Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Henry of Cornwall
HENRY of Cornwall (1235–1271), more generally called, from his father's German connections, Henry of Almaine, was the eldest son of Richard, earl of Cornwall, afterwards king of the Romans, by his first wife, Isabella, daughter of William Marshall, third earl of Pembroke, and widow of Gilbert of Clare, seventh earl of Gloucester [q. v.] He was born on 1 Nov. 1235 (Ann. Tewk. in Ann. Mon. i. 98), and was baptised at his father's favourite seat at Hailes, near Winchcomb in Gloucestershire, by Ralph of Maidstone, bishop of Hereford. In 1240 his mother died, and when his father in the same year went on crusade young Henry was left to the care of his uncle, Henry III (Matt. Paris, iv. 44). In 1247 he accompanied his father on his journey to France, which included an interview with St. Louis and a pilgrimage to Pontigny (ib. iv. 645–6). In 1250 he also went with his father and stepmother, Sanchia, in their mysterious and magnificent progress throughout France, and visited Innocent IV at Lyons (ib. v. 97). He also accompanied his father on the latter's visit to Germany to receive the German crown. The party embarked from Yarmouth on 27 April 1257, and landed at Dordrecht on 1 May (Liber de Ant. Leg. p. 26). On Ascension day (17 May) Henry witnessed his father's coronation at Aachen, and next day was solemnly knighted by his father, and a banquet given in his honour of such splendour as to rival the coronation feast (Matt. Paris, v. 641, vi. 366). His German advisers pointed out the impolicy of his surrounding himself with so many Englishmen, and King Richard sent Henry home about Michaelmas along with the majority of his English followers (ib. v. 653; Ann. Dunst. p. 203).
Henry's political career begins with his return to England, where his father had now granted him Knaresborough and some other possessions (John of Wallingford in Mon. Germ. Scriptt. xxviii. 511). At the parliament of Oxford in June 1258 he was one of the twelve (or rather eleven) elected on the king's side to draw up with twelve baronial representatives the provisional constitution (Ann. Burton. p. 447). Yet after the king and his son Edward had sworn to the provisions of Oxford which they drew up, Henry joined the Lusignans in an obstinate opposition to them. He did not, however, accompany the king's half-brothers on their secession to Winchester, but contented himself with refusing to take the oath to the provisions until he had got the permission of his father, on whom he was entirely dependent (Matt. Paris, v. 697). Forty days were given him to consult King Richard (Ann. Burton. p. 444). He must have finally given way, and soon began to incline to the popular party.
On St. Edward's day 1260 Henry acted as proxy for Leicester as seneschal at the royal feast at Westminster (Fœdera, i. 402). In 1262 he started again with his father for Germany, but soon came back accompanied by his nephew Gilbert, the new earl of Gloucester (Cont. Gervase, ii. 215, 216). He now became a regular partisan of Montfort's (Bémont, Simon de Montfort, p. 199), and was looked upon by Simon as a youth of unusual promise. In October he was in England, and the justiciar, Philip Basset [q. v.], was directed to work with him in defeating the designs of Montfort; but, perhaps by way of precaution, Henry was himself summoned to attend the king at Paris in November, and a gift of a hundred marks for his expenses was offered if he came (Fœdera, i. 422). On 10 March 1263 he was back in England along with Earl Warenne and Henry de Montfort (Cont. Gervase, ii. 219). In April he was at a council of barons at London (Wykes, p. 133; Ann. Dunst. says Oxford, but cf. Bémont, p. 199), and then joined in spoiling the estates of Peter of Aigueblanche, the foreign bishop of Hereford. In June he pursued John Mansel [q. v.] on his flight to France, and was arrested at Boulogne and imprisoned by Ingelram de Fiennes at the suggestion of Mansel (Cont. Gervase, ii. 222). This angered the barons greatly, and Simon de Montfort insisted on his release as a condition of the peace then being negotiated. Henry III agreed to this, and Henry of Almaine, released through the good offices of St. Louis, returned to England (Ann. Dunst. p. 223). On 10 July King Richard thanked his brother for his exertions on Henry's behalf (Fœdera, i. 427). On 23 Aug. Henry was again in England, and sent with Simon and Walter de Cantelupe [q. v.], bishop of Winchester, to treat with Llewelyn of Wales (ib. i. 430). In September he was again sent to France (Cont. Gervase, ii. 224). In October he was present at the great meeting of the partisans of both sides at Boulogne (Chron. Dover, MS. Cotton, Julius D. V., in Gervase, ii. 225).
