It’s an interesting fact, and it must be true because it was mentioned by Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge, that Isabella of Angouleme – wife first to King John and then to Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche had sixteen children, all of whom lived into adulthood. Not that all of her children and grandchildren lived very happy lives and at least one was murdered …by his own cousins. It’s always nice to see the Plantagenets getting along well.
Isabella’s second son to John was Richard of Cornwall. He in his turn married Isabella Marshal, daughter of William Marshal. Their third child was a boy called Henry who was born in Suffolk in 1235. He was murdered thirty-six years later by two of his cousins.
Henry, known as Henry of Almain (Allemagne) on account of his father’s links with the Holy Roman Empire had a problem. He was nephew to both Henry III and also via his aunt Eleanor to Simon de Montfort. Eleanor was married to Simon. The barons didn’t simply shrug their shoulders and return to ‘business as usual’ on the death of King John and accession of Henry III they continued to seek additional liberties and changes to the feudal system – things such as accountability for actions. Henry’s problem when the Second Barons’ war kicked off – was which uncle should he support?
After some indecision he ultimately he sided with the royal connection. It is possible that he was bribed by Edward to change sides but one thing is for sure Henry was troubled by taking up arms against his family. He told Simon de Montfort that he wouldn’t turn against his uncle the king but neither would he take up arms against de Montfort…Simon told him to bring his arms along – which suggests that Henry wasn’t terribly intimidating. After the Battle of Lewes in 1246, which de Montfort won a provisional government was set up, the royal family were effectively imprisoned whilst Henry became one of many hostages and was held captive in Wallingford Castle. It is also probable that Henry became an intermediary between the various members of the warring family.
Events continued to unfold. Young Prince Edward escaped his ‘house arrest,’ raised an army and took on the barons in the second key battle of the Second Barons’ War. The Battle of Eveham (4 August 1265) saw Fortune favour the royalists. It is unlikely that Henry was at Evesham. Uncle Simon lost the battle and lost his head. Simon’s eldest son (another Henry) was killed at the same time. Guy de Montfort was badly wounded and imprisoned. He bribed his captors and escaped abroad in 1266. He became an officer in the forces of Charles of Anjou. Simon de Montfort the Younger arrived in Evesham just in time to see his father’s head on a pike. Prince Edward had effectively saved his cousin from the wrath of the royalists.
In 1268 Henry, took the cross with his royal cousin Edward who would become King Edward I of England. The pair set off but when they arrived in Sicily they received word of problems in Gascony. Edward sent Henry home to deal with them but Henry got only so far as Italy. Whilst in Vitebo he attended mass and was murdered by Simon de Montfort the younger and his brother Guy de Montfort in revenge for their father’s death. It was such a shocking murder that Dante wrote about it over forty years later. Henry clutched the altar and begged for mercy as his cousins attacked him and then dragged him from the cathedral to finish the job off. Guy is purported to have said that Henry gave his father and brother no mercy and could expect to receive none himself.
The two brothers were swiftly excommunicated for their crime whilst Henry’s body was transported back to Hailes Abbey for burial. Edward, on his return from Palestine two years after the murder, told the pope that Henry had been on a peace mission. The problem was that the de Montfort’s thought that Henry had turned out just like the rest of the royal family in that he had been implicated in ceasing land some of which had belonged to the de Montforts before their fall and he had married Constance de Bearn in 1269.
Constance’s father had caused problems for de Montfort whilst he was Governor of Gascony. De Montfort had put de Bearn on trial (the Gascons were troublesome but de Montfort wasn’t very pleasant in his approach). Henry III had freed de Bearn and put de Montfort on trial. This didn’t help relations between de Montfort and Henry III. For the sons of de Montfort it must have seemed that Henry of Almain was up to his neck in the royalist cause.