The Final Push
Great as the royalist victory at Lincoln was, it did not the end the war. Although the French historian Petit-Dutaillis’s judgement that the Battle of Lincoln was more important in terms of morale rather than material advantage underestimates the significance of the battle, it was not a killer blow.554 The wheel of fortune had turned before and could turn again.
In the immediate aftermath of Lincoln, there was a flurry of activity as the protagonists responded to the dramatic events. Lincoln Castle had suffered terrible damage from the enemy’s siege engines and, seeing the way the wind was now blowing and hoping to catch the breeze to its full advantage, ‘the Earl of Salisbury emphasised his conversion to the king’s party by advancing close on £400 towards the repair of the fortress.’555 While Louis remained ignorant of events, the royalist high command, already gathered at Lincoln, held a council of war to decide what to do next. As to be expected, there was a difference of opinion. Some wanted to proceed to London and besiege it at last, an expression of new-found confidence after their victory at Lincoln; others thought the priority should be Dover, which Louis was still besieging. The Marshal, ‘who knew most about war and had seen most of it’, says his biographer, told his captains to secure their prisoners in their castles (for the profitable ransoms that would follow) and ordered a muster at Chertsey, which took place in the royal presence on 6 June. The day after the battle, news reached them that the garrison at Mountsorrel had fled, leaving the castle empty; its castellan, Henry de Braybrooke, had been at Lincoln and may have been captured there. Two days later, on 23 May, it was granted to Ranulf Earl of Chester, who had it destroyed, so that it did not create further problems for him in the region. Greater reward was in store for Ranulf: he was granted the earldom of Lincoln county. Others also received their dues: Brian de Lisle, for example, was given Knaresborough. It was for such rewards that many fought the war.
The French who escaped from Lincoln had a rough time of it as they fled to the security of London. The footsoldiers suffered especially badly, Wendover saying that most of these were killed. In comparison with the mobile cavalry, who nonetheless still incurred losses, they were less able to escape from ambushes laid for them on their journey. As the French hurried through the towns on their way to the capital, they were set upon by townspeople with swords and clubs. No doubt they were exacting revenge for the depredations of the Franco-baronial armies that had occurred during their ravaging and northward marches; with revenge came their own plundering and the opportunity to either profit or at least gain compensation for their own losses.
There was also a sense of nationalist outrage at work here at the imposition of French rule and violence in the country. Many historians, especially modernists, discount any sense of national identity at such an early date in English history, some even adhering to the extreme position of Ernest Gellner that nationalism came with industrialisation in the nineteenth century. The matter of national identity and nationalism encompasses a certain degree of obfuscating semantics on the subject. My research supports that of Patrick Wormald, John Gillingham and others influenced by Adam Smith’s more primordial approach, which recognises clear signs of identification with the nation in the Middle Ages, even stretching back to the Anglo-Saxon period.556 Thirteenth-century England meets with John Breuilly’s conditions for patriotism, which he places in the early-modern period. He posits nationalism as a form of politics that arises to oppose the state which is manipulated to advance the interests of the ruling elites: this is manifest in the baronial response to King John’s policies and Magna Carta. The effect of war on nationalist feeling has also been well documented, but more for the early-modern period onwards.557 Such feelings in England had been nurtured by the wars against the Celtic fringe in the twelfth century, as John Gillingham has indicated. Breuilly concurs that such military factors are crucial in the formation of nationalism, and argues that the lack of ideology in English nationalism is explained by the fact that ‘there has been no foreign presence which would generate nationalist opposition.’558 But this is exactly what we have in 1216–17 with the French military occupation of England for over a year (and a reflection of just how much this important event has been overlooked or simply not known about). We have seen how at Lincoln the Marshal urged his men to fight for their country, ‘pro patria’ as Wendover says, and how his biographer mocked the foreign invaders. We have seen this patriotic call too in 1213. And when England was again threatened by French invasion in 1264, patriotic and anti-alien sentiment was once more employed successfully to mobilise huge numbers of the common folk against the enemy.559 As Alfred Smyth has shown, the Viking invasions fostered a real sense of national identity in Anglo-Saxon England, precisely because they posed a foreign threat.560 Patriotism clearly existed in early thirteenth century. It was not new, but the loss of Normandy in 1204, the oppressions of John, the break with Rome and, above all, the French invasion of England: all mark out this period as one of central importance in the development of English national identity.561
Some 200 French and baronial knights escaped from Lincoln and made it to London. On 25 May Louis heard the news of the disaster at Lincoln as he was pressing the siege of Dover. Unsurprisingly, the sources agree that Louis took the news badly. The History of William Marshal says ‘Louis was full of anger and rage once he heard how his men had been defeated so badly in Lincoln, how so many had been taken prisoner there, and how the Count had been killed.’ Wendover has Louis sneeringly telling those who had escaped that the fault was theirs: had they stood and fought, their companions would have been saved from capture and death. William the Breton attempts to soften the blow by blaming the defeat at Lincoln on a sneaky ambush by the English and their superior numbers, thus excusing Simon de Poissy and his knights for ‘prudently’ escaping to London. He says that ‘vexation, sadness and lamentation burst through’ the French camp.562
Louis’s instinctive reaction on hearing the news was to return to London and secure it; besieging the capital was an option discussed at the royalist war council at Lincoln. The Marshal’s biographer says Louis ‘gave up the siege and went to London as quickly as possible, for he had every fear that the King’s men might take it by surprise, or by force, or that they would come and launch an attack on him’.563 However, as the reliable Anonymous of Béthune informs us from his more knowledgeable position in the south, Louis did not leave immediately. Before raising the siege and, much to his dismay, dismantling his powerful trebuchet, Louis and his advisers held a new council at which it was agreed that they should stay at Dover until Sunday.564 This was a risky strategy: as the Marshal’s biographer hints at, as well as the possibility of a quick move on London by the royalists, there was a danger that news of the defeat could dishearten the Londoners who might then go over to Henry; in 1215 the city had easily gone over to the barons and there was some danger it could just as easily switch allegiance.565 As we shall see in a moment, this was a real threat. If London was lost, then so was Louis’s whole campaign. But Louis held his nerve: he was waiting at Dover for reinforcements.
That Sunday was a clear day and the sails of the transport ships could be seen across the Channel. The next day, 29 May, the English could also see them and when they set sail, so, too, did the English; the French gave chase but to no avail. As they turned back to head into Dover, the English ships made a quick about turn and attacked the rearward vessels of the French, capturing eight of them. This seems to have been a successful naval employment of the feigned retreat of cavalry charges, most famously executed by William the Conqueror down the coast at Hastings in 1066. Despite the size of the French fleet – some 120 ships – the reinforcements they carried were few, ‘all sergeants, merchants or sailors; of knights, there were only eighteen of them,’ says the Anonymous.566When Louis went down to the shore to meet them, he was angered and dismayed at how little help had materialised. It could only have made the still fresh wound of Lincoln ache the more.
Louis held another council that evening where it was decided that he should go back to London the next day. He wrote a number of letters, which were sent to France with Guy d’Athies to his father informing the King of the changed situation, and to leading barons, seeking their help. He also sent back the ships that had just arrived, possibly in anticipation of them being used for transporting over more substantial reinforcements. The ships that were already in the harbour from earlier were burned; Louis was leaving Dover and he did not want to leave anything of use to the enemy. It is safe to assume that as soon as he left, Hubert de Burgh’s garrison burst out from their incarceration within the castle to be met by local supporters, no doubt followed soon after by Willikin of the Weald. Louis spent the night in Canterbury and on Thursday 1 June was back in London.
