The end of June 1263 saw Montfort begin the final campaign to force a provisional government on Henry and his court. Dismissing yet another offer from Richard to arbitrate, he dashed for the coast and secured the Cinque Ports. During that time London had already come out for the Provisions, and went to the Tower to tell the king and queen so. Whether it was decided then and there for Edward’s next move we can’t be sure, but he and Robert Walerand gathered up several of their henchmen and on 29 June went to the New Temple to teach the presumptuous Londoners a lesson. After stealing more than £1000 in deposits, they headed for the safety of Windsor. Meanwhile, John Mansel lost his nerve and fled to the continent on that same day. For reasons still unknown, that enraged Henry of Almain, who took off after him and blundered his way into captivity. On 13 July Queen Eleanor took off in the opposite direction, for the safety of her son’s gang at Windsor. Her barge no more left Tower wharf when Londoners, infuriated that her son had robbed them, and fed up with her anyway, gathered on the bridge and pelted her with all manner of disgust. On 15 July Montfort entered London in triumph for what was to be a very short tenure at the helm. Edward was now running the show for the royalists, and as he showed at the New Temple, nothing was too low for him.
14 May 1264
For all the savagery of the civil war, the strategy was about chipping away at the enemy’s strength. Neither army had faced the other in the field, none of the men had ever fought in a real battle. Now on 14 May 1264, with Henry lodged in the priory and Edward in the castle, their men billeted all about the town, Simon marched his men up to the high ground above Lewes. The lone sentinel on guard was found asleep and dispatched. By the time a pre-dawn foraging party raised the alarm, Simon’s army was in position above the city. He had several thousand foot soldiers and 500 cavalry, the royalists probably three times that number. Henry, Richard and Edward quickly held a council of war while their men mustered in front of the city walls, though it’s doubtful if all of them got into action in time. Commanding Henry’s right wing, Edward started things off just after dawn with a ferocious charge led by knights on horseback, the points of their lances bearing down hard on Simon’s left. After smashing through the cavalry contingent, his men, led by the vicious likes of Roger Mortimer and William de Valence, began mowing down the reformist soldiers, many of them London levies and street urchins armed with no more than a sling. It was reported that Edward took special delight in this slaughter, knowing they were Londoners and so perhaps had insulted his mother from London Bridge. He and sixty knights chased them for four miles, causing many of them to drown in the river Ouse, before circling back toward the high ground to take his uncle by surprise in the rear. They spied a coach there flying Simon’s banner, obviously the vehicle he had been using to get around in with his broken leg. After killing the guard detail, they called on the leader of the populist cause to come outside. They found four men inside instead, Londoners taken prisoner by Simon after they had tried to betray him. Whether Edward’s men understood this or not, they slew the lot of them and set fire to the coach. From their position, they had the same commanding view of the battlefield below that Simon had had. Directly in the center would have been Richard’s division opposite Gloucester; on the right the king against the Montfort sons. Only all the action was now within the town walls, for the rebels had long since broken through the two royalist divisions and were scattering their forces. Using the advantage of the terrain, and Edward’s blunder, Simon’s army had charged down the slope against the king’s men, who were trudging their way uphill under a hail of stones and arrows. Montfort threw in his reserve division and the added pressure was too much for Henry’s army on the field. Richard was the first to take flight, finding refuge in a nearby windmill. He was taunted to come out, and the figure that emerged, covered in sweat and grime but still wearing his crown, became the object of endless ridicule. Henry fought with more bravery. Two horses were killed under him and he was much beaten about with sword and mace before his attendants got him to safety behind the walls of the priory. They were able to beat off every reformist assault with flaming arrows that ended up setting the whole town afire. Edward’s response to the disaster he helped create was to fight his way inside the priory to join his father; Bigod, Warenne, and Henry’s brothers William and Guy fled for their lives.
