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Medieval Sourcebook:
Matthew of Westminster:
Simon de Montfort's Rebellion 1265


This account, ascribed to a monk Matthew, living in Westminster Abbey, describes the rebellion of Simon de Montfort and his short-lived success in 1265. The chronicler is by no means sympathetic to the rebellion. The prominence of these events is because the parliament summoned by Simon was seen, with some exaggeration, by 19th century historians, as the first modern parliament. The chronicler is less impressed.

Simon de Montfort, the illustrious earl of Leicester , and the barons, having assembled their forces from all quarters, and collected troops, both of the Londoners, whose army had increased to fifteen thousand men, and of men from other parts in countless numbers, marched thither with great impetuosity and courage. Accordingly, they encamped at Flexinge, in Sussex, which is about six miles from Lewes, and three days before the battle, they addressed a message of the following tenor to their lord the king--

"To the most excellent lord Henry, by the grace Of God, king of England, &c. The barons and others, his faithful subjects, wishing to observe their oaths and the fidelity due to God and to him, wish health, and tender their lawful service with all respect and honor. As it is plain from much experience that those who are present with you have suggested to your highness many falsehoods respecting us, intending all the mischief that they can do, not only to you but also to us, and to your whole kingdom, we wish your excellency to know that we wish to preserve the safety and security of your person with all our might, as the fidelity which we owe to you demands, proposing to overthrow, to the utmost of our power, all those who are not our enemies but yours too, and the foes of the whole of your kingdom; and if any other statement is made to you respecting these matters, do not believe it; for we shall always be found your faithful subjects. And we, Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, and Gilbert de Clare, at the request of the rest, have, for us and for them too who are here present, affixed our seals. Given at," etc.

But the king, despising this letter from his barons, was eager for war with all his heart, and sent them back the following letter of defiance:-

"Henry, by the grace of God, king of England, &c., to Simon de Montfort and Gilbert de Clare, and their partisans. Since, from the war and general confusion existing in our kingdom, which has all been caused by you, and by the conflagrations and other lawless mischiefs, it is distinctly visible that you do not preserve the fidelity which you owe to us, and that you have in no respect any regard for the safety of our person, since you have wickedly attacked our nobles and others our faithful subjects, who have constantly preserved their fidelity to us, and since you still design to injure them as far as in your power, as you have signified to us by your letters, we consider their grievances as our own, and look upon their enemies as ours; especially since those our faithful subjects before mentioned are manfully standing by us and maintaining their fidelity in opposition to your disloyal conduct, and we do not care for your safety or for your affection, but defy you, as the enemies of us and them. Witness my hand, at Lewes, on the twelfth day of May, in the forty-eighth year of our reign."

"Richard, by the grace of God, king of the Romans, always Augustus, and Edward, the illustrious eldest son of the king of England, and all the other barons and nobles who constantly with the labors of sincere good faith and devotedness have adhered to the aforesaid king of England, to Simon de Montfort, Gilbert de Clare, and each and all the others who are accomplices in their treason. By your letters which you have sent to the illustrious king of England, our dearest lord, we understand that we are defied by you, although a verbal defiance of this kind was long ago sufficiently proved to us by actual reality, through your hostile pursuit of us, your burning of our properties, and general devastation of our possessions; we, therefore, wish you to know that you are all defied by each and all of us, as public enemies, and that we are your enemies; and that we will labor with all our might to the damage of your persons and property, whenever any opportunity of injuring either is offered . to us. But as to what- you falsely charge us with, that we give neither faithful nor salutary counsel to the king your master, you do not at all say the truth; and if you, Simon de Montfort or Gilbert de Clare, choose to assert this same thing in the court of our lord the king, we are prepared to procure a safe conduct and to come to the said court, and to prove the truth of our innocence in this particular, and your falsehood as perfidious traitors, by another who is your equal in nobleness and blood. And we are all content with the seals of the lords above mentioned, namely, of the king of the Romans and the lord Edward. Given as above."