The Anonymous says that he was received here with great ceremony; but how different and more melancholy it must have been compared to his first triumphal arrival there a year before. The atmosphere soon turned even sourer. The royalists had marched through Windsor and Staines and were now not far off mustering at Chertsey; what is more, they had opened up secret talks with the chief men of London. The sack of Lincoln would have played heavily on the Londoners’ minds; the sack was, after all, not merely a plundering opportunity but a measured exercise in psychological pressure for the capital: this is what happens to those who defy us. This was the royalists’ stick; their carrot was a reassuring confirmation of the city’s liberties. The negotiations did not remain secret for long as Louis soon heard of them. His response was to secure all but one of the gates of the city – probably in the form of blocking them up – and to demand a renewal of the city’s homage to him; he ‘had little trust in the burghers of London’ and thus ‘dared not leave the city’.567
Louis stagnated in the capital for the month of June, little better off than when the rebels had taken the capital in 1215 only to find themselves on the defensive and holed up there by the autumn. The chroniclers capture this stagnation in affairs by their jump from the Battle of Lincoln in May to the last battle at the end of August; the exception is the well informed Anonymous of Béthune who thus becomes even more valuable for this period, backed up by government papers. While Louis stewed in London trying to arrange reinforcements, the Henricians went from strength to strength. The number of reversi, men returning to the royal camp, serves as a barometer for the changing political and military climate: from the Battle of Lincoln to early August, over 150 abandoned Louis and submitted to the king, including such major rebel figures as the Earl of Warenne (by 22 June), Reginald de Braose (by 24 June), the Earl of Arundel (by 14 July), and John de Lacy, Constable of Chester (by 9 August).568 In the deteriorating situation the rebels found themselves, the pronouncement of a total amnesty and restoration of their lands as they held them before the war encouraged many to make the return to the English royal fold. While the majority of barons remained loyal to Louis, this was still a significant and indicative setback.
Louis was politically as well as militarily astute. He knew he had to play for time in the hope of fresh forces from France while simultaneously stalling the Henricians and hedging his bets through negotiating towards a favourable settlement. It was not a winning strategy, but the only other options were surrender or immediate departure from England. Even if he chose the latter so as to personally drum up support in France, it would have effectively ended his expedition; his leaving would have been taken as a sign of non-commitment to the cause. The political consequences would have been the collapse of the baronial party as more and more of its members availed themselves of the amnesty to lessen the retribution they feared would follow.
The opportunity for high-level negotiations overseen by leading churchmen presented itself at the start of June. A prestigious embassy of clerics had arrived in London from France under safe conduct, ostensibly to preach the Fifth Crusade (1217–19) against Egypt. The delegation was led by Archbishop Simon of Tyre from the crusader states. With him were two of Europe’s foremost abbots – those of Clairvaux and Cîteaux – and the Abbot of Pontigny. Conrad, the head of the Cistercian order, was later made legate to France. It was usual for the Archbishops of Tyre to recruit help for the imperilled Holy Land: one of Simon’s predecessors was in England in 1188 to seek the assistance of the aging Henry II.569 While it was a genuine coincidence that the Archbishop’s party had been in France at this time, there is more to its arrival in England than urging people to take up the cross. As the Anonymous says, Simon ‘on hearing of this war crossed the sea and came to England to make peace if he could’.570 It has been perceptively suggested that the embassy was persuaded to go to England by Philip Augustus, anxious to secure a settlement for his son;571 indeed, it is worth speculating further and considering that the letters Louis dispatched from Dover to his father the evening before raising the siege and returning to London had specifically asked for the intervention of the Archbishop. Nicholas Vincent’s detailed study of Guala’s career shows how Pope Honorius III had consistently applied pressure on Philip to demand that his son made peace, commissioning the Abbots of Cîteaux and Clairvaux with this mission on 6 December 1216, threatening him with papal sanctions. On 21 April 1217 Honorius had written directly to Philip, ‘mentioning the efforts at peace-making by the Archbishop of Tyre and the Abbot of Cîteaux’.572 The Papacy’s motivations behind its involvement in the peace process was determined in no small part by the fact that its desire for crusaders would be hampered by the involvement of so many English and French knights in the war in England. We have seen how Savary de Mauléon left the royalist cause at the end of 1216 to return to his native Poitou and thence to embark on crusade.
We have a detailed knowledge of the negotiations as the Archbishop recorded them and Guala sent a letter to Honorius from about 13 June also detailing the progress of the discussions.573 There were several meetings, the last and main one being held between Brentford and Hounslow starting on Monday 12 June. Here four members each from Henry’s and Louis’s councils discussed terms; behind each side stood the agreed number of twenty supporting knights. A draft treaty was drawn up which, while not harsh on Louis, clearly pointed to the French Prince’s defeat. He was to free the English – barons, knights and townspeople – from their oaths to him, and in the future make no further alliances with them against Henry or his heirs; likewise, the barons would swear that they would make no further alliances against the King with Louis or anyone else. Alexander II of Scotland was to restore to the English crown all lands and castles seized in the war. Similarly, Louis and the French had to return their lands, and Eustace the Monk had to return the Channel Islands he had taken on pain of confiscation of his fiefs. All rebels would have to offer security of their faith to the King. Magna Carta was reinforced. Other clauses dealt more favourably with the matter of ransoms and prisoners, reparations and absolution from excommunications.
But the talks collapsed over the matter of Louis’s leading clerical supporters. To his credit, Louis insisted that Elias of Dereham, a clerk of Sephen Langton and previously of Hubert Walter, Robert de St Germain, a clerk of Louis’s ally the King of Scotland, Gervase of Howbridge, dean of canons at St Paul’s, and Simon Langton, Louis’s chancellor in England, be included in the terms of the peace treaty. He was prepared to see them stripped of their benefices, but only if they were equally compensated with secular rents. The most important of the four was Simon, the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton’s brother and previously Archbishop Elect of York. Guala, who had developed quite an antipathy to Langton, insisted that this concession was unacceptable, or at least until and if the pope acquiesced to it. He may have had the backing of some hardliners such as the Earl of Chester, who believed the treaty too lenient. Nor could Guala easily forgive them for publicly defying the decree of papal excommunication by preaching the rebels’ cause. From the pulpit at St Paul’s they had given sermons to the Londoners, and ‘made it understood’ that the excommunication could be ignored because the pope was not fully cognisant of the facts of the situation and that ‘Louis and his men were good people.’574 The Archbishop of Tyre’s letter to the pope made it clear that ‘Louis would in no way make peace without them.’575 There was no movement on either side and so at the last moment the talks collapsed. War was back on the agenda.
The peace delegation returned to France in mid-June, the Archbishop of Tyre receiving a letter of consolation from Abbot Gervase of Prémontré for having so nearly achieved peace, ‘which, when it was nearly accomplished, was obstructed on account of four clerks; would that they had never learned their letters’.576 Back in England, it was the man of the cloth Guala who was agitating for an immediate military response and the seasoned warrior William Marshal who advocated caution. Guala wanted London besieged, but other commanders were against such action. London remained a formidable fortress and it seemed better to wait for the flow of defections to weaken Louis further. These were accelerated by the failed peace talks: in the week that followed over 60 left Louis for Henry. There was also a potentially serious threat from Wales to deal with: Prince Llewelyn, enraged by the desertion of his son-in-law Reginald de Braose to Henry, invaded his lands, seizing Swansea Castle and hence control of the Gower peninsula; the regent looked on perturbed as Llewelyn advanced towards the Marshal’s castle at Haverford and took hostages from Pembrokeshire.577 The regent’s decision to leave the capital alone and lead the royal court west to Gloucester for the first week of July was probably influenced by these events; William certainly availed himself of the opportunity to visit his castles of Goodrich and Chepstow at that time. But the Welsh provocations were more of a distraction than anything else. At this time Lynn submitted to the King through the hands of Falkes de Bréauté and a sense of reclaiming political ascendancy was reinforced by the reissuing of Magna Carta and its enforcement by the sheriffs of England. From Gloucester on 4 July, Henry’s advisers issued a summons for Oxford on 15 July to determine what they should do next.
