Henry spent more on Dover than any other castle during his reign. He must have therefore found it infuriating that the Montfortian castellan again refused him entry upon his return from France on 15 February 1264. It was only a minor setback, though. He quickly moved on to Oxford, where he ordered the feudal host to muster, officially for yet another march on Wales but Northampton was clearly the target. He also told the student population to be gone. Then as now, they were apt to riot during spring and he was worried his Scottish irregulars might join in. When he eventually bagged several of them in his haul of prisoners from Northampton, his first thought was to chop their heads offs. He was reminded, however, that many of them came from prominent families. Then as now, students from prominent families always got special protection.
Dover castle – £7,500 in improvements and no key
On this date 750 years ago, Louis IX of France delivered his Mise of Amiens. He had been asked to re-establish peace between the barons and royalists and the result was war. He had already given some indication that he approved the Provisions of Oxford, now he quashed them outright. Whether this was because he was wearing his hairshirt at the time or the queen’s nagging finally got to him, he knew he was unleashing a hornet’s nest and tried to hide behind the papacy’s earlier nullification. He also insisted that Magna Carta was unaffected by his ruling, something he was forced to do because the Montfortians had craftily woven it into their argument. It became their loophole for disregarding their oath to abide by what had to be one of the most ill-considered awards in the history of arbitration.
Louis – thanks for nothing
Having missed his chance to bag his adversary along the Thames, Henry retreated to Windsor to draw up his letters requesting Louis to arbitrate. Simon had his ready on December 13, 1263, naming not a single member of the higher nobility among his supporters, and yet officially they were the barons. Henry’s list appeared three days later and showed to what extent the real barons had been cowed into submission. The Bigod brothers, the earls of Surrey and Hereford , all had been prominent reformers. Now they couldn’t care less what foolish thing Henry did at the instigation of the Savoyards, they just wanted peace. Henry did too, as always, but he no more sent his letters to Louis than he was conniving with Roger Mortimer to attack Montfort’s lands in the west to keep him from attending the arbitration. He knew it didn’t matter who Simon’s supporters were, the man was a host in himself and he was desperate to tie him up elsewhere.
The Council of Fifteen – Montfort, Mortimer et al., partners in reform
On November 22nd, 1263, Pope Urban IV, who had issued bulls both in favour and against the Provisions, now came out firmly on Henry’s side by appointing a legate and singling Simon out as the ‘chief disturber of the realm’. Henry had already taken matters into his own hands when, in true fashion, he marked the November 1st truce by attempting to seize Dover. His plan was to secure it for the arrival of foreign mercenaries, but the castellan told him to get lost. The Provisions were a higher authority than the king, he told him. The rebuff worked to Henry’s advantage when London royalists informed him that Montfort was encamped in Southwark and they had barred the gates to the city. Quickly heading north, Henry and Edward hoped to capture the Montfortians in one fell swoop. Simon preferred to fight it out than surrender to ‘perjurers and apostates’. Who knows, maybe he declared his defiance on the ground sitting underneath the future Globe Theatres. In the end the people of London rose up and broke open the gates, leaving Henry no choice but to observe the truce.
Thou perjured and simular man of virtue!
Of all the defections to the king in the autumn of 1263, when the English turned tail according to a well-known quip at the time, only Henry of Almain’s has come down to us in the form of a personal interview with Simon. Henry had been one of the young idealists who joined Simon’s camp earlier that year, men pliable as wax, as chronicler Thomas Wykes contemptuously dismissed them. His only known action ended in failure when he got captured after taking off in pursuit of perennial favourite John Mansel. He showed he truly was made of wax by swapping sides again upon his release, allegedly after Edward promised him some prime real estate. Young Henry tried to tell Simon he was troubled by taking up arms against his family, which seems to suggest that he didn’t know what he was getting into when he joined the revolution. But he assured Simon, who was also family in a way, that he would never take up arms against him. That earned him another dose of contempt when Simon told him he was free to go, he had no use for pliable men like him. He could even take up arms against him, they made no difference in the world. Of course, Henry would do just that at Lewes, which only confirmed his treachery in the eyes of the Montfort sons.
Henry of Almain – wax to the core
How Henry loved the October 13th feast day of St. Edward! In 1255 he swallowed the yarn about the Jews of Lincoln murdering a little boy, sending 18 of them to the gallows, just so he could get back to London in time for this grand supper. Now in 1263 it was going to be a contentious affair as faces glared at one another in the tense atmosphere. Henry and Edward were demanding restitution for cronies like the archbishop of Canterbury (the former reformer) and the queen’s other relatives, while Simon insisted on the Council’s right, as per the Provisions that Henry and Edward swore who to uphold, to name the king’s ministers and household. Who gave the final toast that evening is unknown, but Edward no doubt cast a shifty look at his Marcher friends, freshly imbibed with his bribes, to let them know that the plan was on. They would use violence, which was not only work but play for them, to put an end to Montfort’s provisional government and maybe the man himself.
Edward the Confessor – also looking pretty sly
The October newsletter is out, addressing the events of 750 years ago and the parliament Edward and his cohorts disrupted, presumably because Simon’s March on London was akin to Sherman’s March to the Sea in 1864. The despoliation caused by the Marchers was hardly in the same league, but the disruption was part of Edward’s plan to escape to Windsor and regroup, what John Maddicott calls his ‘surefooted deviousness’.
Henry and Richard
The peace of the September 1263 parliament was not at all to the liking of Pope Urban IV. Kings like Henry should only bow to pontiffs like him, not to their subjects. He decided to write a nastygram to Richard of Cornwall, who had fallen into a stupor after Simon refused to treat with him. ‘The boisterous fluctuation of the storm, which shakes the solid foundation of the kingdom of England, has been raised with your tacit permission, perhaps even stirred up by you.’ Henry no doubt had told on his brother to the pope, a man who, for the life of him, could not understand how revolution was possible with rich and powerful men like Richard around to prevent it.
Eight centuries ago this day the crusader army under Simon de Montfort III left their besieged position at Muret to confront the superior allied force of Peter II of Aragon. Like Henry III at Evesham, Peter wasn’t wearing his own armour. Henry had no choice, but Peter was the newly proclaimed defender of chivalry in Languedoc. If he was going to be in the thick of things, it would be as an ordinary knight. It was his last courageous act, for the French knights mowed him and his entire guard down, then routed the rest of the Spanish troops. And so the Albigensian Crusade dragged on for another nine years.
The Battle of Muret
Having barely survived the slaughter of Evesham, Henry was ready to reassert not just his authority but also his dignity. He had been humiliated these last fifteen months as a captive of his own government, now he would be king again, would wear his crown again, and no better place to start than in his birthplace of Winchester. So he summoned parliament there to open on 8 September 1265 and announced that all families connected to the Montfortian party were henceforth disinherited. It was a vengeful, shortsighted policy that could only serve the interests of the king and his closest family and associates. Yes, Henry was back.
Henry’s second coronation in 1220, drawn by Matthew Paris