As, therefore, God did by no means admit of their coming to agreement, a most terrible battle took place between them, at Lewes, on the fourteenth of May, such as had never been heard of in past ages. The barons (among whom there was in all things and in every danger but one faith and one will, since they were so unanimous in their fraternal affection that they feared not even to die for their cause,) came the first thing in the morning in front of Lewes, and placed their tents and baggage on a hill, the chariot of the earl of Leicester, with his standard, being carefully placed below under the brow. And so the army and line of battle were arranged, and a speech of great persuasiveness was made to the soldiers by their general, Simon de Montfort, by which all were encouraged, and prepared to fight for their country with every feeling of security. Moreover, all of them having made a confession beforehand, crossed themselves on their shoulders and breasts. Therefore, the king and the other nobles, being informed of their sudden advance, wakened up all through the camp, and speedily assembled in arms, and marshaled their army for battle, arraying a vast multitude of men armed with breastplates; but the greater number of them being false and factious, and destitute of all proper principle, marched forward on that day without any order, and with precipitation, and fought unskillfully, and showed no steady perseverance. And in the actual battle the noblest of the knights and esquires, to the number of about three hundred, lost all courage, and turning their backs, fled to the castle of Peneneselli. Among them, were John, earl of Warrenne, William de Valence, Guy de Lizunac, both the two last being brothers of the king, Hugh Bigod, and many others. But the king's army, which was adorned with the royal standard, which they call the dragon, and which marshaled the way to a fierce contest to the death, advanced forward, and the battle began. For the royal troops rapidly opened their close battalions, and boldly urged their horses against the enemy, and attacked them on the flank. And thus the two armies encountered one another, with fierce blows and horrid noises. Therefore, in this way, the line of battle of the barons was pierced and broken; and John de Giffard, a gallant knight, who had been ambitious to gain the honor of striking the first blow, was taken prisoner, and led, away to the castle. But Edward got among the forces of the Londoners, and pursued them when flying, and letting the nobles escape, he followed them, as it is said, for a distance of about four miles, inflicting on them a most lamentable slaughter. For he thirsted for their blood as a punishment for the insult they had offered to his mother, for, as has been already recorded, they had heaped a great deal of abuse on his mother. But a part of the king's army, in the meantime, thirsting for the spoils, and booty, and plunder of the baggage which was on the hills, slew some of the citizens of London, who, for security's sake, had been introduced into the earl's chariot, hoping that they had found the earl himself there. But that earl, and Gilbert de Clare, and the other barons, acting with more sagacity, put forth all their strength to effect the capture of the king of England, and the king of Germany, and the rest of the chiefs. And there the fiery valor of the barons was visibly displayed, who fought eagerly for their country, and at last gained the victory. For the king of England was taken prisoner, after a very fine horse had been killed under him; and Richard, king of the Romans, was taken prisoner, and many others were taken also, namely, John de Balliol, Robert de Bruce, John Comyn, and other barons of Scotland , and nearly all the men-at-arms whom they had brought with them from Scotland were slain, to a very great number.

***

There was but little mention made for a year of the deliverance of Edward, the king's eldest son, until he himself, as the price of his release, gave his palatine county of Chester to the aforesaid earl of Leicester, and thus he purchased his liberation from the imprisonment and custody of the knights, his enemies. No one can adequately relate the condition of the nobles of the Marches, and the persecutions which they endured for a year and more. But when the earl of Leicester endeavored to banish these lords marchers into Ireland, they, entering the camp of the king's eldest son, on the extreme borders of Wales, plundered the Welsh castles of their enemies before mentioned, and thus furnished themselves with the necessary supplies, until the aforesaid earl of Leicester, having taken prisoner earl Ferrars, who secretly inclined to the party adverse to the capture of the earl of Gloucester, who has been often mentioned, and whom they suspected of similar sentiments, came having united with the to Gloucester. For then the lords marchers earl of Gloucester to meet their common danger, when the earl of Warrenne and William de Valence came with a large company of cross-bowmen and knights and landed in South Wales, they were inspired with greater boldness to resist the attacks of their persecutors; and to march to encounter the earl of Leicester and his friends, who were leading the king of England and his son to Hereford as prisoners; who marched on, being accompanied by his own army, and that of the prince of North Wales, while Simon, his second son, as the general and commander of the royal army, which had been levied throughout the kingdom, advanced from the other side, so that the two hemmed in the earls of Gloucester and Warrenne, and the lords marchers, and slew them all. But by the overruling providence of God, who is the doorkeeper of prisons, the release of the prisoners was effected, and on the Thursday in Whitsun week, the eldest son of the king went out into the fields about Hereford with his comrades and guards to take exercise, and then, when they had all mounted their destrier horses, and fatigued them with galloping, he, after that, mounted a horse of his own which was not tired, and requesting leave of his companions (though he did not obtain it), he went with all speed to the lord Roger de Mortimer, at Wigemor. And the next day, the earls of Gloucester and Warrenne, with their followers, met Edward at Ludlow, and forgetting all their mutual injuries and quarrels, and renewing their friendship, they proceeded with courage and alacrity to break down the bridges and sink the ferry-boats over the Severn. Afterwards, as their force was increased by the friends of the aforesaid Edward, whom the power of the adverse party had long compelled to lie hid, and when they had taken Gloucester, and treated the prisoners with most extravagant cruelty, the earl of Leicester and his army, being hemmed in the district about Hereford, were compelled to lead their nominal king about as a prisoner, and to subject him, against his will, to all the hardships of captivity.

