Provisions of Oxford Are Established

The Provisions of Oxford transformed the centralized despotism of the Angevin Dynasty into a limited monarchy based on a written constitution.

Summary of Event

The origins of the baronial reform movement of 1258 can be traced to the early 1230’, when Henry III Henry III (king of England) , a minor at his accession who came of age in 1227, began his personal rule. He was a man of multiple faces—at once aesthetical and arrogant, devout and extravagant, regnant and yet incapable of leadership—and, to quote a distinguished historian of early medieval England, “obstinate, petulant, and mercurial . . . sharp-tongued, rather ungenerous.” Shrewd but not subtle, the king exhibited a disarming childlike simplicity—impervious to failures and mistakes. His reign was a period of tug-of-war between the monarch, bent on maintaining absolutism, and his barons, struggling to restrain him as well as his ministers and councillors. [kw]Provisions of Oxford Are Established (1258)
[kw]Oxford Are Established, Provisions of (1258)
Oxford, Provisions of (1258)
England;1258: Provisions of Oxford Are Established[2440]
Laws, acts, and legal history;1258: Provisions of Oxford Are Established[2440]
Henry III (1207-1272)
Innocent IV
Hugh Bigod
Simon de Montfort (c. 1208-1265)

The decade of Henry’s minority—presided over by the regent William Marshal (earl of Pembroke, who died in 1219) and thereafter by Hubert de Burgh, the royal justiciar (1227-1232), followed by Peter des Roches and his nephew Peter des Rivaux (1232-1234) and their clerks—placed heavy strains upon the loyalty of the barons, whose traditional rights and privileges were repeatedly infringed on in the interests of peace and order. They were, however, schooled in the art of politics. In the crisis of 1234, they showed their understanding of the rule of law and of the interests of the community and supported Archbishop Edmund Rich Edmund Rich and the clergy in forcing the king to give up his absolutist style and conform to the traditional ways of “the joint enterprise.” In 1236, a baronial demonstration against foreign participation in royal governance forced him to take refuge for a time in the Tower of London, but the incident did not affect the makeup of the royal council. At a great council meeting in 1237, the barons forced the king to purge his small council and recruit “natural counselors” on pain of denying his request for aid. He submitted, albeit momentarily, appointing twelve men acceptable to the barons. Once the great council disbanded, however, the king recalled his own men.

The barons expected their monarch to assume the direction of government himself after the purge of his court and council, and they were even ready to put up with his mistakes and indiscretions in the conduct of business. Neither English nor even Norman, but French out and out, Henry unmistakably but unwittingly betrayed his misgivings about the English (though French-speaking) barons and preferred instead the Savoyard relations of his queen and his own Poitevin half brothers, the infamous Lusignans and their cronies, men who remained despised foreigners until their expulsion from England in 1258.

Ignoring the counsel of his barons, the king heedlessly pursued his dream of recovering the lost French possessions—Normandy, Anjou, Touraine, Maine, and Poitou. He paid soldiers, bribed allies, and sponsored revolts against the French king, although to little effect. He also antagonized the marcher lords in Wales by his territorial claims and his intervention in Welsh affairs. His actions provoked a rebellion at Gwynedd in 1256 by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd Llywelyn ap Gruffudd , grandson of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, lord of Snowdon. Wales, rebellion against England

Finally, against the best advice of his barons and prelates, the king played into the politics of Pope Innocent IV Innocent IV and agreed to his offer of the Sicilian crown to his second son, Edmund. Until the death of Emperor Frederick II in 1250, Germany and Sicily had belonged to his Hohenstaufen family. The popes were determined to prevent the two kingdoms from being united and to destroy the influence of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Henry’s Sicilian venture in 1254 and the resulting papal ultimatum (from Pope Alexander IV Alexander IV , who succeeded Innocent in 1254) threatening him with excommunication unless he met the papal debts already incurred in the Sicilian war forced the king to divert the clerical contributions (tenths of the revenues of the church) for the Crusade (Henry had taken the cross in 1250) to Sicily—a venture that brought England nothing but the humiliating Treaty of Paris Paris, Treaty of (1259) with France in 1259.

Yet Henry cannot be entirely faulted for all his actions and decisions. He patronized his half brothers because he wished to continue his influence in their homeland of Poitou and also because they could provide some security along the northern borders of Gascony, England’s only substantial possession in France. Likewise, Henry’s Sicilian scheme was not altogether misconceived. Sicily was wealthy, and an English candidature not only would block a possible French one but also was likely to provide a springboard for English expansion in the eastern Mediterranean.

