Henry lll: The Great King England Never Knew It Had by Darren Baker

Review published on August 3, 2018.

Henry III by Darren Baker is a brilliantly enlightening book that is incredibly intense in detail throughout. I am amazed at just how much information can be gleaned from as far back as the 1200s. The book is seemingly almost a week-by-week, chronological diary of events as they unfolded throughout Henry’s 56-year reign.

This period of history is fascinating to me, full of the Romanesque/Gothic art forms in buildings and statuary. Henry lll was the founder and builder of Westminster Abbey, and the early formation of what later became the House of Commons. He changed a great many facets of kingship, often without resulting in the normally accepted violence and war.

After William the Conqueror defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings, the conquering French nobility spread across the British Isles. As time moved on, these people married, quite often for status, and in turn, any offspring demanded their own piece of the action. Hence, a growing, almost inbred populace of the ‘ruling classes’ began to cause all types of unrest as muscles were flexed and intrigues abounded. Also, added to this mix, we have the Holy Roman Church, dissent in other countries, greed, inter-marriages, land grabbing, loans, taxes, cruel injustice from the barons, sheriffs, knights, landlords, justiciars and so on. Henry lll, the son of King John and Isabella, Countess of Angouleme, had a lot on his plate all the time, yet he was not a warlike man like his predecessors. No, he tended to support peace and harmony wherever he could.

I was quite stunned at how much of his life is documented and known today. It must have been a harrowing time for the King, crowned for the first time at age nine, then crowned again aged 13. He was the only regent to be crowned twice. He inherited the effects of King John’s Magna Carta document. He then suffered various alterations to the original, and became almost a vassal of the barons and knights. I heartily enjoyed reading about the entire story, much better than any film or imaginary storybook.

The way the book is written also shows how life was back then. Setting sail from France to England for Christmas was all running to order, when the wind suddenly changed direction, they were virtually in sight of the shoreline, but had to return to France and wait a more fortuitous wind, Christmas was missed. How religious people connived and wheedled their way into and out of favour with these ruling elite. How the peasantry suffered with heavy taxation, poor harvests, dire living conditions and high mortality. Even the ruling classes suffered death, seemingly at the drop of a hat. What also rears its head is the insidious anti-Semitism that was rife, even as far back as then.

A fascinating book for the serious reader, the detail is very intense, and the characters are many. For a student of history, I would recommend this book as a superb example of intelligent writing at its very best.

Reg Seward 5/1

Henry lll: The Great King England Never Knew It Had by Darren Baker
The History Press 9780750968140 hbk Oct 2017

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