The deal called for the crown of Sicily to go to Henry’s ten-year-old son Edmund in return for money and soldiers to defeat Frederick’s successor. Already 300,000 marks in debt because of Gascony, Henry allowed the bishop of Hereford, another of Eleanor’s numerous French relatives, to obtain loans from Italian merchants using security he had acquired underhandedly from his brother prelates. Innocent was hastened to his grave by Manfred’s rapid victories, but the new pope, Alexander IV, was just as determined to carry on the fight. He urged Henry to keep his end of the bargain and sent a man named Rustand to help out. As the king was washing his hands of the Jews of Lincoln, the papal nuncio unleashed an army of tax collectors on parishes throughout the country. Dismissing all pleas about the church providing for the poor and needy, Rustand told an assembly of bishops that the church belonged first and foremost to the pope. Yes, came the reply, to be protected, not used as a cash cow. Furious, Rustand ordered every man to speak for himself, so that the king might know where he stood.
The former Sinibaldo Fieschi, Innocent IV despised Frederick II and Robert Grosseteste in equal measure. He is remembered for introducing the red hat for cardinals to wear and torture for all prelates to use in their Inquisitions. He was on his deathbed when word reached him about Manfred’s victory over his army. Looking at those surrounding him – relatives and church officers, freeloaders the lot of them – he snapped, “What are you crying for? Haven’t I made you all rich?”
The other piece of business the king concluded while in Gascony had to do with Sicily. Considered a rich prize at the time, the island was up for grabs following the death of Henry’s other brother-in-law Frederick in 1250. As the emperor of the Germans and King of the Romans, Frederick II had been at war with a succession of popes for possession of southern Italy and Sicily. Henry had originally bargained on an alliance with Frederick as a way of forcing Louis to give back Normandy. He married his younger sister Isabella to the twice-widowed older man, promising him 30,000 marks to boot, but nothing came of this strategy except another Henry (born to Isabella, who later died in childbirth). Frederick’s older sons Conrad and Manfred, also from previous alliances, were ready to carry on the fight with Pope Innocent IV, who by that time was desperate for anyone to rid him of these infernal Germans. Henry looked like an easy target. His desire for Normandy was common knowledge and Sicily had once been a Norman possession. Still, he was uneasy about waging war on his nephew and namesake. Then both the younger man and Conrad died in 1254, and Henry took the papal bait.
Six months earlier Henry had sold the custody of the Jews to Richard so that he might “disembowel those whom the king had skinned.” The situation did not bode well for the Jewish community when Henry arrived in Lincoln. He no longer had a financial interest in protecting them and the boy’s mother was still in control of public opinion. The king ordered his steward to investigate, a learned man renowned for his understanding of the law. But John of Lexington was also the brother of Henry of Lexington, the bishop, and his investigation involved little more than extracting a confession from Jopin, whose life was guaranteed in return. Henry took issue with the deal and declared that the wretch deserved to be executed many times over. Only one sufficed, as the unfortunate man was dragged behind a horse to a waiting gallows. Nearly a hundred other Jewish men were arrested and sent to the Tower, where 18 were hanged for refusing to submit to trial by an all-Christian jury. The others took their chances and were also condemned, but were later freed, or ransomed, after the intervention of Richard and the Minorite Order.
Known as Jew’s Court, this house in Lincoln was long considered the scene of the crime. In 1910, the owner had a well dug in the basement and charged visitors to come and see where the body of little Hugh was found.
On 31 July a fatherless boy named Hugh disappeared in the city of Lincoln. Told he was last seen playing with some Jewish boys, his mother insisted he had been kidnapped and crucified as part of a macabre ritual mocking Christianity. While such stories were widespread at that time, the authorities never gave them much credence. Even the papacy had come forward to denounce them. As the bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste had never been a friend of the Jews, but he was equally intolerant of injustice and superstition. He was in his grave now, where miracles were supposedly being worked, and the new bishop of Lincoln, Henry of Lexington, saw an opportunity when the boy was found, a month later, supposedly in a well owned by a Jewish man named Jopin. The canons of the cathedral had the body whisked away for burial next to the exalted Grosseteste, thereby doubling the recent fame of the diocese. Meanwhile the mother had taken her case to the king, who was in the north attending to reports that his daughter Margaret, the teenage queen of Scotland, was being mistreated by her handlers. Upon hearing the appeal of the mother, Henry decided that if the accusation was true, the Jews deserved to die. If not, she did. Unbowed, she begged him to come to Lincoln and see for himself.