As usual, the initial fighting broke out in the west. Henry de Montfort scored an early triumph by bottling up Edward in Gloucester, but then unwisely accepted his cousin’s call for a truce. He had no sooner withdrawn his forces when Edward sacked the town and slipped away, causing Simon to bitterly reproach his son. The king meanwhile began gathering a large army at Oxford, where one of his first acts was to expel the student population. His intention, he explained, was to protect them from the savagery of his Scottish allies, but in fact he was clearly miffed by their true sympathies. Henry’s growing strength allowed him to brush aside a last-ditch offer by his opponents to respect Louis’ ruling on every point except the alien officials. The advantage was all his after he seized the Montfortian stronghold of Northampton, which was betrayed by local clergymen. The loss was devastating. Among the eighty barons and knights made prisoner were the younger Simon and many leading members of the movement. Montfort refused to despair. “War is such that the advantage first goes to these, then to those,” he declared and followed up by predicting that the enemy would be consumed by fear and confusion before May was out. London, however, was gripped by panic as word spread it was about to be betrayed like Northampton, resulting in the plunder and massacre of the Jews. As royalist forces burned and butchered their way through local hamlets, Simon attempted to draw them south by laying siege to their garrison in Rochester, whose inhabitants were subjected to a similar bloodletting. With barely London left to the reformist party, Simon gambled everything on seeking out and giving battle to the king. The two sides squared off in Sussex, with the royalists encamped in and around the village of Lewes and the Montfortians eight miles away in Fletching. Simon sent his bishop friends to Henry to reiterate his offer of peace if the king would observe only the provision prohibiting alien officials, sweetening it now to include 30,000 marks in compensation. Henry was inclined to accept, but Richard, aggrieved that his property had been ransacked, was against it, as was Edward. The one-time idealist and reformer declared that peace was only possible if his uncle and the others came to them with halters around their necks.
Edward was the first to return. Scolded by his father for “indolence and wantoness” while the Welsh ravaged the marches, he landed with a large mercenary force of Burgundians and other French-speaking soldiers. His jilted retainers had half-expected him to take them back into his service, but he completely ignored them and bestowed castles and other key posts on his new, alien followers. Incensed, they welcomed Simon de Montfort home as the one leader who had always been faithful to the Provisions, who was capable of enforcing the one provision they desired above all else: expulsion of the aliens. It was, of course, the great irony of this conflict that the English would turn to an alien for this purpose. Simon’s military reputation and unwavering defense of the Provisions made him the undisputed leader of this rebellious force that gathered in Oxford, where the reform program had been launched five years earlier. New adherents included many younger members of the baronage, among them Henry’s nephew Henry of Almain and the new earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare, men later decried for being pliable as wax in the hands of a man like Montfort. He would need such idealists to offset the violence and unruliness of the Edwardians, who immediately went to work after Henry rebuffed one last call to observe the Provisions. They struck east, targeting the Savoyards and other aliens, even making knowledge of English a prerequisite to avoid reprisals. Locals long fed up with nobles, knights and clergymen who couldn’t speak their language joined in the mayhem until Henry found himself faced with a full-scale uprising. Richard rode off to intercede with Simon, but missed him on his march to secure the coast and trap Henry in London. But even that city was lost after Edward, needing money to pay off his mercenaries, staged the first great bank robbery in English history when he broke into the New Temple and seized the private deposits there. His mother grew sufficiently alarmed by the growing hostility to try to flee to Windsor by boat, but her barge was turned back after being pummeled with all manner of filth and flying objects thrown at her by a jeering crowd on London Bridge. She and her kinsmen eventually escaped to the continent, but for Henry it was all too much. He agreed to the restraints on his power enacted in 1258 and to the council naming his officials and conducting official policy. The only difference was the council was now controlled by Simon de Montfort.
