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Thirteenth Century England VII: The Proceedigs of the Durham Conference (1997)

Abstract

Getting Henry III married seems to have been a difficult task. We know of several planned unions: one with a daughter of the duke of Austria in 1225, another with a Bohemian princess a few years later, a third with a sister of the king of Scotland, yet another with a daughter of the count of Ponthieu, until, in 1236, Henry – eventually – managed to marry Eleanor of Provence. It has been noted that the king’s choice of prospective spouses, as well as his failure to lead most of them into matrimony, is best understood if approached from a political perspective. Henry’s marriage to a Scottish princess, for instance, was opposed by members of the English aristocracy, because her elder sister had already married Hubert de Burgh. It is also a generally accepted hypothesis that dynastic marriages were political unions, arranged to settle conflicts, symbolize, cement or strengthen alliances, secure or make territorial gains.

In this paper I would like to investigate how these and other factors influenced the two major marriage projects pursued by Henry III in 1225: the king himself was to marry a daughter of the duke of Austria, and his sister Isabella the son and heir of Emperor Frederick I, Henry (VII). My emphasis will be on the wider international context ofthe proposed union. Ideally, this will contribute to a better understanding ofgeneral political and diplomatic structures, relevant not only for the early years of Henry Ill’s reign, but also for the history of contacts between England and Europe during most of the later Middle Ages.

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