Post-classical history

War Becomes Inevitable

THERE was simplicity and informality in everything that Louis of France did. He was prone to call in his ministers and peers to his chamber and have them sit on the side of his bed while they discussed affairs of state. Sometimes even the humblest of petitioners were summoned to the royal bedroom for a talk over their claims, for Louis delighted in honoring the old tradition that even a beggar from the city gates could approach the King. Often he would sit on a bench with his advisers about him or on the ground, “in his plain camel’s-hair coat with sleeveless surcoat of tiretaine,” with them grouped about him tailor-fashion.

It was in some such manner that he discussed with the members of the council of twelve the peace he had made with Henry of England. It had taken a long time to negotiate this treaty which was hopefully believed to have made everlasting peace possible between the two countries. The main reason for the protracted nature of the discussions had been an obstructive attitude on the part of Simon de Montfort and his wife. Eleanor, now a mature but still beautiful woman, was not content to have her claims to land in France brushed aside and lost for all time. Henry had never gone to the trouble of reclaiming her dowry in full from the Marshals after the death of her first husband, and this had been a bitter bone of contention between them. If Henry wanted to have the treaty signed and sealed, then let him remedy the neglect of so many years: thus, Eleanor, and it is impossible to blame her for it. In this stand she had the firm and emphatic backing of her husband. Louis, for his part, refused to ratify a treaty which left any unsettled claims to rise up and vex him in the future. With glowering reluctance Henry had agreed finally to allow his sister the sum of fifteen thousand marks out of the funds that Louis would pay him, a small enough settlement. The treaty had then been drawn up and signed with great pomp and circumstance.

Henry renounced for all time his claims to Normandy, Poitou, and the Plantagenet possessions of Anjou and Maine. He was to retain Gascony and to receive by way of compensation lower Saintonge, the province of Angenais, the lands of Quercy, and the dioceses of Cahors, Périgueux, and Limoges, for all of which he would do homage to Louis. In addition Louis was to pay Henry the cost of maintaining five hundred knights in the crusading field for a period of two years.

The French council objected bitterly to the cession of these lands in the South to the English King, particularly the rich provinces lying between Gascony and La Marche. They agreed it was wise to secure the renunciation of all English rights in Normandy and the great provinces in the North and West. But why give up the rich dioceses of Périgueux and Limoges to a king no more formidable than a boy with a tin sword? For that matter, they argued further, it would not be difficult to wrest Gascony from him if France had any desire for such an enterprise.

These were the arguments they advanced against the unpopular treaty, seated perhaps in somber and frowning rows on the ground about the King or on benches facing him. There was nothing they could do about it if the King persisted in what seemed to them a weak and sentimental course. France had set up no manner of safeguards against the power of her kings, and Louis might do as he pleased. They were outspoken enough, however, to make it clear that in pampering his brother-in-law of England he was seriously affronting his own nobility and disregarding vested rights in the ceded territory.

Louis, holding his hat of swan’s-down in his hands as unpretentiously as the humblest of them, his splendid face grave and intent, was convinced in his own mind, without a doubt, that from the standpoint of realistic statesmanship they were right. He was not going to allow himself to be swerved, however, from a stand to which he had given long and prayerful thought.

His brief answer, delivered in a quiet voice, might well be remembered as a truly great utterance, “I give these lands to the King of England in order that there may be love between our children and his.”


Henry did not return to England immediately after the signing of the treaty, He lingered on in France on one pretext and another. The main reason given for the delays which continued month after month and extended finally into the middle of the following year was the need to tie up some loose ends of the treaty. This is not entirely convincing. The final disposition of details could have been attended to without the bodily presence of the King of England. Such a splendid messenger service had been developed that letters could be exchanged between Westminster and St. Omer, where Henry was making his headquarters, in six days. The royal carriers did not wait for favorable winds to cross the Channel, and relays of horses were maintained so that mail could be carried at top speed. There was, clearly, another reason for staying in France.

