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  • Evesham's Military Heritage by Stan Brotherton

    Miniature manuscript illumination of a battle believed to be the Battle of Evesham. (Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Evesham’s Military Heritage? An interesting title and a fascinating subject; but how to write such a book?

    The challenge wasn’t the lack of material. Indeed, the opposite is true: there’s far too much. After all, entire books have been dedicated just to Simon de Montfort (Earl of Leicester) and the Battle of Evesham (4th August 1265); its context, characters, impact and implications. Instead, the challenge was to make the book relevant to a modern reader. After all an account of old battles, however interesting in itself, can hardly be considered pertinent to the current day.

    For me, the key to unlocking this puzzle was the word “heritage” and the related idea of “inheritance” (that is, something valuable handed down through generations). This simple thought allowed me to connect old events with modern times. I found this such a valuable angle that early drafts included the subtitle: “A local history of war and remembrance”.

    What to include? A mass of notes was narrowed down to four main topics: the Battle of Evesham (1265), the English Civil Wars, WWI and WWII. The first two were obvious candidates as Evesham had been the scene of major conflicts and suffered significantly. The latter two made good sense as they were significant events, closely felt, which are still actively remembered. Scattered throughout were shorter chapters on the contemporary remembrance of past events.

    Map of the Battle of Evesham, 4 August 1265. Godescroft is believed to be where Simon de Montfort was slain. (c. David Cox, Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    But why should a reader care? I thought there were three reasons. First, in the history of Evesham there are some compelling personal stories; including the death of Earl Simon (1265) and the extraordinary public service of Mrs Haynes-Rudge (1914-18). Second, studying Evesham’s military heritage provides a richer understanding of the town (including, most obviously, its street names). Third, the book sets out some of the (local) present uses of the past: how history has been routinely reclaimed and recycled to suit contemporary needs.

    Stained-glass windows in the Lichfield Chapel, All Saints', made by Powell & Sons (1882-83). On the left, Prince Edward is shown wearing robes (not armour), no shield, hands crossed, and his right hand lightly touching the hilt of a (mostly) concealed sword. To the right, Earl Simon is shown as a belligerent figure in full armour with sword drawn. (Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Interestingly, Evesham’s remembrance of its own military past has changed dramatically over time. The clearest example is with the Battle of Evesham (1265). The battle itself was brutal and horrific. Indeed, Robert of Gloucester (fl 1260-1300) described it as “the murder of Evesham for battle it was none”. Soldiers fleeing the battlefield were pursued and slaughtered. Local tradition tells us that Welshmen (from Earl Simon’s army) who fled towards Twyford were cut down at a place known as “Dead Man’s Ait”. Those fleeing back into the town were pursued and killed. Those who sought sanctuary in the parish churches, and Evesham Abbey, were followed and slain. Blood from the slaughter stained the very centre of the abbey (between the transepts, under the tower).

    For some twenty years (or so) after his violent death, Earl Simon remained a popular even populist figure. Indeed, there was a vigorous local “cult” dedicated to Earl Simon with prayers invoking him as intercessor. Inevitably this was soon suppressed by the king (after all Earl Simon was a traitor and had been excommunicated) and Earl Simon’s fame afterwards faded.

    The Simon de Montfort Memorial, 2010, set by red and white blooms ( the colours of his blazon). The inscription states: 'Here were buried the remains of Simon de Montfort.' This is most unlikely, thought his grave is probably quite close by. (Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    In the early Victorian age Earl Simon’s reputation was, perhaps unexpectedly, powerfully revived. Wrapped up with a powerful move for parliamentary reform was a search for early champions of democracy. Earl Simon, who summoned a parliament in January 1265 to bolster his own power, was soon adopted and duly transformed into a heroic figure fighting for liberty. In Evesham in the 1840s, this new view was reflected in new local memorials; including an obelisk and church stained glass. At Evesham, in 1965, Earl Simon’s status as democratic hero received full official recognition. The Archbishop of Canterbury, supported by dignitaries including the Speaker of the House of Commons, dedicated the Simon de Montfort Memorial in Upper Abbey Park.

    Today, of course, things have changed again. The 750th anniversary of the Battle of Evesham (2015) was particularly marked by a large-scale re-enactment on the Crown Meadow. The original slaughter, transformed through time, has become the occasion for public entertainment and an excellent day out.

    The book Evesham’s Military Heritage embodies many levels of remembrance. Most obviously, the book considers how the military past has been remembered locally and, for the English Civil Wars, largely ignored. For WWI and WWII I made significant use of local memories, reports of local experiences, local poems, and most importantly excerpts from Eva Beck’s wonderful autobiographies. Additionally, the book is dedicated “in memoriam” to two local historians now sadly deceased (Mike Edwards and Gordon Alcock). I also included memories from my grandfather (who served in WWI) plus pictures from my father. In this way, the book not only discusses remembrance (and the way it has changed) but is also itself an act of remembrance.

    Stan Brotherton's new book Evesham's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • The Forgotten Ordinance of 1264 by Darren Baker

    On 28 June 1264 an ordinance was sealed by Parliament following the victory of the Montfortian party at Lewes six weeks earlier. It ordained that the king shall dispose of all the business of the realm, whether dispensing patronage or naming Crown officials, with the advice and consent of a council of nine. These nine would be chosen by three electors confirmed by the king, all elaborated by a system of checks and balances. Officially Henry III gave his “consent, will and precept” to this form of government, which for all intents and purposes changed England into a constitutional monarchy.

