The seventeenth ‘Thirteenth Century England’ conference, held at Selwyn College, Cambridge in September 2017, explored ‘England in Europe’, and the essays in the present volume, the fruit of the conference, respond to its theme in a variety of ways, ranging over politics, religion and culture. England's role in the politics of Europe was, of course, profoundly reshaped at the start of the thirteenth century by the disintegration of so much of the Angevin Empire. In hindsight, it is easy to view the reign of John as a watershed, marking the start of a turn towards a more ‘insular’ focus in politics and society, especially when one thinks of the internal political crises of Henry III's reign and Edward I's attempts to subject Wales and Scotland to English rule. These essays complicate, in different ways, such an impression. For while some demonstrate the importance of ongoing political entanglements and memories of past connections, others examine how England was absorbed in trends that operated on a European, or at least a western European, scale. The ambitions and policies of both Henry III and Edward I did not stop at the English Channel, while in the other direction flowed ideas, clerics, ambassadors, refugees, mercenaries and occasionally threats.
Henry III himself looms in a number of the contributions as a king playing on the ‘European’ stage, even though he was now forced back on England's resources. Antonia Shacklock's essay shows one way in which the king sought to respond (imaginatively, but with limited eventual success) to his predicament by mobilizing England's holy men, not only the well-known figure of Edward the Confessor but also a larger communion, including other saintly figures from the Anglo-Saxon past. As Henry looked to insular saints to bolster his standing, he was also importing foreign-born relatives and establishing them in England, and Shacklock shows how he sought to enlist his new men in patriotic devotions. In so doing, the king tried to respond to the problem posed by a baronage whose interests were becoming more Anglocentric and whose instincts put them at odds with the king's policies, including his penchant for introducing ‘aliens’ to England's court.