Westminster abbey

Good man, bad king: a portrait of Henry III

Henry III sat on the English throne for 57 years. Among English monarchs, only George III, Victoria and the late Queen reigned for longer. But they only reigned. Henry’s problem was that he was expected to rule. In medieval England, the role of the king was critical. Public order collapsed without a functioning court system founded on the impartial authority of an active ruler. The scramble for office and influence at the centre quickly turned to civil war when the monarch allowed his vast patronage to be monopolised by a cabal. Contemporaries were satisfied that Henry III was a bad king. But what kind of bad king was he? Some

Bring back Westminster Abbey’s bells

It took me several weeks, after returning to the Spectator office, to work out what was missing. It wasn’t the people — though Westminster is a zombie town these days, and even Pret A Manger, once hectic as a trading floor, is calm. I like the calm. What’s missing, I realised as I walked past Westminster Abbey, is the bells. If you’re anywhere near the Abbey when the bells start up, it’s like being caught out in a monsoon. It’s overwhelming and joyful. You can’t speak. You can’t think. There’s nothing for it but to stop and gawp up like a guppy at feeding time. The bells have been silent