While the royalists played the waiting game, which they felt secure in doing and which may well have been employed for the want of any better strategy, it was Louis who took the initiative. With a treaty off the table, he redoubled and redirected his energies to the familiar activity of soldiering.578 Louis was too careful a man to close the door on diplomacy entirely: while he again rejected the wishes of Honorius for submission when the pope sent his confessor Brother Nicholas to meet him, he also sent the Count of Nevers to Windsor where he held talks with the queen mother; but although ‘they spoke well together and left on good terms’, nothing was accomplished. Again, this may have simply been stalling on Louis’s part; William Marshal ‘knew well’ the French Prince’s true intentions. And these were not peaceful.
Worried about the defections and also the loyalty of London, Louis moved his residence in the capital to the Tower for greater security. Strategically, he was not in a strong position; but nor was he a spent force. London, even if a little shaky, was still too tough a nut to crack for the royalists at the moment, and Louis still had a large force there, with the prospect of more men, if not on the horizon, then just beyond it. The hardcore of baronial rebels remained and prisoners taken at Lincoln (and elsewhere) were gradually being ransomed. And now Louis was no longer restrained by high-level peace talks. His campaign in England set about revitalising itself.
The first course of action was, as ever, to go on a chevauchée or two. The main purpose was a logistical one – to gather supplies for London and plunder to pay for the troops – but on a lesser scale it also reminded the royalists that Louis remained a force to be reckoned with and at least worthy of greater concessions in any future settlement. Making the most of the royal camp’s temporary move back to Gloucester, the first ravaging force, a large one according the Anonymous, made straight for the wealthy monastery town of Bury St Edmunds under the leadership of the Viscount of Melun, Hugh Tacon and the Flemish knight Eustace de Neville. This was not a free ride but a daring raid as the royalist garrisons surrounded London. Wendover says the French were in great want of supplies and believed themselves to be hemmed in. Bury St Edmunds rewarded their endeavour, provided rich pickings. This was followed up by a raid by the Duke of Brittany: he made ‘a wonderful chevauchée’, says the admiring Anonymous – to where he does not say – in which the lesser soldiers gained much. It was a great morale booster, and when the Duke returned to London he was warmly congratulated.579
The royalists had not met up at Oxford on 15 July as planned, but did so instead between about 21 and 25 July, issuing instructions on 22 July for another meeting to be held there before returning again to Gloucester; the consequent assembly held between 7 and 13 August ended with yet another summons to meet back at Oxford on 25 August. The sketchiness of the sources make it hard to judge movements and actions: were these ad hoc and unclear, reacting passively to events; or do they mask a coherent underlying plan? As the biographer of William Marshal makes no mention of the latter, and indeed depicts his hero as surprised and dismayed at the events that followed, it might be easier to assume that there was indeed no overarching plan in the royalist camp at this stage, other than to wait and see while building up their forces. However, this is not the whole picture. The war was about to enter its final and decisive stage as the theatre of operations shifted to the English Channel. Louis’s future in England relied on reinforcements from France: he knew it, and William Marshal knew it. Thus the Anonymous’s comments mentioned earlier that the regent ‘knew well’ what Louis was up to: busily recruiting more troops in France. While on land the royalists appeared to do very little, they were busily preparing and strengthening their forces at sea.
Louis’s dispatches from Dover had appealed to his father and wife for help. Philip Augustus, who had reconciled himself with Honorius, was still not prepared to jeopardise his relations with the Papacy. This precluded any public support for his son, but it did not stop him from feigning ignorance of moves to help him. This task fell to his wife, Blanche of Castille. Blanche, around 32 years of age at this time, was a redoubtable female figure of the Middle Ages who went on to become regent of France between 1226 and 1234 for her celebrated son, St Louis IX. The French historian Gérard Sivéry calls her ‘determined, intrepid and obstinate’.580 She had married Louis in 1200 and proved a faithful and dedicated wife; she now threw herself into the task of finding reinforcements to send to her husband in England. If a French source from later in the thirteenth century is to be believed, she worked her charms on her father-in-law to persuade him to provide funds for her recruitment drive. ‘Will you leave your son and my lord to die in a foreign country? For God’s sake, sire, he ought to rule after you.’ She even threatened to place the king’s grandchildren and future heir as security – in effect, hostages – to secure bankers’ loans.581 This was a little over-dramatic – nobody in England had the slightest intention of stringing Louis up – but it may have worked in cajoling Philip to offer some financial assistance.
Wendover imagines the content of Louis’s epistles to his father: with ‘a large force marching through the cities and towns around London, which prevented he and his companions from leaving the city’ (either this was written before the raids or Wendover he did not know of them), Louis tells King Philip: ‘all our supplies are failing us and our followers in the city, and even if they were abundant, we do not have the money to buy them; therefore I point out to you that I have no ability to resist, or to leave England, unless you provide me with powerful military aid.’ Wendover understands Philip’s position and says that the King, not wishing to be rebuked by the pope again, ‘lay the whole business on Louis’s wife’; Blanche ‘was not slow in attending to the matter that fell to her’.582She recruited most heavily in Louis’s territory of Artois among its barons, burghers and his vassals. There was some resistance, as merchants, ship owners and sailors grumbled and protested that they had fulfilled their obligations to Louis the previous spring. She had to press them hard, with warnings that Louis was in grave danger. She may have reminded them that a ransom for their lord would prove even more costly than military assistance.
The exact size of the force that the resourceful Blanche raised is hard to determine. Wendover puts the figure at 300 ‘brave knights, well provisioned for war, with a large force of soldiers’; the Anonymous says there were ‘barely 100 knights’. The Melrose chronicler gives exact figures of 125 French knights, 33 crossbowmen, 146 cavalry and 833 infantry. Thus Wendover may be quite accurate if we take his figure of 300 milites to encompass the whole cavalry element. The Dunstable annalist simply writes of ‘many powerful nobles’. The Marshal’s biographer is similarly vague, but emphasises the strength of the new army: it was large enough not only to ‘rescue’ Louis’s position but also ‘to conquer the realm’. Blanche ‘rode through all the towns in France to seek assistance in the form of great contingents of men and coffers of money’. She went about her task with such energy that she gathered such a force they would be able to conquer ‘the entire kingdom’.583 The biographer, who says that Philip was equally active in gathering the army, was exaggerating the size of the French force for dramatic effect, but clearly it was sizeable and even if comprising 100 knights plus sergeants, would go a considerable way to replacing the prisoners taken at Lincoln (and now trickling back to Louis after the payment of their ransoms) and to prolonging his campaign well into the future.
The Battle of Sandwich
This new expeditionary force began to gather at Calais in early August. At its head was Robert de Courtnay, uncle to the French queen and a high-ranking noble in Louis’s household, who had fought with the Prince in England, and the younger brother of Peter, Count of Auxerre and Nevers. His leading captains were the Parisian Ralph de la Tournelle and Michael de Harnes. The commander of the fleet was, once again, Eustace the Monk, who, Wendover reminds us, was ‘a shameful man and a wicked pirate’. None of this went unnoticed by the English. After the gathering at Oxford over the second week of August, William Marshal made his way to the south coast via Reading on the 14th, Farnham on 15th–16th, Lewes on 17th, and Romney on the 19th. When the regent heard the news that he had feared and long anticipated, he was ‘greatly distraught’ that ‘an army of such strength and might was due to arrive in England’;584 he therefore ordered his admiral Philip d’Albini and John Marshal to lead the sailors of the Cinque port and a large force of men ‘to watch the seas carefully, and to reconnoitre for the French and prevent their arrival’.585 D’Albini had been charged with coastal defence back on 20 January and we have seen his forces in conspicuous action against the French at Winchelsea and Dover.
