Chapter 7

Plantagenet Power Struggles

In This Chapter

● Recovering from civil war

● Ruling a huge European empire

● Taking steps to limit royal power

● Developing the system of common law

In 1154, King Stephen died with England still scarred by a lengthy civil war.

The country needed a period of stronger, more decisive rule to recover from the war, and strong rule was exactly what the kings of the Plantagenet dynasty aimed for. Henry II, the first of these rulers, displayed his strength by successfully asserting his own power and developing a better legal system.

But ruling England became more and more complicated during the 12th and 13th centuries, because the country was part of a much larger empire that also included an enormous chunk of France. More than ever, kings were on the move across their domains, defending their borders. And more than ever, these borders were under threat. There were enemies within, too - nobles who resented having to fight or pay excessive taxes to the king and wanted to limit royal power. The period saw a number of attempts to put legal brakes on the king. The most famous, the document called Magna Carta, is still quoted today.

Succession Sorted: Henry II

After decades of civil war and the unsteady rule of King Stephen, the country needed firmer control and more just rule. Under the new king, Henry II, England got these qualities in spades. Henry was one of the most outstanding and able monarchs ever to rule in Britain.

From the start, Henry had luck on his side. Henry was born not with a silver spoon in his mouth, but with an umpteen-carat, extra-heavy, solid gold spoon. He had been named and accepted as king of England; through his mother, the empress Matilda, he had a legal claim to Normandy; through his father, Geoffrey of Anjou, he inherited a further large chunk of France, notably Anjou (the area around Angers) and Touraine (the bit around Tours).

What was more, Henry was intelligent and able. Unlike many previous kings, he was well educated, and not only could read and write, but actually enjoyed reading. He had a voracious appetite for learning, picking up new developments in law and philosophy, and keeping his mind alert enough to stay one step ahead of most of his rivals.

But Henry wasn’t a mere intellectual. He was a man of action, famous for travelling restlessly around his domains to see what things were like first hand. People said his strong but bowed legs were the result of spending hours on end in the saddle, and this observation was probably true.

Unlike some of his Norman predecessors, Henry wasn’t interested in fine clothes or showy possessions; he just wanted to get things done. And when things didn’t get done the way he wanted them, he had a fearsome temper. According to one story, when things got really tough he would fall to the ground and bite the rushes that covered the floor in a rage. Fiery? Volcanic!

Marrying well: Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine

Even before he became king of England, Henry held huge power as Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou and Touraine. But in 1152, Henry increased his territory still further, by marrying the most powerful woman in Europe, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor had inherited a vast chunk of France, stretching from Poitou in the middle of the country down to Gascony in the south.

Eleanor was just as strong a character as her husband - a powerful ruler, a great patron of literature, and a woman of passion who would bear her husband eight children. Her temper was as hot as Henry’s, and the couple argued a lot. But in political terms, Henry could not have done better. Even before he came to the English throne, Henry had more French land than the king of France himself.

Enter the Plantagenets

The royal dynasty that Henry built on these foundations is sometimes called the Angevin Dynasty, because of Henry’s inheritance in Anjou. It’s a useful label, because it reminds everyone that the family had vital connections in France and that, in Henry’s time at least, England was part of a major empire. But Henry’s sons could not hold on to these large possessions, and the Angevin label later fell out of use.

So another family name, Plantagenet, was coined. This mouthful was a name that was adopted in the 15th century and has been widely used for the family ever since. It comes from the Latin name for the flowering broom plant, Planta genista, and refers to the broom badge that Geoffrey of Anjou used to wear. Apparently, Geoffrey first wore the broom after his hat fell off when he was hunting - when he scooped it up, some of the flowers were stuck to it. So Plantagenet is a rather accidental name, but it will do.

