Lord Edward’s Crusade I

The quantity and the quality of blood spilt at Evesham rendered it a decisive victory; the dead can neither negotiate nor stage a comeback. Montfort’s ghost would haunt his killers for some time to come, but his gory end meant that he could trouble them only in the improbable guise of a popular saint. Likewise, the simultaneous dispatch of so many of the earl’s diehard supporters seemed to herald a new political dawn. Edward’s triumph in battle ensured that his father, though physically traumatised, was restored to full and unfettered power. The schemes to limit the king’s authority, begun in 1258 and repeatedly challenged, modified and reinstated thereafter, had also perished. Whatever future the idea of reform might have, it would not be imposed on the Crown by force. God had granted victory to the royalists. Henceforth the monopoly of might lay with Henry and his son.

It should have been a relatively straightforward matter to transform this military supremacy into a lasting peace. In the end, Montfort had been a man more feared than loved. Even before Evesham his regime had been close to the point of collapse, hamstrung by a lack of genuinely loyal support. When news of the earl’s death broke, men who had been biding their time during his rule came swiftly back to the king’s side. At Windsor Castle the garrison surrendered at once, as did the troops holding the Tower of London. Only at Kenilworth Castle, to which Simon de Montfort junior had retreated, was stronger resistance expected, and even here there was hope for the royalists in the depth of their enemies’ despair. Young Simon had arrived at Evesham too late, but still in time to witness his father’s head being paraded on the point of a spear – a sight, it was said, that left him unable to eat or drink for days.

The mercy that Montfort had been denied in his final encounter would be the essential ingredient in making a firm peace. If at that instant chivalry had been suspended for the sake of political convenience, it was now imperative that it be revived for the same reason. Edward seems to have been well aware of this. For him, the killing at Evesham, as well as being a means to an end, had also been a cathartic moment. He may not have mourned the passing of his uncle, but he is said to have wept openly for the loss of so many others, including his sometime friend Henry de Montfort, who had died fighting alongside his father. Accordingly, in the aftermath of battle, Edward was minded to be merciful. When several leading Montfortians, including the earl’s former steward, approached him just three days later, he promised them his protection, and assured them that neither they nor their goods would be harmed. They duly agreed to submit, and thus the surrender of two more garrisons – those at Berkhamsted and Wallingford – was secured.

For such men, the fact that Edward’s concessionary attitude extended not only to their persons but also to their property was crucially important. Disinheritance, more so even than death, was the rebel’s greatest fear, for it entailed lasting shame and the end of his family’s fortune. Consequently it was also the offended overlord’s greatest threat, and one that in 1265 Henry III was in a strong position to invoke. In the immediate wake of Evesham the king had authorised the seizure of all lands held by his enemies. Royalists had rushed from the battlefield to occupy the manors of those who were known, or even merely believed, to be Montfortians. The reappropriation was startlingly swift. In a matter of weeks more than a thousand properties were confiscated.

Edward, who had hurried to Chester in order to superintend the recovery of his own estates, appears to have assumed that this nationwide land-grab was a prelude to a bargaining process. During this time, for example, he had letters sent to the garrison at Kenilworth, promising them death and disinheritance unless they agreed to an immediate surrender. The threat was dire, but the corollary was also clear. Those who did submit, by implication, would be spared such terrible penalties.

But by the time Edward had returned south, his father had decided on a different course of action. In the middle of September, during a specially convened parliament at Winchester, Henry proclaimed his peace. Then, the following day, he dropped a political bombshell. The lands lately seized by his faithful subjects, he announced, would not in any circumstances be returned to their former owners; all those who had stood with Montfort to whatever degree were to remain disinherited forever.

As the wiser men in attendance were quick to observe, this was a poisonous prescription. Richard of Cornwall was a man with more reason than most to harbour thoughts of vengeance towards the Montfortians, having only just been released from captivity at Kenilworth, where he had been kept in chains. Yet he was still shrewd enough to appreciate that his brother’s policy could lead only to further conflict, for if former rebels had no hope of recovering their lands, they had no reason to lay down their arms. Along with a few other magnates, the earl washed his hands of the whole sorry business and withdrew from court in protest.

