June - August 1265
Foolishly or not, Simon had retained the services of Gilbert’s brother Thomas as a sign of good faith. Thomas, however, was in secret contact with the marcher insurgents and together they hatched a plan to have Edward flee while out and about in the company of his unwanted companions, including Henry de Montfort. In rakish good humor, Edward challenged his minders to spend the day seeing which of their horses was the swiftest. When all the horses save one had been worn out, Edward leapt up on the fresh steed and dashed off towards a party of horsemen that suddenly appeared out of the woods in the distance. The horsemen escorted him to Gilbert, who made his desertion official after the heir swore, again, to observe the Provisions. Edward immediately consolidated the forces of Clare, Mortimer, Valence and Warenne, seizing most of the Severn and cutting off Simon on the wrong side of it. Realizing he had a dangerous foe in his nephew, Montfort sent word to his son Simon to raise as many troops as possible and join him in the west. The younger man’s slow, confusing movements suggest he either didn’t comprehend the urgency or was simply not up to the task. Edward, through his elaborate use of spies, decided to catch his cousin off guard at the Montfortian stronghold of Kenilworth. After a forced march through the night, his men fell on the younger Simon’s force, scattering those men they didn’t butcher in their sleep. Most of them were able to escape and regroup, but Edward now turned to face his uncle, who had finally crossed the Severn and was trying to maneuver around Edward to link up with his son. He next got his men over the Avon at the point where it loops around the hamlet of Evesham. The warrior genius in Edward now saw his chance and marched towards Evesham under the banners they had captured at Kenilworth. Apparently hoping to repeat the success of sneaking up on the enemy, his plans were thwarted by Nicholas the barber, who unmasked the ruse from his watch in the bell tower. It didn’t matter. Simon’s forces were trapped in the horseshoe bend of the river. Even with some Welsh infantrymen he had received as part of an emergency treaty with their leader Llewelyn, he knew he was wholly outnumbered and surrounded. Urged to somehow escape, Montfort instead observed with pride at how well Edward handled his troops. He was all too aware, however, of what the day would bring. “May God have mercy on our souls, for our bodies are theirs,” he told his men. Walter de Cantilupe, the good bishop who had been loyal to the reforming cause throughout, gave the men communion now that the end was near. Henry, who had been shown all reverence by Simon throughout his captivity, demanded and received both mass and breakfast that fateful morning of 4 August 1265. Montfort then gave the order for the king to be fitted and prepared for battle. He too would fight for the good cause.
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