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Reign of Henry III, Part 1


Continuation of the Reign of Henry III. - His Courtships - Marriage with Eleanor of Provence.
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During the years which preceded the marriage of Henry, much discontent prevailed in England on account of the heavy taxes which continued to be imposed, although the refractory barons were subdued and the mercenary troops dismissed.

The hostility of the king to the Great Charter, which he had so solemnly confirmed, excited the indignation of the people. The forest charter, for which the nation had paid one-fifteenth on all movables - a proof how eagerly they desired it - was scarcely more respected.

The marriage of Henry was negotiated no less than four times with as many different princesses, and as frequently broken off.

With the last of these ladies, Joanna, daughter of the Earl of Ponthieu, the treaty had proceeded so far that the Pope was applied to for a dispensation, the parties being fourth cousins, when the caprice of the intended bridegroom broke off the match.

His contract with the Lady Joanna appears to have been regarded by him with no more sense of honour than his oaths to maintain the charters had been; and we find him even before his ambassadors had commenced proceedings at the court of Rome, writing to the Earl of Surrey, soliciting his kind offices in furthering a marriage with one of the daughters of his brother-in-law, Raymond, Earl of Provence.

This letter was written in June, and in July he dispatched instructions to his representatives at Rome, directing them to suspend all negotiations for the present, and at the same time commanding them to observe the most profound secrecy respecting it.

In the prosecution of this fifth project of marriage, Henry seems to have used every exertion to ensure success. He wrote letters both to the father and mother of his new choice, and sent an embassy, consisting of the Prior of Harle, the Bishops of Ely and Hereford, and Robert de Sandford, master of the Temple, to solicit the hand of their second daughter, who, although only twelve years of age, was already celebrated on account of her extreme beauty.

The house with which the king now sought alliance was, undoubtedly, one of the most illustrious in Europe. Its remote ancestors were the Counts of Barcelona; but it was by Raymond Berenger, the first earl, or, as he is sometimes called, King of Provence, that the foundation of its greatness was laid.

After rendering himself celebrated both as a warrior and a statesman, he died in 1131, and his estates were now governed by his great-grandson, Raymond III.

Provence was distinguished very early for the honourable encouragement it gave to literature, especially the art of poetry, and so generally were her claims to superiority in this respect admitted that Provencal became the popular term to distinguish the poetry of the langue d'oc from that of the langue d'oil.

Richly, if we may judge from its effects, did the Counts of Provence recompense the poets of their country; for so munificent were their gifts to the troubadours who sought their court at Aries, that they gradually became impoverished.

The poets have invented a singular legend to account for the subsequent wealth of Raymond. It was the least they could do to recompense him for his extravagant liberality in their favour; and a century later the legend found a place in that receptacle of religious tales and romances known as the "Gesta Romanorum."

When Raymond, driven to despair by the sight of his empty coffers, was puzzling his brains with schemes for refilling them, a pilgrim, "de fort bonne mine," says the Abbe de Ruffi, to whom we are indebted for the story, came to the palace on his return from a pilgrimage to St. James.

This stranger, after partaking the hospitality of the count for some days, inquired into the value of his lands, the state of his finances, and finally offered to free him from every difficulty in a short time, provided that lie was placed in absolute superintendence of all his affairs. To this proposal Raymond readily acceded, and the unknown pilgrim was forthwith placed in supreme authority over the household. And well did the stranger perform his promise: ere long, Raymond was freed from his embarrassments, and in a few years his: coffers overflowed with wealth. But now gratitude began to fade from the fickle mind of the count, and he listened to the suspicious hints of his servants; until, altogether forgetful of the great benefits he had received at the hands of the unknown pilgrim, he commanded him to render up his accounts. The pilgrim made no objection; he exhibited his statements, and proved the integrity of his conduct so fully, that even his bitterest enemies could not answer a word. He then resumed his staff, scrip, and mantle, and, in despite of every entreaty of the repentant count, disappeared. Long, strict, and minute search was made after him, but he was never heard of more.

