Tag Archives: Queen Eleanor

750 years ago this week

The end of June 1263 saw Montfort begin the final campaign to force a provisional government on Henry and his court. Dismissing yet another offer from Richard to arbitrate, he dashed for the coast and secured the Cinque Ports. During that time London had already come out for the Provisions, and went to the Tower to tell the king and queen so. Whether it was decided then and there for Edward’s next move we can’t be sure, but he and Robert Walerand gathered up several of their henchmen and on 29 June went to the New Temple to teach the presumptuous Londoners a lesson. After stealing more than £1000 in deposits, they headed for the safety of Windsor. Meanwhile, John Mansel lost his nerve and fled to the continent on that same day. For reasons still unknown, that enraged Henry of Almain, who took off after him and blundered his way into captivity. On 13 July Queen Eleanor took off in the opposite direction, for the safety of her son’s gang at Windsor. Her barge no more left Tower wharf when Londoners, infuriated that her son had robbed them, and fed up with her anyway, gathered on the bridge and pelted her with all manner of disgust. On 15 July Montfort entered London in triumph for what was to be a very short tenure at the helm. Edward was now running the show for the royalists, and as he showed at the New Temple, nothing was too low for him.

London Bridge - the royal family chose to mess with the wrong people
London Bridge – the royal family chose to mess with the wrong people

England’s first constitution

May - June 1264
King and Witan
King and Witan

The battle won, Simon quickly secured the surrender of Henry and Edward by agreeing to two important concessions. The first allowed the Provisions to be revisited and, if necessary, amended, a move designed to assuage the king’s wounded pride and coax him out of the priory. The second called for the release of the marcher barons, who Edward was counting on to continue the struggle while he remained in custody. Although there were still patches of royalist opposition, Montfort had no trouble mobilizing the countryside to repel an expectant invasion from the continent being organized by Queen Eleanor with money and connivance from Louis. The threat died away as the summer wore on and she was no longer able to support her army of mercenaries. A papal legate dispatched by Rome was similarly rebuffed when he attempted to gain entry into the kingdom. He had to settle for sending letters across the channel excommunicating everyone involved in Henry’s undoing. The letters were instantly seized and tossed into the sea. The legate tried to reinforce his spiritual boycott with an economic one by forbidding all exports to England. Simon brushed him off, declaring that the English could fend for themselves. He was, however, still open to the idea of the French arbitrating again on the Provisions, perhaps hoping Louis would act with more common sense this time around and confer legitimacy on the turn of events. And to ensure he understood there was no going back, Montfort summoned parliament to meet in Westminster for the purpose of setting up a provisional government until a permanent settlement could be reached. The result was an Ordinance enacted on 28 June 1264, which essentially made the Provisions constitutional in character. It created a council of nine to advise the king, with three of them forming an inner circle, and one of these always at his side. All business of the realm, all appointments, now went to committee. Whatever initiative Henry took, whatever foolhardy scheme came into his head or those of his relatives, henceforth required consent. Just as important was the consent given to Montfort’s plan of government by this ground-breaking parliament. Consisting of knights representing their local communities, the “people of the kingdom of England” gave its seal of approval to this new dawn in the age of English politics. Henry, naturally, was less enthusiastic but endorsed it, perhaps under the threat of deposition. The constitution was incorporated as part of the Peace of Canterbury and sent to the king of France for his approval. Louis was outraged. Better to be a farmer, this most humble of kings proclaimed, than to rule under such principles.

Never to perjurers and apostates

1263
Louis' justice
                      Louis’ justice

The turmoil resulted in much spoliation of property, the ruffians playing a major role in it, and the demands for restitution prevented Simon from governing in any meaningful way. He succeeded in repatriating Edward’s mercenaries, but this had the unintended effect of drawing the Edwardians, whose prime mission had been to rid the country of aliens, back to their former master. Simon was also in danger of losing the friendship of Louis, who was horrified by the stories of violence and pillage relayed to him by Queen Eleanor and her relatives. But then, at an informal arbitration set up at Henry’s request, Louis surprised them all by confirming the Provisions and agreeing that England should be ruled by natives instead of foreigners. But it was a hollow victory, for when parliament convened in October 1263 to deal with restitution, Edward stole the initiative by slipping away to Windsor, seizing the castle, and fortifying himself there with Henry. They then proceeded to employ their mightiest weapon: bargaining power. With promises of grants and fees, Edward won over his cousin Henry of Almain and, more importantly, his former retainers. Collecting men and arms, Edward and Henry began rolling over the countryside with their two armies, reclaiming castles and evicting local authorities loyal to the provisional government. Their point of convergence was Simon’s dwindling forces just south of London, where they seemingly had them trapped after a group of royalists barred the city gates to them. Simon scoffed at Henry’s call to surrender. “Never to perjurers and apostates,” he declared and swore together with his men to fight to the last. His sympathizers on the other side of the walls managed to break open the gates in time and secure their safe passage inside. The way was still open to a peaceful settlement when Louis offered to officially arbitrate the dispute over the Provisions and both parties agreed to abide by his award. The letters sealed by Simon and Henry show how vast the defections from the popular movement had been. Of the royalists named as supporters of the king, nearly half had been involved at one time or another in the reform movement: Edward, Henry of Almain, John de Warenne, Roger and Hugh Bigod, Hamo Lestrange, etc. They were all now prepared to let the Provisions go by the wayside. But at least Simon could count on Louis.

