King Henry III (1207-1272)
Henry was born at Winchester on 1 October 1207 and succeeded his father King John in 1216. He was hastily crowned king at Gloucester Abbey due to the political situation and then again in Westminster Abbey on 17 May 1220. It is to Henry that we owe the rebuilding of the Abbey in the new Gothic style of architecture. In 1220 he had laid the foundation stone of the old Lady Chapel and he had a special devotion to St Edward the Confessor. He wanted to emulate the great churches then being built in France and to transfer Edward's body to a new shrine near which he himself could be buried. Demolition of Edward the Confessor's 11th century church began in 1245 and the king was recklessly extravagant in the money spent on the Abbey and its lavish decoration. Almost all of the Church west of Henry VII's Lady Chapel as far as one bay of the nave west of the organ screen, dates from his reign. The bones of St Edward were translated to the new shrine in 1269 but building ceased when Henry died on 16 November 1272. He had a magnificent funeral and his body was temporarily buried in the old grave of the Confessor in front of the High Altar. Nineteen years later he was placed in the splendid tomb put up by his son Edward I, although his heart was delivered to the Abbey at Fontevrault in France as Henry had wished.
Henry's large tomb is of Purbeck marble with slabs of purple and green antique porphyry set in the sides and inlaid with gilded "Cosmati" mosaic and coloured marble and glass. Much of this has been robbed but decoration still remains on the north side. High on the tomb lies the superb gilt bronze effigy made by London goldsmith William Torel. The slab on which the king lies and the pillows beneath his head are decorated with the lions of England. The Norman-French inscription remains around the edge (it can be translated as: "Here lies Henry formerly King of England Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine, the son of King John formerly King of England, to whom God grant mercy.Amen.") The wooden canopy was once gilt and painted but the grille which protected the tomb has gone.
Photographs of his tomb and effigy can be obtained from the Westminster Abbey Library.
Henry III succeeded to the throne in 1216. London was under the control of France so instead of Westminster, nine-year-old Henry was crowned King in Gloucester Cathedral. It was 3 years later, that he was officially crowned and anointed in Westminster Abbey.
Henry was a very religious man and his favourite saint, Edward the Confessor, founded the original Abbey in 1065. He believed St Edward (who was buried in the Abbey) deserved a grander resting place. So he began rebuilding the Abbey, seeking inspiration from Gothic cathedrals in France.
He intended it to be a burial place for him and his sucessors, and a site for all future coronations. By incorporating into his design a large central crossing in front of the High Altar he created a huge space for the coronation 'theatre', where the crowning ceremonies have taken place ever since.
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