Demolition job

The first Plantagenet, Henry was 21 years old when he came to the throne in 1154 - old enough to see that his kingdom needed sorting out after the civil war and young enough to get on quickly and do something about it. He began with a dramatic action to show who was boss. In the Middle Ages, you had to ask the king if you wanted to build a castle, but during the war, more than a thousand illegal castles had sprung up across the country. These so-called adulterine castles were a big threat to royal power, so Henry embarked on a massive demolition job, pulling down all the illegal castles. While he was at it, the king also sent packing the various bands of mercenaries that Stephen had employed in the war (see Chapter 6). No way was he going to let his barons hire them and launch an attack on his power.

Border business

Then Henry turned to England’s borders with Wales and Scotland. If his kingdom was to be secure, Henry had to make sure that the Welsh would not invade while his back was turned when he was looking after his possessions in France. Henry strengthened the Welsh frontier by bringing English lords back to the border regions. He soon had many of the Welsh lords indicating that they would stay friendly by paying homage to him. Even the bishops in Wales agreed that they would come under the control of the archbishop of Canterbury. Henry also received homage from King Malcolm IV of Scotland.

Turbulent times

In 1162, Henry’s troubled relationship with the church came to a head. Henry’s able chancellor was a churchman called Thomas Becket. Thomas was one of those intelligent, worldly clergymen who often did well in government service during the Middle Ages. He looked every inch the part, and people said Thomas was more ostentatious that the king. According to one story, the pair were together one day when they met a beggar who stood shivering without a coat. The king got Thomas to admit that the poor man needed some warm clothes, but couldn’t persuade Thomas to give up his own fine fur-lined cloak. Finally, the king pulled the cloak from Thomas’s back and threw it to the thankful beggar.

Thomas had already helped the king gain extra power over the church by insisting that royal taxes were payable on church lands. Henry, who wanted to extend his power over the church still further, decided to appoint Thomas as archbishop of Canterbury. With ‘his’ man in the top church job, Henry thought, he’d have the church under his thumb.

Thomas saw it differently, though. Thomas warned Henry that if he took the post of archbishop, his first responsibility would be to God; Henry would have to come second. But Henry ignored the warnings, and Thomas became archbishop.

In the 12th century, the church had its own law courts, and churchmen who committed crimes were tried there. Many lay people resented these courts because they thought the church looked after its own and did not punish wrongdoers properly. What was more, the church courts also tried cases involving people with some slight connection to the church. All kinds of criminals could claim a church connection and escape proper punishment. This setup was a sore point with Henry II, and with anyone who wanted to see the legal system on a level playing field.

The trouble between the king and the archbishop started with these church trials. Henry wanted to reform church law so that clergy who committed crimes were tried not only in church courts, but also in the royal courts. Thomas dug in his heels: It was wrong for a criminal to be tried twice, and the church should be allowed to punish its own as it saw fit. And Henry was soon adding other restrictions on church power to his wish list. Here are some examples of his demands:

Convicted churchmen should be tried in royal courts.

● Priests must have the king’s permission to travel outside England.

● Church land disputes and debt cases were to be settled in royal courts.

● Appeals to the Pope could only be made with Henry’s permission.

Although the English bishops eventually agreed to these demands, Becket refused, and the more Henry tried to bully him into submission, the deeper he dug in his heels. Eventually, Thomas left for Rome in disgust and stayed out of the country for six years. When he returned, relations between king and archbishop got even worse when Thomas excommunicated everyone involved in an important royal ceremony, the crowning of Henry’s eldest son, another Henry, as king to be.


Excommunication was the most serious punishment the medieval church could inflict on someone. It was a total ban from church. This ban doesn't sound too bad to modern ears, but it had huge implications for a devout medieval Christian. It meant that you could not go to

Mass, and you were banned from confession, which meant that you would die 'unshriven' and without the last rites. As a result, you'd probably go to hell. Excommunication was about as serious as things could get.