John Mansel was with the King and had served as his chief adviser throughout the long and tedious negotiations. This gifted commoner is one of the most baffling characters in English history. Little actually is known about him, but the few available facts whet the appetite for more. He must have been a man of infinite resource, a Richelieu or Wolsey, operating on a much more limited scale; their equal in point of clever planning and adroit execution but lacking, first, the personal ambition shown by the two great cardinals and their vision, and, second, a master of the right caliber and temperament to give him a chance to show his mettle. Before the rise of Mansel, Henry’s course had been weak and maladroit. He had drifted aimlessly, shifting from one party to another as events dictated. Then he began suddenly to show a greater steadiness of purpose and at times such flashes of ingenuity, such evidences of machiavellian planning, that one cannot fail to wonder about the reason. This was not Henry’s own work; natures do not change in the middle years so suddenly and remarkably. Inevitably it is necessary to accept the fact that Mansel, working unobtrusively behind the scenes, was pulling the strings. The skill he displayed in all the missions with which he was entrusted marks him as of sufficient capacity. It could not have been anyone else. The Queen had always been at the King’s side, and her advice had always been bad. Henry had ceased listening to the Queen’s Men, and his own brothers were a blundering, blustering lot. Richard of Cornwall had his hands full in Germany. Mansel, therefore, it must have been.

It was Mansel, clearly, who kept the King so long in France. He knew that Henry had already recovered from the panic which had caused him to accept the Provisions of Oxford. Henry’s pride had been so trampled on that he had now one purpose in life, to be his own man again and resume the easy methods of personal rule without any dictation. Two courses were open to him. He could return to England and repudiate the Provisions openly. This he preferred, naturally, but he did not need a John Mansel to point out that doing so would lead to civil war. The other course was to whittle at the Provisions, to break them down one clause at a time, and to resume personal rule by such easy stages that the barons would find it hard to take a stand. This was the course Mansel would favor, and it is easy to believe that Henry remained in France in accordance with a careful long-range plan. The whittling process could be started better there.

Only on such grounds could Henry have been restrained from returning. He knew that Simon de Montfort had gone back to England, taking war horses with him and a small squad of mercenary soldiers. What was the man up to? Was he planning to make war? To add to the King’s uneasiness, stories began to seep back of the continued friendship between Simon and Prince Edward. Were they plotting to get rid of him? Henry was so alarmed that he began to write frantic letters to prominent people in England, even to leading citizens of much-despised London, beseeching them to be on their guard and to work in his interests. He ran to Louis of France and Queen Marguerite and told them of conspiracies being hatched against him. But still he did not return.

A persistent hand was needed on the tail of the royal super-tunic to keep the apprehensive King from hurrying back home to protect his interests. That, and a conviction that his interests would best be served by waiting.

The Provisions called for three meetings of Parliament each year at stated times. This was one of the most revolutionary clauses. Parliament had always met when the King summoned it and not before, and had always been properly humble about the whole matter. It was one of the most mortifying of all the restrictions to Henry’s pride. The first step, then, in the whittling process was to establish the fact that, in spite of the positive intent of the Provisions, Parliament could not meet when the King was not there. The time drew near for the first session of the three, which was set for February 2 and would be called the Candlemas Parliament, and still Henry lingered in France. Finally he wrote to the chief justiciar that he could not get back and so the meeting would have to be postponed.

This caused a flurry of angry talk in England. The magnates did not relish the necessity of breaking so soon the rule established in the Provisions. But, after all, could Parliament function without the King? With one exception the magnates finally accepted the necessity of a postponement. The exception was Simon de Montfort.

Simon had been unhappy over the way things were going. The solidarity of the baronial party had been shaken by the inevitable quarrels in the rank and file but even more so by the uncertain course of the Earl of Gloucester. Simon had been watching the merrytotter tactics of his fellow leader with a somber eye. He himself had not veered by as much as an inch from the stand he had taken at the start. He would not remain in the country if compromise measures became necessary. Nothing would suit Simon but strict adherence to the terms of the Great Charter and the methods of administration established in the Provisions. There must be no more squandering of national wealth on foreign favorites, no more bestowing of lands and heiresses on royal relatives from abroad, no further levying of illegal taxes.

