1217: The Battles That Saved England

Osprey. May 2024. 304p. ISBN 9781472860873. $35. MILITARY HISTORY
Most readers recognize the significance of 1215. That’s when King John of England signed the Magna Carta, setting limits on his powers and declaring that even the king wasn’t above the law. Hanley (Two Houses, Two Kingdoms) makes the case for the importance of 1217 as well. King John’s death in 1216 was followed by a succession war between supporters of Louis, heir to the king of France, and supporters of nine-year-old Henry of Winchester (Henry III). For most of the war, the English faction was on the defensive. It took a failed siege, a contested land battle, and a botched sea invasion to defeat Louis. Hanley’s descriptions of this medieval warfare can’t be beaten. The hard-fought victory of Henry’s supporters confirmed that they wanted heredity to be the criterion for succession and the Angevin dynasty to be viewed as English. As it happened, Henry III wasn’t all that successful as king, but six times he reconfirmed the Magna Carta under his signature, and he ruled from 1216 until he died in 1272. Nobody questioned that his heir would succeed him.
VERDICT An insightful look at a key but underrecognized moment in English history. History buffs will love it.
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