“Plantagenet England 1225-1360” Michael Prestwich (Part 3)

After the turbulence of the bulk of Henry III’s reign up to the death of Simon de Montfort & the conclusion of the civil war in 1266, the next 30 years were a period of both stability & recovery. The transition between the reigns of Henry III and Edward I was smooth, even tho Edward wasn’t in the country when his father died. And even tho the royal side had won the war, many of the reforms that de Montfort and his associates had been calling for were instituted.

Orientation Dates:

  • The Mamluks took power in Cairo in 1250 ruling for the next 3 centuries (post)
  • Kublai Khan ruled the Mongol Empire (in practice mostly Mongolia & China) 1260-1294 (post)
  • Edward I on Crusade 1270-1274
  • Marco Polo (if he existed) travelled from Venice to China 1271-1295
  • Henry III dies 1272
  • Edward II born 1284

Reconstruction and Reform, 1266-1294

The start of this period was a bit shaky – initially the Crown was keen to press its advantage from having won the war – but things quickly settled down. Early legislation (in 1267) actually incorporated a lot of the reforms of 1259 (which weren’t originally proposed by the Crown). Once the situation was calmer Henry III’s big project was the translation of Edward the Confessor’s remains into the new church he was building at Westminster – this was achieved with much ceremony in 1269. Edward I wasn’t really involved with domestic politics at this time – his project was his crusade, and there were a series of parliaments called by Henry III between 1268 & 1270 to negotiate for taxes to pay for this. Prestwich doesn’t discuss Edward’s crusade (this is a history of England after all), just mentions that Edward was out of the country for four years between 1270 & 1274. The regime clearly put thought into ensuring an orderly transition of power in case Henry III died during this time (as indeed he did). Several castles were transferred into the hands of men loyal to Edward before he left the country, and his chancellor (Robert Burnell) was left behind to look after Edward’s lands. After Henry’s death it seems that these key figures held the country together and governed in Edward’s name. Burnell was to be chancellor from then until he died in 1292.

Edward’s regime was a reforming one. His goals weren’t entirely the same as de Monfort & his associates in the 1250s, he was also aiming to recover & maintain royal rights. And to run his estates & his country efficiently and cost-effectively. It was a regime that ran on information – many inquiries were held over the next 25 years, and the results fed into legislation designed to address grievances discovered etc. At the time the traditional source of income for the King was the land that he held – and reforms were attempted to the management of these estates. These failed, and taxation became a more important part of the funding of the Crown. Rather than direct taxes, which needed to be negotiated, customs duties became an important source of income. And an important way to pay back the Italian bankers that Edward’s regime borrowed money from – rather than pay them in actual money instead they were granted the customs duties on particular commodities, which gave them a stake in the wider English economy. Also on the subject of finance – the currency was in a poor state & was recoined using a new technique (measured silver droplets rather than punched out of a flat sheet) starting from 1279, with the old coins forbidden.

This increasing important of taxation meant that Parliament continued to be important, even tho it had been used to their advantage by the barons in the civil war. A key development of Edward’s reign was that petitions could be presented to the King at a parliament – a formal route for people to complain about royal officials, and to raise grievances. Who was summoned to each parliament wasn’t yet formalised, let alone being a hereditary right, with not even every Baron at every parliament.

Another source of funding for Edward’s regime, and a way to gain political credit with the Barons, were the Jews. First legislation was passed that aimed to stop them lending money at interest (and conveniently meant that debts already owed no longer earnt interest), and they were “encouraged” to move into other trades. They were also increasingly restricted in where they could live, had to wear a distinctive badge & had the status of the king’s serfs. Later in 1290 they were expelled from the country entirely. Prestwich takes pains to point out that there’s no evidence that Edward was himself anti-Semitic (beyond the background level common to European society at the time) – in contrast to his mother, and to Simon de Montfort, both of whom have left evidence of anti-Semitic feelings. But the Jews had been taxed into the ground already, and the political capital to be gained by expelling them was worth a lot more to Edward than the Jews themselves were. In particular Prestwich thinks that the expulsion itself may’ve been the unwritten quid pro quo for a particularly generous grant of taxation by Parliament in that year. I don’t imagine it made any difference to the Jews that Edward was just being pragmatic.

Edward’s Queens were covered in about a paragraph in this chapter (which is, after all, about the politics rather than the personal) – his first wife, Eleanor of Castille, died in 1290 and he subsequently married Margaret of France. Edward’s mother also died in 1291, as did a couple of Edward’s senior courtiers (including the man who’d been his chancellor since 1272). The period of stability & political peace was drawing to an end. Prestwich notes that Edward had had an easier job than Henry III in terms of patronage – Henry III had all those half-brothers & in-laws he needed to keep sweet, Edward had only a few in-laws and close associates to provide for. But he also managed to do so in ways that prevented general dissatisfaction.

Tangents to follow up on: The life of Eleanor of Castille, also of Edward I himself.