Lewes, 15 May 1264

Battles by nature are terrible things and 2,000 men fell that day, but Lewes has a certain mythical quality that makes it stand out. There’s the exchange of letters, Edward’s blunders, Simon’s coach, Richard’s windmill, and of course, the victory of the underdog. And yet Montfort’s position on 15 May 1264 is surprisingly precarious. He has won the battle, but the king’s men still hold the castle. His attempts to take it are thwarted and much of the town burns in the process. He knows he has to coax Henry into surrendering. Without his sanction, he stands no chance of becoming a legitimate ruler. He first tries threats. Come out or I’ll chop Richard’s head off and pitch it up on a lance. That gets nowhere, so he offers a peace treaty, the Mise of Lewes. The king agrees to observe the Provisions of Oxford under a caretaker government, but the Provisions  are to go to arbitration after all. Henry has to give up Richard and Edward as hostages for his compliance, but he wins freedom for the captured loyalist barons. Finally, the formal act of surrender is made to the earl of Gloucester and not to Montfort. Henry walks out of the priory, presumably to salutes from Montfort and crew, and is taken to London for the beginning of the captive monarchy, while Richard and Edward are squirreled away in different castles. Not all is hopeless, however. The failure to commence arbitration and the hostility of the released barons, both arising from the terms Henry demanded, undermine Montfort’s rule until it collapses in a year’s time. But that’s another story.

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