Posts Tagged ‘Battle of Lewes’

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 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.

Battle of Lewes Conference (14 April 2012)

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Members of the project team – David Carpenter and Louise Wilkinson – gave lectures at a one-day conference to commemorate the Battle of Lewes on Saturday 14 April 2012. The conference, which was sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund and hosted by Baroness Andrews, chair of English Heritage, and the Sussex Archaeological Society at the Lewes Assembly Rooms, attracted 300 delegates. Other speakers included Dr Adrian Jobson, Dr John Maddicott, Dr Huw Ridgeway, Dr Andrew Spencer and Dr Tim Sutherland.



Battle of Lewes Conference Saturday 14 April 2012

Monday, December 5th, 2011

The Battle of Lewes: the beginnings of parliamentary democracy?

A conference to be held in the Assembly Room of Lewes Town Hall, will take place on Saturday 14 April 2012.  Starting with registration at 9.30, the speakers will be David Carpenter, Huw Ridgeway, Adrian Jobson, John Maddicott, Louise Wilkinson, Andrew Spencer and Tim Sutherland.  The conference as been organised by the HLF-funded Battle of Lewes Group (Sussex Archaeological Society) which is working to promote understanding of the battle whose 750th anniversary take place in 2014.

More details can be found and and  bookings made online here. The cost is £30 with students able to have a reduced fee of £20.

Posted on behalf of Dr Michael Ray.

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 8 May to Saturday 14 May 1261

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Having been at Romney on Saturday 7 May 1261, Henry moved north to Canterbury where he stayed from Monday 9 May to the following Friday. This pause enabled those seeking the writs to initiate and further the common law legal actions to catch up with him. In the previous week, only four  had been purchased. This week the number recovered to  a healthy twenty-one. It is noticeable that eight of these concerned litigation in Kent, and another three  cases in Sussex and Surrey. This shows how the king’s presence in an area encouraged litigants  to come forward to purchase writs.  On the other hand, people were still prepared to travel, even  in these troubled times,  and three writs were purchased for cases in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.  The fine roll also has a writ (issued from Canterbury on Monday 9 May), in which the king pardoned  Reginald fitzPeter a debt of five marks. This was a timely reward for his support, for Reginald had come to court and on this very day attested a royal charter.  Since he was a lord with major interests both in Hampshire and the Welsh marches,  his was an important addition to royal strength.  It was needed for Henry’s anxieties in this week are palpable.  One way kings of England strengthened their position in  times of political tension was by the exaction of  oaths of loyalty from their subjects. In 1209, for example, King John had taken oaths and homages from a large assembly gathered at Marlborough. (This is the subject of a fascinating paper by John Maddicott in the April 2011 edition of English Historical Review.)  On Friday 6 May, Henry had, in similar fashion, taken the homages of the barons of the Cinque ports gathered at Lydd near Romney. But very far from all had come. There was also conspicuous absenteeism when Henry, around the same time, summoned the knights and freemen of Kent to swear oaths of fealty. Had Henry been a bold man, had his position warranted it, he might now have taken punitive action against the delinquents.  Instead, with Dover safe under Robert Walerand,  and the main aim of his expedition accomplished, he decided to return to the safety of the capital.  Another factor in his decision was probably  alarm at the rebellion against  the royal judges in Hertfordshire. This had taken place on 2 May, and on Friday 12 May, from Canterbury, Henry  withdrew the judges and proclaimed his desire to give everyone his ‘gracious justice and benevolent favour’. On the same day, Henry declared he could not go to Sussex to receive the fealty of the knights and freemen of the county. The sheriff would have to receive it instead. On Saturday 13 May, Henry left Canterbury and reached Faversham. There he told the sheriff of Kent and Robert Walerand to receive the fealty of those men of Kent and the Cinque Ports who had failed to turn up earlier. Next day, Saturday 14 May (the day on which the battle of Lewes was to be fought in 1264)  Henry reached Rochester and by the evening was back in the Tower of London.