It was all too much for Henry. On Christmas Day 1170, the king was trying to enjoy a seasonal feast in Normandy. Then someone announced that the Pope had come out on Thomas’s side as well. In one of his famous temper tantrums, Henry let fly at the barons around him. He is supposed to have shouted, ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’

His actual words may have been a bit more long winded, but a group of barons took the king at his word. Before the goose was cleared away from the table, four barons set off on a journey to England with one thing on their minds: punishing the man who they saw as a traitor. On 29 December 1170, the fateful four followed Thomas into his cathedral, accused him of treachery, and stabbed him to death in front of the high altar as he was about to hear Mass.

When Henry heard the news, he was overcome with grief. He hadn’t meant his words literally. And he certainly hadn’t wanted the murder of a defenceless churchman, in cold blood, at the high altar of a church. The king reacted immediately by putting on sackcloth and ashes and fasting for three days. Henry wanted to show that he was repentant.

A legal mind

Henry’s education gave him the edge over other rulers when it came to understanding the law. Although he wasn’t a lawyer himself, Henry understood how the law worked, and, just as importantly, had clear ideas about how it ought to work. Henry’s new ideas about the law were really influential. Some historians see him as the father of English law.

Most importantly, it was established in Henry’s reign that there was one common law, which was effective throughout England and which was more important than all the minor local laws that had developed in different parts of the country. Henry made a number of other, more detailed reforms:

● The system of travelling justices was improved, with six defined circuits on which they travelled.

● He required regular court sittings in every county.

● The Court of Common Pleas dealt with civil matters nationwide.

● The Court of the King’s Bench heard criminal cases.

● The principle of trial by jury was reasserted.

● Reliance on old-fashioned forms of justice, such as trial by battle, where opponents fought it out to determine who was in the right, was reduced.

● The role of the coroner, or investigator of suspicious deaths, was established.

Fortunately for historians, details of Henry’s legal reforms were written down in a book called De legibus et consuetudinibus regni Angliae - in other words, On the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England. Not exactly a snappy title, so the book is usually known, after its author, as Glanvill. It shows that under Henry England had a fairer and better organised legal system than at any time since the Norman conquest.

Family fortunes

Henry was a hugely powerful and important king, who achieved a lot for his country during his 35-year reign. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. By the early 1170s, Henry and Eleanor were estranged. These two strong characters had gone their separate ways, with Eleanor left in Aquitaine, more or less ruling it in her own right, while Henry ran the rest of his empire and took solace with his mistress, a woman from the Welsh borders called Rosamund Clifford, who has gone down in history as Fair Rosamund.

However, in 1173, a dispute broke out between Henry and his sons about who should inherit which parts of Henry’s empire. Before Henry knew it, war broke out, and he found himself fighting his sons and his wife for control of his empire.

By the end of 1174, Henry had won. He had captured Eleanor and threw her in prison, while he agreed to peace terms with his sons. To be on the safe side, Henry kept Eleanor locked up, and the proud Aquitainian queen spent 15 years in confinement. But if the most powerful threat was out of the way, Henry’s trouble didn’t end. In 1183, his eldest son, Henry, known as the Young King because he had already been crowned in anticipation of inheriting the English throne, died. Then just three years later, the king’s son Geoffrey also died, trampled to death in a tournament.

Henry II was left with two sons, Richard, who had spent much of his life with his mother in Aquitaine, and John, a younger son who had not originally expected to inherit a major title but was now second to Richard in line to the throne. Having fewer sons meant more trouble for Henry because he now had to replan the succession. Richard expected to inherit Aquitaine, a land that he loved, and refused to give up, so Henry hoped to hand England and his other French lands to John. The king refused to name Richard as heir to the English crown, which alienated Richard, who joined with the French king Philip Augustus and started a war against his father.

By now, Henry was sick of a fever, and Richard and Philip pushed him into signing a treaty that made Richard his heir and forced John into second place. A few days later, Henry died, a sad and disappointed man. He felt defeated, and his last words were said to have been, ‘Shame, shame on a conquered king’.