When the two sides could not agree on any amendments to the Provisions, the arbitrator, Richard of Cornwall, ruled in favor of his brother and restored to him the sole right to appoint and dismiss officials. Henry would continue to rule with a packed court and the death of the earl of Gloucester in the summer of 1262 left the baronage without a nominal leader. Emboldened by events, the king sailed to France to meet his antagonist in court, where he hoped to destroy Montfort, at least in the eyes of the French. Queen Margaret was the arbitrator now, a dowdy woman who once looked amiss at all the attention Henry was paying to his niece Alice. She no doubt considered the vindictiveness of both sides unseemly, but her chance to rule on the case was interrupted when Henry was laid low by dysentery. Simon returned for the October parliament, where contrary to the order of the justiciar, he published his own papal bull, acquired through a baronial agent in Rome, affirming the Provisions. But a new threat arose to Henry’s consolidation of power, this time involving an alienated group of young men not connected to Montfort. They included Edward’s former retainers, proscribed by the queen and her Savoyard relatives in an attempt to tighten control over the heir, and Gilbert de Clare, Alice’s husband, who was supposed to succeed his father as the earl of Gloucester, only Henry, now in a completely vindictive mood, moved to deny him at least part of his inheritance. On top of this came another uprising by the Welsh, brought about when the tenants of Roger Mortimer, one of the barons cowed back into the royalist camp, revolted against his harsh rule. Local opposition also began to surge, forcing Henry to publicly proclaim that he accepted the Provisions by his own free will. The situation became so fraught that Henry, after his return home for Christmas 1262, wrote to Louis, begging him to find a successful resolution to his arbitration with Simon. Louis reported that Simon had told him that he truly believed Henry wished him only the best, but his advisers thought otherwise. He had therefore asked Louis not to concern himself any more with their case. He was preparing to return to England to have it out with the king once and for all.
In January, two years after he was elected King of the Romans, Richard prepared to return home. The barons were apprehensive about this most unexpected visit and sent messengers to him in Germany demanding he take the oath to observe the Provisions before landing in Dover. Richard was indignant that the magnates had instituted reforms without consulting him and therefore refused. Hearing this, and fearing that he may try to sneak one or more of his half-brothers into the kingdom, the magnates insisted on welcoming Richard with a force of arms. The King of the Romans disembarked with no Lusignans and willingly followed his brother the king and the magnates to Canterbury, where Richard de Clare, the earl of Gloucester and Richard’s former stepson, delivered the oath. The occasion marked the last complete show of unity among the barons. The next month a quarrel broke out over the progress of reform. Gloucester was in no hurry to see the new statutes apply to him or the other magnates directly, and besides he had no personal quarrel with the king. Only a few years before Henry had done him the honor of marrying his seventeen-year-old niece Alice, daughter of his now deceased half-brother Hugh Lusignan, to de Clare’s ten-year-old son Gilbert. Simon accused Gloucester of reneging on reform, and he in turn accused Montfort of delaying the peace treaty for his own benefit. When Simon left for France, saying he had had enough of his shady partner, the other magnates warned Gloucester to clean up his own domains, otherwise they would join forces and attack him. This he agreed to do, but it was the beginning of a feud between the Montfort and Clare clans that would determine the entire course of the conflict.
Henry urged Richard to accept the crown of Germany to avoid the appearance of weakness in the face of honor. Privately, he was happy to be rid of his brother. As the leading magnate, Richard had never been afraid to clash with Henry and told him flat out that since he had failed to consult the barons before agreeing to finance the papal war in Sicily, he could pay for it himself. Henry, now resigned to the loss of Normandy forever, had nothing to gain from Richard’s rigged election except removing him as an obstacle in the endgame for Sicily. And so the king had high hopes when he summoned parliament to meet in April 1258 to ask for money, an ‘aid’, to fulfill his agreement with the pope. If the barons refused, he warned him, their king would be excommunicated, a horrible penalty for the realm as a whole. How far the pope was willing to carry out his threat, and whether Henry actually believed it could happen, is a matter of conjecture. For the barons who assembled in Westminster, Sicily wasn’t the problem they had come to discuss. They had had enough of the king’s half-brothers and were determined to force a showdown with them. Aymer, who Henry had nominated as Bishop of Winchester despite his ignorance of everything English or Christian, had ordered his men to attack a party attached to one of the leading barons. Henry not only refused any redress for the victims but then allowed his other brother William to openly accuse Simon and the earl of Gloucester of conspiring with the Welsh. Together with the general complaint that Henry had bestowed too much money and patronage on these brutes and ingrates, seven of the aggrieved magnates formed a confederation for the purpose of ousting the Lusignans from the country. On 28 April the king submitted his request for an aid and got his answer on ‘the third hour of the third day’ when the barons arrived at parliament fully armed. Henry was aghast. ‘What is this, my lords, am I your prisoner?’