Modern historians tend to side with Henry in this affair, suggesting he had every reason to believe Alfonso was planning to invade. The king of Castile did in fact impose his terms on Henry, who in addition to providing a royal marriage, promised to join him in a war against the Moors. As with his crusading vow, Henry had no intention of fighting infidels anywhere. He was more concerned with installing Edward peacefully in Gascony before proceeding, with his wife and entourage, to Chartres for his first meeting ever with Louis, who was finally back from his miserable experience overseas. The occasion would be renowned for one of the most unique family reunions in history. Queen Eleanor, her sister Margaret, the queen of France, and their sister Sanchia, Richard’s wife, were joined by their youngest sister, Beatrice, who was the wife of Louis’ brother Charles of Anjou. Four sisters had married two sets of brothers, leading Louis to remark, perhaps innocently enough, that the children of each family would be more like brothers and sisters than cousins.
Before leaving, Henry appointed his wife Eleanor to rule in his stead with Richard serving as her adviser. Their immediate task was to replenish the treasury, drained by the affairs in the south, even if it meant nickel and diming. Eleanor contrived to have the citizens of London make back payment for the queen’s gold, her percentage of the arbitrary fines and import duties the king would levy on the city. Richard was rebuffed when he made an appeal to the Jewish community. The chief rabbi insisted they had no more money to give now that papal merchants had cornered the usury market. Fed up with the royal reaming, he asked permission for his people to leave the kingdom. And just where were they planning to go? Even Louis, that most saintly of monarchs, was openly hostile to them. Neither act of extortion added much to Henry’s coffers, so an Easter parliament was summoned to ask for funds. War with Castile was imminent, the regents announced, and the king needed money and manpower. Some enormous darts were even put on display to show the kinds of weapons he was up against. The magnates were dubious, not least because the queen was making plans at that very moment to travel with Edward to this so-called war zone. But it was de Montfort who exposed the subterfuge. Sent specifically by Henry to report on the king’s success in achieving peace in Gascony, Simon did exactly that, and parliament denied the royals their request.
It had been Henry’s intention to come to Gascony and show that it could be ruled with peace and understanding. When he arrived in 1253, he found he had a war on his hands and that some of his subjects, again led by the queen’s relations, had switched their allegiance to the king of neighboring Castile. He not only had to resort to the same harsh tactics employed by de Montfort but even asked his brother-in-law to come and lend his military expertise. Simon grudgingly went, motivated by loyalty and his spiritual adviser, Robert Grosseteste, who reminded him not to forget all the benefits he had received from Henry. The king’s treachery was not forgotten, however, and de Montfort made him pay dearly in compensation. In the end, Henry’s campaign proved to be his only successful adventure abroad. He won over the Gascons to his son’s overlordship and got Alfonso, the king of Castile, to give up rival claims to the region by having Edward marry his half-sister, the third Eleanor in this story.
Meanwhile Louis was having a worse time of it overseas. He had carefully prepared for his crusade, amassing a huge war chest and nearly two thousand ships to ferry an army to Egypt. He had decided to subdue Cairo first, where the real power in the region was wielded, before marching gloriously into Jerusalem. His march down the Nile River Valley was sheer agony for his men as disease, hunger and harassment took their toll. The Saracens pressed home their advantage and destroyed his army at Fariskur. Louis was captured and ransomed for half a million pounds, which took a whole two days to weigh out. Ashamed to go back, Louis spent the next four years in Palestine, most of that time as a pawn for the warring Muslim factions. Not that he could help either side much. Of the 2,800 knights who accompanied him to Egypt, less than 100 left with him. The disaster rocked France, where his mother Blanche of Castile had to contend with another crusade. A mad monk from Hungary known as “the Master” declared that the Virgin Mary had given him instructions, balled up in his fist, that called for him to lead an army to Palestine to free the king. Flocks of shepherds heeded the call, joined by riffraff of all sorts. At first Blanche thought they might just succeed and gave them her support. Then they started raiding French towns and villages and bullying the clergy until she was forced to order their destruction. A butcher put an axe in the head of the Master while Simon ordered another threatening mob to be gone from Bordeaux lest they be “cut to pieces.”