Henry’s reign had a sorry end, but he had achieved a great deal. He passed on to his son an empire that was the biggest in Europe. His legal reforms meant that society was fairer than when he became king. He had protected his interests in Britain with shrewd diplomacy. England was in better shape than during the war-torn reign of Stephen. But would it last?

Missing Monarch: Richard I

When Richard came to the English throne in 1189, he had spent much of his life in his mother’s homeland of Aquitaine, in far southwestern France. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was a fiercely independent woman who had brought her son up to be independent, too. And he had to be. After Eleanor was involved in a rebellion against her husband, Henry II, she was imprisoned. Richard was left to run Aquitaine on his own from 1174 until Henry’s death in 1189.

Richard was tall - at about 6 foot 4 inches, he towered above the people around him. He cut a fine figure on the battlefield and was brave too, earning his nickname Lionheart. Richard also had a more cultivated side. Because his real home was Aquitaine, he loved the culture of southern Europe, especially the songs of the troubadours, and he even wrote some song lyrics himself.

The absentee king

Richard had longed to take over his father’s kingdom, but at his coronation in 1189, his reign got off to a decidedly shaky start. To begin with, all went well, with lots of guests bringing lavish gifts for the new king. But when a group of Jews arrived to give their presents, part of the crowd went berserk with antiSemitism and viciously attacked the visitors.

Before the coronation, Richard was already embroiled in the affairs of the Middle East. He had promised to go on a crusade, and when the old king died, he was raising money to take an army to the eastern Mediterranean to defend the tiny Christian territory in the Holy Land. By selling charters to towns, and by accepting cash for jobs in both the state and the church, Richard soon had enough money, and before the end of the year, he was off on his expedition to the Holy Land.

In the East, Richard the Lionheart showed himself worthy of his famous nickname. He won an important victory over the famed Muslim leader Saladin, captured the city of Acre for the Christians, and showed himself to be both a brave fighter and an intelligent military tactician. He stopped short of trying to take the city of Jerusalem, the goal of many Crusaders. Instead, Richard negotiated a deal with Saladin that allowed Christian pilgrims to visit the city safely.

In 1192, Richard began his return journey to England, conscious that his duty now lay with his new kingdom. But Richard, who had dodged danger in battle in the Holy Land, now fell foul of fate. He was captured by an enemy, Duke Leopold of Austria, who sold him to a more powerful enemy, the German emperor Henry VI. Henry put an enormous price on the king’s head: 100,000 marks would secure his release. But if the English refused to pay up, Richard would be handed over to his arch-enemy, Philip of France, who was itching to break up Richard’s empire and get his hands on the former Crusader’s French territory.

Back in England, Queen Eleanor started fundraising to free her son. The church’s arm was twisted, and sacred vessels were melted down for the precious metals. A year’s wool production from the northern Cistercian abbeys - virtually all of Yorkshire’s fleeces - was donated. Even so, all this booty wasn’t enough to pay the whole of the emperor’s enormous ransom demand. But Henry decided to let Richard go anyway, on the condition that the English king paid homage to the emperor. The power Henry exerted over Richard by holding and then releasing him was a signal that the English king was below the emperor in the European pecking order and, in theory, gave Henry the excuse to grab control of the country if Richard ever stepped out of line. In practice, however, Henry’s power over Richard didn’t mean a lot once he’d been released, except that Richard returned home to England, and disaster, for the moment, was averted.

Richard couldn’t relax, though. When he was in England, Philip Augustus threatened his French lands. No sooner had Richard got home when he set out again for France to protect his domains there. He spent his last five years in France and never saw England again.

Hero or villain?

Richard cut a fine figure, dashing around the world fighting battles. He was brave on the battlefield, and his soldierly qualities made him both feared by his enemies and admired by his friends. In the Middle Ages, people expected kings to spend a lot of time on the battlefield defending their kingdoms or carving out new ones. And Europeans also saw crusading - which people today see as European land-grabbing in the East - as a noble occupation.

