Archive for May, 2014

Sunday 25 May 1264: under new management

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

This week, Simon de Montfort transported his captive king through Kent. They began the week in Battle, and made their way to Canterbury. According to the Canterbury/Dover chronicle, they reached Canterbury on 20 May, and spent several days in a great discussion of affairs. The earl and the king, and many prisoners, set off again for London on 25 May, and reached Rochester, by way of Ospringe, near Faversham. While the court was at Ospringe, the writing of the originalia roll resumed, as the bureaucracy of government began to function under new management (although maintaining the fiction of acting in the king’s name). On 25 May, Dover castle and the Cinque Ports were committed to Henry de Montfort, earl Simon’s son; this is also recorded a few days later in the patent roll. The young de Montfort was thus in charge of the strategically crucial crossing from France. In addition, he had custody of lord Edward and Henry of Almain, earl Richard’s son. These royal hostages were held in Dover castle, and, according to a royalist chronicler, treated harshly by Henry de Montfort. (Gervase II, 238; CFR 1263-64, no. 266; Ann Mon IV, 153)

Dover castle in the 17th century, by Wenceslaus Hollar.

Dover castle in the 17th century, by Wenceslaus Hollar.

The royal household was being supported by local officials as it passed through Kent: the Wardrobe received cash from the bailiffs of Canterbury (including 20 marks which they should have delivered as alms for the monks of Pontigny); the bailiff of the manor of Ospringe also provided cash, and had to pay for wine which the household had taken in Canterbury. There was clearly little cash in hand, but the household was planning ahead, and arranging to use the farm of the city of London to pay for wine and bread for Whitsun (which fell on 8 June). (CLR 1260-67, 136; CPR 1258-66, 318)

De Montfort was taking steps to let the counties know of his victory. The bailiffs of Derby were informed that peace had been made, and instructed to prevent disorder. The coroners were to proclaim the peace throughout the county. (CPR 1258-66, 359)

A group of royalist magnates, including earl Warenne, William de Valence, Guy de Lusignan and Hugh Bigod, had fled from Lewes and made their way to Pevensey castle, and thence to France. They joined queen Eleanor, who had been trying to organize military support for Henry, and informed her of the king’s misfortune. They stayed with her for a while, awaiting happier times, as one chronicle put it. Another chronicle, the London annals, claims that the émigrés went to the king of France, and told him that Henry had been captured by the barons while asleep in his bed at Lewes, unarmed and without warning. They urged Louis to help Henry, and Louis was angered by their lies. While Simon and Henry were in Canterbury, Guy de Lusignan’s household were given permission to leave the country and join him. (Howell, Eleanor of Provence, 211; Battle chronicle, in Bémont, 377; Ann Mon IV, 152; London annals, 64; CPR 1258-66, 318)

Sunday 18 May 1264: the battle

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

This was, of course, the week of Simon de Montfort’s victory at the battle of Lewes, and the compromise peace agreed in the mise of Lewes. These events have been covered so intensively and so so well, particularly by David Carpenter and John Maddicott, that there is little point in going over them again, particularly as the government records have relatively little to say. As we have already seen, the Exchequer had ceased to function. The Chancery also seems to have reduced its activities. There are no entries in the close, charter, fine or originalia rolls for this week, and just one entry in the liberate roll: the sheriff of Kent was to provide 10 marks for one Robert de Cheny to buy himself a horse. (CLR 1260-67, 136)
It is possible that some Chancery records have been lost. As Sophie Ambler pointed out in a Fine of the Month, there are numerous references in the pipe rolls of the next few years to debts recorded in a roll of fines in expedicione regis. These seem to relate to fines imposed by the king during his campaign before Lewes. Most of them were to be paid by abbots or bishops, although there are also fines from the burgesses of Leicester and Derby. They are concerned with the obligation to provide military service for the king, or for having the king’s goodwill or grace (suggesting that many churchmen had to pay fines for their failure to support the king). The fines were not collected by Simon de Montfort’s regime, but the lost fine rolls were used to draw up the pipe rolls once the king had returned to power, to record the quite considerable amounts imposed – the abbot of Peterborough owed 850 marks. (E 372/109-112)
The government record which did continue this week, and which survives, is the patent roll. The relevant section can be seen on the Anglo-American Legal Tradition website. It is striking that the roll continues up to the eve of the battle, recording the activities of the royal party. There is then a break, with the bold heading Post Bellum Lewen’, and the same hand continues to record the decisions of the new regime. Before the battle, there is the routine business of pardons and safe conducts. Presumably confident of victory after the successful campaign so far, the king was distributing the confiscated lands of his opponents, and making arrangements to use the cash promised by Louis IX to finance a crusade. After the battle, the baronial government tries to establish control of the royal castles, and to secure the release of the prisoners taken at Northampton. (CPR 1258-66, 318)
Although the events of this week need no recapitulation, it is interesting to look back at the way in which they were seen by earlier writers. Some contemporaries believed that the rebels had supernatural assistance. According to the Canterbury/Dover chronicle, there were those in the rebel army who clearly saw an unknown knight, armed and with an unknown banner before him, and an archbishop blessing the army of the barons. They suddenly disappeared when the battle was over. They were of course St George and St Thomas Beckett. (Gervase of Canterbury, II, 238)
Some past historians may not necessarily have ascribed the barons’ victory to such divine assistance, but were not reluctant to deliver moral judgements, and make it fairly clear which side they were on.

