Henry III (1216-1272) tried and failed to regain Aquitaine from France. This and other unsuccessful ventures abroad alienated him from his subjects. He filled the English church with absentee Italian appointees and the civil offices with French bureaucrats. Henry was forced to sign the Provisions of Oxford, which established a council of 15 with the power to veto the king's decisions. Henry tried to back out of the Provisions, leading to civil war in 1264.

Simon de Montfort
Simon de Montfort

Simon de Montfort
The leader of the faction opposing Henry was his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort, a strongly religious man with traces of democratic ideas which must have horrified his more conservative foes. Simon captured Henry following the Battle of Lewes in 1265. It seems that Simon was more interested in reforms than he was in personal power. He summoned a "Parliament" (from the French "parler", to talk).

Simon's Parliament drew two knights from each shire and two burgesses from each borough. This was the first summoning of townsmen in Parliamentary history. It was also a sign of the growing wealth and influence of the merchant classes.

Edward I
Later in 1265, Henry's son Edward defeated Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham. Simon died and Edward became de facto ruler, although he wasn't crowned until his father's death in 1273. Edward I, called Longshanks because of his lanky build, was a good administrator and a very good warrior. He frequently consulted his knights and townsmen about his decisions.

Edward in Wales
In 1282 Llewelyn, a Welsh chief, raised a rebellion in that country. Edward subdued Wales but drew a lesson from the efficiency of the Welsh longbow which was used against him. He built a series of castles in Wales, the glories of medieval military architecture. His son, Edward, was born in Caernarfon in 1284 and was later created the first Prince of Wales, a title that every subsequent male heir to the throne of England has worn.

Edward in Scotland
In 1291 Edward was asked to arbitrate between three rival claimants for the vacant throne of Scotland. He chose John Baliol, who did homage to England for Scotland. However, Edward's high-handed attitude drove the Scots into an alliance with France which was to last over three hundred years.

"The Hammer of Scots"
In 1296 Edward invaded Scotland, defeated Baliol, and took the crown for himself. He also took the Stone of Scone, upon which Scottish kings had traditionally been crowned, and brought it back to Westminster, where it can be seen today beneath the Coronation Throne in Westminster Abbey.

Parliament and Legal Reform
Meanwhile, in 1295, Edward called the Model Parliament. It contained bishops, abbots, earls, barons, knights, burgesses, and representatives of church chapters and parishes. When they convened the clergy separated and sat in their own council. Petitions to Parliament were encouraged, and it began to sit much more frequently. Responsibilities of the various Courts of law became more clearly defined. The Court of King's Bench handled criminal and crown cases, the Court of the Exchequer dealt with royal finance, and the Court of Common Plea with cases between subjects.

The Inns of Court
To keep these various courts running smoothly required a trained and efficient legal profession. Edward took the profession of law out of the hands of the clergy, putting lawyers under the control of the judges. This led to the establishment of the Inns of Court, great mansions where students and barristers lived together, establishing a continuity of legal tradition and practice. The barristers taught the students English Common Law, along with necessary social skills such as music and dancing.

Summing up Edward
This was the age when English Gothic architecture flourished, eventually evolving into the elaborate tracery designs of the Decorated period. The beginnings of the collegiate system at Oxford University date from this period, perhaps building on earlier schools established by Alfred the Great.

The Provisions of Oxford

MORE Medieval History:
Back: Richard the Lionheart and King John
Next: Edward II and Edward III

Also see Medieval London in our London History guide.