03.12.05, Weiler, England and Europe During the Reign of Henry III (1216-1272)

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Beth Hartland

The Medieval Review baj9928.0312.005


Weiler, Bjorn K.U., ed.. England and Europe During the Reign of Henry III (1216-1272). Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002. Pp. xv, 239. ISBN: 0-7546-0467-5.

Reviewed by:
Beth Hartland
University of Durham

England and Europe in the Reign of Henry III (1216- 1272) is a volume of eleven essays written by scholars ranging from those engaged in doctoral research to established and eminent historians. What these scholars, judging from the essays in this volume, have in common is not so much an interest in placing English history within its European context, as the belief that placing English history in this context can inform our ideas about both medieval England and all aspects of thirteenth-century European society.

The first four essays in the volume deal with the "political dimension" of contact between England and her British and European neighbours. Huw Pryce, "Negotiating Anglo-Welsh Relations: Llywelyn the Great and Henry III," demonstrates how Llywelyn ab Iorwerth tried to imitate and use the power of the English Crown to secure his own power base and dynasty. Llywelyn's attempts ultimately met with failure because they posed a threat to tradition within Wales [[1]] and a threat to the English Crown outside Wales, which preferred to deal with a fragmented dominion to its immediate west. Pryce examines the use made by Llywelyn of his marriage to Joan, the illegitimate sister of Henry III, in negotiating these Anglo-Welsh relations and the gamble Llywelyn took in associating himself more closely with the Anglo-French political and cultural world. Attempts to override traditional succession systems with the practise of primogeniture were not confined to Wales, of course, but were to be found elsewhere in the British Isles, notably in contemporary Connacht (Ireland).

Transferring the scene to Gascony where the English crown was the underdog and the French crown filled the role of the "over-mighty and hostile neighbour" (7), Robin Studd's article "Reconfiguring the Angevin Empire, 1224-1259" explores the mechanisms through which Henry III's administration sought to reassert English territorial control in the south-west of France. In a prelude to further, more detailed study of this same topic, Studd sketches out the ways in which the "king's men strove manfully" (31) to put Henry II's empire back together and concludes that Henry III was more successful in Gascony than historians usually allow, although he admits that the reformation and reconfiguration of the Angevin Empire that took place was along modest lines. This essay traces the early development of the administration in Gascony which, Studd argues, centred on changes to the office of seneschal which in turn "pushed forward other institutional change" (33). Rather than undermining the authority of his fledging administration in Gascony, the personal visits of Henry III in 1230, 1243, and 1253-4 helped to create and cement relationships, feudal, personal and constitutional between the king and the Gascons in what was "still an age of personal monarchy" (37) (the failure of Henry III to travel to his lordship of Ireland might provide an instructive point of comparison here). Studd concludes that in 1259 the English position in Gascony was much stronger than it had been in 1224 in both practical and theoretical terms, the concept of the inalienability of Crown lands (1254) finally providing a stable platform for administrative structures to be built upon.

Michael Brown, "Henry the Peaceable: Henry III, Alexander III and Royal Lordship in the British Isles, 1249-1272," also deals with relations between the English Crown and one of her near royal neighbours. This essay deals with "the experience of Scotland's monarchy and community" against the interplay of relations "between kings, princes and communities" (43) in the British Isles, with particular emphasis on the policies and ambitions of Henry III. Brown challenges the view of Anglo-Scottish relations under Henry III as basically peaceful, and seeks to demonstrate the real tensions and rivalries which at times characterised the relationship between Alexander III and Henry III. As in Gwynedd, ties of marriage connected the English and Scottish kings but these connections did not dissuade the English king from claiming, and the Scottish king Alexander II from refuting, claims of overlordship to the kingdom of Scotland. During the minority of Alexander III, 1258 was a time of particular tension, with the very real prospect of war with England hanging over the heads of the minority government in Scotland who had assumed custody of their young king. The political turmoil in England made such an outcome impossible, but Brown uses this example to demonstrate "the impossibility of separating the northern kingdom from the other political societies of the British Isles" (61). In line with the focus of this volume, Brown also places Anglo- Scottish relations in their wider European context, the marriage connections between England and Scotland forming just one part in a larger and more complex picture of dynastic alliances and networks which Henry sought to spin across Europe in support of his continental ambitions.

