The Battle of Lincoln

Although Lincoln was not a battle fought in Wales, it deserves consideration as it was fought with the aid a large contingent of Welsh troops. Indeed this can easily be seen as the first major battle that the Welsh fought outside of their own domains for several centuries. It was not to be the last.

Around Christmas 1140 King Stephen went to Lincoln to try to recover the castle from the earl of Chester. In reply the earl left his brother William Roumare to defend the fortress and slipped away to the south to join Earl Robert of Gloucester and Miles Gloucester in the Marches of Wales. Miles Gloucester at this time could theoretically raise 97½ knights according to the 1166 servitium debitum of his lands. These consisted of approximately twenty knights from his English lands, fifteen from the lordship of Abergavenny and a full thirty-two from Brycheiniog. In addition to these men of his personal retinue Miles would have been followed by many men from the earldom of Hereford. Miles was to become earl of this county in July 1141 and it would seem probable that many of the knights the Empress Matilda ordered to serve Miles would have already been available to him for combat. These knights included nineteen from the Chandos honour of Snodhill, ten from the barony of Richard Cormeilles and probably rather more than the simple one and a half owed by Hugh Kilpeck for his honour of Kilpeck. If Miles could raise about one hundred knights he must have been able to raise ten times and possibly even twenty times as many foot, according to the twelfth century maxim. A maximum effort then could have raised Miles an army of over 100 knights and several thousand foot. As it was mid-Winter Miles may have been able to raise the bulk of this force, agricultural demands then being low. The earl of Gloucester, judging from his later servitium debitum, could raise 304½ knights. Earl Ranulf of Chester could probably have raised well in excess of two hundred knights. Unfortunately one of the earl’s privileges was not answering royal writs - hence we have no servitium debitum for Cheshire, although in September 1233 over 80 fees were partitioned from two thirds of the barony outside of Cheshire. Added together these three barons alone should have been able to raise over 600 knights. There is also the force of disinherited Angevin knights who also played a part at the battle. Behind this cavalry force would have come the infantry, though whether these marched with the earls all the way from Wales is another matter. The chronicles were certainly of the opinion that the army raised by the Angevins was strong.

During late January, Earls Ranulf, Robert and Miles Gloucester, formed a large army which consisted of a full one third Welshmen and united they marched against the king at Lincoln. The now ancient Ordericus Vitalis, the Chronicler monk born in Shropshire, recorded the resultant battle and stated that the Welsh contingent was led by two princes and brothers, Mariadoth et Kaladrius. The first of these two men was certainly Maredudd and the second may have been a heavily mutated Cadwgan or perhaps more likely Cadwaladr, the buccaneering brother of the great Owain Gwynedd. However Maredudd and Cadwgan were certainly brothers and comrades in arms at this time, being the sons of Madog ab Idnerth of Maelienydd and enemies of Hugh Mortimer of Wigmore, the arch royalist in the west. In these days they were powerful princes though their fame has now been largely eclipsed. It has previously been held that these two leaders of the Welsh at Lincoln were Madog ap Maredudd of Powys and his brother-in-law, Cadwaladr of Gwynedd, and that Orderic had confused their names. Both of these men were in contact with the earl of Chester. However, on etymological grounds the identification would seem to rest with Maredudd and Cadwgan, men who had a lot to gain from service to the Angevin cause, and who were actively engaged against the royalists of the March. The lands of these two little-known princes of Cynllibiwg (roughly modern Radnorshire) bordered on Earl Miles' land of Brecon and may even have included the northern parts of the shire. Their collusion with the enemies of King Stephen and later events in Central Wales are revealing about what happened in Wales during the Anarchy of King Stephen's reign (1135-54). It would seem likely that a peace was established between these princes and Miles Gloucester and his allies in the early 1140's. Similar agreements can be suggested between other Angevins and other princes of Wales, particularly between Earl Ranulf and Cadwaladr the brother of Owain Gwynedd. It should also be noted that Cadwaladr was the maternal uncle of Maredudd ap Madog of Maelienydd. Madog ap Maredudd of Powys was only a half second cousin twice removed to Cadwaladr!

In late January 1141 this large Angevin force with Earl Ranulf of Chester marched towards Lincoln. On 2 February they crossed the Fossdyke, swollen large by the winter rains, and swept aside the few guards posted by the king so eager were they to do battle with the sovereign. King Stephen, possibly superior in numbers and armament, confidently abandoned a good defensive position, and advanced down from the city heights to meet them. His army was resplendent with the total force of six earls. Richmond, Norfolk, Southampton, Surrey and Worcester commanded the right wing of the king's army. The earl of York (sometimes known as Aumale) commanded the royal left. It was said of these earls that they had brought with them only a small armoured force which was much less than was required by their feudal service. Further their idea of warfare was chivalric tilting rather than the slaughter of a great battle.

