TT: Henry III – Never A Dull Moment

In my excitement about the new cover for Artemis Awakening (page back one to see the art and hear about how the cover came to be), I forgot to mention another bit of news.  Treecat Wars, my second collaboration with David Weber, is now officially released!  I’m doing a book signing this weekend at 2:00 p.m. at Alamosa Books here in Albuquerque to celebrate.  I hope some of you will be able to be there.

Now…  Join Alan and me as we advance our exploration of the Henries to the III, a man who ruled young and old – and more than a little controversially.

JANE: There’s one more King Henry to look at before we get to those that Shakespeare binged on when writing his plays.  So, why didn’t Shakespeare write about Henry III?  Was Henry III really dull or was he, like Henry II, perhaps a bit too controversial?

Imprisoned King

Imprisoned King

ALAN: Oh, Henry III was anything but dull. He was the son of the infamous King John. Henry was only nine years old when King John died in 1216. Nevertheless, he inherited the throne, though he was too young to rule directly. A council of ministers ruled in his stead until January 1227 when Henry III took over formal control of the government, even though technically he was still a minor. However, during his regency, he had proved to be an able advisor to his ministers and nobody quibbled too much when he took over.

JANE: So Henry III was a popular king?

ALAN: Well, after the total catastrophe of King John’s reign, I think any king would, by contrast, be rather popular. However, Henry III’s popularity didn’t last. In 1230, he raised an army to try and regain the French lands that his father had lost. But the war turned out to be an expensive fiasco and he retired with his tail very much between his legs. By the middle of the century, he was becoming more and more unpopular.

JANE: Hmm…  Sounds as if American President Lyndon B. Johnson could have learned a thing or two from Henry III.

ALAN: That’s a very good parallel to draw since both of them ended up being quite unpopular as the result of a fruitless and expensive conflict.

Anyway, in 1263, Simon de Montford rebelled against Henry. For a time he held Henry captive and became the de facto ruler of England. During this time, he called two parliaments. The first made some quite controversial decisions and stripped the king of his unlimited authority which put even greater constraints on what a monarch could and could not do than had Magna Carta.

But it was the second parliament that secured Simon de Montford’s place in history. Even the makeup of the second parliament was controversial. For the first time ever, it contained ordinary citizens. If you like, it was the very first House of Commons and we were taught at school that Simon de Montford was the progenitor of the parliamentary democracy that controls England today.

JANE: That’s amazingly interesting.  I can see that our American idea of monarchy as an orderly system of government is very distorted.

Did Henry III die in jail?  Did Simon de Montford become the next king under a changed name?

ALAN: No. Henry’s son Edward raised an army which defeated Simon de Montford at the Battle of Evesham in 1265 and he freed his father from captivity. Simon de Montford was killed in the battle. His body was mutilated after death; his head, hands, feet, and testicles were cut off. Henry resumed his throne and reigned until 1272 when he died, aged 65.

JANE: So he was king for 56 years?

ALAN: Yes – it was one of the longest reigns in English history. Only four other monarchs reigned for longer, and two of them were women!

JANE: Ooh!  Teacher, I know the answer to that one!  Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II, right?

ALAN: That’s right. Go to the top of the class.

JANE: What’s my prize?

ALAN: You get to give the pens out tomorrow. And also I’ll tell you who the other two longest reigning kings were. The first of them was George III (the mad king who lost the American colonies). We’ve already had a discussion about him. He reigned for 59 years. And then there was James VI of Scotland who reigned for nearly 58 years, though he only counts because he succeeded Elizabeth I and united England and Scotland under one ruler. He only ruled England for 22 years though…

JANE: Still, that’s a good long reign.

It seems to me that Henry III would have provided good material for a play by Shakespeare.  I wonder if Shakespeare avoided the topic because so much of Henry III’s reign was associated with the reduction of the powers of the monarchy.  You couldn’t avoid the subject and Shakespeare did rely on noble patronage for his theatre company.

I also wonder if he was uncomfortable with the theme.  His King John has some excellent moments and John is a complex figure, but the play itself is uneven in both tone and writing.

ALAN: And as far as I recall, it doesn’t mention Magna Carta at all, which does suggest that a discussion of the reduction of the powers of the might have been a politically unwise move…

JANE: Now, what about Henry IV?   He got two plays or, if you stretch it, three…  Shall we talk about him next time?

ALAN: Yes, let’s.

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6 Responses to “TT: Henry III – Never A Dull Moment”

  1. Louis Robinson Says:

    My goodness! No comments yet. I’ll stick my oar in, just to reassure you that somebody’s paying attention.

    King John, apparently, was a collaboration, so a lot of the uneveness likely comes from that, rather than the subject. Willy was actually rather good at cutting his scripts to fit the political cloth, so I’m pretty sure he could have come up with a presentation of Henry III that would go over well at Court. ‘Twere I, it would be as an object lesson in the perils of an over-powerful nobility – that would please Queen and commons. [his patrons were people who really owed their positions to the Queen. They wouldn’t object to the idea that power belongs in the Court, or at least not openly]

    • janelindskold Says:

      Interesting! The introductory essay to the play by Herschel Baker in my _Riverside Shakespeare_ doesn’t mention the possibility of the play being a collaboration. It does mention an anonymous play titled _The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England, as a source. Moreover, some scholars think this play is simply a “bad quarto” of Shakespeare’s own play — although most are content to credit it as a closely followed source.

      Who is said to be Shakespeare’s collaborator?

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        ::blush::

        Sorry, that’s misinformation. I was confusing this play with “Edward III”. Another play with good evidence for Shakespearian associations.

        Just rechecked, and the discussion I recalled for King John is about whether or not ‘Troublesome …’ is a source or derivative.

  2. janelindskold Says:

    Hey… No worries, Louis. You gave me an excuse to talk about something fascinating. As someone who has written in collaboration and then watched people try to sort out who wrote what, it’s an interesting game!

  3. Paul Says:

    Funny how even initial misinformation can spark a good discussion. That’s something I enjoy about reading these posts. Always stimulating folks posting here.

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