Battle of Lewes
After inheriting his father’s throne at the age of nine years old, Henry III also inherited a bankrupt treasury and the Magna Carta signed by King John just a year before. As a result from the beginning of reign, Henry was forced into collecting unfavourable taxes.
As he was still in his minority, for the first nine years of his rule the country was governed by a group of regents, including William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke and Hubert de Burgh. Following the death of his father, the Baronial opposition that had surfaced during John’s reign vanished, although some remained supportive of Louis of France who remained in control of the South East of England.
In January 1238, Henry faced a scandal when his sister Eleanor, who had vowed a life of chastity following the death of her first husband, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, son of Henry’s former regent, when she was just sixteen, weakened in her vow after meeting a young Frenchman at court. After a claim that Eleanor had been seduced by the man, Henry had them wed in secret to prevent a scandal. Unfortunately for Henry, this clandestine wedding enraged a lot of the Barons, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Henry’s own brother, Richard of Cornwall, who felt that they should have been confronted. The young knight was a proven warrior in the service of the French King. His name was Simon de Montfort.
Richard called his men to arms, Henry ran to the Tower, and de Montfort, now the Earl of Leicester, and his bride exiled themselves to France. Richard was paid off with a bribe, and went away on Crusade. The young couple were forgiven by the King for the scandal they had caused a year later, and de Montfort left following Richard to the Holy Land.
Despite one of the longest reigns in history, 56 years as king of England, Henry’s rule was not without problems, which will be covered in other posts. His main problem was always one of money. After inheriting his father’s empty purse, Henry went on numerous occasions to convene his ministers, in an effort to request increased funds. This in part was a result of Henry’s inability to restrict his spending. Not only was he unpopular, meaning his only method of achieving loyalty was to bribe his opponents, but he had a habit of spending too much on extraordinary whims and projects. He taxed his country heavily yet spent huge amounts sponsoring churches including a lavish re-build of the Collegiate Church of Westminster, now known as Westminster Abbey, from 1245 to honour his favourite Saint, King Edward the Confessor, including an immense dedicated Shrine.
Towards the end of the 1250s, Henry was heavily in debt and Parliament refused to commit any more finances to him, without his agreement to a list of restrictions and demands they had drawn up. His brother Richard, who had been subsidising Henry’s spending had gone away to his coronation in Aachen, leaving Henry financially reliant on Parliament. Despite having resorted to increasingly exploitative methods of gaining revenue, which contravened the terms of the Magna Carta, and caused an ever widening rift with his Barons, Henry was in the end forced to agree to terms drawn up in what came to be known as the Provisions of Oxford in June of 1258. The Terms were negotiated by 12 of Henrys advisors and 12 of the Barons representatives.
Although the original document no longer exists, the terms are recorded in other documents of the time, and include the requirement for parliament to meet three times a year, without the necessity of the King’s agreement. A council of 15 knights and barons was to oversee and approve decisions on behalf of the King, which were to include laws, finances and other judicial and political matters. The offices of the treasury and judiciary were reinstated. Further amendments were later agreed, which removed old laws and replaced them with new.
This demand for reforms had been brought about by Simon de Montfort at the head of a group of Barons who were concerned with the increasing irrationality of the King regarding both foreign and domestic policies.
Despite the Provisions of Oxford, since revised as the Provisions of Westminster, Henry faced issues on three sides. With the Barons demands, Henry realised he was rapidly losing the support of his nobles. His son and Heir Edward was increasingly hostile towards him, and openly plotting with his foreign mercenary friends. And Llewelyn ap Gruffydd was gaining increasing amounts of land and support from Wales and into England.
In 1261, Pope Alexander absolved Henry of his need to adhere to the Provisions. Henry immediately made moves to reconcile with his son, and open negotiations with Llewelyn. He removed the council of overseers, and increased his foreign mercenaries. He appointed his own advisors and refused to allow parliament to convene at St Albans, instead requesting the representatives of the Shires to meet at Windsor. Despite some Barons still remaining loyal to the King, these blatant conflagrations of the Provisions caused some to once again turn against Henry. De Montfort once again tried to broker a peaceful compromise, using Louis IX as arbitrator. Parliament finally managed to meet at Oxford in 1263, where Henry was once again denounced, and accused of failing his Oath, and not abiding by the terms of the Provisions. Henry was forced once again to accede to the Earl and the Barons, under threat of war, but his submission was false. Henry was plotting secretly not only to undermine the Earl but further was in a plot to have him captured and killed.
In January 1264, Henry paid a bribe to Louis in return for his support. The French King dismissed the Provisions, but in a new agreement, the Mise of Amiens, outlined the consent to revert to the pre-1258 terms that had been in effect. This compromise was agreed by both sides, however the Shires were unhappy with this agreement as it caused the loss of the new rights and representation they had enjoyed since the Provisions were implemented. Without them, they faced a reversion back to the heavy taxes and lack of parliamentary support. In the face of a revolt against the King and backed by the Barons, Simon De Montfort, now in allegiance with Llewelyn, marched on London, whilst the King and his heir distracted by early success in Northampton and striving for Nottingham, occupied themselves with consolidating these small victories in the Midlands. After swiftly gaining control of, and fortifying London, de Montfort moved to lay siege to Rochester, which was a Royalist stronghold. Gaining control of Kent was an advantage to the Barons as it cut the King off from the coast and his overseas supporters.
Realising their vantage was in peril, Henry and Edward marched quickly to Tonbridge and then Lewes where Simon de Montfort met with the King and offered terms for a peace agreement. The King refused to deal. The ensuing Battle of Lewes took place on May 14th 1264. Initially the Royalists seemed to be doing well, with their vast army outnumbering that of De Montfort. However Prince Edward and his mercenaries, on horseback, caused many of the rebel Londoners under the Earl to break rank and flee. Edward, being vengeful, instead of allowing their escape order his men to follow him and set up in chase. He spent much of the battle hunting the fleeing men down and butchering them. In his absence, the Earl secured an easy victory, capturing both the King and his son with minimal losses. Henry and Edward were imprisoned, and Simon de Montfort, after issuing them a new agreement, the Mise of Lewes became in effect the King without a crown, De Facto ruler of England.