But there was a problem. All this fighting meant that Richard hardly spent any time at all in England. Did this make him a bad king?

Well, Richard had good staff - some of them inherited from his efficient father, Henry II - so the country was not badly governed. It wasn’t so much Richard’s absenteeism that was the problem as his war-mongering. War has always cost a lot of money, and Richard fought on a grand scale. He employed more and more mercenaries, built big castles, and shelled out loads of cash to various nobles in Germany and the Netherlands to bribe them to stay on England’s side against France. And his English nobles got royally fed up when Richard tried to make them provide fighting men for longer than previous monarchs had done.

The Crusades

The Crusades were a series of wars fought from 1095 to 1291 between Christian and Muslim forces for control of the sites in the eastern Mediterranean that were, and are, sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. They began as an attempt by Westerners to protect the rights of Christian pilgrims in the East, but soon deteriorated into a sorry catalogue of attempted Western conquests of the Holy Land. Although most people now look on the European involvement in the Crusades as wrong, it is important to understand that many of the actual Crusaders saw the enterprise as a worthy attempt to protect pious Christian pilgrims.

The truth was that Richard, who had been brought up in Aquitaine, in the south of France, cared more about France than England. Fittingly enough, he died fighting in the middle of his beloved Aquitaine. When besieging the castle at Chalus in 1199, one of the defenders fired a crossbow at the king. The bolt hit Richard in the chest. The surgeon who was sent to tend the king made a mess of trying to remove the missile, and Richard, in a typical fit of impatience, tried to pull the thing out himself. Between the two of them, Richard and the incompetent surgeon infected the wound, and the king died of the infection.

Missing Land, Missing Treasure: John

Henry II’s youngest surviving son, John, came to the throne in 1199, after his brother Richard I named him as his successor. He had always hoped to be king, but with a hale and hearty Richard on the throne, he didn’t expect to inherit the crown. His nickname, Lackland, rubbed salt into the wound. Richard had no sons to inherit his titles, but even when he died, many expected the late king’s nephew, Arthur, to become king (see the next section). Arthur had a good claim to the throne as son of Richard’s brother, Geoffrey, but when Richard named his heir, Arthur was only 10 years old and probably thought too young to succeed. Richard named John his heir in 1197, but before then, John had thought he was more likely to get the crown by deposing his brother and had spent years of his early life plotting against Richard.

In fact, John was a habitual schemer - for example, he was always on the lookout to find ways of squeezing more taxes out of his barons and the church. Adding to this downfall was the fact that he had no glamour. He was not a brave soldier like his brother, but was seen as a bookish character, educated by churchmen, with little charisma.

In a way, the education helped John. He got to grips with the administrative side of government better than Richard ever did and regularly presided over court sittings dispensing justice. But the biggest disaster of John’s reign had nothing to do with justice.

Royal murderer?

The greatest disaster of John’s career began with a royal marriage scandal. John was fed up with his wife, Isabella of Gloucester, who had failed to bear him any children. He wanted to chuck her and marry a well-connected French princess, another Isabella, Isabella of Angouleme. But this second Isabella was already betrothed to a French baron, Hugh de Lusignan. When John grabbed his young fiancee from under his nose, Hugh went to the French ruler Philip Augustus, who still had his greedy eye on the English king’s lands in France. Philip saw this request as an opportunity to help himself to a large chunk of France. The wily Frenchman supported Arthur’s claim to rule in central France, while preparing to move his army to Normandy with the hope of taking over there himself.

John suddenly found himself with two enemies in France and decided to attack the weaker, younger Arthur. John defeated Arthur, clapped him in prison, and, after a while, Arthur’s death was announced.

The rumour spread quickly that the young prince had been murdered. And there were stories that John himself had done the deed, visiting Arthur’s cell late at night, and flying into a fearful temper. Whatever the truth, John was responsible for Arthur, and the young man had been killed. The year of 1204 was a black one for the monarchy.

