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1242 – Henry III at Taillebourg : his version of the battle against Saint Louis

Thursday 14 February 2008, by Margaret, 2661 visites.

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

French versions of the battle of Taillebourg and the defeat of Henry III of England at the hands of Louis IX glorify the French king. This account, written by Henry himself reminds us that in history, as elsewhere, there are always other versions, not just the official ones. To each man his truth …

Still, for Henry III Plantagenet and his French campaign, 1242 signalled a long series of setbacks.

The letter was written to emperor Frederick of Germany who was known in his own lifetime as "Stupor Mundi" (the Wonder of the world) and beside him Henry III would only cut a pale figure! N.B. in 1235 Frederick had married, as his third wife, Henry’s sister Isabelle of England. She died in 1241.

Source : Bulletin de la Société des Antiquaires de l’Ouest - Année 1850-1852

To read the letter of Henry III, click on the french flag at the top of the page.

Extract from notes on a Letter from Henry III, king of England, to emperor Frederick, by H. ROZIER , permanent member.

In our town library there is a collection of documents of immense importance to the history of our western provinces; it is the Rymer Collection, titled "Foedera conventiones, Litterae", etc.

There are two copies of the collection in the library, or rather we have two editions of this magnificent work.

The first is dated 1727 and has belonged to this establishment for a long time; the second, a more recent publication and unfortunately incomplete, is a token of thanks from the English archives commission in recognition of the useful information made available from our library by H. de la Fontenelle de Vaudoré.

I often use this collection, researching precious documents on the history of our area. Amongst all this fascinating evidence there is the letter that I have the honour to present today. It was written by Henry III, king of England to the emperor Frederick, and gives Henry’s account of his defeats at Taillebourg and at Saintes.

There’s no need to remind you of the origins of these 13th C wars that were so devastating for this region.

We all know how French historians present Saint Louis’ victories over his enemy. So I thought it would be interesting for us to see how Henry felt after his defeat. This letter is both an official and an intimate document written by an unhappy prince to another prince who was both a relative and a friend. Henry’s grievances came from the heart, he needed to describe how he had been betrayed by allies who had promised him so much.

It is an account that explains his defeat at the battles of Taillebourg and Saintes. It is addressed to the emperor Frederick who had married the English king’s sister, Isabelle.

Letter oh Heny III

click on the french flag at the top of the page

I would ask you, Gentlemen, to look at this date (19 September 1232).

Everyone knows that the battle of Taillebourg took place during the last months of 1242. How could an archivist as expert as Rymer record the date of 1232 for a letter that was obviously written ten years later?

How come this anachronism was not discovered by the archivists who republished the work? How come the most recent edition of this book, the one given to us by the English archives commission, still gives the same wrong date for an event that is so crucial in the history of our two countries?

I did think that it would be unworthy to present such an error.

I hesitated for a long time before putting it before you.

At first I thought that given the chaos of wars during the Middle Ages, there may have been two encounters between two monarchs and, possibly, similar events could have been reproduced. But history will have none of this hypothesis.

And then I found, in the same publication, on page 414 of the 1727 edition, another letter dated 8 January 1243 from Henry to the emperor. This letter confirms that the 1232 date is an error.

This second letter concerns the defection of Raymond de Toulouse and completes the explanations Henry had begun in the first letter. In fact, just a few months after the defeats at Taillebourg and Saintes, and despite his fine promises to the English king, Raymond decided that the fight for independence was lost and he made a deal with Saint Louis.

Gentlemen, I find comparing the way the same events are presented by historians from the two nations is extremely interesting.

In French history, Louis’ cause south of the Loire and his pursuit of it, are presented as a holy war, a national war, and justified by the victorious outcome.

In Henry’s letters, we read the disappointment of a prince who also believed he was upholding his rights. He is outraged at vassals who, having called on him for help against an invader, betrayed him in the face of danger. They then joined a prince from a nation they had always disliked.

Ever since Saint Louis’ victory here, the destiny of the Poitou has been the same as that of France. For a short while the treaty of Brétigny detached this area from France, but northern and southern Gaul were already part of the community of interest that today is one people. In the Middle Ages a hundred different peoples lived in the land that today we call France. Later the English would try to replace Saint Louis’ son by the feeble Henry VI. The southern provinces were the first to reject English rule. The Poitou became an unreliable ally, and it was here that Charles VII asked for and was given refuge when the monarchy was in exile.

To read the letter of Henry III, click on the french flag at the top of the page.

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