With both sides preparing for a major encounter, it was not surprising that a number of skirmishes ensued. The English crossed the Channel to harass the French forces at Calais, shooting arrows into the harbour, hoping to keep them penned in. On one day the English sent out a large number of ships – 300 says the Anonymous – and a sizeable engagement occurred. The French, seeing the English approach, set out to meet them, capturing a staggering 140 of the lightly-manned vessels and chasing the others back to port. It seems that the English lost contact with their commander and, leaderless, panicked, abandoning their vessels at full sail and making their getaway in their skiffs. At one point the French fleet embarked and set sail, reaching Dover with the intention of sailing around to the Thames estuary and hence London, but a terrifying storm drove them back across the Channel to Boulogne and Flanders. But all knew this was just a temporary setback.
William Marshal, who spent the night of 23 August at Canterbury, had ordered a full muster of his forces at the port of Sandwich for the 24th. The leaders of the Cinque ports, sensing that the crown’s need of their services and loyalty was greater than ever at this moment of approaching crisis, exploited the situation to gain advantages. The system of naval organisation had broken down during the war, leaving royalist forces to gather maritime forces in something of an ad hoc manner until the Cinque ports felt free enough from French intrusions to renew fully their allegiance to the crown. The royalist need for a coherent assembly of major naval forces was acute. The Cinque leaders complained to the Marshal of the burdens and loss of privileges suffered under John; the regent was not about to disappoint them at this critical juncture and granted them a return to their lucrative franchises as well as healthy compensation from the spoils of the coming battle, including the replacement of lost ships. Thus boosted, the Cinque representatives returned to their ships at Sandwich and prepared for combat in high spirits; the Marshal’s biographer depicts the merry sailors as energetically attending to their ships, as they ‘made ready their ropes, made seaworthy every one of their bowlines, guide ropes and guys, their sturdy anchors and strong cables, so that they would be able to cast anchor off the ports, should it prove necessary for them to fight and crush the arrogance of the French’ and pledging to die or be taken captive before avoiding their duty, for ‘if the French fleet out there were able to put to shore, then the game would have disastrous results and England would be lost’.586
The next day the Marshal was at Sandwich for the muster with Peter des Roches, Hubert de Burgh, who arrived from Dover in a large ship, and his other commanders. De Burgh was given command of the English fleet. The Marshal’s appeals to set out with the fleet and to get stuck into the French were cried down amidst protests that he was simply too valuable to risk losing; as his biographer proudly warns, if he were ‘killed there or taken prisoner, who would then defend the realm?’ While obviously emphasising the central importance of his patron, this was nevertheless a real concern. Thursday 24 August was a beautiful clear day; the French fleet set sail for the mouth of the Thames with a fair and pleasant wind. The English went out to meet them. The fleets were sailing into the deciding battle of the invasion and the occupation of England. It was the day of reckoning.
The size of the English fleet is not known for certain. The biographer says that the Marshal himself had arranged for 22 ships, the best of their kind, to be fully armed and manned. The Anonymous and the Annalist of Waverley say that there were eighteen big ships present; perhaps this means that four were kept in reserve at port. It seems that these were matched by the same number of other lesser vessels. Matthew Paris, who at this stage in his writing, breaks away from merely repeating Wendover’s chronicle, states that de Burgh was ‘given to his command about sixteen ships well fitted out, plus small support boats numbering twenty’. Wendover corroborates this, declaring that the English had ‘only a few ships, not exceeding forty in number of galleys and ships’. The biggest ship was a cog; standing high out of the water, it provided solid fighting platforms with larger ‘castles’ than smaller vessels for the knights and soldiers on board. No ship was thought to exceed 80 tons.587 The cog was the Marshal’s ship, crewed and garrisoned by his men. The fighting galleys in both navies were reinforced with iron prows by which they could ram enemy ships; they could take on much larger vessel, as Richard I proved in the Mediterranean on the Third Crusade, when his galleys successfully rammed a Muslim ship ‘of enormous size’.588 De Burgh’s captains included some experienced men: Philip d’Albini, who directed military operations in the Channel in the war; Richard Fitzjohn, son of John and nephew to the Earl of Warenne who had fitted out his nephew’s ships with care; and two of Hubert’s trusted knights from Dover, Henry de Trubleville and Richard Suard.
We have good details of the French fleet thanks to the Anonymous of Béthune. He and Wendover agree on a figure of about 80 ships; not, as the Marshal’s biographer claims for dramatic impact, 300. The Anonymous says that these ‘were both big and small’: ten large ones were ready for battle; four were full of knights and six with sergeants; and the others were filled with supplies. The flag ship was ‘the great ship of Bayone’, which was so laden with treasure, horses for Louis and a trebuchet it sat low and heavy in the water, with the waves almost washing over it, and restricted in its manoeuvrability by its great weight. On board were the admiral of the fleet, Eustace, Robert de Courtenay, Ralph de la Tournelle, Neville de Canle and 36 other knights, including William des Barres the younger, a strong knight who took his name from his father, a renowned figure of chivalry and sword-hand of Philip Augustus. Michael de Harnes, William the castellan of St Omer and the mayor of Boulogne commanded the other three ships with knights. The six ships with sergeants were also battle-worthy. With the largest ships carrying some 40 knights, and four ships in all with knights on board, the Anonymous can be seen to offering further credence to both his figure of some 100 knights for the whole army, and the Melrose chronicler’s figure of 125 knights. The English chronicles make much of being outnumbered in ships, but the figures actually reveal a rough balance of fighting vessels, all well-equipped and fitted for war; the extra 40 ships of the French would for the most part have been predominantly supply ships, bringing much needed provisions, equipment, food and wine to Louis. Heavily laden and with a fixed destination plotted, the French lacked the flexibility and manoeuvrability of the English. However, they had a certain strength derived from their numbers and the advantage of a strong wind behind them. Both sides were under experienced and successful leaders; while Eustace’s reputation as an outstanding seaman was clear, Hubert de Burgh had as a chief adviser Philip d’Albini, who, although a less colourful character than his rival, had proven himself an equal match to the demonised pirate. On paper, the French had the advantage of numerical superiority and hence the upper hand, but in 1213 Wendover noted that the English ‘had a superior navy than the French king’.589 The English had two other less tangible advantages, not frequently remarked upon. One was their greater experience of naval warfare, especially in the Channel; remember the French only gained the seaboard of Normandy in 1204. Secondly, and very potently, they had the motivation that comes from defending their homeland. In his battle speech, the Marshal warned his men that the French now ‘return to England to claim the land as theirs’, echoing his battle oration at Lincoln. For the battle that was about to ensue was one in which the enemies were divided by nation. There were no anti-Henrician English barons commanding the French force, muddying the waters of identity and causes. This was an English fleet against a French one.
English strategy was simple: the objective was to prevent the French from landing. If this sizeable force made it to London, the war could continue indefinitely. As it was, the royalists were already hesitant to besiege the capital; these significant reinforcements from France would make London unassailable and once again would have caused shifting in political movements and further realignments. This maritime strategy was an established one. During the invasion threat of 1213, John was ‘determined to engage his enemies in battle at sea, to drown them before they set foot on land’. It is worth recalling Wendover’s comments here on England’s superior navy: in 1213 it was this in which John ‘placed his chief defence’.590 The English were doing so again. The chroniclers give the impression that William Marshal was sending out the fleet for a decisive battle; but, as with the Spanish Armada in 1588, the overriding intention was to prevent foreign troops disembarking on English soil. The assertion by one historian that ‘no medieval admiral ever sailed with the explicit intention of seeking out an enemy fleet and destroying it’ has to be questioned, though.591 The most effective way to keep the enemy from landing was, as was planned in 1213, simply to destroy the French fleet and drown their army at sea.