His nephew, however, did not accompany him. Despite his instinctive understanding of the need for settlement, Edward went along with the royalist majority that was bent on revenge. It may be that he felt unable to resist the demands of his own powerful supporters. Roger Mortimer, in the words of one writer, was ‘greedy for spoils’. Whatever the case, Edward took his place among the seventy or so individuals close to the king who were rewarded with a share of the loot. The trouble was that more than four times that number had been deprived of their stake in society.

The next target for the royalists’ vengeance was London. Henry felt particularly venomous towards the capital and its citizens, whom he regarded as Montfort’s willing collaborators. During the earl’s rule, the mayor of London, called upon to swear fealty to his sovereign, had actually dared to couch his oath in conditional terms. ‘We will be faithful and duteous to you,’ the wretched man had said, ‘so long as you will be a good lord and king.’ Henry now set out to deliver London a lesson of his own by way of return. From Winchester he moved to Windsor, to where he summoned an army, and let it be known that he intended to besiege the city.

This news sent London into a panic. A small band of committed Montfortians wanted to man the walls and resist, but the majority agreed that the only sensible course was to throw themselves on the king’s mercy. To this end, the mayor and some forty of the more eminent citizens set out for Windsor in early October in the hope of allaying the royal wrath. They were only partially successful. The planned siege was called off, but the delegates themselves, in spite of the safe-conducts they had received, were cast into prison. Henry then proceeded to enter London unopposed, and celebrated the feast of the Confessor on 13 October in Westminster Abbey, ceremoniously wearing his crown to emphasise his majesty. Meanwhile, in the city itself the indiscriminate redistribution of property continued, and again Edward willingly accepted his share of the spoils. Several of his friends were rewarded with confiscated houses, and he himself was given custody of the mayor and certain other prominent prisoners.

The hostility that the king and his son harboured towards London, of course, arose to a large extent as a result of the attack on the queen in the summer of 1263. Eleanor of Provence had crossed to France soon after that notorious incident and had remained there ever since, masterminding her husband’s return to power. Now, at last, she was expected home, and the court moved into Kent in anticipation of her arrival. On 29 October Edward met his mother off the boat at Dover, and two days later she was reunited with Henry at Canterbury. It had been almost two years since the royal couple had seen each other, and the disagreements that had arisen between them during the struggle with Montfort had long since been forgotten; if anything their affection for each other had deepened. In a letter to Louis IX written some time later, Henry spoke fondly of Eleanor, saying he was ‘cheered by the sight of her, and by talking to her’.

Such amiable companionship had also been denied to Edward, but shortly before his mother’s return he was reunited with his own wife. Eleanor of Castile appears to have been kept with the king during her husband’s year of confinement, and subjected to the same close supervision. Montfort’s rule must have been a deeply distressing time for the young couple, with each of them left for long periods uncertain of the other’s fate. Nor was their misery during these months to be measured solely by the stress of captivity and conflict; family life had also been disastrous. Their daughter Katherine, born at some point after 1261, and at that date their only child, had died in September 1264. Another daughter, born in January 1265 and christened Joan, was dead within eight months (and thus perhaps never seen alive by her father). The benefits of peace, therefore, were anticipated in personal as well as political terms. By the time of the queen’s return in October, her daughter-in-law was once again pregnant.

Also returning to England at this moment, probably with his mother, was Edward’s younger brother, Edmund. Although his youth had precluded him from playing any major role in the tumultuous years leading up to Evesham, Edmund was nevertheless to become the greatest beneficiary of the controversial peace. While the court was still at Canterbury, he received from his father all the lands once held by Simon de Montfort, and in due course he received the late earl’s title too. The counterpart to his elevation, and adding to the general joy among the royal family at their reunion, was the departure of Henry’s sister, Eleanor de Montfort. The widowed countess, who had been holed up at Dover since her husband’s death, had surrendered to Edward just days before the queen’s return, and crossed the Channel into permanent exile.

