Dedication of Salisbury Cathedral

Tomorrow, the 1st of October, marks the birth of Henry III in 1207. Notices about it are typically confined to the struggle that occurred late in his 56-year reign, how the barons march up to him one day in April of 1258 and demand he hand over all power to them. They have had enough of his foreign favourites and misrule. Henry is so afraid that he agrees on the spot. The favourites are expelled and England becomes ruled by a council of barons for the betterment of the realm.

This narrative, based on a single, problematic source, was first trumpeted by the Victorians. They were eager to boast how England had undergone a largely peaceful constitutional development, as opposed to the bloodthirsty revolution that had taken place in France. It has retained traction to this day, in part because other Henrys (V and VIII) continue to hog all the attention, but a closer scrutiny of the records reveals a far different scenario. The king and barons concluded a power-sharing agreement to address his need for taxation and their grievances. Apart from the expulsion of Henry’s half-brothers, the summer of reform saw the barons and royalists of the council working together under the king’s lordship.

They took a break for the dedication of Salisbury Cathedral, which occurred on this day of 30 September in 1258. Henry attended with his family, Queen Eleanor (of Provence), their two sons Edward and Edmund, and Edward’s wife Eleanor of Castile. Numerous bishops and nobles, of both royalist and baronial persuasion, were also there. The harmony, however, didn’t last. Things started to go awry within a month, mainly over the ratification of the peace treaty with France. One baron sought to manipulate the treaty for his own benefit. He was Simon de Montfort, a man who carried all before him. The civil war that eventually engulfed the realm, and Henry’s reputation, would be his doing.

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