Archive for April, 2014

Sunday 27 April 1264: Henry marches south

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

After celebrating Easter in Nottingham, Henry moved rapidly to counter the threat to Rochester. He had established his dominance of the Midlands, but did not want to lose one of his few strongholds in the south-east. On Monday 21 April, he was in Grantham, where he collected some more cash; the bailiffs of Derby paid into the Wardrobe £17 for the Easter term’s farm of their town. By the end of the week Henry was south of London.
With Henry on the move like this, there was evidently little opportunity for people to pay fines or for the Chancery to update the fine roll. Both the fine roll and the originalia roll peter out at the beginning of this week, with orders to appoint a new sheriff of Lincolnshire and to provision castles, particularly in the Midlands and north, ready for war. There are no more entries in the fine roll until July. (E 368/39 m. 1d; CLR 1260-67, 135; CFR 1263-64, nos. 108-114, 259-64)
Similarly, the patent roll has entries made at Grantham on Monday, then nothing until Saturday, when Henry was in Aylesbury. There are entries in the liberate roll on the same day showing that Henry had reached Kingston on Thames, while in the close roll there are entries made in Croydon. Henry was moving fast, circling around to the west and south of London, rather than confronting the city dominated by his opponents. (CPR 1258-66, 313-5; CLR 1260-67, 135-6; Close Rolls 1261-64, 342)

Trebuchet, from BL Egerton 3028

Trebuchet, from BL Egerton 3028

The approach of Henry’s army was enough to put an end to the siege of Rochester castle. Simon de Montfort and Gilbert de Clare had taken the town, but, after a week of siege operations with engines and mines, the keep still held out against them. The news of Henry’s arrival in the south-east, and the potential threat to the capital, caused them to abandon the siege and return to London on Saturday 26 April. According to the London annals, the mayor of the city, fearing the approach of Henry and lord Edward, asked de Montfort to return to London. Some poor Londoners, found in Rochester after the siege, had their hands and feet cut off or were put to the sword. (Flores, II, 490-1; London annals, 62; Ann Mon, IV, 147)
A marginal note in the Osney annals serves as a reminder that, as well as the major operations by the royal and baronial armies, there were continuing obscure episodes of local violence, mostly unrecorded: about 25 April, the barons burned many manors belonging to earl Richard, Philip Basset and others who were with king; and similarly the royalists set fire to the manors of the barons and those who were on their side. (Ann Mon, IV,146)

Sunday 20 April 1264: Easter in Nottingham

Saturday, April 19th, 2014
Nottingham Castle

Nottingham Castle

Henry III spent this week in Nottingham, consolidating his recent military successes and dealing with his enemies. He must have felt that he had inflicted a decisive blow on the rebels, and that he could enjoy his victory. He was joined in Nottingham by his supporters from the north – John Balliol, Robert de Brus, Peter de Brus and many other barons. They would be welcomed with suitable provisions for the Easter feast: the bailiffs of Lincoln, Newark, Grantham and elsewhere were ordered to send to Nottingham 40 fat cattle, 30 cattle, 140 sheep, 20 boars, 40 pigs, 500 hens, 600 chickens, 300 pigeons, 4,000 eggs, and 560 shillings-worth of bread. The end of the Lenten fast would clearly be celebrated in the traditional manner. Henry was also collecting cash, by having some £85 from the farm payments for Lincoln, Nottingham and Derby paid into the Wardrobe this week, rather than being delivered to the Treasury. The Wardrobe travelled with the king, so this would be cash which he could use for his immediate needs, particularly his military expenditure. (The bailiffs who provided food for the feast were not paid cash, of course. They would have to wait; they were told that the king would allow them the cost when their total expenditure was known.) (Flores, II, 488; Close Rolls 1261-64, 341-2; CLR 1260-67, 135)