Henry now began to waver. He told his uncle Simon that he could no longer fight on his side against his father and uncle the king, but said that he had resolved never to take up arms against him. Leicester answered that he feared his inconstancy more than his arms (Rishanger, Chronicle, pp. 12–13, Rolls Ser.; cf. Rishanger, De Bellis, p. 17, Camden Soc.) Yet after his return from Boulogne Henry actively joined Edward, under whose strong influence he remained for the rest of the war against Leicester. He received from Edward a grant of the manor of Tickhill. He was with Edward when he attempted in vain to win Gloucester from the sons of Montfort (Ann. Dunst. p. 228). On 16 Dec. he signed the agreement to submit to the arbitration of St. Louis (Royal Letters, ii. 252).
Henceforth Henry remains a strong partisan of his uncle the king. He fought on 14 May 1264 at Lewes, sharing under his father the command of the second line, but apparently getting separated from him and joining Edward in his wild pursuit of the Londoners. Next day Henry surrendered, along with Edward, as hostages for the marchers and other recaptured royalist chiefs (Ann. Dunst. p. 232). They were sent from Lewes to Canterbury and thence to Dover, but must almost at once have been transferred to Wallingford, whence at the end of July they were moved to Kenilworth, though King Henry strongly urged their presence at Dover as likely to help the proposed negotiations with France (Royal Letters, ii. 263–4). Finally they were removed to Dover again. It was complained that they were harshly treated (Wykes, p. 152, ‘minus honeste quam decebat’). Yet on 4 Sept. Henry was let out of his prison at Dover (Fœdera, i. 446), and was allowed under stringent conditions to go to France to treat with King Louis. But nothing really resulted from these insincere attempts to renew the reference to French arbitration. In March 1265 Henry was formally transferred from the custody of Henry de Montfort to that of the king (ib. i. 452). On 14 April he was again commissioned to treat with the French, this time in conjunction with the abbot of Westminster (Bémont, p. 223). But when on 4 Aug. Montfort's power was destroyed at Evesham Henry was still in France, and nothing had been accomplished. He now returned home to share in his uncle's triumph. On 29 Oct. he received a grant of the manor of Gringley in Nottinghamshire, forfeited by the rebel William de Furnival (Fœdera, i. 465), where his bailiffs afterwards became involved in a quarrel with the prior of Worksop, whom they deprived of his tithes (Calendarium Genealogicum, p. 302). With Edward, Henry became a surety for the younger Simon when the latter surrendered at Axholme, and was forced to abjure the realm (Ann. Wav. p. 363; Wykes, p. 181). Henry was put at the head of the expedition to the north, which on 15 May took Robert, earl Ferrers [q. v.], prisoner at Chesterfield (Wykes, p. 188; Robert of Gloucester, l. 11852). In October 1267 he and the legate were added by co-optation to the referees appointed under the Dictum de Kenilworth (Ann. Dunst. p. 243; Robert of Gloucester, l. 11957). In 1267 he also acted as a mediator between Henry III and the Earl of Gloucester (Wykes, p. 205). Like Edward he now became a great patron and frequenter of tournaments (ib. p. 212).
On 24 June 1268 Henry took the cross, at the same time as his cousins Edward and Edmund and 120 other knights (Wykes, p. 218). On 19 May 1269 he married at Windsor Constance, daughter of Gaston, viscount of Béarn (Ann. Osney, p. 223; Ann. Winton. p. 107). This alliance gave him a great position in Gascony. Soon after he did homage to the Bishop of Agen for the lands held in right of his wife of that see (Fœdera, i. 480). In the same year Henry again shared in pacifying the unruly Gloucester, who had refused to attend parliament, and next year joined with Gloucester in prevailing on Earl Warenne to submit to justice for the murder of Alan la Zouche and to pay a large fine (Wykes, p. 234). In August 1269 he signed at Paris the agreement between Edward and Louis with regard to the crusade (Fœdera, i. 481).
On 15 Aug. 1270 Henry started on his crusade, following the footsteps of Edward. He first went to Gascony, where he left his wife, and thence proceeded to Aigues Mortes, where he joined Edward. The cousins arrived at Tunis only to find St. Louis dead and a peace made with the infidels. Henry then crossed over with Edward to Sicily, where he remained a short time. But when Edward departed for Syria he commissioned Henry, ‘who excelled the rest in wisdom’ (Wykes, p. 237), to return to the west to settle the disorderly affairs of Gascony. Henry willingly agreed to this, as he was tired of his long travels and anxious to get home to see his father, who was slowly dying. Henry therefore accompanied the kings of France and Sicily in their journey through southern and central Italy. They passed from Messina through Faro, Cosenza, and Rome (Mon. Germ. Scriptt. xviii. 269), and arrived at Viterbo on 9 March (ib. xxvi. 594).
