LIC Blog

Footsteps to War: Part 6 - A fool and his money

Henry the Third was totally unfit to be king of England. In this he was neither the first nor sadly would he be the last. He possessed no martial skills. His futile foray into North Wales in 1257 showed that he lacked any military acumen. His devotion to his half-brothers, the Lusignons, in the teeth of their manifest evil character and deeds, succeeded in alienating the best of his nobles and people.

That he was blind to the corrosive effect they were having on his eldest son, Edward, who adored his uncles, proved disastrous for many of his subjects.

Henry had talents. His programme of castle-building reveals his style and taste. Westminster was his legacy of England. He should have been an interior decorator. As a King, he brought abject misery on his kingdom.

Consider his endeavours to buy the Kingdom of Sicily for Edmund, his second son.

Sicily, Innocent IV and Charles of Anjou

The kingdom had been put on the market by Pope Innocent IV. It consisted not only of the island, but about half of the mainland. Nor was it without rulers having been in the possession of the Staufen Empire for generations. But Innocent IV wanted it brought under his sway, as feudal lord. To do that he needed a leader, an army and lots of money.

In August 1252, he offered the kingdom to Henry's brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, but negotiations made little progress. Next Innocent offered it to Charles of Anjou on the following terms:

- 1000 oz of gold up front once he had accepted the proffered kingdom (that is £1 million at 2013 gold prices)

- 10,000 oz of gold to help rebuild the Papal enclae of Benevento on the mainland (another £10 million)

- plus an annual tribute of 2000 oz of gold (£2 million, every year)

- plus 50 knights to serve in the Papal army.

Bjorn Weiler describes this as "neither unreasonable nor excessive" (Henry III of England and the Staufen Empire, p.149).

By what standard are they not unreasonable?

Weiler says: "Sicily was renowned for its riches" (Henry III of England and the Staufen Empire, p.153)

It would need to be, for once "liberated" from the empire it would be milked for such vast sums!

Charles would have none of it. That left Henry III and his son Edmund as the only viable game in town for Innocent.

Sicily, Innocent IV and Henry III

In December 1253 the Papal notary, Albert de Parma, was dispatched to Henry with terms. It is assumed that they were the same as those offered to Charles of Anjou. By March 1254, Henry had closed the deal for Edmund. However, Henry's subjects proved reluctant to finance his foreign adventure. The money was needed at home, not to bank-roll an outpost for another crusade.

To encourage Henry to act speedily Innocent promised 100,000 French pounds towards his expenses. Having tried once more to move the enterprise forward, the not-so-innocent Bishop of Rome died in November 1254. His successor, Alexander IV, clearly thought that Henry was a poor bet and so tried to come to terms with the existing rulers of Sicily between January and March 1255. When these negotiations proved fruitless, the Pope's money - to be more precise, England's money - was back on young Edmund.

Sicily, Alexander IV and Henry III

Pope Alexander changed the terms on which he offered the Kingdom of Sicily to Edmund. Instead of providing 50 knights for the Papal army, Henry had to find the pay of 300 knights! According to Prestwich, 2 shillings was the daily pay for a knight (see Edward I by Michael Prestwich, "Note on Money" page xvi).

So 300 knights would cost the King 600 shillings (£50) per day. Every year of their service would amount to £18,250. Since an Earl with large estates could expect an income of £5,000 yearly, this sum would require the total revenue of 4 such English nobles.

But worse came in the withdrawing of the promise of 100,000 French pound to pay Henry's expenses. Instead Henry was required to pay the Papal expenses to the tune of £90,000!

This would amount to the pay of 2,466 knights for one whole year and need the entire revenues of 18 English Earls. Weiler describes these new terms as: "harsh but reasonable" (Henry III of England and the Staufen Empire, p.153).

The English also thought it harsh, but thoroughly unreasonable. These demands would drain England of her capital to no profit. To submit to them would be not merely folly but madness.

Henry III accepted Alexander's terms and conditions. 

Neither Henry nor 10 year old Edmund ever set foot in the Kingdom of Sicily, but "its affairs came to dominate English politics" (Henry III of England and the Staufen Empire, p.147).

If only Henry had possessed the prudence of his brother Richard, who, when offered the Kingdom in 1252, had replied:

It is as if one said to me, I am selling or giving you the moon - go up and get it.

Simon de Montfort: The Baron's War and the Financial Background by J. Francis Eggleston, page 3, translating from Chronica Majora V of Matthew Paris, page 457

King Henry III thought otherwise.

As a result he and England were precipitated into the crisis of 1258.