72 The Empire Strikes Back

 Things looked pretty good for the reformers in 1259; but at the heart of the reform movement were fault lines that weakened them, and made them vulnerable. The differing aims of the magnates; the avarice of de Montfort; and the fact that would plague the civil war 400 years later – how ever many times they defeated the king, he would still be the king. And in 1261, the royal fight back began

72 The Empire Strikes Back



The Treaty of Paris, 1259

  Medieval GasconyWhen at last de Montfort was out manoeuvred into giving Eleanor's quitclaim, the treaty was signed that finally put the seal on the end of the Angevin Empire. Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Touraine, Poitou – Henry formally renounced his claim to all of them. In return, he was given Gascony, and the rights to some further bits of land not yet in his possession – the Agenais, the Saintonge. Some commentators thought Henry a prune to have agreed to this – Eleanor had held Gascony as of right, not from the king of France. But in fact, Henry for once was probably right. It was a running sore – an agreement needed to be reached, otherwise there would simply be constant war, which the English were unlikely to win. And in fact although it taes a long time of course, a war which the English were indeed eventually to lose. 

The Provisions of Westminster

If the Provisions of Oxford were a constitutional revolution, the Provisions of Westminster were the embodiment of that revolution in legislation. Why, I hear you ask, do we get so excited by these things? Well, there are a few points. 

First of all, this is only the second example we have of specific legislation being introduced to modify the behaviour of the king and his instruments, the Sherrifs and Justices in Eyre. It goes further than Magna Carta in this respect.

Secondly, Magna Carta is really a peace treaty between the king and his magnates. The Provisions of Westminster concerned the malpractices of the barons every bit as much as of the king. This is radical. It also reflected the changing make up of England – local knights and towns were now too important and influential to be represented by the magnates. 

If you add the extraordinary restriction of the king's powers brought through the Provisions of Oxford, you have a constitutional change unmatched anywhere in Europe. 

For those super-keenies, here is the text of the Provisions of Westminster.

Download Provisions of Westminster 1259

The Empire Strikes Back

In 1260, Henry and Eleanor started a series of challenges to the Baronial Council which meant that by the end of 1261 they were back in control. At one stage, Simon de Montfort was put on trial by the king, and only saved by an  invasion from Llewellyn ap Gruffudd which distracted Henry at the crucial time – or maybe saved him from the embarassment of an acquittal. Prince Edward returned to the royal fold, reconciled to the king and Queen – though having to abandon his marcher friends in the process, much to their resentment. Eventually, in October 1261 after having many times sworn to uphold the Provisions of Oxford, Henry produced a Papal bull of absolution from his oaths, and repudiated the provisions. This of course should have been the time when the magnates stood up to be counted – but they failed, the air knocked out of them by the defection of Richard de Clare, the Earl of Gloucester. Only Simon de Montfort stood firm – making off to France rather than be forced to take part in a government that now was not regulated by the provisions. 

3 thoughts on “72 The Empire Strikes Back

  1. Mr. Crowther,
    I just downloaded episode 72 from iTunes (U.S). When I began listening to it, it was actually the “Enter the Leopard” podcast from last week. I deleted the file and downloaded it again with the same result.
    On another note, thank you so much for all the work you put into this project. The first thing I do every Sunday morning is listen to the new THoE podcast. It is a fantastic product, worthy of its own BBC series.

  2. I’m probably alone in this, but I have to say, that although I really enjoy this history of England podcast, the constant making a point of calling the king a “blithering idiot” is a tad offputting. Historians would do well to avoid using modern morals and hindsight to judge people in the past. Although I know I’m still 8 years in the past, please do keep up the good work mr. Crowther.

    1. Hi Martin, and I agree with the sentiment I must admit, and I do use very colloquial langauge throughout, which may not be to your taste – using the flimsy excuse that I don’t claim to be a historian; more a teller of historical stories I guess,since I do no research. In this particular case, though, given that this is a reign during which we will have multiple baronial rebellion, I think the blithering idiot accusation, though not historical language, could be argued to be using the judgement of the age in which Henry III lived.

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