On the brink

1263
London Bridge
London Bridge

Edward was the first to return. Scolded by his father for “indolence and wantoness” while the Welsh ravaged the marches, he landed with a large mercenary force of Burgundians and other French-speaking soldiers. His jilted retainers had half-expected him to take them back into his service, but he completely ignored them and bestowed castles and other key posts on his new, alien followers. Incensed, they welcomed Simon de Montfort home as the one leader who had always been faithful to the Provisions, who was capable of enforcing the one provision they desired above all else: expulsion of the aliens. It was, of course, the great irony of this conflict that the English would turn to an alien for this purpose. Simon’s military reputation and unwavering defense of the Provisions made him the undisputed leader of this rebellious force that gathered in Oxford, where the reform program had been launched five years earlier. New adherents included many younger members of the baronage, among them Henry’s nephew Henry of Almain and the new earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare, men later decried for being pliable as wax in the hands of a man like Montfort. He would need such idealists to offset the violence and unruliness of the Edwardians, who immediately went to work after Henry rebuffed one last call to observe the Provisions. They struck east, targeting the Savoyards and other aliens, even making knowledge of English a prerequisite to avoid reprisals. Locals long fed up with nobles, knights and clergymen who couldn’t speak their language joined in the mayhem until Henry found himself faced with a full-scale uprising. Richard rode off to intercede with Simon, but missed him on his march to secure the coast and trap Henry in London. But even that city was lost after Edward, needing money to pay off his mercenaries, staged the first great bank robbery in English history when he broke into the New Temple and seized the private deposits there. His mother grew sufficiently alarmed by the growing hostility to try to flee to Windsor by boat, but her barge was turned back after being pummeled with all manner of filth and flying objects thrown at her by a jeering crowd on London Bridge. She and her kinsmen eventually escaped to the continent, but for Henry it was all too much. He agreed to the restraints on his power enacted in 1258 and to the council naming his officials and conducting official policy. The only difference was the council was now controlled by Simon de Montfort.

More arbitration, more disaffection

1262
Poor little Gilbert
Poor little Gilbert

When the two sides could not agree on any amendments to the Provisions, the arbitrator, Richard of Cornwall, ruled in favor of his brother and restored to him the sole right to appoint and dismiss officials. Henry would continue to rule with a packed court and the death of the earl of Gloucester in the summer of 1262 left the baronage without a nominal leader. Emboldened by events, the king sailed to France to meet his antagonist in court, where he hoped to destroy Montfort, at least in the eyes of the French. Queen Margaret was the arbitrator now, a dowdy woman who once looked amiss at all the attention Henry was paying to his niece Alice. She no doubt considered the vindictiveness of both sides unseemly, but her chance to rule on the case was interrupted when Henry was laid low by dysentery. Simon returned for the October parliament, where contrary to the order of the justiciar, he published his own papal bull, acquired through a baronial agent in Rome, affirming the Provisions. But a new threat arose to Henry’s consolidation of power, this time involving an alienated group of young men not connected to Montfort. They included Edward’s former retainers, proscribed by the queen and her Savoyard relatives in an attempt to tighten control over the heir, and Gilbert de Clare, Alice’s husband, who was supposed to succeed his father as the earl of Gloucester, only Henry, now in a completely vindictive mood, moved to deny him at least part of his inheritance. On top of this came another uprising by the Welsh, brought about when the tenants of Roger Mortimer, one of the barons cowed back into the royalist camp, revolted against his harsh rule. Local opposition also began to surge, forcing Henry to publicly proclaim that he accepted the Provisions by his own free will. The situation became so fraught that Henry, after his return home for Christmas 1262, wrote to Louis, begging him to find a successful resolution to his arbitration with Simon. Louis reported that Simon had told him that he truly believed Henry wished him only the best, but his advisers thought otherwise. He had therefore asked Louis not to concern himself any more with their case. He was preparing to return to England to have it out with the king once and for all.