The financial straits arising out of the Sicilian venture and baronial determination to obtain effective measures of reform before they could help their desperate sovereign form the background to the events of 1258. Henry summoned a parliament at Westminster on April 9, in which he conceded the baronial demand for reform. On May 2, an agreement was made in two instruments. According to the first, the king agreed to introduce reforms per baronial demands and even submitted himself to the penalty of excommunication in event of noncompliance. The second instrument contained the royal promise to reform the government by a body of twenty-four, made up of twelve of the king’s council and twelve elected by the magnates, who were to convene at Oxford on June 11. The king swore to observe the majority decision of this body.

Meanwhile, the king, had called on his friends to come to the assembly at Oxford with their armed retainers. On May 25, a party of Burgundian knights and their followers were diverted from their Welsh engagement to Oxford. In self-defense, the reforming barons summoned their own armed retainers. Despite this tense atmosphere, parliament met at Oxford on June 11, and the twenty-four set to work upon a scheme of reform. This scheme is enshrined in what is known as the Provisions of Oxford. These were never formally published, but took the form of a series of memoranda. Laws and law codes;England

Central to that scheme was the formation of a new council of fifteen, chosen by a complicated electoral method, including seven of the baronial twelve and three of the king’s twelve, with a twelve-year tenure. It was to oversee royal ministers, appoint the great officers (especially justiciar, chancellor, and treasurer), and advise the king constantly on all matters “affecting both the king and the realm.” It was to cooperate with twelve representatives of parliament, which met three times a year (October, February, and June). The justiciarship, vacant since 1234, was revived with the appointment of Hugh Bigod Bigod, Hugh . Among his specific responsibilities as justiciar, Bigod was to act as chief justice with an annual tenure rather than as a leading royal minister with undefined authority, as was the case with traditional Angevin justiciars. Angevin Empire

In these activities, the leading baron was Simon de Montfort Montfort, Simon de , an aristocrat from northern France who was the king’s brother-in-law and one time favorite. Montfort was absent from the Oxford parliament on June 11, negotiating the Treaty of Paris between England and France. He returned on June 14 and was present throughout the fortnight of the Oxford parliament. Together with the earls of Gloucester (Richard de Clare) and Norfolk, John FitzGeoffrey and Peter de Montfort (Simon’s retainer but no relation), he was a member of the various committees concerned with reform. Although the reform movement was not solely Montfort’s enterprise, his distinctive contribution lay, to quote an influential biographer, “in the moral imperatives which were part of the driving force behind the movement.”


Ultimately, the Provisions of Oxford limited the power of the king in England by constitutional means. The provisions passed a large measure of initiative over to each county, where four knights were to collect complaints against officials for transmission to the justiciar as he toured the counties. The justiciar was to have jurisdiction well as royal officials. The sheriffs were to be local landowners, salaried and appointed for one year only. The provisions also promised future reform of the Church and urban reforms for the city of London, the Jewry, the mint, and the royal household.

Further Reading

  • Brooke, Christopher. From Alfred to Henry III, 871-1272. London: Sphere Books, 1974. Provides a competent and compact critical history of the period.
  • Carpenter, D. A. “King Henry’s ’Statute’s Against Aliens: July 1263.” English Historical Review 107, no. 425 (1992). Presents the text of the provisions, which includes a declaration for the exclusion from England of foreign-born persons and for the future governing of England by native-born men only.
  • Harding, Alan. England in the Thirteenth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. A comprehensive account of the politics, government, and society of thirteenth century England.
  • Prestwich, Michael. English Politics in the Thirteenth Century. New York: Macmillan, 1990. Chapters 2 and 8 contain succinct analytical accounts of English society and government in the thirteenth century.
  • Sayles, George O. The King’s Parliament of England. New York: W. W. Norton, 1974. A sound analysis of the constitutional achievements of the Provisions of Oxford.
  • Treharne, Reginald F. Simon de Montfort and Baronial Reform: Thirteenth-Century Essays. Edited by E. B. Fryde. London: Hambledon Press, 1968. A full account of Montfort’s achievements as well as a competent analysis of the baronial reform movement.
  • Treharne, Reginald F., and I. J. Sanders, eds. Documents of the Baronial Movement of Reform and Rebellion, 1258-1267. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1973. Superb selection and translation of primary materials.
  • Valente, Claire. The Theory and Practice of Revolt in Medieval England. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2003. Addresses the study of revolts and also discusses theories of resistance, Henry’s role in the signing of the Magna Carta, and the concept of the community of the realm.
  • Weiler, Björn K. U., ed. England and Europe in the Reign of Henry III, 1216-1272. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2002. Looks at Henry’s reign as it affected England and the Continent.