Amid the comings and goings of familiar faces, there was one individual who stood out as an obvious newcomer. Ottobuono de Fieschi was an Italian by birth, a lawyer by training and, since 1252, a cardinal. Now, in the autumn of 1265, he had arrived in England in his new capacity as a legate a latere – that is, he had been sent from the pope’s side with extensive powers to act in the pope’s name. At the time of his appointment Montfort had still been in power, and Ottobuono had therefore been authorised, if necessary, to invade England with the assistance of the king of France. Evesham, however, had removed this unhappy prospect, and the legate was able to land peaceably at Dover in the company of the queen. He would, of course, still have much work to do, punishing and pardoning on the pope’s behalf, and helping to rebuild the authority of both the Crown and the Church. But the earl’s death and the collapse of his regime must have given Ottobuono reason to imagine that his task would be an easier one than he and his master in Rome had originally envisaged.

If so, he was soon disappointed. The vengeful policy of disinheritance proclaimed at Winchester was already working its pernicious effect. Montfortians who had been deprived of their lands by the king’s decision were taking to the woods and the fens, and preparing to resist his government like so many desperate Robin Hoods. In December the court moved to Northampton in readiness to tackle the rebel garrison at Kenilworth, but the planned assault had to be postponed because of the local risings that were breaking out in other parts of the country. Simon de Montfort junior, the royalists discovered, had already left his father’s castle and gone into Lincolnshire, where other disinherited men were rallying to his banner. The marshy and inaccessible region known as the Isle of Axholme provided them with a natural fortress.

The royalists were therefore obliged to divide their forces, and while Henry remained at Northampton, his eldest son set out to subdue the new rebel base. Left to his own devices, Edward felt free to pursue a more conciliatory line, and he soon brokered a deal with his adversaries. In return for a guarantee of life, limb and liberty, they agreed to submit to the king’s judgement at Easter. Young Simon came to Northampton to stand trial immediately, and was sentenced to a year’s exile.

With equal suddenness, however, these initiatives broke down. Simon took fright, fearing he would not be allowed to leave the country after all, and fled abroad in February. (A few months later, he was followed by his younger brother Guy.) The problem for the royalists, it was becoming clear, was not merely military; they were also struggling against the belief among their enemies that their promises counted for nothing.

What was true in general applied to Edward in particular. In retrospect, one tends to admire Edward’s cunning and courage in the years leading up to Evesham, and indeed in many of his actions contemporaries would have found nothing remiss. To some extent chivalry endorsed guile and deception. The advance into battle with borrowed Montfortian banners, for instance, would have been seen by most as nothing more than a clever ruse. Yet there had been other occasions during the war where Edward’s actions had amounted to perfidy – his escape from the city of Gloucester in early 1264 being especially notorious. On the strength of that episode, the author of The Song of Lewes had famously compared Edward to a leopard (leopardus in Latin, which rhymed with Edwardus). If we divide the word, he explained, it becomes leo (lion) and pardus (panther). To be a lion was good; they were commendably ferocious. Panthers, on the other hand, were apparently shifty and untrustworthy creatures, and that, averred the poet, was Edward’s problem. ‘A lion by pride and fierceness, he is by inconstancy and changeableness a panther, changing his word and promise, cloaking himself in pleasant speech. When he is in tight spot he promises whatever you wish, but as soon as he has escaped, his promise is forgotten.’

Saddled with such a reputation, all Edward could do was continue with his conciliatory stance and hope thereby to disprove his opponents’ negative assumptions. His first notable success in this regard came in mid-March, at which point he joined forces with his old friend Roger Leybourne. At the start of the year Leybourne had been charged with the task of securing the coastal towns of Kent and Sussex. The Cinque Ports, as they are still corporately known, had become a refuge for pirates and Montfortian sympathisers – it had been via the port of Winchelsea that Simon junior had made good his escape. Leybourne had set about reducing them to obedience with his usual flair for military operations, and had already succeeded in taking Sandwich by storm.

What ultimately won over Winchelsea, however, was not simply the combined land–sea assault that Edward and Leybourne proceeded to unleash, but the generosity of the concessions that the former now brought to the table. In return for their submission, the defenders were guaranteed all their lands and liberties, and freely pardoned all their recent crimes. The leniency of these terms seemed most unfair to the London chronicler who recorded them; just two months earlier Henry III had imposed a massive 20,000 mark fine on the capital in return for having a similar pardon. But the calculated clemency of the king’s son was soon seen to be paying dividends. The Cinque Ports remained conspicuously loyal thereafter, and Edward – in his new capacity as their warden – derived a personal profit from the peace he had imposed.

