800 years ago the new King of England Henry III was crowned in what is now Gloucester Cathedral. This anniversary has been largely missed outside of Gloucester with the fanfare over Shakespeare and Magna Carter in the past few years so I decided to make it the topic for my post as I live in Gloucester and the Cathedral are having some commemoration events.
King Henry III was born in Winchester Castle in 1207 to King John and his second wife Isabella of Angouleme. This made him only 9 years old when his father died in 1216. The reality of having a child King meant that his position was particularly precarious but fortunately Henry’s position was strengthened by the support and guidance of the influential elder statesman William Marshall.
After the death of King John the English barons had to choose between the child Henry or the adult but French Louis. Nobody liked King John and the thought of a child of his that would take many years to reach adulthood as King was not immediately appealing but a French King was an even worse prospect for the nobility. Most decided on supporting Henry over the French and arrangements for a regency council were made to last until he came to his majority.
Henry’s administration faced a myriad of extra problems to deal with. Rebels had invited the Dauphin of France Louis to invade England and the French forces had the south-east of the country under their control. Hindsight can trick us into believing that this invasion was of little consequence but at the time many thought the young kings position to be hopeless. This sentiment caused some loyal to the young King and the Royal council, such as the earl of Salisbury to defect. The eventual success of the Royal forces was in no way inevitable and when victory was achieved it was seen as a significant change in fortunes.
This invasion and the youth of the King coupled together had the potential to become very damaging to the position of the monarchy. To try to reinforce the authority of the monarchy the decision was made by Marshall to hold a coronation for the boy immediately. The result was a rather hastily organised ceremony in Windsor Castle. Due to the loss of many of the Royal jewels and other coronation apparel in the wash a golden circlet – a possession of Queen Isabella’s – had to be used instead of a crown.
The regency council led by the aforementioned William Marshall defeated Louis at Lincoln and his hold on the south of England evaporated after a defeat for his naval forces. Marshall also announced his intention to rule in accordance with the Magna Carta which proved to be a popular move among the nobility.
The coronation itself was held in St Peters abbey in Gloucester on the 28th October 1216 due to the deteriorating political situation in London where the ceremony would normally be conducted in Westminster abbey. The legitimacy of the coronation in Gloucester was in doubt however, due to the absence of the Archbishop of Canterbury who was banned from England by the Pope. We can assume the ceremony was fairly threadbare as the Pope called into question the legitimacy of the 1216 coronation and another was held with all necessary pomp and circumstance in Westminster abbey in 1220.
In the end the primary purpose of the 1216 coronation seems to have been to boost the legitimacy of the new King and cement support for Henry against the French. This was achieved and the Kings position cemented. In this sense the coronation could be seen as a success, even if the ceremony was minimalist in comparison to previous coronations.
So all in all the beginning of Henry III’s reign didn’t show much promise but eventually the initial problems were overcome. The success of Henry’s reign was mixed at best and ironically later on in his reign the French were supporting him against rebellious barons in the barons war. After the Magna Carta Henry’s reign heralded a new set of standards of accountability for the monarch, paving the way for the rise of parliamentary power.