Posts Tagged ‘Northampton’

Sunday 16 November 1264: marchers and merchants

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

The court moved to Windsor this week, but preparations continued for a further move, to Northampton. The sheriff of Cambridge was instructed to send 20 tuns of wine to Northampton, in readiness for the king’s arrival. The Dunstable annals record that the king, on the advice of the barons, sent letters to every county, summoning all those who owed military service to be ready with horses and arms at Northampton by 25 November. The government was evidently preparing to take on the marcher lords who had seized the castles of Gloucester, Bridgnorth and Marlborough, and sacked Hereford on 10 November. (CLR 1260-67, 147-8; Ann Mon, III, 234-5)

Wallingford castle

Wallingford castle

About this time, the royalists who held Bristol castle made a daring attempt to free lord Edward and Richard of Cornwall from captivity at Wallingford. Led by Warin of Bassingbourn, some 300 men dashed across southern England undetected, and surprised the garrison of Wallingford. The attackers breached the outer defences of the castle, but withdrew empty-handed when the defenders threatened to throw Edward out of the castle, using a mangonel. Simon de Montfort then had the royal hostages moved to greater safety, in his own castle of Kenilworth. (Robert of Gloucester, II, 751-2; Flores, II, 503)

While the court was at Windsor, the king and his advisors made a generous gesture, which seems rather extravagant at a time when cash was in short supply. The king’s master carpenter at Windsor castle, Ralph Burnel, had died in 1262. The post, with 3d. a day in wages, had then been granted to his son, Thomas Burnel. It was now recorded that Thomas was not a carpenter, and therefore could not fill the office; nevertheless, in recognition of his father’s long service, he was still to be paid 3d. a day, for life. (CPR 1258-66, 202, 387)

The countess of Flanders wrote again to Henry III, requesting that he ensure that Flemish merchants were protected in England, as English merchants were in Flanders. Henry was asked not to allow violence or injury to merchants, their goods or their ships, so that merchants could freely enter England, do business, and return to Flanders. (Diplomatic Documents, I, 271) A reason for the countess’s concern may be indicated by the chronicler Thomas Wykes. He was a royalist, perhaps connected to Richard of Cornwall, and tended to stress the failings of the de Montfort regime. He presents, in rather lurid terms, what must have been a real problem, with overseas trade disrupted by the preparations for defence against invasion. According to Wykes, the sailors of the Cinque Ports turned to piracy, patrolling the coasts, seizing any ships they came across, cutting the throats of those on board and throwing their bodies into the sea. As a result, there were shortages of imported goods. The price of wine went up from 40s. to 10 marks; a pound of pepper which was hardly worth 6d. was sold for 3s. In addition, Henry de Montfort seized all the wool which merchants were bringing to the ports, so that he was commonly called a wool-merchant rather than a knight. (Ann Mon, IV, 157-9)

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.

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 15 January to Saturday 21 January 1257

Friday, January 20th, 2012

We saw in the last blog the major items on Henry III’s political agenda in 1257: the Sicilian affair, the peace with France, and the rising power of Llywelyn ap Gruffud in Wales.  All of these posed problems, but  Henry had  one reason to look forward with confidence. The balance of power in Europe was about to be transformed in his favour, or so he might hope. Just after a Christmas 1256, in ceremony before Henry and his council in St Stephen’s chapel in Westminster palace, during a great storm of thunder and lightening,  his brother, Richard of Cornwall, had accepted  election  as king of the Romans. He was now busy preparing his departure for Germany where he would be crowned.

During this week, which Henry spent at Westminster,  there was more good news.  On 18 January the abbot of Westminster and the bishop elect of Salisbury got back to England with news that the pope was prepared to extend the deadline of the Sicilian enterprise.  Under the original agreement  in which the kingdom was conferred on Edmund, his second son, Henry had been obliged to pay the pope £90,000 and send an army to Sicily to conquer the kingdom by Michaelmas 1256, which, of course, was  long gone.  Henry now learnt that the pope had graciously extended the deadline down to the start of June 1257.  There was no chance of Henry actually paying the money and sending an army within that term either, but at least he might be able to show he meant business. That above all meant getting a tax to support the enterprise from parliament.  The planning of a parliament must have now become a subject of earnest discussion between Henry and his advisers.

Meanwhile the fine rolls show that the attempt to build up a gold treasure to pay a Sicilian army was continuing. There were twelve fines of gold in this week, of which eight were for respite of knighthood.  Following on from last week’s discussion of the gold treasure, it might be worth explaining the form of these fines. Let us take as an example that translated as no 358 in the Calendar of Fine Rolls 1257  Its image is six items from the bottom in, with the marginal annotation ‘De fine auri pro respect milicie’. Here the Yorkshire knight, Robert de Etton’ (probably of Etton in the East Riding) is said to give the king half a mark of gold for respite from his  knighthood, which means that he has an exemption  from having to take up the honour.  Although the fine says he ‘gives’ the gold, in fact he  is not paying cash down. Instead as the fine goes on to indicate, he is to pay the gold into the wardrobe at the coming Michaelmas.  The ‘order to the sheriff of Yorkshire’ referred to is an order to the sheriff  to take security for this payment. In fact, as the entry goes on to indicate in a later addition (note the change of ink), Robert  paid the gold to the then keeper of the wardrobe, Peter des Rivaux, on Friday after Ash Wednesday in the regnal year 42, that is on 8 February 1258, so he missed his stipulated term.  Note ‘a’ to the translation adds that ‘This entry is not in the originalia roll’. The originalia roll was the copy of the fine roll sent the exchequer so it knew what monies to collect. The absence of the fine, like all fines of gold,  from the originalia roll thus meant that the exchequer had nothing to do with the collection and audit of the gold treasure, which was entirely a wardrobe affair.  Hence the record that the fine has been paid and that Robert is ‘quit’  is made here on the fine roll not on the exchequer’s pipe roll.  Unfortunately, like most of its kind, the fine does not indicate in what form the gold came.

The fine rolls for this week also reveal another way in which the king was accumulating his gold treasure.  This was from the towns who were offering  gold, or silver to buy gold, in return for charters giving them various privileges. Thus on  21 January the citizens of Northampton offered 100 marks of silver to buy gold for a charter of liberties, while in an undated entry, the men of Guildford offered one and a half marks of gold for a charter which established moved the county court of Surrey  to Guildford. This caused great anger locally since it meant moving the county court from the much more central Leatherhead.

Does anyway know whether these charters survive?  If the Guildford one does, it will clear up a mystery over its date. Although the fine for it appears in this week, and the actual charter is enrolled with others for January and has much the same witnesses, the charter roll calendar says it bears the date 7 September. An image of Guildford castle, much visited by Henry III, appears on the Guildford Borough website.

The witnesses to the Northampton charter, which is dated 18 January although the fine is three days later, show who was at court in this week. The list is  headed by the king’s Poitevin half brothers, Guy de Lusignan and William de Valence. Peter of Savoy, the queen’s uncle, does not feature, although he was at court around this time.  Henry’s generosity  to his foreign relatives is very clear.  On Friday, 20 January,  he confirmed an earlier gift  to Peter of Savoy  which meant  he was pardoned  the £625 he owed  each year for custody of the Vescy lands during the minority of the heir, a very major concession.   On the same day Henry took steps to give Guy de Lusignan 200 marks, and also compensated one of his clerks for giving way to the queen’s request to surrender a wardship. This was  so that it could be given to her daughter the queen of Scotland. The tensions between the Savoyards and the Lusignans in this scramble for patronage were to explode in 1258.