The Evesham Campaign of 1265
From Contemporary Sources

After the treaty of Worcester on 12 December 1264, between the Baronial faction and the Marcher Barons led by Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, Earl Simon Montfort of Leicester once more found himself unable to convert his advantage into a true peace. Mortimer and his allies (men like Roger Clifford, Roger Leybourne, the dispossessed Hugh Mortimer of Richard's Castle, Hamo Lestrange who commanded the posse of Shropshire, Brian Brampton, Ralph Arras, Robert Turbeville Senior, John his brother, Hugh Turbeville, Henry Burthhulle, Ode Hodnet and Roger Springehose) agreed to quit the kingdom for exile in Ireland whilst the kingdom was reformed in accordance with the statutes of Oxford as had been agreed at the 'Mad Parliament' of 1258. However the winter months were spent by Mortimer and his allies, some of whom like Hamo Lestrange and Adam Montgomery had refused to recognise the peace of Worcester, to re-equip and re-arm. 

May 1265 once more saw Earl Simon and the royal army with Henry III and the Lord Edward, moving west to deal with the recalcitrant Lords Marcher. On 28 May the Lord Edward escaped from his captors at Hereford and was taken by Roger Mortimer's retainers to meet him at Wigmore. There the Marcher army mustered and seized first Bridgnorth and then Ludlow castle where the earl of Gloucester, a Judas to Earl Simon as one source described him, came to join the rebels. At Hereford the king sent out increasingly desperate letters concerning the 'rebels holding certain towns and castles throughout the land and raising new wars'. In the meantime Prince Edward and the Marcher army, reinforced by John Giffard of Brimpsfield and his troops, stormed Worcester and marched on Gloucester by 14 June, effectively boxing in Earl Simon and Henry III at Hereford. In extremis Earl Simon turned to Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd of Wales who had been watching events with interest. At Pipton on the Wye, Llywelyn agreed a treaty with King Henry that recognized him as Prince of Wales. Welsh foot soldiers marched east to the aid of Henry and the dismay of the Marchers.

Earl Simon with his new found strength still did not think himself strong enough to face Prince Edward and the Marchers. Consequently he set out to fight his way to the Bristol Channel where he could take boat for Bristol. Unfortunately he was forestalled and found the coast bereft of shipping when he finally got there. He had probably asked the Cinque ports to send ships to his aid, but for whatever reason they did not appear. The earl then tried to pass through the forests to Abergavenny, but found his path blocked and by the end of July his tired army found itself back at Hereford where it had begun some six weeks before. From here King Henry III and Earl Simon moved east towards Worcester where Prince Edward and Roger Mortimer were waiting. Knowing Edward was at Worcester, Earl Simon rashly attempted to ford the Severn at Kempsey only four miles to the south. If Edward were ready then he must surely have fallen upon the smaller royal army and destroyed it. However Earl Simon's crossing of the river was timed to coincide with his son's army arriving from London. If the two armies united they would still be in a position to beat the rebels. Unfortunately for Earl Simon this was not to be. Edward hearing on 2 August that Simon Montfort Junior had arrived with an army at Kenilworth immediately set out to destroy him before he could join with his father and the king. On the same night of 2 August the Marcher army routed the hapless Montfort army bivouacking in the fields round about Kenilworth. So secure did they feel they had apparently not even bothered to post sentries. The rout was disastrous and Simon Montfort Junior was forced to flee in his nightshirt into the cold protective walls of the castle, while the earl of Oxford was captured by Roger Mortimer. On 3 August Earl Simon and Henry III forded the Severn and struck out desperately for London and succour.

The fourth of August 1265 proved a decisive day for England. Edward, moving rapidly back towards Worcester, found that his main quarry had eluded him. Consequently he set off to place himself between the younger Montfort with the remains of his army at Kenilworth and his father the earl. Edward feared quite rightly that if the royal army made it to this powerful castle they would entrench themselves and keep him at bay. Kenilworth castle eventually surrendered of famine only after a ferocious siege on 14 December 1266!

As the 58 year old King Henry, worn out by the summer's campaigning, ordered a halt at Evesham on the morning of 4 August after a harrowing night march from Kempsey, his friendly enemy and brother-in-law, Earl Simon Montfort must have feared the worst. Crossing the Severn had been a gamble that had paid off so well, but where was the long overdue enemy? As dawn broke on the fourth it was realised that troops were approaching Evesham from the north. First reports indicated that it was long awaited relief column from London, then it was realised that it was the Lord Edward and the Marchers, parading their captured colours in front of them.  Fifty years before the garrison of Berkhamsted castle had played the same trick on the French.  As the army advanced Roger Mortimer and some chosen knights were delegated the duty of killing Montfort.  The Lord Edward intended to end the war once and for all. 

