Sneaky Brother Matthew

In his 1958 study of Matthew Paris, Richard Vaughan comes to this conclusion about the prolific chronicler’s portrait of Henry III that still informs modern-day opinion.

‘Matthew’s views about King John are well known: he is greedy and libidinous, wicked, cruel and tyrannical. Indeed, for Matthew, he is a personification of all the vices. Henry III receives only slightly better treatment, and it is a remarkable fact that, though Matthew knew him personally, and was honoured and befriended by him more than once, his ideas about Henry remained inimical and offensive. No doubt much of the opprobrium which he heaps on Henry is an inevitable result of his political prejudices: any king who tried to govern at all would be bound to incur Matthew’s wrath, for he strongly disapproved of all the activities of government except that of hanging thieves… On the whole, Matthew’s picture of Henry is a vicious, spiteful caricature, and not the least spiteful remark made about him is the comment that, had he not redeemed his evil deeds by constant and liberal almsgiving, his soul would have been seriously endangered.’

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