The second battle of Lincoln was fought on Saturday 20 May 1217, the eve of Trinity Sunday. The climax of the Marshal’s military career, it was the consummation of six decades of chivalry and 16,000 lines of poetry. The debates surrounding the action are surprising given the extensive sources, not just the History, but also Roger of Wendover’s unwontedly factual narrative. The most serious deficiency is lack of testimony from the defeated side. As if struggling to digest the rare surfeit of information, historians have disagreed over operational responsibility for the action, the wisdom of its conduct, the means by which the royalists gained access to the city’s interior, and the significance of its outcome. The History’s author set the pattern by admitting his own difficulties reconciling the contradictory accounts circulating in the 1220s. These problems can be reduced by adapting contemporary accounts to the ground, as it stands and as uncovered by archaeological investigations. The urban setting makes this easier than for a conventional encounter fought in some meadow, lacking permanent structures like castles and cathedrals.
The ancient city of Lincoln occupies a dominating position on the narrow limestone ridge known as Lincoln Edge, just north of the gap through which the River Witham turns eastwards to gain the Wash. A northerly spur of the Northamptonshire uplands, the Edge divides reclaimed Fen country to the east from the Vale of Trent to the west. Just short of the obstruction, the Rivers Till and Witham flow into Brayford Pool, the source of the city’s medieval prosperity. This inland harbour also gave Lincoln its name, its first syllable deriving from the Celtic for ‘pool’. The ill-drained swamps and ponds south of Lincoln would exert a powerful negative influence on the course of the battle.
The intersection of ridge and stream made Lincoln an early communications centre. Just short of the Humber, it was a natural anchor point for the invading Romans’ right flank, their headquarters above Brayford Pool shielding the junction of Ermine Street, running northwards, with Fosse Way, the only Roman road in England not leading to London. The two roads join just south of Lincoln, and continue north along High Street and across the Witham, before climbing the Strait and Steep Hill, gaining 175 feet (53m) in 660 yards (600m) – a 9 per cent gradient. Beyond Lincoln, Ermine Street continued northwards to the Humber ferry, en route for York. Three miles (5km) north of Lincoln, another Roman road forks left. Crossing the Trent by the paved ford at Littleborough to reach York via Doncaster, Tillbridge Lane had witnessed several Dark Age confrontations. Harold II, England’s last native king, marched down it for Hastings, sleeping at Lincoln on the way.
Lincoln’s prosperity, however, derived from water communications. Eastwards, the Witham led to markets in Europe and Scandinavia. Westwards, the Fossdyke assured communications with the Trent and the Midlands. Once a Roman canal, this reopened in the 1120s, to make Lincoln the third- or fourth-richest town in England. Physical evidence for Lincoln’s medieval wealth survives in its architecture: the Norman vaults beneath High Bridge; St Mary’s Hall in High Street; the townhouses on Steep Hill attributed to the Jewish community. Its Domesday Book population of some 6,350 compares with that of Norwich.
Commercial success was a mixed blessing: Lincoln was attacked nine times between 1141 and 1265. Nearly a third of the pre-Conquest city was demolished to make room for the castle in 1068. Five years later, however, William I transferred the seat of England’s largest bishopric from Dorchester-on-Thames to Lincoln, initiating two centuries of spectacular architectural development. Henry II granted the citizens their first royal charter in 1157, which Richard I confirmed in 1194 for 500 marks. William Marshal was among the witnesses. As at London, civic pride bred disaffection. John fined the city £1,000 in February 1216, its mayor being absent, apparently serving with the rebel army. Since then, Lincoln had attracted the largest concentration of rebels outside London: ‘every day, many great men flocked there with their wives and children, as they made out it was safer to stay there, as much from the strength of the place, as the presence of powerful men’ (Barnwell).