Earlier in that disastrous year Richard left for Aachen to be crowned King of the Romans, which was a nice way of saying the Germans. The title had been held by two other noblemen following Frederick’s death in 1250 and both had come to untimely ends. But Richard freely spent 30,000 marks to dispense bribes for the honor and his wife Sanchia yearned to gain an equal footing with her two older sisters, Queen Margaret and Queen Eleanor. Under the pretense of humility, Richard declared that ambition had nothing to do with his election, that he was only interested in the welfare of the people, and may he be consumed by hellfire if he was lying. The German delegates that brought him the news were every bit the liar Richard was. They told the Englishman he had been elected unanimously because the French were too warlike, the Italians too greedy, and the Germans too quarrelsome. In fact, three of the seven electors had thrown in their lot with a Spaniard, none other than Alfonso, who was still sniping that Henry had yet to make good on his pledge to join him on a crusade to North Africa. Louis supported Alfonso’s candidacy because he suspected Henry would try to use Richard’s position on the Rhine to force his claims for Normandy. But Henry, at the urging of his wife, was more desperate these days to retain Gascony for Edward and a future Sicily for Edmund. Neither was possible without a permanent peace with France. With his high standing across the Channel, it was natural that Simon de Montfort should take the lead in negotiating what would become the Treaty of Paris. . . and using it to his and Eleanor’s advantage.
For his part, Henry started collecting gold, which he would need to finance an army in Sicily. Frederick had introduced a magnificent gold coin there in 1231, and Henry, with ever a keen eye for the finer things, was determined to do him one better. His English subjects were now instructed to pay their fines in gold leaf or dust; the same went for exemptions from knighthood or poaching in royal forests. In 1257, ten years after Richard successfully managed the minting of silver coinage in England, Henry issued an exquisitely designed gold penny depicting him in all his regal splendor. Of course it failed, primarily because the king had fooled himself into believing all this gold he was collecting suggested a mother lode somewhere. In fact, he had it all, and there was too little other gold in circulation to give it the proper weight. Of the nearly 50,000 coins minted, only 8 survive today, indicating they were melted down as quickly as they could be recovered. It didn’t matter as far as Sicily was concerned, for by that time the venture was ruined and the pope was making Henry the target of his frustration…and extortion.
Before leaving, Henry appointed his wife Eleanor to rule in his stead with Richard serving as her adviser. Their immediate task was to replenish the treasury, drained by the affairs in the south, even if it meant nickel and diming. Eleanor contrived to have the citizens of London make back payment for the queen’s gold, her percentage of the arbitrary fines and import duties the king would levy on the city. Richard was rebuffed when he made an appeal to the Jewish community. The chief rabbi insisted they had no more money to give now that papal merchants had cornered the usury market. Fed up with the royal reaming, he asked permission for his people to leave the kingdom. And just where were they planning to go? Even Louis, that most saintly of monarchs, was openly hostile to them. Neither act of extortion added much to Henry’s coffers, so an Easter parliament was summoned to ask for funds. War with Castile was imminent, the regents announced, and the king needed money and manpower. Some enormous darts were even put on display to show the kinds of weapons he was up against. The magnates were dubious, not least because the queen was making plans at that very moment to travel with Edward to this so-called war zone. But it was de Montfort who exposed the subterfuge. Sent specifically by Henry to report on the king’s success in achieving peace in Gascony, Simon did exactly that, and parliament denied the royals their request.
