Henry III of England

During the long reign of Henry III, writes J.J.N. McGurk, England was a turbulent country with an ambitious, bold and able baronage.

It is seven centuries since the death of King Henry III of England on November 16th, 1272. Over the centuries historians have been none too kind to the King’s character and reputation as an English monarch. Criticism began, perhaps, with Matthew Paris, the thirteenth-century St Albans’ chronicler. Henry was a frequent visitor to St Albans and was often in Matthew’s company so that it is difficult to disbelieve him when he tells us that Henry inherited the terrible Angevin temper.

In the next century, Dante placed Henry III in the limbo of unbaptized infants and simpletons and there, to a large extent, his reputation remained until our own age. To the great historian Stubbs, the King’s character was hardly worth the trouble of an analysis; to Tout Henry was a weak figure and, according to Professor Powicke, the King was an ‘amateur in the things of this life... an amateur statesman (and more surprisingly) an amateur Christian’.

Many other commentaries on the King and his reign have echoed these sentiments, considering Henry III ineffectual, effete and extravagant in his personal habits and over-ambitious in his building programme. Even the great glory of his reign — the re-building of Westminster Abbey — has been regarded as a compensating act for his failure as a monarch.

Henry III’s reputation may have suffered at the hands of historians from the fact that he reigned for so long during the greatest of the medieval centuries - a time of great men in England such as the Earl Marshal of Pembroke, the justiciar Hubert de Burgh, the King’s own brother, Richard the Earl of Cornwall, and his turbulent brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort. It was the age of Franciscan scholarship in Oxford, represented by Bacon and Grosseteste, the age of Bracton in law and the era of the Gothic cathedral.

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