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The Battle of Evesham was fought on the 4th August 1265 between the armies of Simon de Montfort and Edward son of king Henry III and was the deciding battle in the Barons' War of 1264-1265.

'the murder of Evesham, for battle it was none' 1

Through victory at the battle of Lewes on the 14th May 1264 Simon de Montfort had made himself master of England. He now held prisoner both king Henry III and his son the Lord Edward2 and set about the business of running the country, albeit in the king's name.

Montfort however soon fell out with his former ally Gilbert the Red de Clare, the Earl of Gloucester who had therefore gone to a place of safety in his Marcher Lordship of Glamorgan. Also in Marcher Wales were to be found other implacable enemies of the revolt in the shape of such men as Roger Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore and William de Valence, the Earl of Pembroke. They found little difficulty in fermenting opposition to Montfort in Marcher Wales as many of their fellow Marcher Lords were concerned at the overtures Montfort was making to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, ruler of Gwynedd, whom they regarded as a serious threat.

It was in order to counteract the activities of these gentlemen that on the 8th May 1265 Simon de Montfort established himself at Hereford, hopeful that he would be able to root out these remaining Henrician loyalists and thereby establish his unequivocal control over the kingdom.

Things started to go seriously wrong when the Lord Edward managed to escape on the 28th May. Edward quickly made his way to Wigmore to meet Roger Mortimer, and by the beginning of June he had joined forces with Gilbert the Red. The combined royalist forces soon captured Worcester and by the 14th June they had taken Gloucester and set about securing or breaking down the bridges over the river Severn.

Montfort now ran a very real risk of finding himself trapped in the Welsh Marches; the Lord Edward had gathered together a significantly larger force than his own, one that he did not wish to meet in battle. He made an attempt to move down the Wye Valley to Newport with the intention of transporting his army across the water to Bristol, only to find that Edward had got there first and burnt or taken the available boats.

This left Montfort no alternative other than to return whence he came to Hereford, which is where during the July of 1265 that he formulated plan B. He sent word to his son Simon to abandon the siege of Pevensey Castle, gather whatever forces he could and march north to Kenilworth Castle. This Montfort believed, would provide a sufficient distraction to allow him to avoid Edward's main force, cross the Severn safely, after which he intended to rendevous with his son when their combined forces would bring the Lord Edward to battle and defeat him.

The first part of the plan worked well enough, as the younger Simon arrived at Kenilworth on the 31st July, and on the 1st August Edward left Worcester in order to attack Kenilworth. Hearing that the Lord Edward was on the move, on the very next day Montfort quit Hereford, and marched twenty-two miles north-east Kempsey to cross the Severn at a point some three and a half miles south of Worcester. (And therefore dangerously close to where Edward had just been.)

Whilst Montfort was engaged in this manoevure, Edward arrived at Kenilworth and finding a large part of Montfortian army were sleeping in tents outside the castle, he launched a dawn raid against them, scattered their forces, captured many of the leading rebels (including Robert de Vere and Hugh de Montfort) and forced others, including the younger Simon himself to flee for their lives.

`We have not slept or eaten for three days, and so we and our horses are almost done for and exhausted.' 3

With Edward still dangerously close Montfort tried to place some distance between himself and his foe, hoping to gain enough of a breathing space to make contact with the reinforcements at Kenilworth.

Therefore on the evening of the 3rd August Montfort moved again, a night march of some fourteen miles to the south-east towards Evesham. Although Edward had disrupted the Montfordian army at Kenilworth, he had not destroyed it and the younger Simon was still at Kenilworth Castle with a substantial force. Montfort therefore established his headquarters at Evesham Abbey just outside the town and paused to give his tired army an opportunity to rest, and to wait for intelligence about the respective whereabouts of Edward's army and his son's forces.

From Evesham Montfort had two escape routes; one to the north along the road which ran to Alcester and then to Kenilworth, and one to the south by means of the bridge across the river Avon beside the abbey, from where a road led to Kenilworth on the east and opposite side of the river. Montfort knew that Edward was likely on his way and therefore wanted to know where Edward had placed his main army so that he could place his forces on the opposite side of the river and maximise his chances of making his escape and linking up with his son.