The English went out to meet them on an oblique course from the north-east, against the wind and tide. Emboldened by the victory at Lincoln, Wendover says they dared to take on the larger force. Hubert de Burgh’s ship was leading the small fleet, probably in column behind. Not far off the coast off Sandwich, he made a feint against the French, so that they thought he was approaching to engage with them head-on. The French, emboldened on their part by their recent victory over the English in the Channel, and confident in their numbers against the few vessels sent against them, hastened to meet the challenge, furling their sails and eager either to gain spoils that would pay for their expenses or to send the English to ‘the bottom fishing for flounder’.592 It is sometimes thought that naval battles were merely replications of a cavalry charge,593 but this was not the case at Sandwich. De Burgh veered away to starboard at the last moment, as he had intended. The French then cried out ‘La hart, la hart!’, a call given in deer-hunting when the prey is spotted.’ The term can also mean ‘noose’, which offers a darker, more serious interpretation of the call.594
William the Breton offers a unique perspective when he describes how Robert de Courtenay ordered the French flagship, Eustace’s great ship of Bayonne, to make for the smaller English vessels passing by, ‘thinking it would be easy to capture them’.595However, William says that no other French ship followed him, leaving him isolated away from the main fleet. This may have been the case, but there must be some doubt over this. Yes, the flagship was the biggest in the French fleet, and the prospect of profiting from an easy catch was always tempting; but the French priority of supplying Louis was paramount, and Eustace’s vessel, laden with treasure, trebuchet, horses and knights, was the most important of all. The very fact that the English’s overwhelming aim was to prevent the French fleet from reaching London, meant, in turn, that reaching London was the central aim of the French. It is hard to imagine Eustace the Monk being diverted from this task. If de Courtenay, an experienced commander, had ordered the diversion it would have been an uncharacteristic display of over-confidence and of diversion from the task with which he was charged. It is only the author of History of William Marshal that supports William the Breton’s version. While the biographer was always eager to demonstrate the arrogant presumptuousness of the French, William was no doubt trying to spare the blushes of a noble so closely related to the French royal family, demonstrating his bravery but blaming others for not supporting him and insinuating that if they had, his decision would not have been a mistake. William’s account, brief as it is, also reveals his lack of detailed knowledge of the battle, as he says Robert Fitzwalter was captured during the battle; Fitzwalter was captured at Lincoln and his release was not granted until 8 October later that year. So while it is possible that de Courtenay did launch into an attack, it is far more probable that he held his course.
What is certain is that the flagship was soon fighting for its survival. The English plan involved the same tactics as the naval encounter on 29 May: to get windward of the enemy. Thus de Burgh’s feint was to mislead the French and get behind them. One of the dangers in this was that if the attempt failed, the English ships could be run down.596 But the last moment manoeuvring of de Burgh’s ships worked and the English side-stepped the French. The somewhat neglected Romance of Eustace the Monk at this juncture confirms the tactical plan of the English: ‘more than twenty ships passed in front of him [Eustace], and they attacked his fleet fiercely.’ Once past, they turned about and, with a strong wind in their sails, attacked vigorously from the rear. Rather than de Courtenay making contact with the English column and engaging with Richard Fitzjohn’s ship, as has been suggested by one authority, the History of William Marshal is probably right to say it was Fitzjohn’s ship, or at least an English one, that initiated the encounter.597 This was decapitation strategy: take the head off the enemy and its torso will collapse. We have seen how close such a strategy came to working at Bouvines, when the allies formed a cavalry unit with the sole intention of targeting Philip Augustus. In the event, infantry dragged Philip from his horse and would have killed him but for the self-sacrifice of his bodyguard.
While Fitzjohn’s small ship made little impact by itself on Eustace’s large vessel, the other ships at the back of the French convoy put up a strong resistance against their attackers, inflicting heavy casualties on the English. Wendover describes a battle in which Philip d’Albini takes centre stage: Philip ‘with his crossbowmen and archers directing their missiles into the French soon caused many fatalities among them’. The iron-tipped English galleys rammed into the French ships, sinking many instantly. As the ships came alongside each other, a ‘severe’ battle ensued in which the French were mown down by arrows and javelins. The English held a greater advantage in that their ships were lighter – they were not, unlike the French, weighed down with supplies – and thus stood higher in the water; this made it easier to shoot down on the French. The English made great use of the wind to launch large pots of quicklime at the enemy. On breaking, the pots dispersed burning clouds which were carried away from the English and to the French, ‘which blinded them totally’, says the Anonymous. All four main sources of the battle testify to the efficacy of this tactic.
This made boarding the French ships easier. Now swords and spears were put to work. Wendover even says that the English bored holes in the bottom of the French ships to sink them. The focal point of the battle was Eustace’s flagship. Fitzjohn was soon supported by three other ships, including the cog; Eustace was thus surrounded, with the cog looming high over his deck. His men returned the missile barrage and let loose their arrows at the English, putting up a fierce resistance and preventing the English from boarding them. The author of the Romance says they he and his men ‘slaughtered a great many Englishmen and defended themselves courageously’. The enemy attacked him from all sides, using great axes and grappling hooks against the side of the ship. But when the quicklime pots hit the deck, ‘the powder rose in great clouds, and it was this which caused the most damage. After that, they could no longer defend themselves, for their eyes were full of powder.’
As the English boarded, the fighting renewed into a brutal combat that would have been repeated on other ships in the battle. The Romance describes the ‘brave and courageous’ pirate leader in the thick of it as he ‘knocked down a good number of them with an oar he was holding’. Elsewhere, ‘some had their arms broken, some had heir heads smashed. This one was killed and that one was laid out; one was knocked down and another wounded, whilst a third had his collarbone shattered.’ This no-holds-barred bludgeoning account is more realistic than that of the biographer of William Marshal, who similarly delights in providing combat detail. This can read somewhat fancifully, falling into the formulaic tradition of depicting battles as duels between leading figures. Here, there is a strong whiff of fantasy in the swashbuckling escapades. Reginald Payn of Guernsey, who ‘had nothing of the coward in him, jumped from the cog onto the French flagship’. Payn’s was a long leap, but his fall was broken by William des Barres; as Payn fell, he also brought down Robert de Courtenay with a well-placed blow. Hardly had he done this when Ralph de Tournelle was on him; Payn struck him with such force he spun around three times. After a tremendous fight de Tournelle was taken. And as if all this was not enough, our medieval Errol Flynn was then set upon by the rabid Theobald (possibly Count Theobald of Blois), the outcome of which the writer does not inform us about, but we can safely assume that had he done so, the remarkable Reginald would have emerged victorious.
