LIC Blog

Footsteps to War: Part 5 - Blood is thicker than water

The Feast of Edward the Confessor fell on 13th October. As a devotee to the cult of the Saint, Henry III always celebrated his feast day. However, if proof were needed that the godly Saxon King had no power over the affairs of this world, his festive day in the year 1247 showed it. For surely the late King would have protected his realm from a dangerous invasion, if he was able?

On 13th October 1247 the Lusignan brothers, William and Aymer, arrived in England.

On the death of King John in 1216 his Queen, Isabella, returned to Angoulȇme and in 1220 married Hugh de Lusignan, the son of Hugh IX to whom she had once been betrothed. She and her new husband had 5 sons, who displayed all the aggressive and evil characteristics of the Luisgnan family.

On Isabella's death two of her sons, William and Aymer, crossed the English channel and embraced their half-brother, Henry, King of England.

Within a few short years William had been made Earl of Pembroke by the King and in 1250 Aymer became Bishop-elect of Winchester.

To the disgust and outrage of the kingdom, Henry lavished great wealth and power upon his kinsmen. But worse was to follow.

Lambeth Palace

Aymer disputed the patronage of St. Thomas's hospital in Southwark with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Bishop-elect applied his own brand of negotiations on his ecclesiastical superior. In 1252 Aymer sent a gang of thugs to the London home of the Archbishop, Lambeth Palace. They broke into the manor, stole money, jewels and silver plate before retreating to Aymer's castle at Farnham. These brigands dragged some of the Archbishop's servants along as prisoners-come-hostages.

The facts of the matter were clear and undoubted. The Archbishop had an open and shut case at law. Add to this that he was Boniface of Savoy, uncle of Eleanor, Queen of England, Henry's wife.

But Aymer was the King's half-brother and Henry III made it impossible to sue him for his crime, though the Church excommunicated him for his sin.

This illiterate lout was put beyond the reach of the King's law by none other than the King himself.

It comes as no surprise to find that Aymer repeated his crime in 1258.

Farnham Castle

John Fitz Geoffrey was lord of the manor of Shere in Surrey. He claimed the right, as patron, to present a candidate to the bishop to receive the living of the Church are Shere. Aymer contested that right. On 1st April the Bishop-elect sent his bunch of hooligans to Shere where they attacked some of John's men, taking prisoners back to Farnham, where one died from his wounds.

But this time Aymer had chosen the wrong man to bully.

John Fitz Geoffrey was the son of the Justiciar of England under Richard I and John. He had been made a member of the royal council in 1237 in return for money given to Henry III. Subsequently he had served as Justiciar in Ireland and resented being recalled from that position.

Seven days after the attack at Shere, Parliament met at Westminster Hall.

And it was then and there that John Fitz Geoffrey sought justice from Henry III. But the King neither wanted to hear him nor give him justice at law. As a chronicler put it:

"if any man brought a complaint and sought judgment against the Lusignans, the King turned against the complainant in a most terrible manner, and he who should have been a propitious judge became a terribly enemy."

Henry III believed that his blood-relatives were more important to him than the commonwealth over which he reigned. He ignored the bond between all Englishmen, that of being baptised into Christ, a bond which required him to apply laws of England without fear or favour, as the senior judge.

For Henry the blood that he shared with William and Aymer was stronger than the water of baptism.

But Henry was not alone in so valuing his kin. Edward showed over the next three years that he would stop at nothing to protect his Lusignan uncles and by his actions began to reveal that ruthless and cruel nature, which demeaned him as a man and later as a king.