Two anniversaries

Today the 14th of May marks the 805th anniversary of the death of William Marshal. He died on this day in 1219, still regent for the young Henry III, whom he knighted prior to the king’s coronation in Gloucester. According to the glowing account of Marshal’s life commissioned by his family, the dying man encouraged the king, then eleven years old, to be a worthy sovereign. Failing that, it was Marshal’s wish that Jesus put Henry in his grave before he had a chance to rule long.

On this day, 45 years later, Henry has been king for nearly half a century, longer than any of his forebears, but he’s about to face his toughest test yet. For the past year, Simon de Montfort and his disgruntled faction of barons and clergymen have waged war against him and his son Edward. The issue is not the reform of the realm begun in 1258, which has been mostly successful, rather the subjugation of the crown to a council of magnates led by Simon and his junta. In this way, their grievances about land and money can be satisfied.

In December 1263, both sides called a truce to let King Louis IX of France arbitrate their dispute. They swore an oath on the Gospels to observe whatever decision he gave. When Louis came out in favor of Henry, the Montfortians broke their oath and renewed the war. By the end of April, they were bottled up in London with no hope of victory unless they defeated the king in battle. They squared off outside Lewes on 14 May 1264.

The Montfortians were outnumbered and it was nearly over when Edward’s charge routed their left wing. Unfortunately Edward didn’t wheel his men about and hit the rebels in the flank, rather he took off after fleeing survivors. With a division in reserve, Simon was able to push the king’s forces back into town. Henry was reported fighting at the front, no word on where Simon was. When Edward returned to the battle, he fought his way into his father’s defensive position instead of gathering troops from nearby garrisons. Now they were both trapped.

The next day they surrendered, but with terms that helped bring about Simon’s downfall the following year. Henry went on to rule for another 7 years, dying after 56 years on the throne.

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