The reality was a good deal more deadly. Sea battles were bloodier affairs than land ones; there was less scope for taking prisoners and this proved to be the case here. The flagship and other French vessels eventually succumbed to the sustained aggression and ferocity of the English onslaught; the loss of their principal ship dealt a mortal blow to the French. As an English victory became imminent, French soldiers and sailors threw themselves overboard to take their chances with the sea, rather than the certainties of capture; the Anonymous reports that ‘quite a number of the smaller ships were taken, and much slaughter was carried out on those taken within them.’ As the rest of the French fleet concentrated fully on fleeing rather than fighting, the English gave vigorous pursuit. The biographer of William Marshal reports that the battle became a bloody rout; when the English ‘caught up with a ship, I can tell you that they lost no time at all in killing those they found on board and throwing them into the sea as food for the fish’. Only the knights were spared. He tells of how the sea was turned scarlet with blood and estimates that at least 4000 men were slain in this manner, not counting those who jumped into the sea and were drowned, who ‘sunk like lead in the stormy waters’ says Ralph of Coggeshall.598
On Eustace’s flagship, the first English on board were also at French throats: they would have gladly killed 32 of their knights if the English knights had not prevented them. Such a slaughter would have cost the protectors a fortune in lost ransoms. TheRomancesays the French were treated ‘very cruelly’. The high-ranking prisoners, most of whom who were on Eustace’s ships, provided a rich haul indeed, including Robert de Courtenay, William des Barres, Ralph de Tournelle and Neville d’Arras. But Eustace was not among this haul. While the rest of the French fleet made their escape as best they could, Eustace abandoned the fighting on deck to hide in the hold of his ship. A long search for him was started and, at last, the perennial thorn in the royalist side Eustace the Monk was taken captive. But Eustace did not receive the same consideration as the chivalry of France. It was immediately clear that he was in mortal danger from his captors. He pleaded for his life and liberty, offering 10,000 marks to be spared and promising to serve faithfully the King of England in the future. But Eustace did not have a future: he was not to be spared on any account. Wendover has Richard Fitzjohn berating him: ‘Never again in this world, wicked traitor, shall you deceive anyone with your false promises.’ As he spoke these words he drew his sword and cut off Eustace’s head.
However, the History of William Marshal offers an alternative version of Eustace’s death. This has Stephen of Wincelsea playing the main part. This Stephen may well be the same as the Stephen Crave in the Anonymous’s briefer account of this episode; the Anonymous says that he ‘had been with him a long time’, probably a reference to when Eustace had served John. He harangued Eustace with a litany of the misdeeds on land and sea that he had inflicted upon him (even though the Marshal’s biographer says this was not true and so was undeserved) and then offered him a grim choice: be beheaded on the trebuchet or over the side of the ship. ‘Thereupon,’ says the biographer, ‘they cut off his head.’ Eustace’s head was then stuck on a spear and later paraded through Canterbury and across the land to prove that this black legend was truly dead. The last line of the Romance of Eustace the Monk reads: ‘No one who is always intent on evil can live for a long time.’
The sources attest to the wealth of spoils seized in the victory, which the History of William Marshal describes as ‘a total rout’: gold, silver, money, horses, provisions, plate, silk cloths, meats, wines, wheat, arms and even a trebuchet, the super weapon of the day. Hubert de Burgh had made himself even wealthier with the capture of two ships. The English fleet returned to shore to the great acclamation of crowds and religious thanksgiving for the nation being spared. The regent oversaw a fair division of the spoils so that all were well contented. ‘What a fine shareout it was!’ beams the Marshal’s biographer: so great was the booty that the English sailors ‘were able to share out the coin in bowlfuls’. With the rest of the money, he ordered the foundation of a hospital dedicated to St Bartholomew, as the day of victory was the saint’s feast day. The following day the ports were awash with sailors finely attired in rich cloths and silks, boasting to each other as to who wore the most costly garments.
While the sailors paraded through the coastal towns, the valuable prisoners were secured in strong prisons. Later they were transferred to Hubert de Burgh’s custody at Dover. The exact number is not known. In addition to the four Frenchmen named above, there were, at least, the other knights from the contingent of 32 on board Eustace’s great ship of Bayonne. The Waverley Annalist is vague but telling in the importance of the rank of the prisoners when saying that ‘ten magnates with many nobles of France were captured.’599 There would have been more from the other ships, but there is not even an approximate number of how many of these were taken or sunk. It is clear that many escaped back to Calais as the History of William Marshal indicates; this was to be expected with tactics of fighting from behind the French.600 There was also the sheer impracticality of numbers, for if the English fleet was indeed half the size of the French one, then there simply would not have been the capacity to seize all of the enemy’s vessels. The Anonymous believes that it was only the flagship that was taken and that the others all escaped but this must be incorrect; it may be that he means that this was so of the ten principal ships. This does not tally with Hubert de Burgh’s wins and the ships reported sunk and captured in the other sources. The Waverley Annalist reports that only fifteen ships slipped away. On 1 September William Marshal issued a writ that summoned to the Thames the Cinque ports ‘with your whole navy as well as that which was recently won’, indicating a good number.601
It was a great victory, and one which owed much to the strength of the English navy. Wendover believes the English won the battle because they ‘they were skilled in naval warfare’ while the French ‘were not used’ to it; as Philip Augustus had admitted at Damme in 1213, the French ‘do not know the ways of the sea’.602 The Battle of Sandwich has often been seen as the origins of England’s great maritime reputation and formidable naval achievements,603 but by 1217 the English navy was already an experienced and effective one.
While it is hard to quantify the scale of the victory in exact terms, it is not hard to appreciate its magnitude in military and political ones. The effects were dramatic and instantaneous. The loss to Louis in terms of men and supplies was irreparable. This was the final push of his campaign. All his resources had been invested in the fleet. Had his substantial reinforcements and supplies reached him in England, the impact on the war would have been significant; that they did not arrive was even more significant again. Financially, militarily and politically, Louis had used up all his military resources. He was ready to think about suing for peace.
Now was the time for the royalists to take the war decisively to Louis. In the months after Lincoln they had been seemingly moribund and reluctant to take resolute action against Louis in London. With the crushing victory at Sandwich, that hesitancy was now gone and they planned to capitalise on their success by a full investiture of London. Guala and the young King were already outside of London, but now William Marshal was prepared to consider joining all his forces to invest the capital fully. The writ he issued on 1 September for the southern fleet to gather on the Thames was part of his plan to blockade tightly Louis and his forces in London. He could do so now as the threat of the long-expected relief force from France had been conclusively eliminated. There was no more help coming to Louis now: with many barons in captivity after Lincoln, and no French reinforcements either, royalist forces could encircle London in security and free from outside attack. This was the endgame.604
News of the disaster at Sandwich reached Louis in the capital two days later on the evening of Saturday 26 August. His reaction was to be expected: ‘Louis was rightly very angry,’ says the Anonymous; he was ‘very dejected and grieved’, reports the Marshal’s biographer. Wendover’s estimation of the effect on him rightly gauges the scale of the defeat: ‘it caused him much more pain than the misfortune at Lincoln’. The Dunstable Annalist says that Louis was ‘destitute of present help and despairing of the future’. As Ralph Coggeshall comments: ‘Louis, when he heard this, did not know where to turn … and so, compelled by necessity, he asked for peace.’ The implications of the defeat were thus immediately apparent to him: his campaign in England was over.
On 28 August he sent his trusted cousin Robert, Count of Dreux, to the Marshal at Rochester under a safe-conduct to open peace negotiations. When Robert reached Rochester, he was exchanged with Robert de Courtenay, who thereby finally made it to London, but alone and without his army. No doubt the Henricians wanted Louis to be fully appraised of the scale of his defeat. As at Lincoln, the royalists held another council in the wake of victory, this time to discuss how to respond to Louis’s overtures. Some royalists, especially those who had missed the recent battle, urged a full investiture of London; sensing that Louis’s campaign was mortally wounded, they perhaps wished to gain their share of spoils that they had missed at Sandwich. They did not wish for a negotiated settlement. Others, however, counselled that now was the time for the French finally to be ‘thrown out of the land’, says the Marshal’s biographer, and urged parleying to bring this about. The regent opted for talks, but very much kept the military option open by pressuring Louis with a full blockade of London of his combined forces complete with a huge naval presence on the Thames. Wendover says that the royalist force besieging London was a huge one; Louis was hemmed in by land and water, ‘thus cutting off all supplies of provisions from the garrison’. William Marshal was making clear to Louis the overwhelming strength of the victors’ bargaining position. If Louis did not come to terms, he would be starved out of London.
