Henry III (England)

Henry III (king of England)

Henry III, 1207–72, king of England (1216–72), son and successor of King John.


Early Years

Henry became king under a regency; William Marshal, 1st earl of Pembroke, and later Pandulf acted as chief of government, while Peter des Roches was the king's guardian. At the time of Henry's accession, England was torn by civil war and partially occupied by the French prince Louis (later King Louis VIII). In 1217, however, the French were defeated and withdrew. Some of the English barons, Louis's former allies, continued to cause trouble; but Hubert de Burgh, chief justiciar and the greatest power in the government after 1221, gradually restored order.

Between the Barons and the Church

In 1227, Henry was granted full powers of kingship, and in 1230, with typical willfulness and against the advice of the justiciar, he led an unsuccessful expedition to Gascony and Brittany. In 1232 the king dismissed Hubert de Burgh, and for the next two years the government was controlled by Peter des Roches and his nephew (or son), Peter des Rivaux. This administration, which consisted of trained civil servants (many of them Poitevin), was hated by the barons, and a baronial revolt (1233–34) forced Henry to dismiss it.

Henry then assumed direct control of the government, but despite frequent protests from the barons and from his brother, Richard, earl of Cornwall, the king continued to surround himself with French favorites, including relatives of Eleanor of Provence (whom he married in 1236) and his own Poitevin half-brothers. The latter involved him in a disastrous campaign (1242) to expel Louis IX of France from Poitou.

In 1238, Henry had weathered a storm of baronial protest caused by the secret marriage of his sister, Eleanor, to Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. The king subsequently (1248) sent Montfort to restore English authority in Gascony, but he totally alienated his former friend when he recalled him (1252) to answer charges of unjust administration.

In 1254, Henry accepted the papal offer of the kingdom of Sicily for his younger son, Edmund, earl of Lancaster (see Lancaster, house of), agreeing in return to finance the conquest of the kingdom from the Hohenstaufen dynasty. However, the English barons, disturbed by the king's subservience to the papacy (which had already resulted in large papal exactions and an influx of foreign clergy into England) and angry that they had not been consulted, refused the necessary funds. Threatened by the pope with excommunication, Henry was forced to come to terms with the baronial opposition, now led by Simon de Montfort. The king accepted its plan for conciliar government set forth in the Provisions of Oxford (1258), supplemented by the Provisions of Westminster (1259).

Divisions in the baronial party enabled Henry to repudiate (1261) the provisions, with papal sanction, and in 1263 war broke out (see Barons' War). An attempt to have Louis IX of France arbitrate the dispute led to the Mise of Amiens (1264), a declaration completely in the king's favor, and the war was renewed. Montfort won (1264) the battle of Lewes and summoned (1265) his famous representative Parliament. However, the heir to the throne, Prince Edward (later Edward I), led the royal troops to decisive victory at Evesham (1265), where Simon de Montfort was killed, and by 1267 the barons had capitulated. From 1267 on, Prince Edward actually ruled the realm, and Henry was king in name only.


Henry III has suffered at the hands of many historians, in part, because of the hostility of contemporary chroniclers. His long reign, however, showed progress in several respects. Learning flourished, particularly at Oxford, where Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon inspired others by their intense pursuit of knowledge and their championing of the natural sciences. Many magnificent buildings were erected, including Salisbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Commerce and industry thrived, even though interrupted by warfare.


See F. M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward (1947, repr. 1966) and The Thirteenth Century (2d ed. 1962).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Henry III (England): Selected full-text books and articles

From Alfred to Henry III, 871-1272 By Christopher Brooke Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1961
The Thirteenth Century, 1216-1307 By Maurice Powicke Clarendon Press, 1953
The Cloister and the World: Essays in Medieval History in Honour of Barbara Harvey By Barbara F Harvey; John Blair; Brian Golding Clarendon Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. 9 "King Henry III and the Cosmati Work at Westminster Abbey"
FREE! The King's Council in England during the Middle Ages By James Fosdick Baldwin The Clarendon Press, 1913
Librarian's tip: Chap. II "The Council under Henry III"
An Introduction to the Administrative History of Mediaeval England By S. B. Chrimes Blackwell, 1952
Librarian's tip: Chap. IV "Continuity and Change in The Administrative System: The Beginnings of Political Repercussions, 1232-1307"
The Oxford Companion to British History By John Cannon Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: "Henry III" begins on p. 465
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.