Born on this day

Richard of Cornwall, younger brother of Henry III and the only Englishman to wear the crown of Germany, was born on this day of the 5th of January in 1209 in Devizes. Richard and Henry were the only contemporary brother kings in English history, yet both have been squeezed out of their rightful place in history by Simon de Montfort, who continues to bewitch modern historians and historical novelists. Volume II of David Carpenter’s biography of Henry III is a good example. Just as Simon appropriated Henry’s kingdom for fifteen months in 1264-65 (out of a reign of 56 years) so he appropriated Henry’s biography too. In the latest A Slice of Medieval podcast, historical novelist Ian Ross talks only of Simon de Montfort. Henry is merely an afterthought of his own reign and Richard is non-existent.

Why this is so can be traced back to British historians of the Victorian Era. The French Revolution swept England’s long constitutional history aside seemingly overnight. In response, Magna Carta was promoted as democracy in action centuries before the French got in on the act. To emphasize the evolutionary nature of the English struggle, as opposed to the bloodlust of the French, a straight line was drawn from the Barons’ War against King John, the father of Henry and Richard, to Simon’s war against Henry. It was dubbed the Second Barons’ War, which it was nothing of the kind, but this term is still bandied about, as is the bogus claim that Simon founded parliament.

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