Meanwhile, Philip Augustus had pushed John out of Normandy and made it virtually impossible for him to hang on to his territory further south. The dispute between John and Philip rumbled on for most of the rest of the reign, but in 1214, England and France fought the decisive battle of Bouvines. Philip was the winner, and John lost all his French lands north of the River Loire. The king’s old nickname Lackland had come back to haunt him.

King versus barons

Things weren’t much better at home. Like his brother before him, John was overtaxing his barons. He had also tried to interfere in the business of the church. In 1215, he faced a baronial revolt, but it was a revolt with a difference. Usually revolts involved a rival claimant to the throne, but with Arthur dead, no obvious candidate existed. Instead of promoting a rival to the king, the nobles produced one of the most famous documents in English history: Magna Carta.

The idea behind Magna Carta (the name means Great Charter) was to restrict the king’s power and to protect others, especially the barons and the church, from misuses of royal power. It was a long document with 63 clauses covering many different aspects of royal responsibility. Key provisions included:

● No free man would be punished or imprisoned without prior judgement according to the law of the land.

● Free men should have the right to judgement by their peers.

● Justice would not be denied, delayed, or sold.

● Certain taxes should be levied only with the common consent of the country.

● The freedom of the church was to be upheld.

● A committee of 25 barons should monitor the king’s actions and bring him to book if he broke any of the provisions of the charter.

In addition, Magna Carta contained many clauses designed to protect specific rights of the barons. But the document was addressed to all free men and their heirs, ‘for ever’, and so took on the character of a great declaration of human liberty. As a result, Magna Carta has been quoted, and cited, and misquoted, ever since in discussions about human rights.

In June 1215, the barons met John at Runnymede, on the south bank of the Thames near Windsor, and twisted his arm. The rebels had swept through the country and taken over London, and John had little choice but to accept their demands. John put his seal to the document.

But anyone who knew John knew that he would not keep the promises contained in Magna Carta. As soon as he could, the cunning king appealed to the Pope, pleading that the head of the church should declare the charter illegal, and promising to go on Crusade as an extra inducement. The Pope complied, and soon John was on the rampage against his rebellious barons, heading swiftly north to one of the baronial strongholds, Lincoln.

During this campaign, John suffered his final humiliation. His march across eastern England took him along the damp coast around the Wash. When the tide came in suddenly and unexpectedly, all the royal treasure disappeared under the water. John’s losses included the crown jewels, priceless gems that were also symbols of his royal authority.

In October 1216, the king ate a hearty supper, rounding it off with peaches and cider. The rich meal contained a dangerous bug, and John quickly caught a violent gastric upset and died. His son and heir, Henry, was just nine years old. In the end, the barons got their way. The senior noblemen of England would rule on the young Henry’s behalf until he came of age.

Lord of Misrule: Henry III

When Henry III came to the throne in 1216, the country was in a mess. His father John had overspent fighting the barons and losing land in France, so funds were at rock bottom. Huge tensions existed between the barons and the royal family, again made worse by John. And Henry was only a boy, so incapable of ruling for himself.

Henry’s youth turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Senior royal officials were selected as his guardians, and they ruled competently on his behalf. Foremost of these officials was William Marhsall, a man who had worked for all the previous Plantagenet kings and who commanded huge respect.

William retired in 1219, and when he did so, a trio of regents was appointed.

Part of the deal for the regents was that they ruled with the consent of a larger group of barons known as the Great Council. If they wanted to levy taxes, the regents had to get the approval of the Council, who thereby acted as a sort of brake on the power of the regents. The Council were keen on this role and also insisted on reissuing Magna Carta, the document that had curtailed the power of King John, to remind everyone that kings, and those who rule on their behalf, are not above the law. The barons were flexing their muscles and doing everything they could to limit royal power.

