The murder of Evesham, for battle it was none

4 August 1265
The killing and dismemberment of Simon de Montfort
The killing and dismemberment of Simon de Montfort

As perhaps befitting a medieval battle, a grim black cloud hovered over the field near Evesham separating the two armies. Simon spearheaded the assault against the royalist line on Green Hill, hoping his son would soon arrive on the other side to relieve his beleaguered position. The younger Simon was in fact close by but had stopped with his troops in nearby Alcester for dinner instead of rushing to his father’s aid. Edward’s men were stunned by the force of the assault and began to fall back, only to be rallied by one Warin of Basingburn, who reminded them of their shame at Lewes the year before. Clare, hardly the only man on the field that day to have fought for both sides, closed in together with Mortimer and the battle became, in the eyes of chronicler Robert of Gloucester, simple murder. Henry de Montfort, Hugh Despenser, and Peter de Montfort were cut down. Many youthful members of aristocratic households had been drawn to the popular movement, but they too were butchered, some it was believed after the battle. Henry himself only just survived. With no crest on his armour to identify him, he kept crying out to the men swinging at him that he was their king. One of them took his helmet off and, seeing how old he was, figured he may be right and led him to safety. Simon fought to the last, until he was surrounded and killed from behind, supposedly with “God’s grace” on his lips. His body was then stripped and mutilated, his head and limbs hacked off in a frenzy that disgusted many on the royalist side, but certainly not Roger Mortimer. He conveyed Montfort’s head on a pike to his castle at Wigmore, where it was presented to his wife Maud while she knelt at mass. Far from shrieking at the grisly sight, she smiled with demented delight. The barbarity of his marcher friends put Edward in a bind, however. Word about the sacrilege would surely get out, and his uncle had a lot of powerful friends and family on the continent. To stave off a potential blood feud, he had what remains of Simon he could find, together with those of his cousin Henry de Montfort, interred in the abbey at Evesham. Simon’s were later dug up at Henry’s orders and buried in secret under a tree, the reason presumably being he was an excommunicate and therefore undeserving of a Christian burial. The more likely reason is the king wanted to put a stop to the cult of miracles that were soon attributed to his martyrdom. More than 200 were eventually recorded, much to the irritation of a devout man like Henry. Although restored to power, the king’s fifteen months of captivity had left him in a particularly peevish mood. He was ready to exact his revenge.

3 thoughts on “The murder of Evesham, for battle it was none

  1. The lucrative business of capturing and ransoming nobles meant that no more than a handful of knights were killed at Lewes. That all changed at Evesham. Edward, Gilbert and Mortimer set out to slaughter as many of the opposing nobility as possible. A special hit squad of twelve was organized to kill Simon and his son, while the foot soldiers were instructed to unhorse the other knights, strip them of their armour, and stab them to death. A few like Guy de Montfort managed to survive the mayhem with wounds only.

    1. The account of the hit squad is relatively new, they are only identified as sergeants-at-arms. Tradition has it that Mortimer dealt the deathblow, but another account has a nameless knight doing it. The most contemporary eyewitness, Robert of Gloucester, identifies William Maltravers as the fiend who did the butchery, but mentions nothing about “12 assassins”.

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