And when Simon, the son of the aforesaid earl of Leicester, had, with many barons and knights, traversed and plundered all Kent, and the country about Winchester and the other southern districts of England, and then proceeded, to his own misfortune, with great speed to Kenilworth to meet his father, the aforesaid Edward and Gilbert and their armies, being, by the favor of God, forewarned of his approach, attacked his army at dawn on the day of Saint Peter ad Vincula, and took them all prisoners, except Simon and a few with him who escaped into the castle, and put them in chains, and stripped those robbers and plunderers of all their booty, and so celebrated a day of feasting at the New Chains.

The earl of Leicester and his companions, being ignorant of this event, and marching on with all speed, reached the river Severn that very same day, and having examined the proper fords, crossed the river at twilight with the design of meeting and finding the aforesaid Simon and his army, who were coming from England, and having stopped the two next days on the borders of Worcestershire, on the third day they entered the town of Evesham, and while they were occupying themselves there with refreshing their souls, which had been long fainting under hunger and thirst, with a little food, their scouts brought them word that the lord Edward and his army were not above two miles off. So the earl of Leicester and the barons marching out with their lord the king (whom they took with them by force) to the rising ground of a gentle hill, beheld Edward and his army on the top of a hill, not above a stone's throw from them, and hastening to them. And a wonderful conflict took place, there being slain on the part of the lord Edward only one knight of moderate prowess, and two esquires. On the other side there fell on the field of battle Simon, earl of Leicester, whose head, and hands, and feet were cut off, and Henry, his son, Hugh Despenser, justiciary of England, Peter de Montfort, William de Mandeville, Radulph Basset, Roger St. John, Walter de Despigny, William of York, and Robert Tregos, all very powerful knights and barons, and besides all the guards and warlike cavalry fell in the battle, with the exception of ten or twelve nobles, who were taken prisoners. And the names of the nobles who were wounded and taken prisoners were as follows: Guy de Montfort, son of the earl of Leicester John Fitz-John, Henry de Hastings, Humphrey de Peter de Montfort the younger, Bohun the younger, John de Vescy, and Nicholas de Segrave. . . .

Therefore, the battle of Evesham having been thus gallantly fought, the king and the nobles of the kingdom assembled at Winchester, and ordered that the richer citizens of the city of London should be thrust into prison, that the citizens should be deprived of their ancient liberties, and that the palisades and chains with which the city-was fortified should be removed, because the citizens had boldly adhered to Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, in contempt of the king and also to the injury of the kingdom; all which was done, for the more powerful citizens were thrown into prison at the castle of Windsor, and were afterwards punished with a pecuniary fine of no inconsiderable amount. All liberty was forbidden to the citizens, and the Tower of London was made stronger by the palisades and chains which had belonged to the city.

After this, a sentence of confiscation was pronounced at Westminster, on the feast of the translation of the blessed Edward, against the king's enemies, whose lands the king bestowed without delay on his own faithful followers. But some of those against whom this sentence was pronounced redeemed their possessions by payment of a sum of money, others uniting in a body lay hid in the Woods, living miserably on plunder and rapine; the most powerful and mischievous of whom was Robert, earl Ferrars, who was restored to the full possession of his property, on condition that his loyalty to the king, he should lose his if ever he departed from earldom. . . .

 

From The Flowers of History, collected by Matthew of Westminster, trans. C. D. Yonge II (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853; George Bell and Sons), pp. 414-17 and 436-38, repr. in Archibald R. Lewis, ed., The High Middle Ages, 814-1300, (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970)


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall Feb 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu