Sunday 13 April 1264: Looting, burning and murder

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)

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