Henry resurgent, Simon goes into exile

1261
Sheriff and serfs
Sheriff and serfs

Henry’s basic grievance was that the barons had gone beyond the intentions of the Provisions. They had met and acted without him, kept him impoverished while enriching themselves, failed him in his foreign policy pursuits, all undeniably true and lamentable since he, the king, had every desire to rule by the Provisions. His summoning parliament as required by them was the most obvious example of his good faith. Whether chastened or not, the barons were caught off guard as Henry secretly moved to usurp full authority. He secured Dover and the Cinque Ports to ensure the arrival of mercenaries, placed his own men in key positions, and relocated to Winchester, his birthplace, where he subsequently announced that the pope had absolved him of his oath to observe the Provisions. The barons united again under Gloucester and Simon, but they could no longer count on Edward’s support. At first the heir refused to accept the absolution for himself, but was eventually won over by his mother. He also arrived with William de Valence, the hated Lusignan whose deportation had been the groundwork for the original Provisions, then left again for Gascony after his uncle was restored to favor. But Henry’s treachery cost him allies too. Hugh Bigod, turned out as castellan in Dover, defected back to the barons and was joined by his half-brother John de Warenne, the only magnate who had refused the initial oath to the Provisions in 1258. The king’s biggest problem, however, was the resistance he faced on a local level. When he attempted to supplant the sheriffs with his own men, Simon saw to it that the barons installed their own rival sheriffs (referred to as “wardens” so as not to create any confusion). He then went abroad to plead their case before Louis, to raise foreign troops, and in what was perhaps his most defiant act, he and Gloucester summoned their own parliament, consisting of local knights, to meet in St. Albans and discuss what to do about the king’s subversion. Henry refused to back down and countered with his own parliament in Windsor. The standoff was broken when Gloucester again deserted to the king, this time bribed by the favors of Queen Eleanor. In a treaty made at Kingston in November 1261, the reformers agreed to renegotiate the Provisions with Richard, the king of the Romans, acting as arbitrator. This clear defeat of the reforming program left Simon disgusted. He departed for France, saying he would rather live in poverty than in perjury.

Another king in the family

1257
Richard and Sanchia
Richard and Sanchia

Earlier in that disastrous year Richard left for Aachen to be crowned King of the Romans, which was a nice way of saying the Germans. The title had been held by two other noblemen following Frederick’s death in 1250 and both had come to untimely ends. But Richard freely spent 30,000 marks to dispense bribes for the honor and his wife Sanchia yearned to gain an equal footing with her two older sisters, Queen Margaret and Queen Eleanor. Under the pretense of humility, Richard declared that ambition had nothing to do with his election, that he was only interested in the welfare of the people, and may he be consumed by hellfire if he was lying. The German delegates that brought him the news were every bit the liar Richard was. They told the Englishman he had been elected unanimously because the French were too warlike, the Italians too greedy, and the Germans too quarrelsome. In fact, three of the seven electors had thrown in their lot with a Spaniard, none other than Alfonso, who was still sniping that Henry had yet to make good on his pledge to join him on a crusade to North Africa. Louis supported Alfonso’s candidacy because he suspected Henry would try to use Richard’s position on the Rhine to force his claims for Normandy. But Henry, at the urging of his wife, was more desperate these days to retain Gascony for Edward and a future Sicily for Edmund. Neither was possible without a permanent peace with France. With his high standing across the Channel, it was natural that Simon de Montfort should take the lead in negotiating what would become the Treaty of Paris. . . and using it to his and Eleanor’s advantage.

An absolute mess

1250
Medieval warfare
Medieval warfare

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.

The Lusignans come to England

1247
Isabella Angouleme
Isabella Angouleme

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.

The king’s wrath

1239
Temptation
Temptation

True to character, Henry’s break with Simon was abrupt and unseemly. He waited for the occasion of the queen’s churching – her offer of thanks for a safe childbirth – to lash out at the earl of Leicester, accusing him of owing another of his wife’s uncles a huge sum of money and offering him, the king, as security. Henry was so caught up in his anger that even charged his brother-in-law, in front of the assembled guests, with having seduced his sister, and that was the only reason why he consented to their secret wedding. Stunned and humiliated, Simon and Eleanor left forthwith, but Henry wasn’t through. He quickly had them turned out of their lodgings, then went a step further and ordered them locked up in the Tower of London. Fortunately the cooler head of Richard intervened and the unhappy couple was allowed to leave the country and settle in France.

Henry finally takes a wife

1236
Medieval wedding
Medieval wedding

The royal wedding took place on January 4, 1236. It was a lavish affair, all of it overseen by Henry, who dipped into another sister’s dowry to help pay for, among other things, jewel-encrusted girdles for Eleanor. When he saw his bride wearing a golden gown that hugged her waist ever so tightly, he knew it was money well-spent and henceforth could deny her nothing. For starters, she asked him to find gainful employment for all the uncles in her retinue. Henry was only too happy to oblige these men from the province of Savoy in southern France. One he made the head of his council, another an earl, a third the archbishop of Canterbury. Other penniless Savoyards were given English heiresses in marriage. Henry’s subjects began to grumble about the bad influence of all these foreigners, and when Eleanor was still childless after nearly four years of marriage, they blamed her and her Savoyard uncles.

The second Eleanor

1237
Eleanor of Provence
Eleanor of Provence

Eleanor of Provence was the second of the four daughters of poverty-stricken Count Ramon Berenger. Known as Eleanor La Belle for her beauty, she wrote poetry, one of which found its way to Henry through the hands of his brother. So smitten was Henry that he insisted on marrying Eleanor, dowry or no dowry. The council agreed, if only because Eleanor’s older sister Margaret was married to Louis, the king of France, and making these two brothers-in-law seemed like the wise thing to do. She is described as being “jamque duodennem” (already twelve) when she arrived to marry Henry. Theirs was a happy marriage but she never warmed to the English and they would remind her of that fact during the outbreak of hostilities.