The thirteenth-century city comprised three main areas spread along Ermine Street, measuring 2 miles (3km) north to south but less than a mile (1.5km) wide. The upper city or Bail was the original Roman fortress. A sparsely populated government quarter in 1217, its square walls enclosed the castle and St Mary of Lincoln’s Cathedral in their south-west and south-east corners respectively. South of the Bail, the lower walled city ran down the slope towards the Witham. Divided from the upper city by an internal wall and gate, this formed the commercial quarter with wharves along the modern Pool side. Outside the walled city and south of High Bridge lay the History’s Wikefort or Wigford, a suburb housing the weavers who made Lincoln Green cloth. Wigford extends a mile (1.5km) along High Street to the Great or West Bargate whose mechanism would baffle rebel fugitives and historians alike. This, and a connecting wall to the nearby Little or East Bargate, was Wigford’s only formal defensive work. The suburb’s flanks, however, were protected by water features: the Witham to the west and Sincil Dyke, a drainage ditch carrying excess river water, to the east. An enemy from the south faced sufficient obstacles to deter any army.
Lincoln remained a walled city into the nineteenth century. Roman in origin, its walls had been rebuilt in the fourth century: 10–13 feet (3–4m) thick, 23–27 feet (7–8m) high, behind an 80-foot (25m) wide ditch. A few slabs of rubble core are still visible from East Bight. They should not be confused with the less substantial wall built later around the Cathedral Close. Lincoln’s walls constituted a significant military obstacle in 1217, contrary to the opinion of Professor Tout who believed that they were low and easily surmounted. The only place this may have been true was to the east, where the Bail walls had been breached to extend the cathedral.
Access to the city was controlled by a number of gates, many of which would play a role in the battle or in the subsequent debates. Those extant in 1217 are shown below, in clockwise order:
LINCOLN CITY GATES
North wall – Upper City
Roman Gate still in use today
East wall – Upper City
East wall – Lower City
South wall – Lower City
Fifteenth-century rebuild still in use
West wall – Upper City
The castle had its own gates, discussed below, and more gates were built later, for example Exchequer Gate near the cathedral, and Newland Gate leading from the Lower City to West Common. Several historians assign the latter a role in the battle, but Sir Francis Hill, medieval Lincoln’s great historian, found no evidence for its existence so early. For added confusion, many of Lincoln’s streets are named ‘gate’ in the Scandinavian manner. The most important here is Bailgate, running between Newport Arch and Castle Hill.
Adjacent to the open space of Castle Hill lies the castle itself. Archaeologists disagree over its original extent and building sequence. By 1217, however, it was firmly established in its modern form in the south-west corner of the Bail. Looking out across the Vale of Trent, it was an uncompromising statement of power, visible for miles. Earth embankments probably date from the castle’s foundation in 1068: 50–80 feet (25m) broad and 20–30 feet (9m) high, they slope gently within, falling steeply into ditches outside. The curtain was built along the embankments when the earth had settled, some time before 1115 when the fortress is first described as walled. The walls today stand 30–40 feet (9–12m) high and 20 feet (6m) thick. The masonry is rough and hasty, but well grouted with good mortar. Lincoln has none of the geometric appeal of Edward I’s Welsh castles, resembling a crushed parallelogram bulging out to the south and east. Its overwhelming effect, as the walls curve round out of sight, is of unyielding brute strength.
The bailey is large for an urban castle, roughly 200x150 yards (180x135m). As if to emphasise its scale, Lincoln has two mounds instead of the usual one: the only English castle to do so beside Lewes. Sequence and nomenclature are controversial, but the larger Lucy Tower is probably earlier. A classic motte, sitting astride the south-west enceinte, it is crowned by a polygonal shell keep with an internal diameter of 64–74 feet (19–22m) and walls 8 feet thick (2.4m). Now reduced to one storey, in 1217 it was a floor higher. The Observatory Tower to the south-east is less impressive, a much amended rectangular tower, with an irregular heap of earth around its base. Lincoln’s only other tower is Cobb Hall at the perimeter’s north-east corner. Constructed after the battle, it is significant for what it suggests about the location of the fighting.
