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 in 1272. 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.
Cardinal Guala declared the war against the rebel barons to be a religious crusade and Henry’s forces, led by William Marshal, defeated the rebels at the battles of Lincoln and Sandwich in 1217. From 1216 to 1217, Prince Louis, the future King Louis VIII of France (1187 – 1226), invaded and claimed the Kingdom of England.
In September 1216, John marched from the Cotswolds, feigned an offensive to relieve the besieged Windsor Castle, and attacked eastwards around London to Cambridge to separate the rebel-held areas of Lincolnshire and East Anglia. From there he travelled north to relieve the rebel siege at Lincoln and back east to Lynn, probably to order further supplies from the continent. In Lynn, John contracted dysentery.
John’s illness eventually grew worse and by the time he reached Newark Castle, Nottinghamshire, he was unable to travel any farther; he died on the night of 18/19 October. Numerous—probably fictitious—accounts circulated soon after his death that he had been killed by poisoned ale, poisoned plums or a “surfeit of peaches”. His body was escorted south by a company of mercenaries and he was buried in Worcester Cathedral in front of the altar of St Wulfstan. A new sarcophagus with an effigy was made for him in 1232, in which his remains now rest.
In his will, John ordered that his niece Eleanor, who might have had a claim to the throne of his successor, Henry III, never be released from prison
Henry was staying safely at Corfe Castle in Dorset with his mother when King John died. On his deathbed, John appointed a council of thirteen executors to help Henry reclaim the kingdom, and requested that his son be placed into the guardianship of William Marshal, one of the most famous knights in England.
The loyalist leaders decided to crown Henry immediately to reinforce his claim to the throne. William knighted the boy, and Cardinal Guala Bicchieri, the papal legate to England, then oversaw his coronation at Gloucester Cathedral on October 28, 1216. The royal crown had been either lost or sold during the civil war or possibly lost in The Wash, so instead the ceremony used a simple gold corolla belonging to Queen Isabella. Henry later underwent a second coronation at Westminster Abbey on May 17, 1220.
The young King inherited a difficult situation, with over half of England occupied by the rebels and most of his father’s continental possessions still in French hands. He had substantial support from Cardinal Guala who intended to win the civil war for Henry and punish the rebels. Guala set about strengthening the ties between England and the Papacy, starting with the coronation itself, where Henry gave homage to the Papacy, recognising Pope Honorius III as his feudal lord.
Pope Honorius declared that Henry was his vassal and ward, and that the legate had complete authority to protect Henry and his kingdom. As an additional measure, Henry took the cross, declaring himself a crusader and so entitled to special protection from Rome.
Prince Louis negotiated terms with Cardinal Guala, under which he would renounce his claim to the English throne; in return, his followers would be given back their lands, any sentences of excommunication would be lifted and Henry’s government would promise to enforce the Magna Carta.
The proposed agreement soon began to unravel amid claims from some loyalists that it was too generous towards the rebels, particularly the clergy who had joined the rebellion. In the absence of a settlement, Louis remained in London with his remaining forces.
On August 24, 1217, a French fleet arrived off the coast of Sandwich, bringing Louis soldiers, siege engines and fresh supplies. Hubert de Burgh, Henry’s justiciar, set sail to intercept it, resulting in the Battle of Sandwich. De Burgh’s fleet scattered the French and captured their flagship, commanded by Eustace the Monk, who was promptly executed. When the news reached Louis, he entered into fresh peace negotiations.
Henry, Isabella, Louis, Guala and William came to agreement on the final Treaty of Lambeth, also known as the Treaty of Kingston, on 12 and 13 September. The treaty was similar to the first peace offer, but excluded the rebel clergy, whose lands and appointments remained forfeit. Louis accepted a gift of £6,666 to speed his departure from England, and promised to try to persuade King Philippe II to return Henry’s lands in France. Louis left England as agreed and joined the Albigensian Crusade in the south of France.
Henry assumed formal control of his government in January 1227, although some contemporaries argued that he was legally still a minor until his 21st birthday the following year. The King richly rewarded Hubert de Burgh for his service during his minority years, making him the Earl of Kent and giving him extensive lands across England and Wales. Despite coming of age, Henry III remained heavily influenced by his advisers for the first few years of his rule and retained Hubert as his justiciar to run the government, granting him the position for life.