Starting in the 1250s with Matthew Paris's refashioning of the Chronica Majorca into the Historia Anglorum, the Albigensian crusade has been "written out of English history" (67). It is this judgment (repeated by generations of historians) which Vincent sets out to refute in his article, "England and the Albigensian Crusade," a judgment which is convincingly overturned by Vincent's detailed handling of the varied means by which events in Toulouse were connected, and even shaped, by those in England. Vincent does not accept traditional explanations for the failure of heresy to spread across the Garonne into Gascony, arguing that "heresy lies in the eye of the beholder" and that it would not have suited the Church to have drawn attention to any heresy which did exist amongst the "subjects of the catholic kings of England" (71). In contrast, the English kings were keen to point out the heresy of the Cathars of Toulouse, as calls for a crusade provided a smokescreen for English attempts to regain the county allegedly stolen from Eleanor of Aquitaine. English policy towards Toulouse had made a U-turn by 1204, however, as Toulouse took on a new significance as a buffer zone between English Gascony and the lands of the French Crown. The declaration of the Albigensian Crusade, then, coincided with withdrawal of English Crown support for the venture. Indeed, in 1212 King John was planning a joint counter- offensive with Toulouse and Aragon against the crusaders and the King of France. It was only following Raymond VII's recognition of the Capetian King of France as his heir in 1229 that the ability of the English to effect events in Toulouse began to dwindle. Even so, this rebuff prompted Henry III to back the claims of Simon de Montfort the younger for power in Toulouse (a diplomatic move accompanied by permission to bid for the earldom of Leicester with fateful consequences for Henry's own realm).

The theme of crusading is continued in Jose Manuel Rodriguez Garcia, "Henry III (1216-1272), Alfonso X of Castile (1252- 1284) and the Crusading Plans of the Thirteenth Century (1245-1272)." The thirteenth century was a time of change for the crusade as the passagium generale initiated by the Pope lost ground to more localised crusading ventures instigated by national rulers, with papal authentication (hopefully) following. This is the background to Garcia's examination of the motives behind the decisions of Henry III of England and Alfonso X of Castile to take (or, indeed, not take) the Cross. In this environment of change, kings with differing motivations entered diplomatic negotiations to secure support for their particular crusade. Garcia concludes that Henry III did not have a fixed focus for his crusading policy, responding to papal claims, appeals and offers in different ways according to the current political situation. This contrasted with Alfonso X who (at least until his election as a candidate for the imperial throne in 1279, and arguably thereafter as well) had "a straightforward crusading policy...focused on two aims: the African crusade and the control of his country's resources" (111).

The articles by Bjorn Weiler, "Henry III through Foreign Eyes-- Communication and Historical Writing in thirteenth- century Europe," and Janet Burton, "The Monastic World," both continue and develop the theme of European-wide institutions. In a detailed survey of reporting on the events of Henry III's reign in France, Italy, and Germany, Weiler explores the reasons for "foreign" authors to include reference to Henry III in their chronicles, and also suggests routes through which such information was disseminated, the most important for the events of 1264-5 arguably being the international networks of the de Montfort family, the mendicant orders, and the Papacy. Janet Burton's work also illustrates the international nature of monastic orders, her focus being on the "traditional" (or non-mendicant) orders and the constitutional links which connected English dependencies to their continental mother houses. Although some dependent priories chose to stress their local ties by promoting their association with their lay patrons, and conflict could result from patrons trying "to exercise their rights at the expense of the continental abbots," it was not until the reign of Edward I that the tensions in this three-way relationship assumed an aggressively political aspect, with Norman houses seriously considering "unburdening themselves of English property" (125). In contrast, evidence relating to the attendance of British Cistercian abbots at General Chapters during the reign of Henry III suggests that "their monastic identity continued to be that of members of a continental organisation" (130).

