King Henry. Now (apart from the two Gruffudds of Powys), having experienced the reality of English rule, they did the reverse. Dafydd showed remarkable resource. He sent envoys to Louis IX, offered to hold ‘his part of Wales’ from the pope (thus declaring independence of King Henry) and, significantly, adopted the title ‘prince of Wales’. That title had been used by his great-grandfather, Owain Gwynedd, but had been avoided by Llywelyn for fear it would provoke English king and Welsh ruler alike. It was now a symbol of Dafydd’s leadership in a national cause.
Henry’s response was sluggish. In August 1244, according to Matthew Paris he preferred ‘the delight and rest’ of Westminster to a campaign in Wales. The next year, however, with Felim O’Connor, native king of Connacht, enlisted to ravage Anglesey, Henry gathered an army comparable to Edward I’s in 1276–7, only then (as in 1223, 1228, 1231 and 1241) to sit down and build another castle, this time on the rock at Deganwy above the Conwy estuary. Dafydd himself died in February 1246. By his own agreements, Gwynedd was now doubly forfeit because of his rebellion and his childlessness. Surely, with his new base at Deganwy, and with his captain Nicholas Molis having just marched up from Cardigan to maraud through the heart of Gwynedd, Henry would now move in and take possession. He had no continental or other distractions. He was in funds. And yet he did nothing. Under the Treaty of Woodstock (April 1247) Henry came to terms with Owain and Llywelyn, sons of the hapless Gruffudd, and thus grandsons of Llywelyn the Great. The brothers ceded the Four Cantrefs to the kings of England in perpetuity, but they kept the rest of Gwynedd undivided: Henry did not partition it between them or even retain the homage of the ruler of Llŷn, Gwynedd’s westernmost cantref, which he had taken earlier in the year. If the brothers broke the agreement they would forfeit their lands for ever. But nothing, in contrast to 1211 and 1241, was said about Gwynedd escheating if they did not have heirs by their wives. Instead the grant was made more widely to them and their heirs, and the chances of escheat were thus much reduced.
If Gwynedd had been truncated, Henry had positively willed the survival of its heartland. He was similarly lenient in the south. He kept Maelgwn Fychan’s lands around Aberystwyth (seized by Molis on his great march), but allowed him to recover commotes adjoining Cardigan. The rest of Ceredigion, apart of course from Cardigan itself, remained with Maredudd ab Owain and Maredudd ap Rhys, who had made an early submission in 1245 and accompanied Molis on his campaign. Henry’s attitude was not simply the result of lack of ambition. He was also responding to wise advice from some of the marcher barons of the south, namely that the Welsh were controlled most effectively by men ‘of their own tongue’. But once again this was only part of the story. The king’s agents were frequently English, not Welsh, and their oppressions soon laid the foundations for another resurgence of Gwynedd.
The rise in royal power within ten years had been remarkable and was meant to be permanent. In 1247 the king announced that Chester and the Four Cantrefs were to remain annexed to the crown. In the south he held Builth, Cardigan, Carmarthen and northern Ceredigion. The division of both the Braose and Marshal baronies between coheiresses (after 1230 and 1245) had enhanced his dominance. None the less, given his power, opportunities and rights (as he could have defined them), Henry’s policies might have been far more aggressive. The fact was the actual conquest of Wales, unlike the recovery of the Angevin empire, was not something he was prepared to devote energy and resources to achieving.
The king’s forward policies were also limited in another area, that of the privileges or ‘liberties’ claimed by the marcher barons. Here there was every reason for action. ‘All wish to have nearly royal power and liberty,’ wrote a royal agent in 1234 about the barons of Ireland. The same was true in Wales. The fitz Alans of Clun and Oswestry, the Corbets of Caus and the Mortimers of Wigmore were all determined to remove their lordships from the jurisdiction of the neighbouring sheriffs, and make them part of the March. The liberties of the March had originated in the powers wielded by Norman lords when they made and defended their original conquests. One of the most longstanding was thus the right of private war. In the thirteenth century the liberties were seen equally as a way of governing and exploiting the lordships more effectively. Magna Carta itself had distinguished the law of the March from that of Wales and England. The precise content of March law was never defined (it varied greatly) but its essential umbrella was the claim, made specifically in 1199 and 1221, that the marchers enjoyed all the king’s rights (‘regality’), and virtual autonomy within their lordships. The king’s writ did not run, the lords controlling the whole process of criminal and civil justice. Faced with these problems, Henry did make some response. The court of king’s bench became the forum for cases involving both marcher barons and Welsh rulers. In 1243 it summoned the earl of Gloucester (no less), as part of a general test case against the marchers, to show what rights he had over the bishopric of Llandaff during a vacancy. Then in 1247, the earl was made to acknowledge (after a complaint had been made against him by his tenant Richard Seward) that the king could review and correct judgements passed in his court of Glamorgan. Henry had made important points of principle, yet in the March, as in England, he did little in practice to follow them up. Indeed his pressure, such as it was, prompted the marchers to define their liberties all the more closely, the whole period being a watershed in that process of definition. In practice Richard de Clare succeeded in disappropriating Seward, retained control over the Llandaff’s issues during a vacancy in the 1250s, and generally extended his authority within Glamorgan. While the Welsh within the great lordships often retained their own courts and law, for the English the marcher barons issued the same types of common law writs which ran in the king’s name in England. In Henry’s reign, even when his power was at its height, marcher kingdoms in miniature were developing.