Henry and Edward now seemed to have struck a decisive blow against the rebels. Within the last few weeks they had taken control of Gloucester, commanding the Severn crossing, and most of the Midlands, one of the two centres of baronial support. The barons still held London and Dover, but Henry had also sent forces to reinforce Rochester, on the road between them. The fine roll records Henry’s revenge on the opponents whom he appeared to have defeated. The king’s newly-appointed sheriffs of the Midlands counties were ordered to seize the lands of the king’s adversaries. Those listed include Simon de Montfort, Hugh Despenser, Henry of Hastings, Ralph Basset of Sapcote, Ralph Basset of Drayton, and so on. The sheriffs were also to take the lands of those who had opposed the king in Northampton, particularly Peter de Montfort and Simon de Montfort junior. The escheator for the north of England received similar orders for the lands of the rebels beyond the Trent. The magnates, bishops and abbots who had failed to obey the king’s summons to send troops were also to be punished by losing their estates (the king had already ordered the confiscation of the baronies of the archbishop of York, the bishops of Winchester, Ely, and Lincoln, and the abbots of Abingdon and Ramsey). Castles across England were to be stocked with supplies. (CFR 1263-64, nos. 101-8, 259-64; Close Rolls 1261-64, 382-3; CPR 1258-66, 313)

Simon de Montfort, as we saw last week, had failed to relieve Northampton and returned to London. Now, rather than directly countering the king’s successes in the Midlands, Simon turned south-east, towards Rochester. Henry had sent Roger of Leybourne and John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, to hold Rochester castle. Simon co-ordinated his attack on the town with Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester. De Clare, a great magnate, aged only 20, had only recently declared his support for the baronial cause. His forces, coming from Clare’s castle of Tonbridge, attacked from the south. De Montfort’s forces, coming from London, crossed the Medway into the town from Strood, to the west. The two baronial forces fought their way into the town on 18 April, and took the outer fortifications of the castle, but were unable to take the keep. (Ann Mon, III, 230-1, and IV, 146-7; Flores, 489-91)

Sunday 13 April 1264: Looting, burning and murder

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Following the capture of Northampton, Henry moved rapidly towards Leicester and Nottingham, burning and wasting the manors of his baronial enemies. At Nottingham, he entered the castle without opposition. Following his military successes in the Midlands, the king needed to ensure that he maintained control of the area through reliable sheriffs and castellans. The fine roll shows that, while Henry was in Northampton, he committed the county and the castle to his supporters. A few days later, in Nottingham, he made similar appointments for Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire and Leicestershire, and for Nottingham castle. 

Two royalist commanders, Roger of Leybourne and John de Warenne, the earl of Surrey, had been sent south to hold Rochester and Reigate castles. Meanwhile, lord Edward was leading another force into Derbyshire and Staffordshire, pillaging the estates of Robert de Ferrers, and destroying his castle of Tutbury. He was also engaging in extortion, demanding £200 to spare the wapentake of Wirksworth in Derbyshire; the Dunstable annals record that the prior of Dunstable had to contribute £10 towards this. In the words of a chronicler with baronial sympathies, wherever the armies of the king and Edward went, they were followed by three companions – looting, burning and murder. The only success for the barons was the capture of Warwick castle, using Simon de Montfort’s siege engines from his nearby castle of Kenilworth. (CFR 1263-64, nos. 94-100; Guisborough, 191; Ann Mon, III, 230; Flores, II, 489; London annals, 61-2) 

The baronial party was also guilty of atrocities. Simon de Montfort and many other prominent rebels were in London at the end of March, when they swore an oath of mutual support with the citizens of London. Some of these barons went immediately to Northampton, where they were captured, as we saw last week. The main baronial force had set out from London to support the defenders of Northampton, but had been too late. Henry had taken the town before they reached St Albans. They turned back, and in this week, which was the week before Palm Sunday, they embarked on a massacre of the Jewish community in London. At about the same time, Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, who had only recently declared his support for the barons, led an attack on the Jews of Canterbury. (Ann Mon, III, 230; Gervase of Canterbury, II, 235)

The Dunstable annals report rumours that the Jews of London were preparing to betray the citizens: they had Greek fire to burn the city, copies of the keys to the city gates, and subterranean passages to each gate. Such tales were used to excuse an outbreak of looting and murder. One chronicler says that the Jews were suspected of betraying the barons and citizens, and almost all were killed. Another says that the Jewish quarter was pillaged, and any Jews who were caught were stripped, robbed and murdered. Estimates of the number killed range from 200 to 500, with the remainder forcibly converted or imprisoned (or, looking at it another way, the rest were saved by the justices and the mayor, who sent them to the Tower for protection). The chronicler Wykes, who tended to be less favourable to the baronial party, singled out the baronial leader John fitz John, who was said to have killed the leading Jew, Kok son of Abraham, with his own hands, and seized his treasure. Fitz John was then forced to share the proceeds with Simon de Montfort. It is possible that de Montfort was taking the Jewish treasure, not to enrich himself, but to finance his forces. At the same time, the cash of Italian and French merchants, deposited in religious houses around London, was also seized and taken to the city. (Ian Stone, ‘The rebel barons of 1264 and the commune of London’, EHR, CXXIX (2014), 1-18; Flores, II, 489; Cronica Maiorum, 62; Ann Mon, III, 230, and IV, 142-3)