Simon became morose in temper and thin in body. There were deep lines of care on his dark face. His temper was short. It was at this stage that Adam Marsh found it necessary to admonish the earl and his princess wife not to allow their tempers to strain the marriage bond. Eleanor seems to have shared her husband’s dark view of the future, and her temper suffered accordingly. But the gentle Franciscan need not have been alarmed. Nothing could seriously shake their deep devotion.

That Simon was prepared to see Parliament meet while the King was absent was most significant of his state of mind. The feudal conceptions which ruled the thinking of the times were losing their hold on him. He had reached the stage of believing that, in some matters at least, the King should be the servant and not the master of the state. This meant inevitably a weakening of the power of his own class, for King and peer fitted into the same pattern. The leader of the baronial party had come a long way in his thinking; but, as events were quickly to prove, he had come alone.

The plans of the King—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the plans of John Mansel—were forced into hasty application by word that Simon and Prince Edward were planning to call a Parliament in London in spite of everything. Instructions were sent across the Channel on March 27 to the justiciar to summon a selected list of one hundred or more barons on April 23 to join the King and to be in readiness for armed action. The list included the Earl of Gloucester but not the Earl of Leicester. Richard of Cornwall, free for the time being of his not heavy responsibilities as King of the Romans, turned up in London. An inner council was set up in the King’s interests, consisting of Richard, Gloucester, the justiciar, and a few top royal officers. They closed the gates of London tight and issued orders that no adherents of Leicester or Prince Edward were to be allowed within. Armed guards stood on all the gates and along the walls to see that these orders were carried out.

Henry himself arrived in London on April 30 with three hundred knights at his back. Most of the barons who had been summoned were already there. The situation was well in hand.

Henry, preferring to remain for personal safety behind the walls of London, made St. Paul’s his headquarters. Edward appeared in a contrite mood and was admitted to the city, but not at first to his father’s presence, the King not being able to bring himself immediately to forgiveness. The prince had been carried away by the ideals of his godfather, but when it came to a definite issue such as this he could not ally himself against his father. The ideals, however, had taken root and later they would sprout and grow and, finally, bear magnificent fruit.

It was several days before Henry would see his son, but he gave in at last and the reconciliation between them was affectionate and complete. Edward, a little ashamed over his sowing of ideological wild oats, organized a party of his bachelor knights and set out on a tour of France to break lances with the champions of Gaul. There was no bad blood at this stage between the prince and Simon de Montfort. Edward knighted one of the earl’s young sons before leaving, and the parting between the two men was on terms of personal amity.

The King now moved vigorously against his brother-in-law. He drew up a list of charges, a lengthy document which revived memories of his all-embracing indictments of Hubert de Burgh. It recited the full history of their financial disagreements. It listed in repetitious and monotonous detail the complaints which had been brought against Simon as seneschal of Gascony and which had been unanimously dismissed by the Council but which Henry now revived as though they had been proven. The other clauses were of the irrelevant kind to which he was much addicted, including a complaint that Simon had not said farewell to him when he left Paris.

It was decided, on the insistence of Louis of France, who seems to have admired Simon as one of the great figures of the day, to have the charges heard before a panel of peers. Simon defended himself with his usual skill, his main point being that he had acted as a sworn counselor of the King and in accordance with the oaths of office he had taken. No conclusions were announced and the King’s charges were shelved.