The visit of this friendly pilgrim, we may suppose, was subsequently to Raymond's marriage of his daughter Eleanor, since Matthew Paris represents him as an u illustrious and valiant man; but, through continual wars, almost all he had had vanished from his treasury." The proposal, therefore, of the King of England was peculiarly grateful, both to Raymond and to his wife, Beatrix of Savoy, whose three brothers looked anxiously, even from the commencement of their niece's marriage treaty, to the broad lands and rich church preferment which they anticipated they should soon possess in wealthy but ill-governed England. It was, therefore, with eager joy that the proposal of Henry was accepted by the needy count; and with equally eager joy, judging from his haste, did the king transmit his instructions for the marriage articles. In these he assigns to Eleanor, as dower, "those cities, lands, and tenements, which it has been customary for other kings, our predecessors, to assign to other queens." He then proceeds to state, that if Isabel should survive him, and should have recovered her dower, "then his procurators shall assign to Eleanor these towns: Gloster, Cambridge, and Huntingdon, and the villages of Wych, Basingstoke, Andover, Chiltham, Gumester, Clynes, Kingston, Ospringe, and Ludingland, to hold meanwhile;" and after Isabel's death, Eleanor in that case taking the usual dower, these towns and lands should revert to the king. In respect to Eleanor's portion, which is stated to be 20,000 marks, he directs his embassy to agree with the count that the sum shall not be less than that promised; and in a subsequent instrument he grants full power to the procurators to receive it. In the secret instructions which immediately follow, Henry seems to have apprehended, that if he pressed the count for immediate payment of his daughter's portion, he might lose his fifth chance of obtaining a wife.

He therefore directs, that if his procurators cannot fulfil his commands to the very letter, they shall, "over and above every power contained in the aforesaid letters, without the payment of the money appropriated for us, in whatever way ye can, take her with you, and safely and securely bring her to us in England." The youthful princess was accordingly placed in the hands of the ambassadors, and, amidst the rejoicings of the whole kingdom of Provence, she set forth, accompanied by a gallant cavalcade, in which were more than three hundred ladies on horseback. Her route lay through Navarre and France.

A romantic trait, illustrating the chivalrous feeling of the age, is recorded by Matthew Paris. The poet king of Navarre, Thibaut VII., whose songs are still remembered in the land over which he reigned, no sooner heard that the daughter of the minstrel-loving Raymond was to pass through his dominions, than he gallantly summoned a goodly array of men-at-arms, and joyfully made ready to accompany her for five days through his lands, defraying every expense, both for horses and men, although the royal train amounted to many hundreds.

When Eleanor arrived on the frontier of France, she received a hospitable welcome from the queen dowager and her son, who a short time previously had married an elder sister of the bride. The marriage train finally reached Dover, from whence it proceeded to Canterbury, where Henry awaited their coming. It was in that ancient city that the union took place, the service being performed by the Archbishop Edmund and the prelates who accompanied Eleanor. From Canterbury the newly-wedded pair set out for London, attended by a splendid array of nobles, prelates, knights, and ladies. On the 20th of January, being the feast of St. Fabian and St. Sebastian, Eleanor was crowned at Westminster with great splendour.

The historian Matthew Paris describes, not only the gallant array of the royal procession, but the gorgeous appearance which, even at that early period, was made by the city of London, with a minuteness which entitles him to the gratitude of every lover of antiquity: -

"There had assembled together so great a number of the nobility of both sexes, so great a number of the religious orders, so great a concourse of the populace, and so great a variety of players, that London could scarcely contain them in her capacious bosom. Therefore was the city adorned with silk hangings, and with banners, crowns, palls, tapers, and lamps, and with certain marvellous ingenuities and devices; all the streets being cleaned from dirt, mud, sticks, and everything offensive.

"The citizens of London going to meet the king and queen, ornamented and trapped and wondrously sported their swift horses; and on the same day they went from the city to Westminster, that they might discharge the service of butler to the king in his coronation, which is acknowledged to belong to them of ancient right.

"They went in well marshalled array, adorned in silken vestments, wrapped in gold-woven mantles, with fancifully devised garments, sitting on valuable horses, refulgent with new bits and saddles: and they bore three hundred and sixty gold and silver cups, the king's trumpeters going before and sounding their trumpets; so that so wonderful a novelty produced a laudable astonishment in the spectators."

The worthy monk of St. Albans dilates with great gusto upon the splendour of the feast, and the order of the service of the different vassals of the crown, many of whom are called upon at a coronation to perform certain peculiar services down to the present day. He also remarks, with great complacency, that the abbot of his own convent took precedence of every other abbot in England at the dinner.