    Ordinance - Microsoft Word - Civil war in England 1264 picIt was called an ordinance because it was meant to be a temporary measure, a “form of peace” until the actual treaty drawn up after Lewes was implemented. That battle had been the culmination of six years of strife over the Provisions of Oxford, the reforms enacted to rein in the king’s personal rule. By the end of 1263 Henry had recovered most of his power, forcing his opponents, led by his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort, to agree to arbitration by the king’s other brother-in-law and fellow monarch, Louis IX of France. With supreme imprudence, Louis completely nullified the Provisions of Oxford, resulting in civil war and the two sides facing off at Lewes.

    Henry was winning the war and might have won at Lewes had his son, the future Edward I, not led his division off the battlefield on a murderous joyride. To coax Henry and his son into surrendering, Montfort agreed that the Provisions could be revisited and adjusted under arbitration with French participation. A letter was sent in Henry’s name to Louis shortly after the battle to initiate this new discussion so that a final form of government might be instituted for the realm. The Ordinance, which was essentially the Provisions in stricter form, was to suffice in the meantime.

    Louis never did answer, nor would he, for his pride would be severely affected if he admitted the foolishness of his previous decision. By August 1264, the Montfortians had had enough and sent Louis their own final plan, called the Peace of Canterbury. It was the Ordinance all over again, with one caveat: that this form of government was to survive the king into the next reign. Edward, whether he liked it or not, and all his actions since deserting the reform movement suggested he wouldn’t, would also have to govern under constitutional controls.

    What is truly amazing about the Ordinance of 1264 is not that it had the approval of the king. Henry had also approved the Provisions, but had got the pope to absolve him of his oath to observe them. Rather, it confirmed that England would henceforth be a parliamentary state. That process had begun earlier with the provision that called for the king to summon Parliament three times a year at regular intervals, thereby infringing on royal prerogative to summon it at will. When Henry set out to undermine reforms, it was precisely this provision that he took aim at first. It was that conflict in the winter/spring of 1260 that split the realm into two camps, those for Henry and those for Simon.

    Ordinance - Microsoft Word - English medieval parliament picPreviously, the main function of Parliament had been to discuss petitions and taxation. With the onset of the reform movement, it also began to legislate, not just rules for the king, but for the barons themselves, all bearing in mind that England was a “community of the realm”, meaning all the people and not just the elites. For the Parliament of June 1264, the counties were invited to send four elected representatives to approve, alongside the magnates and clergy, this new constitution. From that moment forward, Parliament would be a national assembly with the power to decide matters of state, including deposing the king if necessary.

    Why Simon de Montfort is better remembered for his next Parliament, where the towns were first invited to send representatives, and not this groundbreaking assembly, has to do with the man himself. He has been accused both in his day and ours of never intending to fulfill the terms of Henry’s surrender at Lewes. He merely agreed to them to get the king to come out alive, and once he had him, he was content to rule the realm in his name.

    For sure, he was one of the three electors and certainly dominated the government, but he had a wide range of support from the clergy, nobility, knights, freemen and peasants. His willingness, moreover, to compromise on the Provisions offered Henry a face-saving measure. Throughout his reign, the king had always despaired for his dignity, now Simon was offering as much as he could give him in defeat. Historians have often overlooked this fact, preferring to see Simon as uncompromising and Henry as weak, despite knowing that it was Edward who lost the battle, and that these two men, in-laws who had once enjoyed a deep friendship, personally meant the other well in spite of their troubles.

    The demand that the French arbitrate also suspiciously looks like Montfort knowing that nothing would come of the treaty terms. He knew Louis well enough to know he would never put peace before pride. Indeed, when the French king received the Peace of Canterbury, he famously reported he would rather toil in the fields than rule as a king under such conditions. And yet Montfort needed outside legitimacy for his regime, and his standing with leading French nobles and clergymen offered the only chance of getting Louis to act.

    Ordinance - Microsoft Word - Henry meeting Louis in France picIt was all over in a little more than a year. Edward escaped from custody, raised an army, and butchered Montfort’s men at Evesham in August 1265. The Ordinance and all acts passed under it were repealed, the estates of the Montfortians were seized, and England was gripped by disorder over the next two years. But there was no turning back. When Henry and Edward tried to secure a crusade tax, it would take at least eight parliaments before they finally got approval. And of course, the next civil war between king and parliament saw the monarchy abolished completely, if temporarily.

    So why then isn’t the Ordinance of 1264, and by its origins the Provisions of Oxford, remembered with the same veneration as Magna Carta? For the same reason the Declaration gets all the glory in America and not the Constitution. The enshrinement of rights is always the first step towards installing the machinery of government. That makes it more glamorous, less technical, an easier sell in any age. Magna Carta had been on the books throughout Henry’s reign and he confirmed it several times even while violating its principles. Louis understood how deeply entrenched this charter of liberties was in the political landscape of England, and so he made sure to announce that his nullification of the Provisions had nothing to do with Magna Carta. You can have your rights, he told the English people, but not your government.

    Ordinance - 9781445645742

    Darren Baker's new book is available for purchase now.

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