Nevertheless, this success was but a single swallow, not the sudden advent of summer. The royalist plan for April had been to resume the assault on Kenilworth, but the weeks after Easter witnessed a new wave of violence as the king’s opponents – the Disinherited, as they had now been popularly dubbed – failed to keep to the terms of their earlier surrender and instead went on the rampage. One group laid waste to the counties of East Anglia; others began to create similar havoc in the Midlands and in Hampshire. Rumour had it that the sons of Montfort had raised troops overseas and were poised to return. Once again, the royalists were forced to disperse to deal with the hydra that Henry III had ill-advisedly created.

At length, they began to obtain the upper hand. In mid-May Edward’s cousin and companion in captivity, Henry of Almain, scored a signal victory over one band of rebels at Chesterfield in Derbyshire, capturing some of the leaders and putting the rest to flight. A few days later Edward himself defeated another group that had been terrorising the people of Hampshire from their camp in Alton Wood. This encounter, which saw the heir to the throne engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the rebels’ leader, Adam Gurdon, soon became the stuff of legend. Edward was said to have been so impressed with the skill of his adversary that he allowed him generous terms of surrender. The reality was not quite so romantic: although Gurdon was spared, he was afterwards taken to Windsor for imprisonment. Nevertheless, the story shows how Edward’s reputation was beginning to improve. Far from being the duplicitous and bloodthirsty leopard, he was now spoken of as a model of chivalrous clemency.

By midsummer the royalists were again ready to resume their assault on Kenilworth, where the garrison was still determined to resist. The great stone fortress, modified and improved by Montfort, presented a formidable challenge, not least because of the great artificial lake that obstructed its western approaches. Reducing the castle would depend to a large extent on the skill of the king’s engineers, and thus, despite the use of barges from his own lordship of Chester, there was little for Edward himself to do. Command in this instance lay with his younger brother, Edmund, who had commenced the siege some weeks earlier and who, as Montfort’s successor, was also Kenilworth’s new lord.

This lull in Edward’s workload was timely, however, for his wife was approaching the end of her term, and the gap in his known itinerary suggests that he probably went to join her at Windsor. There, on the night of 13–14 July, Eleanor was safely delivered of a healthy baby, which to general rejoicing was a boy. The citizens of London demonstrated their delight by awarding themselves the following day off work, and danced through the streets as they had on the occasion of Edward’s birth twenty-seven years earlier. No doubt the father himself was equally pleased and proud, but the most noteworthy aspect of his response was the decision to call the new child John. At a time of continuing baronial rebellion, it seems remarkably bold, not to say brash, of Edward to have resurrected the name of his notorious grandfather, and to have bestowed it on the son who might one day succeed him.

The rebellion still showed no signs of diminishing. Soon after Edward’s return to Kenilworth – he reappears there in early August – news came of yet another outbreak in East Anglia. John Deyville, a committed Montfortian who had repeatedly evaded capture, had marshalled his fellow malcontents and seized the city of Ely. As with their earlier stand at Axholme, the Disinherited had found themselves another isolated fastness in the Fens, from which they were able to mount devastating raids against neighbouring towns and villages.

The prospect of seemingly ceaseless insurgency reinforced the argument for offering the rebels more lenient terms, and in August a parliament assembled at Kenilworth to determine precisely what these terms should be. Edward, to judge from his own generosity in the preceding months, is likely to have endorsed the moderate view, but, as at the start of the siege, he seems to have maintained a low profile during the discussions, perhaps deliberately. As it was, the final decision, announced at the end of October, was seen to be the work of Cardinal Ottobuono and Henry of Almain, who had jointly headed the debating committee. In the teeth of opposition from hard-liners such as Roger Mortimer, it was agreed that the rebels would be allowed to recover their lost lands in return for substantial fines – several times the annual rent of the properties concerned, the scale varying according to the degree of each individual’s offence. Since the fines raised from these manors would be paid to their royalist occupiers, nobody stood to lose out entirely. The rebels would eventually redeem their inheritances, and the royalists would still feel that they had been adequately rewarded.

