On 16th November 1272 King Henry III of England died after reigning for 56 years, a European record that would not be broken until Louis XIV of France did so some 450 years later.
Henry was the son of King John and was only nine years old when his father died and he became king. England was therefore governed by regents until 1227, when Henry started to reign for himself. He had inherited the war between the king and the barons that his father had been unable to win, but by the time of his coming of age peace of a sort had been achieved.
However, this state of affairs did not last for ever, and Henry’s general incompetence as king led to a second Barons’ War that broke out in 1264 after several years of revolt by the most powerful men in the land, led by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester.
After defeating Henry at the Battle of Lewes in May 1264, de Montfort had him imprisoned in the Tower of London and there was a very real possibility that the monarchy could have been abolished altogether. The situation was saved when Henry’s son Edward (later King Edward I) defeated and killed de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in August 1265.
Henry reacted to the revolt by taking harsh revenge on the rebels, which was in contrast to the more conciliatory polices of the earlier part of his reign. He came to rely heavily on the talents of his son Edward, who would prove to be a much more capable ruler than Henry. In his last years Henry was physically unwell and almost certainly senile.
Although Henry III had the distinction of such a long reign, it has been estimated that he only really ruled for 24 of the 56 years that he was king. These were the years when he was not either too young to rule, under the domination of Simon de Montfort, or dependent on his son Edward.
© John Welford