Here the two kings remained, hoping to persuade the conclave, which was there assembled, to put an end to the scandal of the long vacancy in the papacy. Henry of Almaine remained there too, perhaps with an eye to securing some real recognition of his father as king of the Romans (G. de Nangis), and having also, it was believed, some hope of reconciling his cousins, Guy and Simon, the sons of Simon de Montfort (Fœdera, i. 501), who were in the neighbourhood. Guy, high in the confidence of Charles of Anjou, was then acting as his vicar in Tuscany. But the Montforts thought only of revenge, and with the help of Count Aldobrandino Rosso of the Maremma, Guy's father-in-law, they fitted out a large band of soldiers. It was now Lent. In the early morning of Friday, 13 March 1271 (12 March, Ann. Winton. p. 110), the kings of France and Naples were at mass in the church of the Franciscans. Henry was also attending service at one of the parish churches of the town situated opposite his lodgings (Fœdera, i. 501, ‘Processus Papæ contra G. de Monteforte’). This was probably the church of San Silvestro (Ann. Winton.; Oxenedes, p. 239; Flores Historiarum, p. 350, ed. 1570, and Cont. John de Tayster, Landino, Velutello). But some authorities send Henry to church in the cathedral of S. Lorenzo (Rishanger, Trivet, Guillaume de Nangis, Primat). Wykes makes it the church of the confraternity of S. Biagio (see for these churches Bussi, Istoria di Viterbo). The most authoritative sources speak very vaguely of ‘a certain church or chapel’ (e.g. letter of Philip III to the king of the Romans in Lib. de Antiquis Legibus, p. 133; Wykes, p. 237; Ann. Osney, p. 243; Hemingburgh, i. 331; G. Villani; Oberti Stanconi, &c., Ann. Januenses).
Henry was kneeling at prayer before the high altar when a band of armed men burst violently into the church. At their head was Guy de Montfort, who as he entered cried out in a loud voice, ‘Traitor, Henry of Almaine, thou shalt not escape’ (Fœdera, i. 501). He was followed by his brother Simon and his father-in-law Rosso. Taken utterly by surprise Henry was seized with a sudden panic, and rushed for sanctuary to the altar, clinging to it with his hands, and crying for mercy. He was fiercely attacked, and soon despatched with a multitude of wounds, the fingers of the hand that was clutching the altar being nearly cut off. Two clerks were also wounded in the confusion. ‘I have had my revenge,’ cried Guy, as he hurried from the church. ‘How so,’ replied one of his knights, ‘your father was dragged about’ (G. Villani in Muratori, xiii. 261, gives the very words in French in the midst of his Italian narrative). Guy then returned to the church, and dragged the body of his cousin by the hair right through the church to the piazza opposite, where it met with barbarous ill-treatment. The murderers then took horse, and found a refuge in Rosso's castle in the Maremma (‘in Montemfisconum,’ Ann. Placentini Gibellini; Mon. Germ. Scriptt. xviii. 550).
This cold-blooded murder excited universal horror, the more so as Henry was not even present at the death of Earl Simon, and had laboured for the reconciliation and return of his sons (Ann. Norm. in Mon. Germ. Scriptt. xxvi. 517). It was to little purpose that Philip of France wrote in terms of deep sympathy to King Richard, and Charles of Anjou sought to exculpate himself with Edward from the misdeeds of his vicar (Lib. de Ant. Leg. pp. 133–4; Fœdera, i. 488). Men generally blamed them for their weakness or their sluggishness. It was not until Edward, now king of England, appeared in Italy that strong measures were taken by Gregory X against the murderers (Fœdera, i. 501). But Simon was already dead, though Guy atoned for his crime by a long imprisonment and a miserable end. Dante put him in the seventh circle of hell, surrounded by a river of boiling blood (Inferno, xii. 118–20; cf. Commentary of Benvenuto of Imola in Muratori, Antiq. Ital. i. 1050 B). The men of Viterbo caused the story of the slaughter to be painted on the wall, and a copy of Latin verses inspired by the picture is preserved (Rishanger, p. 67, Rolls Ser.)
Henry of Almaine was a good soldier and a man of ability, though somewhat fickle and inconstant. His character was so attractive that both Simon de Montfort and Edward I had conceived the highest hopes of him. The more perishable parts of his body were buried at Viterbo ‘between two popes’ (Ann. Hailes in Mon. Germ. Scriptt. xvi. 483). His bones and heart were conveyed to England, arriving in London on 15 May. The heart, encased in a costly vase, was deposited in Westminster Abbey, near the shrine of the Confessor, where it became an object of popular veneration. Later Italian writers, misunderstanding Dante's reference (‘Lo cuor che 'n sul Tamigi ancor si cola’), have ludicrously inferred that it was put on the top of a column over London Bridge. Henry's bones were, by King Richard's direction, buried on 21 May at Hailes, his birthplace, next those of his stepmother, Sanchia, in the noble Cistercian abbey which his father had now erected there. The obsequies were carried out by the London Franciscans (Lib. de Ant. Leg. p. 134).