Louis was huddled in deep discussions with his own council. After his consultations with Robert de Courtenay and his other advisers, he decided to meet with William Marshal in face-to-face talks. These occurred just outside London on Tuesday 5 September with Louis and de Courtenay on the one side, and William Marshal and Hubert de Burgh on the other. Both sides assured the other that they would strive hard to make an honourable peace. The regent and the justiciar returned to Windsor and the Frenchmen to London. Louis waited there anxiously, expecting to hear proposals from William Marshal on how to move the peace process forward. But no word came from the regent. Louis suspected that the negotiations were being strung out to weaken his position further – and he could only grow weaker with every passing day. On Saturday 9 September he held another council privately in his chambers. Painfully aware of his deteriorating military position in the capital, and greatly troubled by the erosion of support within London, the decision they came to was a dramatic one: to make one great sortie out of the city with all their men and take on the enemy in one last great battle. This neglected episode was indeed a desperate measure, but perhaps not as desperate as it may sound. Such sorties could be remarkably effective; I would suggest that Louis had very much to the forefront of his mind the spectacular success of Simon de Montfort exactly four years earlier almost to the day. At Muret in 1213, de Montfort and his Albigensian crusaders found themselves besieged and in similarly desperate straits. Although greatly outnumbered, they sallied from the town and took on their besiegers to win a spectacular victory that left the enemy King dead and the crusaders’ fortunes completely reversed. Louis’s insecurity in London prompted him to act; Ralph of Coggeshall describes his predicament: he ‘did not know which way to turn, for he had no safe place to rest in.’605 If the royalists were to suffer substantial losses, with prominent leaders either killed of taken prisoner, then the whole situation would be turned radically on its head. Louis still had a substantial, if somewhat reduced, force with him in London. He had in his service many of Europe’s best knights and, in London, a large population from which to draw on for auxiliary infantry. Louis and his captains steeled themselves for the great attack and made ready their men for battle.
It did not come. Later that night, at the very last moment, a letter arrived from William Marshal. He asked for a truce and for negotiations to be resumed. To these Louis acquiesced. Had this communication not arrived, the ensuing battle would have played a huge part in our story. But the preparation made for battle that day on Saturday 9 September was the last military activity of the war. The invasion had ended.
With the cessation of hostilities, our history of the war must draw to its end. The peace talks and their conclusion can be dealt with swiftly. The Marshal’s letter on 9 September had asked for Hugh de Malaunay to come and talk with the regent and his council.606He returned with news on Monday that negotiations were set for Tuesday 12 September; the truce, guaranteed by the queen, William Marshal, the Earls of Warenne, Arundel and Salisbury and other barons, was extended to the Thursday. De Maulanay also informed Louis what was on the table in the talks from the royalists. Wendover writes that Louis was informed of the peace terms ‘to which if he agreed, would swear to secure for him and his men a safe departure from England; if not, they would injure him and bring him to ruin in every way’. Louis’s relief at these terms was at the French being allowed to leave England, as ‘it seemed useless for them to remain there any longer.’ Louis gathered about him not only his whole council but also the English barons and the leading citizens of London; they agreed to the preliminary terms. The History of William Marshal claims that the French excluded the English from their deliberations of this plenary council, but this is unlikely.
The next step was to formalise the peace process. On 12 September, Louis met with the regent, the king, the king’s mother and the legate Guala, resplendent in his scarlet robes. The meeting place was an island in the Thames at Kingston. Louis and his party were on one bank of the river, and the royalists on the other; they were rowed out to the island. And here they made formal peace.607 The terms were very similar to those nearly agreed upon in mid-June but for Louis’s refusal to accept the exclusion of Simon Langton and the three other clerics from the peace. Louis was no longer in any position to argue their cause and so they remained excluded; Guala told them to leave the country and obtain absolution from Pope Honorius. Otherwise it was much the same. The rebel and royalist protagonists, including London and the towns, were to have their rights and lands as on the eve of war. Both sides were to release prisoners captured since Louis’s arrival in May 1216; any ransoms already paid could be kept, while those that had not were not to be enforced. This helped rebels such as Robet Fitzwalter and Gilbert de Gant, but not others such as Nicholas de Stuteville who had started payments on his ransom before the end of the war and was thus presumably released. (De Stuteville actually died between the Battle of Lincoln and September, possibly from wounds received in the battle.)608 The terms excluded those caught as rebels, that is, those taken before Louis’s arrival; the agreement applied specifically to Louis’s men during his campaign. The English prisoners had to swear oaths of obedience to the king. Other terms were that: all land and property taken in the war were to be restored; King Alexander and Llewelyn could make their peace on similar terms; Louis was to write to Eustace the Monk’s family and tell them to restore the Channel Islands they had taken to Henry or lose the lands they held of Louis; Louis was to absolve all those in England from their oaths to him, thus releasing them from their obligations; and the English rebels and French had to swear never again to join forces against the King and his heirs or to act against them. Louis even made a nebulous promise to exert influence on his father to return the Angevin lands to Henry taken from John. And nebulous it proved to be.
These were good terms for the defeated party, especially for the French. That the former rebels the young Marshal and the Earls of Arundel, Surrey and Salisbury formed a major part of the royalist negotiating party probably helped, as did the seeming absence in the peace talks of the more hard line Earls of Chester and Derby. Although it was to be expected that the leading rebels did not achieve the gains they had fought for (Fitzwalter, for instance, did not take ownership of Hereford Castle and the Earl of Winchester did not gain Mountsorrel), their fate was very lenient and not what would have been handed out by King John. The treatment of Louis was particularly generous. No only was he spared any reparation payments, but all debts to him were to be paid. On top of this, agreed but not written down in the final treaty, Louis was to receive an extremely generous financial settlement to encourage his departure from England: 10,000 marks (about £7000). This amounted to ten times the annual tribute John handed over to the pope and almost a quarter of the crown’s annual income. William Marshal even guaranteed the money against his lands in Normandy. 4000 marks were given to Louis immediately and most of the money was stumped up within the year. A levy on knights’ fees – the biographer of the Marshal records how the royalists were prepared to contribute to the peace fund609 – helped to raise most of this sum, in effect the heftiest of insurance premiums against further French involvement in England.
The question of absolution for sins against the Church caused more of a problem. This could not be formally and ceremoniously granted to Louis and his followers on the day of the peace because the clergy present did not have their appropriate garb with them, and also because Louis contested the humiliating manner of penitence he was required to undertake: to proceed in the ceremony barefoot and shirtless, wearing only woollen undergarments as befits a true penitent. Guala, who had insisted on this, relented to the request that Louis be allowed to wear a tunic. The following day, Wednesday 13 September, the bishops and Louis duly attired, the French Prince went through the mortifying experience of public penance. By this act he and his followers were accepted back into the Church. ‘There,’ says Ralph Coggeshall, ‘Louis in the presence of all was absolved from excommunication and renounced the kingdom of England.’610
Louis returned to London to prepare for his departure from England. Here he reflected on his great invasion, which a year earlier had achieved so much and which had the potential to achieve so much more. What had gone wrong to bring him to this? In reality, not a huge amount. The French campaign was a long one – fifteen months from beginning to end – and there were bound to be setbacks. Louis’s great disadvantage was the royal network of castles against him, especially Dover and Lincoln. Even so, he and his followers had done extremely well in either taking or neutralising so many of these. Dover Castle was the biggest problem; Louis’s inability to take this despite massive effort not only kept him bogged down in the south-east instead of expanding further into the west but also prevented him from a full consolidation of his gains in the south-east of England. He had little choice other than to try and take it as he relied on a safe highway across the Channel to bring in reinforcements and supplies from France. His failure here was a serious one but not, apart possibly from his temporary abandonment of the siege to reduce lesser castles first, a strategic error. Even the temporary abandonment had some merit: recognising how hard a nut Dover was to crack, trying to isolate it and leaving it without hope of relief might have eventually worked. It had come perilously close to falling. As Robert Bartlett has rightly noted, with over 200 castles involved in the conflict, ‘the civil war was predominantly a castle war.’611 We have only to follow troop movements, especially in the period leading up to Lincoln, to establish this. Castles were the dominant feature of all medieval warfare.