The castle’s size reflects its intended use as a base for mounted columns, riding out to intercept hostile parties observed from the lookout post atop the Lucy Tower’s mound. This offensive function is reflected by its two major gateways. Built originally to a common box-like pattern, they allow independent access to Castle Hill on the east, or to open country on the west. Both feature prominently in the battle, the west gate often confused with its civic namesake which penetrated the city wall just beyond the castle’s north-west corner. Smaller postern gates existed, west of Cobb Hall and in the Lucy Tower’s south-west face, but they were narrow and difficult of access for bodies of troops. The extensive bailey, however, allowed ample space for the halls, kitchens, and storehouses that subsequent surveys describe, administrative features which helped the garrison ride out the protracted sieges of 1215–17.
Lincoln’s twin mottes reflect twelfth-century territorial and jurisdictional conflicts. The Anarchy saw a complex three-cornered struggle for the castle, the county, and its shrievalty. Breaking out afresh in 1217, the contest illustrates the difficulties that William experienced in keeping his own side together. The triangle’s weakest point was Gilbert of Ghent, nephew of King Stephen’s ephemeral Earl of Lincoln. A prominent rebel who owed the Jews £800, Gilbert had been trying to capture ‘his’ castle since the summer of 1216. The strongest contender was the royalist Earl of Chester. Ranulf’s claim derived from his great-grandmother, the eponymous Lucy, who built one of the towers in the castle, probably not the one bearing her name. Ranulf’s grandfather attacked Lincoln several times during the Anarchy, provoking the battle of 1141. For Ranulf, Lincoln resembled Mountsorrel, an obstacle to his broader ambitions.
Physical possession, however, was firmly in the hands of John’s longstanding chatelaine Lady Nicola de la Haye:
Whom God keep body and soul,
Who was lady of the castle,
Defending it with all her might.
Lady Nicola was one of those few medieval women to play an active political role. Luckier than the Countess of Leicester, pulled out of a ditch after Fornham, or the Welsh princess Gwenllian slain near Kidwelly in 1136, Nicola better resembles Countess Eleanor de Montfort, who defended Dover Castle against Henry III in 1265. Nicola’s hereditary rights were as respectable as the Earl of Chester’s. Having outlived her husband and son, she was defending the castle on her granddaughter’s behalf, ‘and she held it most loyally’ (Anonymous). Appropriately, if misleadingly, the History termed the battle ‘la bataille de Nichole’, from the French for Lincoln.
Nicola had been under spasmodic siege for nearly two years, since the Northerners briefly occupied the city in June 1215. They returned next year with the King of Scots, but once she bought them off, and once they fled the wrath of King John. The Christmas truce had interrupted a fresh investment, which was renewed in Lent 1217, and intensified when Louis returned from France:
It was ordered that those who were at Lincoln should vigorously press the siege. Whence, having set up engines, no respite was now given to the besieged, [who were] expecting nothing except only to be captured.
William and the king returned to the Thames Valley after the Sussex campaign, reaching Oxford on 9 May. Developments at Mountsorrel and Lincoln were unwelcome, ‘the king’s party thinking that if Lincoln with its garrison should fall into Louis’s hands, they should suffer greater harm, besides incurring shame for not relieving the lady defending it so gallantly’ (Barnwell). Seeking clarification, William moved to Northampton, a day’s march nearer the action. There he took the single greatest decision of his life, forsaking the caution that had guided royalist strategy since John’s flight from Sandwich. William’s resolve to seek battle at Lincoln has been criticised as hazardous and contrary to medieval practice. Civil wars, however, demand speedy resolution. The decision was not William’s alone, for it followed consultation with the legate and the hard-headed Peter des Roches. The History saw it as a marvel sent from God.
William issued his call to arms on Saturday 13 May, the eve of Pentecost. His words ring true, as at Gloucester, kept fresh in John of Earley’s memory. William advanced a variety of reasons for action: material, chivalric, and spiritual. Henry’s supporters were in arms to preserve their renown; to defend their families and win honour; to defend the peace of the Holy Church and win redemption of their sins. The enemy, like fools, had divided their forces, and Louis was elsewhere. The royalists would be soft not to seek revenge on those come from France to steal their inheritance. It was God’s will, he said, in an echo of the old Crusaders’ battle cry, that they defend themselves with iron and steel. Orders were despatched to castellans and knights commanding garrisons to gather at Newark the following Tuesday, to raise the siege of Lincoln. William was late, being still at Oakham in Rutlandshire on the Tuesday, then slipping between Mountsorrel and the Fens, to reach Newark on Wednesday. Stages were long: 36 miles (58km) to Oakham and 28 miles (45km) to Newark; further if William side-stepped to meet the Earl of Chester outside Nottingham.
