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Henry III (October 1, 1207 – November 16, 1272), also known as Henry of Winchester, was King of England, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Aquitaine from 1216 until his death.The son of King John and Isabella of Angoulême, Henry assumed the throne when he was only nine in the middle of the First Barons’ War.


Henry investigated a range of potential marriage partners in his youth, but they all proved unsuitable for reasons of European and domestic politics.

Eleanor of Provence (c. 1223 – June 24/25, 1291) was the daughter of Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Provence, and Beatrice of Savoy. the daughter of Thomas I of Savoy and Margaret of Geneva. Eleanor was well educated as a child, and developed a strong love of reading. Her three sisters also married kings.

The youngest sister, Beatrice of Provence was ruling Countess of Provence and Forcalquier from 1245 until her death, as well as Countess of Anjou and Maine, Queen of Sicily and Naples by marriage to Charles I of Naples. Eleanor’s elder sister Margaret married Louis IX of France, their uncle William corresponded with Henry III of England to persuade him to marry Eleanor. Henry sought a dowry of up to twenty thousand silver marks to help offset the dowry he had just paid for his sister Isabella of England who married, Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II, but Eleanor’s father was able to negotiate this down to no dowry, just a promise to leave her ten thousand when he died. Eleanor was well-mannered, cultured and articulate, but the primary reason for the marriage was political, as Henry stood to create a valuable set of alliances with the rulers of the south and south-east of France.

The marriage contract was confirmed on June 22, 1235. Like her mother, grandmother, and sisters, Eleanor was renowned for her beauty. She was a dark-haired brunette with fine eyes. Piers Langtoft speaks of her as “The erle’s daughter, the fairest may of life”. Matthew Paris describes her as being “jamque duodennem” (already twelve) when she arrived in the Kingdom of England to meet Henry III for the first time for their marriage.

There was a substantial age gap between the couple – Henry was 28, Eleanor only 12 – but historian Margaret Howell observes that the King “was generous and warm-hearted and prepared to lavish care and affection on his wife”. The pair were married at Canterbury Cathedral on January 14, 1236, and Eleanor was crowned queen at Westminster shortly afterwards in a lavish ceremony planned by Henry. Henry gave Eleanor extensive gifts and paid personal attention to establishing and equipping her household. He also brought her fully into his religious life, including involving her in his devotion to Edward the Confessor.

After Eleanor’s marriage, many of her Savoyard relatives joined her in England. At least 170 Savoyards arrived in England after 1236, coming from Savoy, Burgundy and Flanders, including Eleanor’s uncles, the later Archbishop Boniface of Canterbury and William of Savoy, Henry’s chief adviser for a short period.

Henry arranged marriages for many of them into the English nobility, a practice that initially caused friction with the English barons, who resisted landed estates passing into the hands of foreigners. Savoyards were careful not to exacerbate the situation and became increasingly integrated into English baronial society, forming an important power base for Eleanor in England.

Over the coming years, Eleanor emerged as a hard-headed, firm politician. Historians Margaret Howell and David Carpenter describe her as being “more combative” and “far tougher and more determined” than her husband.

It was Eleanor of Provence who arranged a marriage between her sister Sanchia and her brother-in-law Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall, whose first wife Isabel Marshal had died recently. At the time, Sanchia was engaged to Raymond VII of Toulouse, but the weak part he played in the recent fighting was a good enough excuse for breaking the bond. Richard was elected in 1256 as King of Germany by a majority of the seven electoral princes, with the title of King of the Romans, a preparatory step in being named Holy Roman Emperor by the pope.

Despite initial concerns that the Queen might be barren, Henry and Eleanor had five children together. In 1239, at age 16, Eleanor gave birth to their first child, Edward, (future King of England) named after the Confessor. Henry was overjoyed and held huge celebrations, giving lavishly to the Church and to the poor to encourage God to protect his young son.

Their first daughter, Margaret, named after Eleanor’s sister, followed in 1240, her birth also accompanied by celebrations and donations to the poor. The third child, Beatrice, was named after Eleanor’s mother, and born in 1242 during a campaign in Poitou. Their fourth child, Edmund, arrived in 1245 and was named after the 9th-century saint. Concerned about Eleanor’s health, Henry donated large amounts of money to the Church throughout the pregnancy.

A third daughter, Katherine, was born in 1253 but soon fell ill, possibly the result of a degenerative disorder such as Rett syndrome, and was unable to speak. She died in 1257 and Henry was distraught. His children spent most of their childhood at Windsor Castle and he appears to have been extremely attached to them, rarely spending extended periods of time apart from his family.