Sunday 6 April 1264

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

The Battle of Northampton

by Adrian Jobson

April’s onset witnessed the end of any lingering hopes for a negotiated settlement between Henry III and the baronial opposition. On Wednesday 2 April, the king authorised a safe conduct for Peter de Montfort, a close friend and supporter of Simon de Montfort, to meet the royal envoys at Brackley in Northamptonshire.[1] But the earl of Leicester’s recent offer to accept the Mise of Amiens in its entirety, the only proviso being that the king should ‘remove the aliens and govern through natives’, was still unacceptable to Henry as it maintained a key principle of the reformist programme that his choice of ministers should be restricted.[2] For Henry, with whom the military advantage lay, there would be no conditional peace. On Thursday 3 April, therefore, he ordered the unfurling of the royal standard at Oxford.[3] This symbolic act, which marked the formal commencement of hostilities, was the opening salvo in a six week campaign that would begin with an astonishing victory for the royalists.

Northampton, lying some forty miles north-east of Oxford, was a key strategic castle town that lay at the crossroads of several important road networks. Strongly garrisoned, it shielded the main Montfortian stronghold at Kenilworth from a royalist attack. Commanded by Simon de Montfort the Younger, the earl of Leicester’s second son, Northampton’s garrison was mainly drawn from the surrounding shires and had been reinforced by the arrival of some students from the recently dispersed University of Oxford. Henry, having received intelligence that the town’s defences were in a poor state of repair, marched his now formidable army northwards. Arriving before Northampton’s walls on the evening of Friday 4 April, his demand for admittance to both the town and castle was immediately refused.[4]

At sunrise on Saturday 5 April, therefore, the royalists launched a two pronged assault upon the town. Sending several siege engines in a diversionary attack to engage the defenders at Northampton’s southern gate, the main royalist force directed its assault upon a weakened section of the town’s north-western wall adjacent to the gardens of St Andrew’s Priory. Soon the walls were breached, possibly with some assistance from the French prior Guy de Busseria as he was subsequently said to have secretly undermined the garden’s walls in advance and shored up the damaged section with wooden props.[5] The Young Simon, having learned of the breach, bravely attempted to rally the defence, but was soon captured when his horse stumbled and threw him unharmed into the town’s ditch. News of his capture caused immediate panic. Some threw down their arms and sought sanctuary in nearby churches. Others retreated into the castle, where they intended to offer further resistance.[6] Night fell, but next morning the depleted garrison realised that the castle’s poorly maintained walls were incapable of resisting a prolonged siege. Left with little alternative and in order to avoid further unnecessary bloodshed Peter de Montfort, who had assumed the command of the rebel forces following the Young Simon’s capture, surrendered to Henry. Joining them in captivity were more than 55 barons and knights – including Baldwin Wake, Adam of Newmarket and Adam le Despencer – the loss of whom considerably weakened the rebel cause.[7] In capturing Northampton, Henry had driven a wedge between the two heartlands of Montfortian power: the Midlands and the South. For Montfort, the war had commenced with the most inauspicious of starts.


[1] CPR 1258-66, 310.

[2] J.R. Maddicott, Simon de Montfort (Cambridge, 1994), 265-6; A. Jobson, The First English Revolution: Simon de Montfort, Henry III and the Barons’ War (London, 2012), 109-110.

[3] R.F. Treharne, ‘The Battle of Northampton, 5th April 1264’, in Simon de Montfort and Baronial Reform: Thirteenth-Century Essays, ed. E.B. Fryde (London, 1986), 307.

[4] Dunstable, 229-30; C.H. Lawrence, ‘The University of Oxford and the Chronicle of the Barons’ Wars’, EHR, 95 (1980), 100, 107-10.

[5] Dunstable, 229-30; Treharne, ‘Northampton’, 309-10.

[6] Treharne, ‘Battle of Northampton’, 309-11; Jobson, The First English Revolution, 109-110.

[7] Treharne, ‘Battle of Northampton’, 312-3.