Henry’s policy in Gascony was an absolute mess. The province was nominally Richard’s, but now, at the queen’s insistence, it was to be given to their teenage son Edward. Eleanor wanted it pacified, but not at the expense of her Gascon relatives, who were creating most of the trouble there. The king thought that by playing good cop to his lieutenant’s bad cop, he could win the affection of his subjects in the region. When Simon learned that his archenemy, the archbishop of Bordeaux, had left for England with a delegation to denounce him, he raced back across France to head them off. Although he arrived in good time, he found Henry in ill-humor and ready to believe the worst about him. Wanting to at least give the pretense of fairness, the king assembled a panel of the leading peers to render a verdict. Something of an unofficial transcript still survives from this trial, provided in the comments by our advocates.
There was nothing like a wedding to bring out the best in Henry and he used the occasion of the recently widowed Richard’s nuptials to welcome his sister and brother-in-law back into royal favor. The bride was the queen’s younger sister Sanchia. She had been betrothed to the same count who had tried to turn Henry against Simon, but his poverty and pettiness paled next to the immensely wealthy Richard. Like Queen Eleanor, she arrived with no dowry to speak of, and her mother would, in fact, hit Henry up for a loan while there. But she would also move him to make significant progress on his sister Eleanor’s dowry, thereby improving relations between him and Simon. None of this available money saved the Jews from footing the bill for the wedding and the subsequent feast thrown for thirty thousand hungry people. Each Jewish family was instructed to make a donation that didn’t include, it goes without saying, a corresponding invitation.
Henry’s expedition to recover Poitou was a spectacular failure. Caught off guard by Louis’ aggressiveness at the Charente River near Taillebourg, Henry retreated to Saintes, where the French were on the verge of encircling his small force when Richard, also back from the crusades, grabbed a staff and walked into the enemy camp. He was hoping the freedom he secured for many of the French nobles in the Holy Land would pay off. Louis could hardly deny him, not looking like a pilgrim, and gave the English a one-day truce. It was just enough time for Henry to save his army, but not his war chest and other valuables. He accused his stepfather of leading him into a trap, which Hugh vehemently denied before, soon enough, going over to the French side. He even took command of the French army that drove another rebel, another insignificant count, to seek safety with Henry in Bordeaux. This count, who was actually Isabella and Hugh’s son-in-law, had fought to defend Toulouse against Simon’s father a quarter of a century earlier and now used his proximity to Henry to denounce the younger de Montfort. Although Simon had been instrumental in helping the English army to escape, Henry was ready to lend an ear after his brother-in-law, disgusted with the military debacle, snarled at the king, “You should be locked up.” Henry would nurse the insult for years to come.
Crusading was all the rage among the nobility of the 13th century. Simon returned to England alone in the spring of 1240 to raise money for his own expedition and found Henry cordial, even friendly, but otherwise offering no relief in his scramble for funds. Eleanor accompanied him as far as southern Italy, where her brother-in-law Emperor Frederick gave her the use of a stone palace next to the sea. By the time Simon reached the Holy Land, the crusade was all but over. The French force had already been defeated and Simon’s brother Amaury taken prisoner. Richard, who also preceded him there, used his personal wealth to free the French contingent swept up by the Saracens. Amaury died on his way home in 1241 but the survivors would remember Richard’s gesture the next time England and France came to blows. Simon took no part in any real action, but the local population saw something in his leadership qualities, or connections, to prevail upon Frederick to appoint him their governor. Nothing came of the matter and Simon returned to France, where Henry was again in dire straits over another ill-advised military excursion.
True to character, Henry’s break with Simon was abrupt and unseemly. He waited for the occasion of the queen’s churching – her offer of thanks for a safe childbirth – to lash out at the earl of Leicester, accusing him of owing another of his wife’s uncles a huge sum of money and offering him, the king, as security. Henry was so caught up in his anger that even charged his brother-in-law, in front of the assembled guests, with having seduced his sister, and that was the only reason why he consented to their secret wedding. Stunned and humiliated, Simon and Eleanor left forthwith, but Henry wasn’t through. He quickly had them turned out of their lodgings, then went a step further and ordered them locked up in the Tower of London. Fortunately the cooler head of Richard intervened and the unhappy couple was allowed to leave the country and settle in France.