The following further and probably more accurate account-is extracted from the city records. They are deeply interesting, as offering the earliest account of the ceremonies used at the coronation of a queen consort of England.

"In the twentieth year of the reign of King Henry, son of King John, Queen Eleanor, daughter of the Earl of Provence, was crowned at Westminster, on the Sunday before the Purification, the king wearing his crown, and the bishops assisting. And these served in order in that most elegant and unheard-of feast: - The Bishop of Chichester, the chancellor, with the cup of precious stones, which was one of the ancient regalia of the king, clothed in his pontificals, preceded the king, who was clad in royal attire, and wearing the crown. Hugh de Pateshall walked before with the patine, clothed in a dalrnatica; and the Earls of Chester, Lincoln, and Warren, bearing the swords, preceded him. But the two renowned knights, Sir Richard Siward and Sir Nicholas de Molis, carried the two royal sceptres before the king; and the square purple cloth of silk, which was supported upon four silver lances, with four little bells of silver gilt, held over the king wherever he walked, was carried by the barons of the cinque ports; four being assigned to each lance, from the diversity of ports, that one port should not seem to be preferred before the other. The same in like manner bore a cloth of silk over the queen, walking behind the king, which said cloths they claimed to be theirs by right, and obtained them. And William de Beauchamp of Bedford, who had the office of almoner from times of old, found the striped cloth, or burel, which was laid down under the king's feet as he went from the hall as far as the pulpit of the church of Westminster; and that part of the cloth that was within the church always fell to the sexton, in whatever church the king was crowned; and all that was without the church was distributed among the poor, by the hands of William the almoner.

"At the king's table, on the right hand of the king, sat the archbishops, bishops, and certain abbots, who wished to be privileged at table; and on the left hand sat the earls, and some barons, although very few; but none claimed their seats by any right. And on that day the office of seneschal was served by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, to whom, the office by right belonged; and the office of the napery was that day served by Henry of Hastings, whose right it was of old to serve.

"Walter de Beauchamp, of Hammerlegh, laid the salt cellar and the knives, and, after the banquet was at an end received them as his fee.

"The Earl Warren served the office of butler in the stead of Hugh de Albiniac, Earl of Arundel; and under him was Michael Belot, whose right it was, as secondary, to hold the cup well replenished with wine to the Earl of Arundel, to be presented by that nobleman to the king when he might require it. Andrew Benkerel, who served the office of Mayor of London from 1231 to 1237, was at Westminster to serve in the butlery, with the 360 gold and silver cups, because the city of London is held to be the assistant to the chief butler, as the city of Winchester is represented in the same way in the kitchen to assist the high steward.

"The mayor, it seems, claimed Michael Belot's place of standing before the king, but was repulsed by Henry, who decided that the former should serve him.

"After the banquet the earl butler had the king's cup as his fee, and his assistant the earl's robe as his right.

"William de Beauchamp that day served the office of almoner, and had entire jurisdiction relative to the disputes and offences of the poor and lepers: so that, if one leper struck another with a knife, ho could adjudge him to be burnt.

"After the banquet was finished, he received, as his right, the silver dish for alms that stood before the king; and he claimed to have one tun of wine in right of alms; and on that day the great chamberlain served the water, as well before as after the banquet - namely, Hugh de Vere, Earl of Oxford; and he received, as his right, the basins and the towels wherewith he served. Gilbert, earl marshal, Earl of Strigul, served the office of the marshalsea; and it was his duty to appease tumults in the king's house, to give liveries to them, and to guard the entrances to the king's hall; and he received from every baron who was knighted by the king, and from every earl on that day, a palfrey with a saddle. The head cook of the royal kitchen always, at the coronation, received the steward's robe as his right; and of the aforesaid offices none claimed to themselves the right in the queen's house, except G. de Stamford, who said that he, in right of his predecessors, ought to be chamberlain to the queen, and door-keeper of her chamber on that day, which he there obtained; and had, as his right, all the queen's furniture, as belonged to the office of chamberlain.... And the cloth which hung behind the king at table was claimed on the one side by the door-keepers, and on the other by the scullions, for themselves."

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