Meanwhile the Lord Edward had returned to Worcester after his successful raid on Kenilworth and armed with intelligence regarding Montfort's whereabouts at Evesham he set out in pursuit, marched eleven miles through the night from Worcester to the Great Meadow at Mosham, a few miles from Evesham.

There Edward rested his army, dubbed a few new knights, and decided on his tactics for the coming battle. It was there also that he made the decision to select twelve of the strongest men-at-arms and place them under the direction of Roger Mortimer. This was to be the 'death squad' whose task it was to kill Simon de Montfort - Edward knew that Montfort was still at Evesham abbey and meant to bring the revolt to a final and conclusive end.4

The tactical value of the meadow at Mosham lay in irs location a depression as it was thereby hidden from view of the abbey at Evesham by the Greenhill that lay between the two locations; similarly the route that ran from Mosham to the top of the Greenhill was equally hidden from view. Edward's basic idea was to simply to sneak up on Simon de Montfort and catch him unawares and perhaps, as Walter of Guisborough was to claim, Edward also made use of the standards of young Simon that had been captured in the previous engagenent at Kenilworth to further confuse the opposition, and dupe Montfort's scouts.

"Let us commend our souls to God, because our bodies are theirs."5

In the early hours of the morning of the 4th August 1265 the Lord Edward divided his army into three divisions and marched up onto the Greenhill from where they could look down at the Montfort's army encamped around Evesham Abbey.

At around half past eight in the morning Simon de Montfort heard the news that the army of the Lord Edward was nearby. This news was a tremendous shock, as Montfort had no idea that Edward was so close. His whole strategy up to that point had been to avoid battle until he could manage to rendevous with his son. Now there appeared little chance of that.

He was now stuck on the wrong side of the river with no prospect of organising an orderly retreat for his army before Edward attacked. There remained the possibility that Montfort and the other leaders might well have saved their own skins had they simply made a run for it. But to have abandoned his army in such a manner would have signalled the end of the revolt and the very ideas for which he had long struggled.

Montfort therefore felt he had no choice other than to stand and fight; and besides, there still remained the hope that the younger Simon might turn up on time to save the day.6

So Simon de Montfort rode out of Evesham to meet his enemies on Greenhill.

'such a downpour of rain, such thunder and lightening, and the darkness was so profound' 7

As the two armies faced up to each other, the Lord Edward had the advantage of the high ground at the top of the Greenhill, an advantage that he had no intention of surrendering; he had no intention of charging down the hill and scattering his foes; he wanted them on the hill where he could surround them, kill them, and snuff out the revolt once and for all.

Montfort was outnumbered by a factor of three or four to one but succeeded in inducing his Welsh infantry8 to charge up the hill letting out a great war whoop as they did so. Given the overwhelming numerical advantage of their foe, it wasn't surprising that they were soon overwhelmed and scattered and fled from the battlefield.

As the heavens opened and a summer thunderstorm broke, turning the ground into a muddy quagmire, Edward's forces surrounded Montfort and his knights and gradually began cutting them to pieces. Now of course, Edward's death squad went about their business.

'in the end they were not able to sustain the attacks of the multitude; they fought until their embossed shields ... broke, the weave of their coats of mail were cut into small pieces, they were run through by lances and swords soaked in blood, and finally without resistance they surrendered the place'.7

Henry de Montfort, Simon's son was reportedly the first to die whilst Simon de Montfort was killed by Roger Mortimer, leader of Edward's death squad, pierced through the neck by Mortimer's lance. The long list of the dead were to include Hugh Despenser, Justiciar of England, Peter de Montfort (Simon's brother), William de Mandeville, Radulph Basset, Roger St. John, Walter de Despigny, William of York, William Devereux of Lyonshall, John Beauchamp of Bedford, Guy Balliol and Robert Tregos.

In the middle of all this carnage was the wounded and bleeding figure of king Henry III himself; a Roger Leybourne noticed the wounded and confused figure of the king and dragged him to safety.

"I am Henry of Winchester your King. Do not kill me"9

The battle of Evesham was clearly a victory for the Lord Edward and those who were loyal to Henry III. The defeat and death of Simon de Montfort signalled the effective end of the Barons War and the Revolt that had been simmering since 1258, and re-established Henry III on the throne of England.