The Dictum of Kenilworth, as this scheme became known, was a major step in the right direction. It induced many minor offenders, whose fines had been fixed at twice their annual incomes, to lay down their arms and accept the king’s peace. But the hardcore Montfortians at Kenilworth and Ely, expected to forego five years’ rent in return for forgiveness, rejected the deal as still too harsh and vowed to fight on. In the case of the Kenilworth garrison this constituted an act of considerable bravado, for their ability to resist was fading fast. In the end, after six months under siege, the prospect of imminent starvation induced them to surrender in the days immediately before Christmas.

At the start of the new year of 1267, therefore, it remained only to deal with the rebels ensconced at Ely, and in February the royalists reassembled at nearby Bury St Edmunds to begin the task. An exchange of messengers between the two camps confirmed that there was no hope of further compromise. Deyville and his colleagues were true disciples of Montfort, convinced of the righteousness of their cause. To Henry’s observation that he would be fully justified in retaining their lands forever, they replied that his redemption scheme was tantamount to disinheritance anyway. Military action was evidently the only option; Edward’s appearance at several coastal towns in January suggests that he was probably mustering the necessary naval support for an attack on the island city.

Yet again, however, as the royalists closed in to suppress what seemed to be the last centre of resistance, another sprang up. News now came from the north of a rising led by John de Vescy, a young and devoted acolyte of the late earl of Leicester (legend has it that he saved Montfort’s severed foot at Evesham and took it home to venerate). Although he had accepted the Dictum of Kenilworth, Vescy had latterly come to regret his decision; for him and others; the sight of their former opponents occupying their ancestral estates had evidently proved too much to stomach. Together they had formed a solemn league, forcibly reoccupied their lands and castles, and vowed to defend them.

On learning of this latest upset, Edward assembled a host of knights and sped north, arriving at Vescy’s castle of Alnwick around the end of March. As in similar confrontations of the previous year, it seems that some serious fighting ensued, and Alnwick was retaken by force. Once again, however, what struck contemporaries was Edward’s magnanimity in victory. ‘Pious and merciful’, enthused one London chronicler, ‘he not only put off vengeance, but offered his pardon to the offender’. It probably helped in this instance that Vescy, although an idealistic adherent of Montfort, had also grown up in the royal household, and it is fair to point out that after his surrender he still remained saddled with a substantial fine. Nevertheless, the swiftness with which Edward had quelled the northern rising was impressive, and neither Vescy nor his neighbours created any troubled thereafter. Indeed, as the same chronicler correctly noted, the young lord of Alnwick became one of Edward’s closest friends.

The king, by contrast, had enjoyed far less success against the stalwart defenders of Ely and was castigated for his inactivity on this score. Having decamped from Bury to Cambridge in order to begin his military operations, Henry had attempted to invade the island with a fleet of boats, but his attempt had ended in failure, and the royalists had been repulsed with heavy losses.

This setback, however, was the least of the king’s worries. Far worse was the alarming split that had arisen within his own ranks. Gilbert de Clare, the young earl of Gloucester, whose role in Montfort’s downfall had proved so crucial, had belatedly come out in support of the remaining rebels. In early April he had led a great number of his own troops to London, and Cardinal Ottobuono, charged with holding the city in the king’s name, had naively (and in spite of the concern expressed by the Londoners themselves) allowed his army to enter. The citizens fears were quickly realised. Once inside the walls Gloucester’s men had seized control, and were soon joined by some of the Disinherited from Ely, including John Deyville. The London mob, quiet since the previous year, had also declared in favour of this new alliance. The legate had fled to the Tower, which in consequence had been placed under siege. Meanwhile, across the rest of the capital, the rebels readied themselves for a final showdown. Great ditches were dug and earthworks raised around the city, as well as around the neighbouring borough of Southwark. This time, London would be ready to resist.

With Gloucester’s backing and the capital’s reoccupation, there was a real chance that sporadic insurgency could escalate into a new civil war. Towards the end of April Edward rejoined his father at Cambridge, bringing with him a large army he had recruited in northern England (and possibly even from the Lowlands of Scotland). Thus reinforced, the royalists marched towards London in early May. At the same moment the redoubtable Roger Leybourne was sent overseas to engage the services of foreign mercenaries, and Eleanor of Provence was stationed at Dover ready to receive them. Local levies and siege equipment were demanded from neighbouring counties in expectation of taking the capital by force.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.