Before the battle began the earl of Chester first made a speech. He was followed by Earl Robert of Gloucester, who little regarded the royalist earls. Before the battle began, in order to hearten his troops, he stood before them and raised their spirits with a speech. He called Duke Alan of Brittany and Richmond "an infamous man polluted with all kinds of crimes"; the earl of Worcester and Mellent he said was "slothful in deeds; presumptuous in heart; magnanimous in words; pusillanimous in acting; the last to attack, the first to run away; tardy in battle, swift in flight"; Earl Hugh of Norfolk he found only guilty of perjury in abandoning the Empress (obviously he thought he might revert to the Angevin cause); Earl William of York, one of the victors of the battle of the Standard but three years before, he found "a man of singular constancy in crime... whom his wife, taking to flight has abandoned by reason of his intolerable filthiness"; and worse with him came the earl of Surrey "who has taken away his wife from the last named earl, a most avowed adulterer; of singular impurity, a devotee of Bacchus; a stranger to Mars; wreaking with wine and unacquainted with warfare"; finally there was Earl Simon of Southampton "whose deeds consist of words alone; whose only gifts are promises; who when he has said a thing, has done it; when he has promised, has given".

Before the battle had commenced King Stephen had instructed one of his nobles, Baldwin Clare, to give a speech to his troops as he "had not an agreeable voice". Henry of Huntington drew the scene in his manuscript. It shows Baldwin leaning on his battle-axe atop a slight rise addressing the king and one dismounted cavalryman. Clare is wearing a standard hauberk and has his coif pulled back revealing a curly head of hair. Under his hauberk appears to be a gambeson of which some tassels can be seen. On his legs he appears to be wearing tied on chausses. The dismounted cavalryman wears a hauberk and coif and holds a plain kite-shaped shield. Behind him stands King Stephen resplendent in his hauberk, tasselled gambeson and chausses. Around his waste is a fine sword in its sheath and firmly attached to his right side is a plain heater-shaped shield. His chin is covered by his coif and on his head is what appears to be a skull cap mounted upon his royal crown with nose guard. Like Baldwin his sleeves end half way down his wrist. None of those portrayed seem to have mittens or gloves. A contemporary sketch that probably features Robert of Gloucester shows him on horseback in hauberk and coif with a skull cap without nasal guard, on top of which is a single decorative fleur de lys. Under his hauberk, which ends just above the knee, he wears a flowing robe. His unarmoured wrists appear to be bound, maybe with webbing, and the back of his hand appears to be covered, although his fingers appear bare. In his right hand he wields a lance with a three tailed pendant and in his left is a kite-shaped shield. Thus depicted are three of the major combatants at Lincoln.

In his speech Baldwin considered that Earl Robert of Gloucester "threatened much and does but little, having the mouth of a lion and the heart of a hare, eloquent in words, and always in the background through his slothfulness". The earl of Chester he thought "a man of unreasonable boldness, ready for plotting, inconstant in performing, impetuous in warfare, unprovided against danger, contriving schemes too lofty for his reach, bent upon impossibilities and bringing with him few good soldiers; collecting a straggling multitude of strangers, there is no reason why he should be feared. For whatever he begins like a man he always leaves like a woman; since in all matters in which he has been concerned he has met with misfortune, either overcome in the encounter and running away, or if, on extraordinary occasions, victorious, sustaining greater loss than those overcome. The Welshmen whom he has brought with him are only objects for our contempt, opposing their unarmed rashness to the front of battle, devoid of skill and all knowledge of the art of war, like cattle running upon the hunting spears." It is noticeable how accurately Baldwin spoke on this matter. The Welsh contingent, on the wings according to Henry of Huntington, was easily overthrown by the opposing division of the royal army under the earl of Albemarle [he had been prominent at the battle of the Standard in 1138]. The poor showing of the generally spear or knife armed Welsh infantry against armoured knights had been shown on more than one occasion. The battles of Lewes and Evesham in 1264 and 1265 also began with a slaughter of the Welsh who could not stand with their Anglo-Norman allies in the battle line.