As King Henry III and Earl Simon Montfort pondered whether to make an almost suicidal attack on the force blocking their passage or attempt to retreat over the Avon a cry from the lookout in the abbey church warned them that they had no more time for decisions. Earl Simon rushed up the tower steps and looked out to the north. There could be seen the advancing army and the banners of the Marchers and Lord Edward. The royal army was now trapped in the bend of the river, with no possibility of retreat over a narrow bridge.  They were outnumbered, outmanouvered and outmarched. Only one act now remained, the last pointless and bloody struggle of a doomed army that knew it could not win, but spurned flight or surrender.

Earl Simon and his lords and knights led the advance out of the town, spurning advice to fortify the abbey precincts and await upon events.  Earl Simon's last reported words were, "It is not for the soldier of Christ to be put to flight, but it is better to meet death honestly on the swords of your enemies". As they left the town, the baronial standard bearer, Guy Balliol, broke his lance and the royal banner fluttered to the ground.  The omen was unnecessary, all knew that defeat was inevitable.  Humphrey Bohun Junior retired to the rear of the army where Earl Simon himself chastised him for his cowardly behaviour.

On the high ground to the north of Evesham the main battle was fought. Earl Simon's Welsh allies appear to have begun the fight.  As they deployed above the town they made an impressive war-whoop, but they proved no match for the Lord Edward's forces and they were soon scattered in flight and killed in droves as they attempted to flee down the banks of the Avon. A contemporary estimated that 5,000 of them were slaughtered in the hedgerows and gardens along the bank of the river. Interestingly it was reported that the Welsh were slaughtered 'with the approval of the king and of the royal officials'.  No doubt in the aftermath of the battle Henry III thought his unwelcome allies would otherwise prove troublesome.

Meanwhile in the centre of the field Earl Simon and his knights formed a ring of steel around the king and fought to the last. As the Marchers poured into the 'ball of knights' the barons shouted in unison to their God, "O old one appear, old one appear, it is impossible to live longer!". The final act, like in any melodrama, was played out in a monstrous summer storm, 'such a downpour of rain, such thunder and lightening, and the darkness was so profound, that though it was dinner-time those who sat down to eat could scarcely see the food before them'. The first noble to die was 'Henry Montfort, Earl Simon's first born son and heir, in full view of his father, perished, split by a sword.'Thus the whole weight of the battle fell upon the earl of Leicester, who was an old and shrewd warrior.  He stood the shock like a strong tower; but, surrounded by few followers, and overcome by numbers, he fell, and thus terminated an hereditary prowess, rendered famous by many glorious deeds'. Meanwhile Earl Simon and his remaining men were attacked by Roger Mortimer's chosen men and the earl fell, speared through the neck by the lord of Wigmore's own lance.   

With Earl Simon and his son Henry fell Hugh Dispenser the Justiciar, William Mandeville of Essex, Walter Creppings, William Devereux of Lyonshall, Thomas Astlely, John Beauchamp of Bedford, Guy Balliol, Roger Roule, Roger St John, Gilbert Elesfield, John Dyve, William Arundel, Hugh Hopevile, Guy Bayselle, Richard Trusselle, William Birmingham, Robert Sepinges, Walter Despigny, William York and Robert Tregoz of Ewias Harold. Lord Humphrey Bohun Junior of Brecon, despite his caution, died of his wounds in October.   Of the other knights,  'in the end they were not able to sustain the attacks of the multitude; they fought until their embossed shields in ... 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'. Peter Montfort Senior, Ralph Bassat and other nobles attempted to surrender, but in the blood lust were cut down without mercy by the English knights they thought they had surrender to.  Guy Montfort, the Earl's third son, was wounded and captured as were John Fitz John, Henry Hastings, John Vescy, Peter Montfort Junior and Nicholas Segrave. 

Not all suffered death or capture for at least two Baronial Marchers, Walter Baskerville of Eardisley and John Muscegros who had defended Hereford for Earl Simon in November 1264, appear to have cut their way out and joined Simon Montfort Junior at Kenilworth. One source states that Simon Junior came as far as the hills above Evesham with the remains of his army, but finding himself too late retired again to Kenilworth. Perhaps he was met by these two Baronial Marchers on the edge of the battlefield, where some fugitives are said to have joined him. No doubt they would have told him their sorry news and persuaded him that the battle was lost.

Back on the battlefield in the bloody slaughter Roger Leybourne noticed the wounded and confused figure of the king and dragged him, bleeding from a face wound, to safety. Earl Simon's fallen person was then decapitated and mutilated by William Mautravers, his head being sent to Matilda, Roger Mortimer's Braose wife, at Wigmore castle. What remained of the earl's body was then taken and buried at Evesham by the monks, in the blood soaked carnage of their abbey where the baronial forces had made their last stand.  Soon the tomb of the king's 'pestilient felon' became a site of national pilgrimage. Death brings its own rehabilitation and the faults of the Baronial Reformation of which Earl Simon had been a catalyst, were soon forgotten, his place assured in the sepulchred vaults of popular history.

For more background on the battle of Evesham and the role of the Bramptons in the Barons' War buy Brampton Bryan Castle and the Civil War through the PayPal basket below.

 


Copyright©1994-2007 Paul Martin Remfry


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