It did not however, quite snuff out the revolt altogether as the younger Simon de Montfort remained holed up in Kenilworth Castle and held out until the end of the year and only agreed to surrender the castle when the Dictum of Kenilworth promised a pardon for those who had rebelled and set out the terms on which they could re-acquire their family estates.

Not all of of Montfort's supporters present at Evesham were in fact killed; some such as Guy de Montfort, Simon de Montfort's third son, and his nephew Peter de Montfort were merely wounded in the battle and survived. As did others such as John Fitz John, Henry Hastings, John Vescy and Nicholas Segrave, including "the most powerful and mischievous" of them all Robert Ferrers the Earl of Derby.10

As to the fate of Simon de Montfort, even his death was not enough to satisfy his enemies. According to the chronicler Matthew of Westminster his "head, and hands, and feet were cut off"; his head was given to Roger Mortimer, who sent it home to his wife. What she did with it is not recorded. What remained of de Montfort's body was gathered up by the monks and buried at Evesham Abbey. His tomb later became a site of pilgrimage, as in death the former master of England attained a reputation as a defender of popular liberties. The abbey itself has long since gone but a plaque has since been placed near the river that marks the final resting place of Simon de Montfort.

More than anything the battle of Evesham demonstrated the brutal realism that young Edward could employ when he saw fit. If it appeared that the achievement of his political objectives required the wholesale slaughter of his opponents then so be it. Edward was later to demonstrate a similar ruthlessness when dealing with both the Scots and the Welsh in his career as king Edward I.


The traditional view of the battle has been that Edward divided his army into three divisions, and that each division approached Evesham from different directions, blocking all the available escape routes and trapping Montfort at Evesham. Although there have been quibbles regarding the logistics of these manoeuvres it has become the generally accepted version of events.

However a new manuscript discovered at the College of Arms now shows that Edward did not divide his forces in this manner, but rather kept them intact and rather relied on speed and surpise to catch Simon de Montfort at Evesham.


There was also another Battle of Evesham fought on the 26 May 1645 during the English Civil War.


NOTES

1 According to the chronicler Robert of Gloucester

2 The 'Lord Edward', being the name by which Edward son of Henry III was known before he became king Edward I

3 From the College of Arms manuscript quoting an unamed soldier

4 This was in direct contravention of the normal 'rules' of chivalry where the convention was that one allowed all the opposition knights the opportunity to surrender - the main objective in battle being to capture the enemy since a captured enemy could then be profitabily ransomed. In this case the Lord Edward was not interested in money.

5 What Simon de Montfort is traditionally supposed to have said on first seeing the approach of Edward's army.

6 Althought the younger Simon was on his way, he was nine miles away at Alcester when the news of the battle reached him, at which point it was too late for him to do anything about it.

7 Quoted by the Paul Renfrew source noted below.

8 These Welsh troops in the service of Simon de Montfort are often referred to as his 'Welsh allies' on the assumption that they were provided to him by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd by virtue of their alliance sealed earlier by the so-called Treaty of Pipton. There is in however no direct evidence that Llywelyn provided any troops; Montfort's Welsh troops were just as likely to have been troops recruited directly by himself, just as indeed a large proportion of the Edward's army was also Welsh.

9 What Henry III is reputed to have cried out on the battlefield when first approached.

10 In Robert's case his acquesience lasted hardly a year; he rebelled again in 1266 and was given no second chance and was stripped of his titles and lands.


SOURCES

  • Olivier De Laborderie, J. R. Maddicott, D. A. Carpenter The Last Hours of Simon de Montfort: A New Account (English Historical Review, April, 2000) see http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m0293/461_115/62257421/p1/article.jhtml which contains a long and detailed analysis of the battle based on a consideration of the College of Arms manuscript.
  • Paul Martin Remfry The Evesham Campaign of 1265 From Contemporary Sources (13 January 2004) at http://www.castles99.ukprint.com/Essays/evesham.html
  • Matthew of Westminster Simon de Montfort's Rebellion, 1265 from http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/matt-west1.html
  • Maurice Powicke The Thirteenth Century 1216-1307(Oxford University Press, 1962)

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