The loss of Lincoln was a very major blow, and one that should not have happened from the rebel side. There were possibly two major mistakes here from Louis’s forces. One was the incomplete investiture of the castle that allowed royalists to enter it; it may have been the case that the rebel army was not strong enough to permit this and that its leaders felt that being outside of the city walls left them too vulnerable to enemy attack. The other was the lost opportunity to take advantage of their greater numbers against the royalists in the open; the Anglo-French forces were instead surprised in the city where the confines of Lincoln meant that this numerical superiority could not be deployed to the same effect. With Lincoln back in royalist hands, Louis was largely restricted once again to the south-east and was back at the position where he had started the campaign. However, his fleet from Calais in August promised to revitalise his war effort, replace the manpower lost at Lincoln and compensate with supplies the logistical shortfall that came with the subsequent loss of lands; it threatened the royalists with a prolonged and indefinite conflict in which perhaps neither side could gain the upper hand. Louis had revealed his potential to do this on his return from France in the spring, when he rapidly made good the losses in the south during his absence. The fleet’s resounding defeat denied Louis both the resources he needed to continue the war and the time to rebuild them: with the Channel blocked and the royalist forces free to converge on London, Louis simply could not sit and wait for yet more reinforcements (even if they could be recruited) as he had done after Lincoln. Thus on 9 September he was considering one last sortie from the capital.
One leading authority on Angevin England believes that Louis’s greatest military mistake occurred just before the Battle of Lincoln. After his successes on his return to England following Easter in 1217, Louis, when at Winchester, ‘made a decision that was to cost him the war. He divided his army into two. Whilst one force was sent to relieve the Mountsorrel Castle, besieged by the Earls of Chester and Derby, Louis himself set out to complete his year-long assault on the royalist stronghold at Dover.’612 This is the legendary military blunder of splitting one’s forces and a good case can be made for it being so here. Yet was this really such a flawed strategy? It necessitated that the royalists, too, divided their own forces. More importantly, it reflected Louis’s understanding of the political reality; if his English followers (in this case the powerful Earl of Winchester) did not feel supported in their battles by him, then it was but a short step for them to make their peace with the crown and change sides.
The political angle was central to all involved in the war, especially locally and in the regional interests of the barons. Everywhere barons were motivated by what they could gain from the conflict, and many were ready to lend their sword to whichever prince was more likely to fulfil their personal objectives. Thus Robert Fitzwalter had his eyes on Hereford Castle; William Mowbray wanted York; Gilbert de Gant coveted the title of Earl of Lincoln; and Alexander II wanted great swathes of the north. Louis conceded all these while trying to balance the often contesting demands of his French followers. It was a difficult path to tread and, despite the chroniclers’ criticisms of Louis’s preference to his fellow Frenchmen, Louis negotiated it quite successfully. The majority of barons who were with him at the beginning of the invasion were with him at the end. As David Carpenter has pointed out in his important study of the minority of Henry III in the aftermath of the war, the most bitter resentments on both sides were directed not so much towards former enemies but to former allies, those who had broken their oaths.613
The political situation followed the military one; success in the war generated political profits. We see this most clearly after the defeat at Lincoln when within three months 150 of Louis’s followers transferred their allegiance to the crown. It could be argued strongly that John’s death was a notable exception where a political event was dominant, leading to a flow back to the royalist side. However, John’s death removed not just an unloved and mistrusted ruler, but also an incompetent military leader. The biographer of William Marshal reports that King Philip of France, on hearing of John’s death, believed that Louis could no longer win, as now the ‘land will be well defended’.614 Whether true or not, the sentiment is clear: the death of John was a serious blow to Louis’s chances. The ebb and flow of the war is not marked by proclamations, issues of Magna Carta and excommunications, but by the bloody force of military events. Military momentum was rewarded by political momentum. Ultimately Louis lost because defeats at the engagements of Lincoln and Sandwich left him too weak to wage war. Louis failed to conquer England simply because his armies lost in battle.
The monastic chroniclers wished to believe, of course, that victory was God-given. The Barnwell annalist declared: ‘It was truly a miracle that the heir of the King of France, having advanced so far into the heart of the country with a great army and having succeeded in occupying so much of it, helped by the barons, and had taken it so quickly, was forced to abandon this kingdom without hope of recovering it. It is because the hand of God was not with him.’615 Louis felt more sorely the fact that the hand of his powerful father was not with him.
There was one other force that Louis had to contend with, and over which he had little control: national feeling. Louis could never escape from the fact that he was a foreign Prince with foreign troops laying claim to the throne of England through the force of a foreign invasion. This is a contentious point to make, not least because it is an intangible one. Most historians play down this aspect and prefer to see the royalist cause motivated more by fighting for the Church.616 It is true, as Tyerman points out, that Louis’s forces are commonly characterised as the enemies of God and the Church; this was great propaganda, but so of course was appealing to national sentiment. He still recognises that ‘xenophobia and traditionalism both contributed to support for Henry’ but considers it comparatively unimportant.617 However, throughout the chronicles and poems the French are simply and constantly referred to as the French, or as transmarine, foreigners from across the sea. Wendover calls them ‘scum’ and the biographer of William Marshal never misses an opportunity to mock and humiliate the foreign enemy and its ambitions in England; both exhort defence of the homeland and fighting pro patria. A poem written just after Lincoln calls up ‘the strength of England’ and when the other sources use the term ‘England’ the modern reader can readily identify with it.618 Much of the hatred for John rested, as the Barnwell chronicler noted, on the king’s perverse preference for foreigners over the English.619 The sense of the English fighting for their country against a foreign invader comes through the contemporary accounts with robustness and clarity.
Louis and his English allies had done surprisingly well. Up to May 1217 there is no telling indication that they would have to come to terms imposed upon them. But these very terms, by their very leniency, reveal what a force Louis had been. This is seen most of all in the money granted Louis. Huge as the sum was, it was still cheaper than the cost of continuing a war against a formidable foe who was the focus of the hopes of the opposition; who, even at the end, had the ability to absorb the painful and slow recovering finances of the crown in conflict at the expense of all else. William Marshal and his council also wanted Louis gone for another, overlooked, reason and were willing to pay the price to prevent this nightmare from becoming a reality. The longer that Louis was is in the country, and the longer he was in danger, the greater was the threat that his powerful and all-conquering father would intervene to help him, leading behind him the great wealth and might of France. The English, already weakened by war, did not want to provoke an even more fearful invasion.
Louis had one more main task to complete before he quit England. On Wednesday 20 September he met with his former enemies at Lambeth in a large gathering.620 Here both sides reaffirmed the peace of Kingston which was now solemnly ratified as the treaty of Lambeth. It formally marked the end of the war and the beginning of peace. Louis and the greater part of his men left London and headed to the coast via Canterbury. He was escorted all the way by William Marshal, Guala and the leading barons of the country.621 On 28 September he was at Dover, a painful reminder of what might have been. He set sail for France, never to return, leaving behind him a kingdom he had half won but finally lost. Louis’s dream of emulating William the Conqueror’s spectacular success of 150 years earlier was over. Since 1066, no one had come closer than Louis and his forgotten campaign of 1216. England was never to suffer such a powerful foreign invasion again.