Sunday 4 May 1264: to the south coast

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.

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