When England’s Crown Jewels were moved to Paris


The early Plantagenat kings of England, Normandy and Anjou had very cordial relations with the Order of the Temple.   Henry II and his sons Richard the Lionheart and (bad) King John made use of their military support in the crusades and their financial support. 

Across Europe, the Templars had a network of ‘preceptories’ – living and working centres where these warrior monks could conduct their activities.  These included farming, trading and basic manufacture to raise funds for the crusades.  It also included an early form of international banking where Templars and non-Templars could deposit money with a preceptory and then withdraw it with a credit note at another preceptory hundreds of miles away.  Revolutionary stuff for the Middle Ages.  Essentially, preceptories operated like bank branches in this respect.

The Paris Temple was the mother of all preceptories with its high walls and vast amounts of bullion contained within.  Crowned heads, popes and princes borrowed thousands of ‘livres’ from Paris making it an eventual source of envy and hatred among the Templar’s enemies and creditors.

The hapless king of England Henry III (1216-1272), who succeeded King John, went one further and lodged his own crown jewels in the Paris Temple for safe keeping.    He was facing a major uprising by England’s barons for whom Magna Carta had not proven to be enough.  The barons had even supported an invasion by the French king Louis at the end of John’s reign but when that king obligingly died, they threw their weight behind the boy king Henry – however, they eventually reverted to their more rebellious ways.

Led by Simon de Montfort – previously a confidante of the king who had fallen out with him on personal and political grounds – they forced the king to agree to the Provisions of Oxford.  This very revolutionary declaration threatened to destroy the divinely ordained absolutist monarchy of the Plantagenats and Henry got a papal absolution from his oath to the Provisions and began a fightback.

Unfortunately, all did not proceed well.  He lost the Battle of Lewes and saw most of southern England rise for De Montfort.  He was also captured by De Montfort and further humiliated.  The crown jewels were secluded with the Paris Temple then effectively pawned to raise funds from the Templars for Henry’s fightback against the barons.  He was eventually successful and De Montfort was hacked to pieces after the Battle of Evesham. 

It is interesting – I hope – to note how a king in desperate straits would hock his baubles to the Templars for some ready cash.   This must have been a new and very innovative way to fund a war unless you can tell me otherwise.

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2 thoughts on “When England’s Crown Jewels were moved to Paris

  1. Hello: I saw this on Twitter and as the de Montforts are related to me (my branch and theirs share a descent from a Thurstan de Bastemburgh; we came to England in 1066; out lines re-intergrated through marriage when Simon came to England), have an interest in this period.

    John kept his treasures partly with the Templars and when the French arrived (the Dauphin, not the king), we have records of his withdrawing them from all the various places they’d been kept and having them sent to him at Corfe castle, where he was at the time. One of the ways we can verify that John lost in the Wash the three sets of coronation regalia in his possession is that when Henry was enthroned king, it was with a circlet, rather than crown. He therefore probably did not have much to hock.

    This dynasty seems to have taken a practical view of their possessions and were, as you say, quite innovative in the manner they raised money. John, at the time he lost his treasures, was on the east coast because as London was closed to him, was using the Hanseatic ports to bring in mercenaries from Germany via Antwerp, as well as collect taxes from the trade of these ports (salt was a major export from the east coast salt pans).

    With the family heirlooms lost by John, I doubt Henry had much personal commitment to the few baubles he’d managed to collect.

    1. Very grateful for your contribution here. The point about John losing the Crown Jewels in the Wash is of course very pertinent and that Henry’s regalia would have been much diminished. Worth adding that our image of the ‘Crown Jewels’ is linked to the regalia that emerged in the Restoration after Cromwell and the Victorian period. The collection has probably never been grander than it is today!

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