Lewes, 12 May 1264

Rising 400 feet west of Lewes is a hilly terrain known as the South Downs. The next day, 12 May 1264, a rebel scouting party appears on the ridge overlooking the town, but is quickly chased off by a royalist troop sent up after them. From that height, they spot Montfort’s army in a grassy plain to the north. No thought is given to an attack because two separate peace missions have arrived at the priory. The first is led by the bishop of Chichester, who offers arbitration on the reforming Provisions of Oxford. He’s followed by the bishops of Worchester and London, who sweeten the offer with £30,000 for damages. Henry is inclined to accept. Apart from staking his reputation on peaceful outcomes, he appreciates better than most what it means to square off against somebody like Simon de Montfort. Legends and superstitions he can handle, but his brother-in-law is a real-life curse that won’t go away, who emerges from every scrape unscathed and stronger than ever. Richard of Cornwall and Edward, however, insist that the king remain firm. The Provisions in any form, says Richard, represent a ‘depression of power’. Henry doesn’t need much persuading. The bishops have been for Montfort all along, just as their predecessors sympathised with Richard Marshal in the last insurgency that rocked the realm thirty years earlier. They are a troublesome breed and would do well to go back and tell their master it’s no deal.

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