Margaret Howell uses her contribution to recommend that the history of medieval women be approached first and foremost through the sources, drawing insight from the ideological approach but not being confined by theories. Twelve royal women from England and France in the mid-thirteenth century form the subject matter for a discussion of the role of gender in thirteenth-century society. Howell considers first (and subsequent) marriages, childbearing, intercession, control over property, widowhood, integration into society, and the issue of "female-networking," examining what the sources reveal about the women's actual experience and comparing this to what more theoretically minded historians have suggested was the typical experience. The real life experiences of Margaret of Provence, Blanche of Castile, and Eleanor of Provence, for example, challenge "Duby's grim model" (167) of young wives subjected to the violent attentions of their war-hardened older husbands, although the marriage of Isabella Plantagenet to Emperor Frederick II approaches closer to Duby's conception. Howell is a voice calling for common-sense, as well as detailed perusal of the sources, in writing the history of medieval women. Gender was, indeed, but "one thread in the web of human relationships [which] among real men and womenwas for ever various and individual" (178).

Using the window afforded by Roger of Wendover's Flores, Sean McGlynn discusses the nature of wars prosecuted by Henry III in England and France. He argues forcefully against Wendover's detractors for the usefulness of the chronicle in reporting warfare, especially that located within "a fairly narrow band of territory between Belvoir [where Wendover was prior until 1219] in the north and St. Albans in the south" (187). McGlynn admits Wendover's tendency to embellish miracle stories, but points out that his approach to reporting of warfare was far from fanciful, Roger preferring to tell the bloody tale without the romantic gloss of chivalry justifying the actions of the heroes. The efficacy of the crossbow, the centrality of sieges as part of a battle, avoidance strategy on land, the battle-seeking strategy employed by the English at sea, and the importance and horror of ravaging as part of campaign strategy are just some of the insights into thirteenth- century warfare afforded by Wendover. For McGlynn, Wendover's picture of the wars of Henry III up to 1234 is "faithful," giving us insight into the conduct of warfare throughout Western Europe in this period. Historians of early thirteenth-century warfare should perhaps pause to reconsider "Wendover's underestimated chronicle" (198).

The final two essays in the volume focus on individuals. Natalie Fryde examines the career of Dietrich of Cologne, using it an exemplar of how "non-aristocratic foreigners" (209) might have sought to fulfil their ambitions "to get on." Christopher Egger similarly advocates a prosopographical approach to the subject of relations between "Henry III's England and the Curia," adding the cautionary note that "it is the historian's most eminent task to interpret" not merely to collect "immense masses of data" (223). King Henry needed to be well connected at the Curia in order to forward his project to secure the kingdom of Sicily for his son, Edmund, and it is the careers of three men (Finatus, Robert of Barri and Master Jordannus) who acted as professional proctors at the Curia, and the benefices and fees which they amassed in England, which form the focus of this paper.

Men such as Master Jordannus formed part of one of the most important networks holding thirteenth-century Western Europe together, and thus provide a fitting topic for the final paper in a volume that is dedicated to forwarding the history of "the Anglo-European thirteenth-century" (85). Whilst England and Europe in the Reign of Henry III (1216-1272) is in itself a thoroughly worthwhile contribution to the history of England and Europe during the thirteenth century, this reviewer joins the editor in hoping that this volume will "engender further debate, and give renewed impetus to a broader, more 'international' approach" (9) towards that history.


[[1]] For example, the attempt to override the traditional succession system with the practice of primogeniture; an attempt that had parallels elsewhere in the British Isles, notably in contemporary Connacht (Ireland).

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Author Biography

Beth Hartland

University of Durham