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England's boy kings: Henry III

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Henry III of England was the nation’s first boy king. Henry was born in 1207 to King John of England and Isabelle of Angouleme. Ascending to the throne at the age of nine after the death of his father John, Henry was crowned quickly in the midst of the First Barons’ War in 1216. John had made provisions in case he died before Henry reached majority; the regency council was led first by William Marshal, who defeated the rebel barons and their French allies, led by the French king’s son, Louis. After Marshal’s death in 1219, the regency was controlled by Hubert de Burgh. Henry dismissed his regency council in 1232 at the age of 25, and also agreed to abide by the Great Charter of 1225, a revised version of the original Magna Carta of 1215.

Though it appeared Henry had control of England, he was influenced by Peter des Roches, an ambitious Frenchman. The barons expelled des Roches from court in 1234. However, the French continued to impact Henry. His mother had remarried a French noble after the death of John, and Henry favored his French half-siblings at court. Through diplomacy, Henry was able to make peace with France in 1259. Henry was also ambitious, first supporting his brother Richard as candidate for King of the Romans, and second endeavoring to install his son Edmund as King of Sicily. The latter was a miserable failure; Henry had begged the barons for the funds needed, but the barons resisted and instead devised the Provisions of Oxford, which limited the power of the monarchy and set in place a fifteen-member council made of barons to advise the king.

In 1263, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, seized power and revolted. The Second Barons’ War caused Henry to ally with France. In 1264, at the Battle of Lewes, Henry and his son Edward Longshanks were defeated and taken prisoner. Edward escaped and mobilized an army to free his father; he was successful at the Battle of Eversham in 1265. Simon de Montfort was killed and the civil war soon came to an end with the Dictum of Kenilworth, which allowed the barons that rebelled to buy back their forfeited lands and escape execution for treason.

Henry died in 1272, leaving the throne to his son Edward. Henry is remembered for constructing Westminster Abbey. Contemporaries described him as a religious man, evidenced by Henry’s tendency to rely on the Church and naming his eldest son after Edward the Confessor. Henry II also holds the title of the fifth-longest reign in English history at 56 years.

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