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Henry III and the Native Saints

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 December 2020

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Summary

All reigns see transitions, but Henry III's witnessed more change than most, owing to its length and the civil wars that bookended it. Magna Carta, which was reissued by the minority regime, emerged as a yardstick against which kingship would be measured, establishing ideals which informed expectations of the new king. Magna Carta also included a healthy dose of xenophobia, forbidding foreigners from holding important offices. Such hostile sentiment grew during Henry's reign, in part, due to the loss of continental lands under John, which meant that the great barons would, increasingly, be native-born, and their territorial interests restricted to Britain and Ireland. The shrinking of Angevin dominions and a re-centering on England meant that defining what it meant to be a foreigner became both easier and more important. Thus, in these and other ways, both the king and his subjects began to inhabit a very different landscape to the one their parents had occupied. This fundamentally altered English kingship.

As a result of these changes, Henry was able – and needed – to mould his kingship in a different way to his predecessors. Due to his father's death and the long minority that resulted from it, Henry grew up with a variety of influences, some of them more insular than those to which his predecessors had been exposed. This, coupled with the absorption of the ideals of Lateran IV, which would have reached Henry via the bishops who surrounded him as a minor, helped to shape Henry's pious practices. He was also still acutely aware that he was part of a distinguished dynasty that was alive, dead, and yet to be, and that it was his duty to keep its memory alive. For Henry, an integral part of his dynasty included royal Anglo-Saxon saints to whom he was related through Edith- Matilda, Henry I's queen. It was through Edith-Matilda that Henry could lay claim to the inheritance of Alfred, Athelstan, Edgar and Edward the Confessor. Henry would thus have seen himself as part of a sacred dynasty in which he took pride, whose members he sought to emulate, and on whose heavenly patrons he could call.

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Thirteenth Century England XVII
Proceedings of the Cambridge Conference, 2017
, pp. 23 - 40
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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