In the meantime troubles were brewing in Wales. Llewelyn ab Gruffydd, taking advantage of the division in England, led a force into the valley of the Wye and captured the important castle of Builth. It was decided to meet the invaders with a two-pronged drive, and armies were ordered to concentrate at Chester and Shrewsbury. Simon de Montfort’s military abilities were badly needed in this emergency and, in spite of the charges still hanging over him, he was appointed by Henry to command the army at Chester! Intimidated by these preparations, Llewelyn decided to withdraw from the Wye, and a truce for two years was signed before Simon had an opportunity to do any fighting on the King’s behalf.

Henry’s position was well consolidated by this time. He was making his personal headquarters in the Tower of London and he held the line to Dover strongly. The barons of the Cinque Ports had been forced reluctantly into line, and this assured the possibility of bringing in, if needed, reinforcements from France. This careful planning was in great contrast to the haphazard and farcical campaigns Henry had conducted in France and may be accepted as proof that the King’s affairs were now in good hands.

Mansel had not remained, however, to see the working out of the arrangements which undoubtedly he had initiated. He had hurried off to Rome on a delicate mission, to get from Pope Alexander an absolution of the oath Henry had taken to observe the Provisions of Oxford. It took time, apparently, to convince His Holiness, for it was not until April 14, 1261, that the bull of absolution was issued.

Things moved rapidly then, and according to plan. A body of mercenary troops from France under the command of the Count of St. Pol arrived in the country. Henry went to Winchester, accompanied by some of the foreign soldiers. On June 12 he announced the bull of absolution.

“I have resumed royal power,” he declared proudly.


The country was stunned and incensed by the publication of the bull and the implication that Henry did not intend to act any longer in accordance with the Provisions. That he was taking back into his hands the reins of personal rule was clear when he began to supplant officials who had been appointed by the committee of fifteen in the administrative departments by men of his own and to select new sheriffs without tolerating a word of advice. Simon de Montfort, who still held to his policy of no appeasement, was infuriated by the weakness his fellow barons showed at this juncture. They were ready to compromise, to negotiate, to make concessions. Convinced that they could never be held together as an active force, he left the country and settled in France, a disappointed and saddened man.

Henry followed him to the Continent, and the French King made an effort to reconcile the embattled brothers-in-law. Henry made peace impossible, however, by raking up all the old charges against Simon. They seem to have become an obsession with him. At every opportunity he reached a hand into the packet of the past and brought out the now familiar indictments, reciting each old charge with unction and enjoyment. King Louis, who had heard it all before, abandoned the effort to restore the two men to a friendly basis.

Henry and his party were caught in Paris by an epidemic. The King became so ill that it was a long time before he could attempt the journey home, and he was so weak when he landed that he could ride no farther than Canterbury. Here the royal party spentChristmas. An outbreak of hostilities occurred in Wales in the midst of the festivities, and in a despondent frame of mind the King wrote to Edward, who was still breaking lances in France. “This is no time for laziness or boyish wantonness,” he said. “It is a disgrace to you that Llewelyn spurns the truce which he promised to maintain with us.” At the same time he wrote to the justiciar that, in view of the disturbed conditions, no sessions of Parliament would be held.

Edward answered his father’s appeal by returning and taking charge of operations along the Welsh frontier. He found things in a badly disorganized state. The old Marcher barons had been dying off. Richard of Gloucester, who had been the commanding figure in the West because of his immense landholdings in Gloucester and Glamorganshire, had died in July of the previous year. His son, Gilbert the Red, was in his twentieth year and had become an ardent supporter of Simon de Montfort. Other young men who had succeeded to positions of power distrusted the King with, it must be said, the best of reasons. They saw no reason yet to place any faith in Edward.

The result was that the prince found it impossible to accomplish much in spite of the fact that he demonstrated energy and a fine military instinct. The young Marchers held back from him, unwilling to help consolidate the royal power.

Simon de Montfort returned to England around the end of April of the following year, 1263. This time he came in a new role. There could no longer be any doubt of his status and his purpose in coming back. He was the acknowledged leader of the barons, the unchanging champion of the Provisions of Oxford, His purpose was to organize and command the forces of dissent in the armed struggle which had become inevitable.

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