Even before Baldwin had finished his speech of exhortation the disinherited Angevin knights charged the cavalry of the five earls and they were soon put to flight, those who were not killed or captured. With nothing to loose and all to gain the 'proscribed', those who had been disinherited by King Stephen, made a formidable fighting force. On the left Earl William Aumale of York and Albermarle and William Ypres charged and smashed the poorly armed Welsh division ‘better provided with daring than with arms’, which were advancing from one side. ‘These Welsh, ill-armed, but full of spirits were disposed on the wings of the army’. At this point the earl of York and William Ypres were themselves routed in turn by the well-ordered military might of Earl Ranulf. No doubt this apparent cavalry charge went in when the royalist horse was blown. Now only King Stephen remained with his dismounted knights and they were rapidly surrounded by the now overwhelming Angevin force. The royalist square was then assaulted on every side "just in the way that an attack is made upon a fortified place". What follows is a graphic account of the last stand.

Then might you have seen a dreadful aspect of battle, on every quarter around the king's troop fire flashing from the meeting of swords and helmets - a dreadful crash, a terrific clamour - at which the hills re-echoed, the city walls resounded. With horses spurred on, they charged the king's troop, slew some, wounded others, and dragging some away, made them prisoners. No rest, no breathing time was granted them, except in the quarter where stood that most valiant king, as the foe dreaded the incomparable force of his blows. The earl of Chester, on perceiving this, envying the king his glory, rushed upon him with all the weight of his armed men. Then was seen the might of the king, equal to a thunderbolt, slaying some with his immense battle-axe, and striking others down. Then arose the shouts afresh, all rushing against him and him against all. At length through the number of the blows, the king's battle-axe was broken asunder. Instantly, with his right hand, drawing his sword, well worthy of a king, he marvellously waged the combat, until the sword as well was broken asunder. On seeing this William Kahamnes, a most powerful knight, rushed upon the king, and seizing him by the helmet, cried with a loud voice, 'Hither, all of you come hither! I have taken the king!'

All flew to the spot and the king was taken. King Stephen, foaming at the mouth in his rage, finally recognising the inevitable surrendered to the earl of Gloucester. The rest of his division fought on with no hope of escape till all were killed or surrendered. Baldwin Clare, grievously wounded was taken after a vicious struggle, as too was Richard Fitz Urse, the father of the future killer of Archbishop Thomas Becket. In one short day all had been lost for the royalists.

It is interesting to note that three years later in 1144 King Stephen withdrew from Tetbury in Gloucestershire when Earl Robert of Gloucester and Earl Roger of Hereford advanced against his army with ‘a cruel and savage army of footmen from Wales’. Even with this force the earls did not dare to attack, but instead ‘at a distance of only two miles they waited aloof until others, who were hurrying to arrive, should have come in to reinforce them’. Despite this the king’s barons ‘hearing that such a numerous swarm of foes had gathered to menace them and alarmed at the untamed savagery of the Welsh and likewise the Bristol irregulars whom the earl of Gloucester, in a host of astonishing size was leading’ thought they should march away ‘because to face an enemy in numbers beyond computation the force he had collected was quite inadequate, or because it was ill-considered and extremely hazardous to expose a much smaller body of his knights among such a mass of cut-throats on foot, especially as his own men were far from home and exhausted by the fatigue of the journey...’.

The two princes who had led their Welsh troops to the battle at Lincoln must now have retired to their homelands in central Wales where another fate was awaiting them. No doubt their household and warband had been badly wasted by casualties at the battle of Lincoln and this would have weakened their ability to oppose the royalist attack in the Marches. In 1142 Cadwgan and another brother, Hywel, were slain through the agency of Helias Say, the royalist lord of Clun and personal enemy of Miles Gloucester. Their great uncle, Hoeddlyw ap Cadwgan, also fell to Helias around the same time in battle near Montgomery. These acts marked the commencement of a six year campaign in Mid Wales against both the Angevins and their Welsh allies. Its high point came in 1144 when Hugh Mortimer of Wigmore moved his forces towards Llandovery and Brecon. The cantref in which Llandovery castle stands was probably invaded during 1145 and its prince, Rhys ap Hywel, was defeated and captured by Mortimer. This triumph was followed in 1146 by the lord of Wigmore catching up with Maredudd ap Madog ab Idnerth and killing him and many of his household.

In this manner did Hugh Mortimer gain vengeance against the enemies of King Stephen as well as extend his own frontiers against his personal enemies. The sons of Madog ab Idnerth were not all eliminated however and after Hugh Mortimer's defeat by the Angevins around 1148, the two surviving sons, Cadwallon and Einion Clud, became princes of Maelienydd and Elfael respectively. After Einion's death in late August 1177 Cadwallon achieved his heart's desire and became king of central Wales as a vassal of Henry II (1154-89) as his ancestor Llywelyn ap Cadwgan had done many years before. His glory unfortunately did not last long and on 22 September 1179 he was waylaid by the troops of the young Roger Mortimer, the son of Hugh, and killed to the great annoyance of Henry II!


Copyright©1994-2007 Paul Martin Remfry


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