The art of making enemies

Henry himself did not take kindly to the restraints put on royal power by the barons, especially as the barons held on to power long after he was old enough to rule. They’d lost a lot of their trust in royalty after the rough way King John had treated them. Henry wanted to rule in his own right, even if his rule was restricted by the law. In 1232, when he was in his mid-twenties, the young king finally lost patience, threw out the regents, and started to govern. To begin with, things went well. Henry respected Magna Carta and ruled in relative peace until 1258.

Then the problems began. In 1236, Henry had married Eleanor of Provence, a princess with a lot of powerful relations in Europe. Henry hoped that these people would help him gain more power in France, so he started to shower expensive gifts on them and give them important positions at court. A number of other foreigners, including Henry’s half-brothers, the children of his mother Isabella and her second husband Hugh of Lusignan, also got powerful jobs in England. At the same time, Henry began an expensive scheme to conquer Sicily.

Simon de Montfort

Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, was one of Henry Ill's key servants. He married the king's youngest sister, Eleanor, and was appointed Henry's deputy in Gascony, where he put down local rebels. But when he returned to England, de Montfort became leader of the barons in their revolt against Henry's capricious rule. The rebel leader presided over Parliament in 1265, showing the way to limitations on royal power in the future.

The English barons were appalled. They were losing their power to foreigners and losing their money to the king’s madcap schemes. Before he knew where he was, Henry had a clutch of baronial enemies at court. These enemies were peeved, and they were in no mood to be messed around. In 1258, the barons confronted Henry with their demands.

In a weird twist of irony, the man who emerged as leader of the rebel barons was a Frenchman, Simon de Montfort (see sidebar). It was de Montfort who realised that if they were to get further with Henry, they would need to do more than throw a few French lords out of the country. They would have to be more organised. He began to draw up lists of demands to limit royal power.

Royal power reduced

Simon de Montfort and his friends got serious about government in a document called the Provisions of Oxford. For the first time, this document drew up proper guidelines for selecting the people who were to advise the king. It also laid down the law about parliament. Key points of the Provisions of Oxford included:

● A committee of 24 men (12 chosen by the king, 12 by the nobility) were to oversee the reforms.

● A group of 15 (selected by representatives of the 24) should make up the king’s Council or advisers.

● Parliament should meet at set times, not just when the king wanted it to meet.

● The king’s officers should be appointed for specific year-long terms and were to be answerable to the Council, as well as the monarch.

The Provisions truly tied Henry’s hands. He could hardly move without baronial approval. For a couple of years, the barons had him cornered, and he had to play by the rules. Henry was still king, but a huge chunk of the power was, if not with the people, at least with the upper classes.

It couldn’t last, though. Henry was too headstrong, and the members of the Council could not always reach agreement on decisions. Soon England found itself embroiled in civil war. De Montfort defeated Henry, captured his son, Prince Edward, and forced the king into another agreement to abide by the Provisions of Oxford - and to forgive him and the other rebels for their treacherous behaviour.

This victory made de Montfort into the effective ruler of England, a state of affairs that lasted for around a year until Edward escaped, attacked de Montfort, and defeated him at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. It was a total triumph for Edward, and he sealed his victory by having de Montfort’s body torn apart and put on show in all its bloody bits. With de Montfort out of the way, Henry’s rule was secure, and for the last seven years of his reign, his power went unchallenged.

Henry gained added brownie points by rebuilding Westminster Abbey, which endeared him to the church. He also claimed to have healing powers, allegedly being able to cure the disease scrofula (known as ‘the king’s evil’) by touching sufferers. Churchmen interpreted this supernatural power - which was also claimed by many later rulers - as God-given, lending Henry greater credibility with believers. The king went to his grave in 1272, a confident monarch with a powerful platform, both worldly and religious, on which his son and heir, Edward, would be able to build.

You can support our site by clicking on this link and watching the advertisement.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!