A humiliated and insulted Henry called his governor a “maker and lover of strife” and ordered him to observe a truce. “Go back to Gascony and reap its reward like your father before you.” Henry’s parting shot was the only comfort the Gascons could take home with them, knowing as they did that the elder Montfort was killed fighting nearby. Simon suspected that his demise was just what the king was hoping for; that way he could give his lands and title to one of his foreign relatives. Now burning for vengeance on his accusers, Simon returned with an army of mercenaries but found his enemies waiting for him with an even more determined force. He managed to avoid defeat and capture, but his intervention was for naught. Henry stripped him of military authority and told the Gascons they were no longer bound by loyalty to him. Disgusted by the king’s betrayal, Simon left for Paris, where he received an unexpected offer. Louis was still languishing in the Holy Land, which had consumed the best of his nobility, and the recent death of his mother had thrown the regency of the country into turmoil. Impressed with de Montfort’s resume, the council of peers offered him the post of regent until Louis made it back. He declined, saying he was a subject of England now and forever. The French were persistent, but so too was de Montfort, who would remain loyal to his adoptive country to the last.
Henry’s policy in Gascony was an absolute mess. The province was nominally Richard’s, but now, at the queen’s insistence, it was to be given to their teenage son Edward. Eleanor wanted it pacified, but not at the expense of her Gascon relatives, who were creating most of the trouble there. The king thought that by playing good cop to his lieutenant’s bad cop, he could win the affection of his subjects in the region. When Simon learned that his archenemy, the archbishop of Bordeaux, had left for England with a delegation to denounce him, he raced back across France to head them off. Although he arrived in good time, he found Henry in ill-humor and ready to believe the worst about him. Wanting to at least give the pretense of fairness, the king assembled a panel of the leading peers to render a verdict. Something of an unofficial transcript still survives from this trial, provided in the comments by our advocates.
Meanwhile the real warfare was in the east. The Mongols had swept through Poland and Hungary before turning south to ravage the Balkans. Their advance enabled the Muslims to regain control over Jerusalem, leading to calls for another crusade. Both Henry and Louis took up the cross, but only the king of France left. For Henry, Christian duty was more about ritual and forms. He preferred mass to sermons, taking oaths to actually abiding by them. Besides, there was trouble brewing in Gascony. With Louis gone, Henry saw his chance to consolidate control over the unruly local nobility without any interference from his brother-in-law. He asked his other brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, to go there and restore order. Simon was also committed to the crusade and so drove a hard bargain before he would accept his offer. What he wanted most of all from Henry was no interference. The king agreed but, as with all his other oaths, this one also went by the wayside. Henry recoiled from the stern measures de Montfort used to put down the factional fighting, perhaps seeing too much of his father, the Scourge, in him. In the only letter of Simon’s to survive, he explained to Henry that his task was to uphold the rights of the king and the common people against these ruffians. Henry must have been dumbfounded when he read this. What were these rights of the common people and what did they have to do with him?
Isabella and Hugh were later embroiled in another plot against Louis, involving poison and cooks who talk a lot under torture. The former queen of England ended her days practically walled up in a nunnery. Hugh died a few years later, better remembered for his stint as a troubadour than his inglorious attempt to check the growing power of the French monarchy. Of their large brood of children, Henry invited four of them to come to England to enjoy the bounty of the north. They were a most disagreeable lot, full of boasting and swaggering with a sense of entitlement. Among those none too pleased with their overbearing reach were the Savoyards, the queen’s relatives who had at least tried to make an effort to assimilate. Things finally came to a head when Henry’s half-brother Aymer, appointed Bishop of Winchester despite being illiterate and ignorant, decided to encroach on the authority of the queen’s uncle Boniface, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury despite being soldierly and intemperate. The two sides had it out in a flurry of violence and excommunications until Henry stepped in and organized a truce one morning over a sumptuous breakfast. While the rest of the country found the antics of these bickering Frenchmen good entertainment, they were hardly amused by the drain on national resources required to sustain them. It was Simon’s own conflict with the scheming Lusignans that would eventually single him out as a leader of the opposition to Henry’s circle.
There was nothing like a wedding to bring out the best in Henry and he used the occasion of the recently widowed Richard’s nuptials to welcome his sister and brother-in-law back into royal favor. The bride was the queen’s younger sister Sanchia. She had been betrothed to the same count who had tried to turn Henry against Simon, but his poverty and pettiness paled next to the immensely wealthy Richard. Like Queen Eleanor, she arrived with no dowry to speak of, and her mother would, in fact, hit Henry up for a loan while there. But she would also move him to make significant progress on his sister Eleanor’s dowry, thereby improving relations between him and Simon. None of this available money saved the Jews from footing the bill for the wedding and the subsequent feast thrown for thirty thousand hungry people. Each Jewish family was instructed to make a donation that didn’t include, it goes without saying, a corresponding invitation.