William Stubbs, Constitutional History of England, 1883: the battle of Lewes, won through a singular conjunction of skill and craft on the one side, rashness and panic on the other.
Charles Oman, A History of the Art of War, 1898: Rash adventure and hot-headed eagerness in pursuit cost the Royalists the day. But neither discipline nor self-restraint were likely to be prominent in any army over which the imbecile Henry Plantagenet bore rule.
James Ramsay, The Dawn of the Constitution, 1908: The bishop of Worcester gave absolution to all who should manfully do their duty in the battle. One faith, one will linked them all together, ‘a nascent spark of the religious fervour which animated the armies of Cromwell.’
Maurice Powicke, The Thirteenth Century, 1962: a sense of beauty lingers over those days in May when the great earl waited among the woods of the Weald. In the words of the St Albans chronicler, Earl Simon’s followers were united in faith and will and courage to die for their country.
R.F. Treharne, ‘Why the battle of Lewes matters in English history’, 1964: In short, the Battle of Lewes, enforcing the doctrine of the contractual authority of a King, who can therefore be controlled or superseded if he breaks the contract, marks an important stage in the development of the principle of limited monarchy and constitutional government from Magna Carta to the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.

The battle of Lewes monument. (Photo by Sophie Ambler - thank you.)

The battle of Lewes monument. (Photo by Sophie Ambler – thank you.)

Treharne’s contribution to the commemoration of the 700th anniversary was accompanied by, amongst other things, the erection of the battle monument, presented to the town by Sir Tufton Beamish MP, and the publication of Battle Royal, also by Tufton Beamish. The book, although outdated in parts, is based on the chronicles, and includes a translation of the Song of Lewes. It shows that there was much more to the author than might be suggested by Private Eye’s Sir Bufton Tufton. He was a soldier, with a distinguished war record, who succeeded his father, Rear-Admiral Beamish, as MP for Lewes in 1945. He remained the town’s MP until 1974, never holding ministerial office, and active chiefly in opposing Soviet Communism and promoting European union and nature conservation (he sponsored the Protection of Birds Act 1954). The monument he presented is inscribed with a quotation derived from the Song of Lewes:

Now Englishmen, read on about this battle fought at Lewes’ walls. Because of this you are alive and safe. Rejoice then in God.
Law is like fire, for it lights as truth, warms as charity, burns as zeal. With these virtues as his guides the king will rule well.

Sunday 11 May 1264: the road to Lewes

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

With the rebels having retreated from Rochester, Henry was now concentrating on the ports of the south-east coast. The Cinque Ports could provide ships for a blockade of London, and there was the possibility of bringing in troops from across the Channel: queen Eleanor had remained in France when Henry returned to England in February, and was trying to arrange for military support for her husband’s cause. On 7 May, she wrote to Alphonse of Poitiers, urging him to seize any English ships in his ports, which included La Rochelle; despite Eleanor’s appeal, and her references to the treachery of the barons who were striving to disinherit the king and his children, Alphone refused. (Howell, Eleanor of Provence, 209)

The gatehouse of Battle Abbey, 1792, by Michael Angelo Rooker

The gatehouse of Battle Abbey, 1792, by Michael Angelo Rooker

Henry’s forces began the week in Battle, then moved to Winchelsea, where they spent a few days ravaging the countryside and helping themselves to the wine in the port, before returning to Battle. Henry was making preparations for the next stage of his campaign in the south-east. According to Walter of Guisborough, while at Winchelsea Henry made peace with the sailors of the Cinque Ports and came to an agreement for their support. The London annals claim that some of the mayors and leading men of Winchelsea and the other ports came over to the king, believing that they would be well rewarded. The Worcester annals imply that it was a less amicable arrangement, with Henry taking hostages from the Cinque Ports to make them submit. (Henry had certainly taken hostages from Winchelsea, as the close roll records that he sent them back from Battle on 9 May, with instructions to summon ships, supplies and men to the king’s service.) Henry ordered the men of the Weald to assemble with arms in Canterbury on Monday 12 May. He may have intended to attack the rebel stronghold of Dover. This would effectively have left the rebels isolated in London, had it come to pass, but the king’s opponents were also on the move. (CPR 1258-66, 316, 359; Close Rolls 1261-64, 383-4; Battle chronicle, in Bémont, 376; Guisborough, 192; Gervase, II, 236; London annals, 62; Ann Mon, IV, 451)