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Henry III’s policies in Scotland showed a mixture of assertion and restraint similar to that seen in Wales. On his accession in July 1249 Alexander III (Alexander II’s son by Marie de Coucy) was still two months short of his eighth birthday. The seal made for his minority bore the legend, ‘Be you as prudent as a serpent and as pure as a dove’, which when interpreted in its biblical context suggested the evil men from whom Alexander might be in danger. Certainly politics were soon factionalized into two rival camps, each appealing at different times to Henry III for help. Yet the period cemented rather than serrated the cordial relations between the two monarchies.
The government of the young king was a continuation of the old with Alan Durward, the justiciar of Scotland north of Forth, its leading figure. Marie de Coucy, perhaps denied a regency role like that played by Louis IX’s mother Queen Blanche, soon returned to France where she re-married, an action which closely paralleled Isabella of Angoulême’s desertion of Henry III. In July 1249 Alexander was inaugurated in the traditional ceremony at Scone, sitting on the famous stone kept reverently at the monastery. There were plans to enhance the king’s dignity further when the pope was asked to sanction a full coronation ceremony with anointing. The king’s seal indeed depicted him crowned, unlike those of his father and grandfather. The trouble was that all this seemed linked to the greater glory of Durward as much as to that of the king. The movement against Durward was led by Walter Comyn, earl of Menteith, and his kin. The Comyns had been out of royal favour in the last years of Alexander II, but had widespread support among magnates and clergy. King Henry became involved in their plot. At Christmas 1251, amid much joyful celebration, the marriage agreed in the 1240s between his daughter Margaret, now eleven, and Alexander took place at York. Immediately afterwards Durward and his allies were removed and replaced by a government dominated by the Comyns.
Before the coup Henry had protested, much as he had in 1221, at the plans for a Scottish coronation and anointing. At York he had gone further and asked Alexander to do homage for the kingdom of Scotland. When, however, the latter politely refused, Henry gracefully dropped the matter and never raised it again. Instead the relationship established was warmly paternal. Alexander now regarded Henry as ‘his dearest father’ and sought his counsel and protection. Accordingly Henry appointed two northern magnates, Robert de Ros and John de Balliol, to act as guardians of the young king and queen. It was Henry’s anxieties as a father, not resentment at the limited role which Ros and Balliol actually played in Scottish government, which created the next crisis.
After his fall, Alan Durward went south to poison King Henry’s mind. That was not difficult once Queen Margaret (in 1255) complained that Ros was preventing her sleeping with the king, and not allowing them out of Edinburgh castle. In September 1255 the royal couple were rescued from the fortress by the earl of Gloucester and John Mansel and brought to King Henry just across the border. Alexander dismissed his Comyn councillors and appointed a new ruling council (with fifteen members). This was the high point of Henry III’s intervention in Scottish affairs. Under an agreement, his sanction was necessary for the dismissal of councillors and for the termination of the council’s authority. Otherwise it was to last until September 1262, when Alexander would be twenty-one. Henry fiercely denied that he intended anything that would damage the ‘liberties, rights and state of the kingdom of Scotland’, which shows that such fears were current at the time. Yet his denials had the ring of truth. He promised that the new arrangements were not in any way to compromise the rights of the kingdom, which indeed, so he declared, his whole aim was to protect, ‘bound as we are to King Alexander by the chain of paternal love’.
Alan Durward was back as one of the new councillors, but it was soon musical chairs all over again. The ousted Comyns petitioned Henry III for help, as they had in 1251. When this failed they resorted to the kind of coup de main which they had suffered in 1255, seizing the king at Kinross in October 1257. For much of the next year the kingdom stood on the brink of civil war, the Comyns making an alliance with Llywelyn under which neither was to aid the other’s enemies. A month later, in April 1258, Henry III was removed from the scene by the political revolution in England, an event which perhaps helped the emergence of an eventual compromise in Scotland. In October 1258 a new council was created in which nominal headship was given to the king’s mother, Marie de Coucy, and her new husband. Alan Durward again became a councillor, but for the rest both the higher and lower reaches of government (especially the sheriffdoms) were dominated by the Comyns and their allies.
It was in this uneasy situation that Alexander in the early 1260s assumed full control of government. The minority had been a traumatic time, with politics factionalized, the king twice seized, and the king of England in novel fashion involved in appointing and dismissing ministers. Henry, however, had treated Scotland quite differently from Wales. On Llywelyn’s death he had at once asserted and enforced his rights to the homage of the native rulers. In Scotland, on the death of Alexander II, while he had registered old claims to overlordship he had done nothing to enforce them, although he must have known he would never have a better chance. The difference was that in Wales, Henry felt sure of his rights. They had been set out in the Treaty of Worcester in 1218. In Scotland the position was much less defined. Thus Alexander and Margaret remained part of an affectionate family circle, with Alexander enquiring solicitously in his letters about the health of Queen Eleanor, ‘our beloved mother’, and her children. ‘Never did any of the English or British kings in any past time keep his pledges towards the Scots more faithfully than this Henry; for nearly all the whole time of his reign he was looked upon by the kings of Scotland, father and son, as their most faithful neighbour and adviser.’ So said the Scottish chronicler Fordun, writing in the fourteenth century. These good relations fundamentally influenced Alexander’s policies during the collapse of Henry’s power in the years after 1258.