England: minority of Henry III: 1216-1227 - Archontology
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England: minority of Henry III: 1216-1227

Death of King John and Succession of Henry III

On his death-bed, King John asked to ensure that Prince Henry (later Henry III) was entrusted to the guardianship of William Marshal, earl of Pembroke. He appointed 13 executors of his will, who were "to assist his sons in the recovery and defence of their inheritance," but there is no evidence that they acted together as a political body after John's death.

Three years earlier, King John resigned his kingdom to the pope (15 May 1213) and received it back as a papal fief. As soon as Pope Honorius III heard of John's death, he conceded to the papal legate Guala Bicchieri full power in England. Henry III was crowned by Guala on 28 Oct 1216 and performed homage to the pope during the coronation.

Immediately after the coronation, the king and kingdom were entrusted to William Marshal's care "by common counsel". As he needed to move about the kingdom, William entrusted the young king to the care of his previous governor, Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester. On 11 Nov 1216 a great council met at Bristol. The chief business was to provide for the government during the minority. William Marshal had been calling himself "justiciar" since his appointment despite the fact that John's last justiciar, Hubert de Burgh (chief justiciar from 15/25 Jun 1215), was not formally dismissed. The response was to devise a new title for William. He was now called by the king rector noster et regni nostri. ("governor of our person and our kingdom")

On 9 Apr 1219 William Marshal resigned his office in a council at Reading, and entrusted the king's person and the kingdom "to God and the pope and to the papal legate Pandulf as 'his master in their place'" over the protests of the Bishop of Winchester, as guardian of the king. Pandulf received the king from the young Marshal, William's son, "in the presence of all", presumably at Reading, and it was presumably the great council assembled there which confirmed his position. As Henry III later remarked, Pandulf was made "first counsellor and chief of all the kingdom of England ... by common consent and provision of all the kingdom." The government was carried on de facto by a "triumvirate" of legate, justiciar, and bishop of Winchester.

On 17 May 1220 a second coronation of Henry III took place in Westminster Abbey, the archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, crowning the king.

On 26 Jul 1221 Pandulf resigned his office of papal legate, and with it, his position at the head of the government. Apparently, the tutorship of Peter de Roches came formally to an end in October 1221 at Henry's 14th birthday. The government from that point on was in the hands of the justiciar Hubert de Burgh. The king took control over his seal at Westminster on 10 Dec 1223, after which date all letters under the Great Seal were attested by the king rather than by his justiciar.

In January 1227 the king declared at a council in Oxford that "by the common council of Stephen archbishop of Canterbury and our bishops, abbots, earls, barons and other magnates and fideles" he would henceforth issue charters under his seal. However, a formal declaration that the king had reached his majority was never issued. [1]

[1] "The minority of Henry III", by D.A. Carpenter (University of California Press, Berkeley 1990).