Henry III, King of England, Lord of Ireland, and Duke of Aquitaine from 1216 until his death, dies in Westminster, London on November 16, 1272. His son, Edward I, who has been Lord of Ireland since 1254, succeeds him.
In the final years of his reign, Henry is increasingly infirm and focused on securing peace within the kingdom and his own religious devotions. Edward becomes the Steward of England and begins to play a more prominent role in government. Henry’s finances are in a precarious state as a result of the war, and when Edward decides to join the crusades in 1268 it becomes clear that fresh taxes are necessary.
Henry is concerned that Edward’s absence might encourage further revolts, but is swayed by his son to negotiate with multiple parliaments over the next two years to raise the money. Although Henry had initially reversed Simon de Montfort‘s anti-Jewish policies, including attempting to restore the debts owed to Jews where these could be proven, he faces pressure from parliament to introduce restrictions on Jewish bonds, particularly their sale to Christians, in the final years of his reign in return for financing. Henry continues to invest in Westminster Abbey, which becomes a replacement for the Angevin mausoleum at Fontevraud Abbey, and in 1269 he oversees a grand ceremony to rebury Edward the Confessor in a lavish new shrine, personally helping to carry the body to its new resting place.
Edward leaves for the Eighth Crusade, led by Louis IX of France, in 1270, but Henry becomes increasingly ill. Concerns about a fresh rebellion grow and the following year the King writes to his son asking him to return to England, but Edward does not turn back. Henry recovers slightly and announces his renewed intention to join the crusades himself, but he never regains his full health. On the evening of November 16, 1272, Henry dies in Westminster, probably with his wife, Eleanor of Provence, in attendance. He is succeeded by Edward, who slowly makes his way back to England via Gascony, finally arriving in August 1274.
At his request, Henry is buried in Westminster Abbey in front of the church’s high altar, in the former resting place of Edward the Confessor. A few years later, work begins on a grander tomb for the King and in 1290 Edward moves his father’s body to its current location in Westminster Abbey. His gilt-brass funeral effigy is designed and forged within the abbey grounds by William Torell. Unlike other effigies of the period, it is particularly naturalistic in style, but it is probably not a close likeness of Henry himself.
Eleanor likely hopes that Henry will be recognised as a saint, as his contemporary Louis IX of France had been. Indeed, Henry’s final tomb resembles the shrine of a saint, complete with niches possibly intended to hold relics. When the King’s body is exhumed in 1290, contemporaries note that the body is in perfect condition and that Henry’s long beard remains well preserved, which at the time is considered to be an indication of saintly purity. Miracles begin to be reported at the tomb, but Edward is sceptical about these stories. The reports cease, and Henry is never canonised. In 1292, Henry’s heart is removed from his tomb and reburied at Fontevraud Abbey with the bodies of his Angevin family.
(Pictured: Effigy of Henry in Westminster Abbey, c. 1272)