De Montfort led the forces of the barons and Londoners out of the city on 6 May. As a hostile chronicler put it, de Montfort had gathered together a great multitude of barons, together with a countless crowd of Londoners, because the number of fools is infinite. Hearing that the rebels were advancing, Henry moved from Battle to Lewes, which had the advantage of a strong castle belonging to his loyal supporter John de Warenne. By 11 May, Henry was established in Lewes priory, while de Montfort was only about eight miles away at his own manor of Fletching. (Cronica Maiorum, 62; Ann Mon, IV, 148; Carpenter, Battles of Lewes and Evesham, 16-18)

Sunday 4 May 1264: to the south coast

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Having begun the week in Croydon, Henry continued his rapid progress. At some point, he was joined by both his brother earl Richard and his son Edward. Henry relieved Rochester castle, then moved on to Tonbridge (where he took Gilbert de Clare’s castle without opposition). He was in Battle by Saturday 3 May. The barons had left only a small force in Rochester when their main army abandoned the siege, fearing that they would be cornered in the south-east if Henry took London. Henry, however, was avoiding the capital and concentrating on the south coast. He planned either to persuade or to force the Cinque Ports to provide naval support. He could then attack London by sea, or blockade the capital and cut off its supplies. He took a step towards this form of economic warfare by ordering the bailiffs of Sandwich not to allow provisions to be supplied to Dover castle or to London.

Henry’s army was harassed by archers as it made its way through the narrow lanes of the hilly regions of the Weald. Thomas Wykes said that the archers’ attack on men in armour was futile, and they were deservedly punished by beheading; the claim that 300 were killed seems unlikely. The army also suffered from a shortage of supplies, leading to desertion. According to the Song of Lewes, Henry’s forces despoiled Battle abbey, while lord Edward extorted 500 marks from the Cistercians of Robertsbridge. The Battle chronicle partially confirms this story, saying that Henry demanded 100 marks from Battle abbey, and Edward 40 marks, as compensation for the abbot’s men’s participation in the attacks on royal troops. (Flores, II, 491; Close Rolls 1261-64, 343; Ann Mon, IV, 147-8, 451; Guisborough, 192; Song of Lewes, lines 55-62; Battle chronicle, in Bémont, 375-6)

The business recorded by the Chancery mainly concerned the lands of rebels, which were to be committed to Henry’s supporters. The magnates who were with the king had decided on the confiscation of the lands of those who had opposed him in Northampton and the siege of Rochester castle. The Exchequer’s Easter term should have begun on Monday 28 April, the morrow of the close of Easter. This was the day for the adventus of the sheriffs and the representatives of boroughs, when they paid into the Treasury their contributions for the first half of the Exchequer year. Normally, the routine business of auditing accounts and collecting cash began again on this day; the sheriff of Surrey and Sussex had been instructed to be at the Exchequer for the audit of his accounts for the previous year. But in 1264, there was no adventus, and no Exchequer business is recorded in the memoranda rolls until the end of September. (CPR 1258-66, 315-6; E 368/38 m. 15)

St Swithun’s upon Kingsgate, Winchester

St Swithun’s upon Kingsgate, Winchester

The Winchester annals give us a glimpse of the disorders happening around the country, away from the manoeuvres of the main armies. The citizens of Winchester rebelled, and seized the property of laymen and religious, collecting forced contributions. On 4 May, they rose against the prior and convent of St Swithun. They burned the gate of the priory and the church of St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate, as well as the convent buildings next to the wall. They killed some men of the priory within the monastery. There was further damage when the forces of Simon de Montfort junior sacked the city in 1265. After the war, in the autumn of 1265, the king reduced the city’s annual farm for the next twenty years, because the citizens were impoverished and buildings were destroyed and everywhere in ruins. (Ann Mon, II, 101, and IV, 450; E 368/40 m. 2d)

Meanwhile, in London, de Montfort was planning to resume hostilities. On 4 May, John fitz John and many others were knighted, and the barons and the Londoners prepared to set out to confront the royal army. (Gervase, II, 236)

Lewes 1264-2014

An impressive programme of events will be taking place in Lewes and the surrounding area, to mark the 750th anniversary of the battle. The commemorative programme is available online – there are walks, talks, plays, re-enactments, feasts, fireworks and much more.