The host spent three days at Newark, resting horses and preparing for battle. The legate was in attendance with numerous bishops, ‘to assail with prayers as well as arms these disobeyers of their king’ (Wendover). Enthusiasm was at fever pitch, for William’s words had set everyone’s hearts afire. Factions disputed the honour of striking the first blow. Norman exiles claimed the privilege, but the Earl of Chester said he would withdraw unless given the first bataille. Unwilling to lose Ranulf’s help, the Marshal adjudicated in his favour, saving the Normans’ rights. Some commentators ascribe the squabble to Ranulf’s frustrated aspirations to the regency, but Chester’s grandfather made a similar claim before the first battle of Lincoln, and it may have reflected local ambitions.
Earthly disagreements resolved, the legate donned his white robes, and excommunicated Louis by name, with all his supporters, especially Lincoln’s besiegers, but absolving all those fighting for the king. Everyone made confession and took communion, ‘determined to conquer or die in the cause of right’ (Wendover). Protracted spiritual exercises were an essential preparation for battle, building confidence and creating an exalted expectation of victory. The First Crusaders fasted for three days before their sortie from Antioch in 1098, the same period as at Newark. Victory’s spiritual foundations assured, Guala took the king back to Nottingham, leaving Peter des Roches as his deputy.
The army flew to horse next morning, Friday 19 May, white crosses on every breast. Instead of heading directly for Lincoln along Fosse Way, the royalists hugged the Trent, describing a broad turning movement west of the city. Brooks and Oakley in their 1922 study of the battle describe this indirect approach as ‘one of the very few pieces of tactical insight … found in this campaign’. The Marshal and his colleagues would have been very dense indeed to have marched straight up Fosse Way. Wigford with its surrounding swamps and the lower city presented an insuperable series of obstacles on that side. Besides, the besieging rebels lay south and east of the beleaguered castle, interposed between it and the relieving army. As the Barnwell chronicler noted, ‘whereas the city was perceived to be more strongly defended on the southern side, turning further off by the northern side, where the castle is situated, they drew near’. An easterly turning movement would have required a still wider detour, without addressing the communication issue. Robert of Gloucester had swum the Fossdyke within sight of the castle and fought King Stephen on West Common. William was more circumspect.
The History says that the royalists spent Friday night at Torksey; Roger of Wendover puts them 5 miles (8km) further on at Stowe. The Newark road certainly crosses the Fossdyke at Torksey, where the canal leaves the Trent. Described by a thirteenth-century jury as ‘the key of Lindsey [part of Lincolnshire], as Dover is of England’, Torksey had a castle, two monastic establishments, and a camping ground for shire levies. Three roads run thence to Lincoln: two via Saxilby, one less directly via Stowe. An episcopal manor with a fine eleventh-century minster, Stowe also had attractions for a medieval army. John stayed there twice, once in 1216 when John Marshal accompanied him on his northern campaign. William’s nephew was one of several possible sources of local knowledge. Stowe lies just north of Tillbridge Lane, which the Newark road joins at Marton. Eight miles (13km) from Lincoln as the crow flies, Stowe is an easy ride to Lincoln Edge, which it climbs a safe distance from the city at North Carlton. The more direct routes from Torksey do so at Burton, dangerously near the castle’s besiegers. It may be that the royalist advanced guard pressed on to Stowe, while others stayed at Torksey. Total mileage, 22 miles (36km), was undemanding by contemporary standards. Short but rapid stages avoided tiring precious destriers, while ensuring surprise. Before the rebels could absorb the royalists’ departure from Newark, the latter would be approaching Lincoln from the north, forcing the besiegers to fight on the level terrain outside Newport Arch, or stay inside the walls.
William wasted no time ordering his array once within striking distance of his objective. The History speaks in the third person plural, but it was customary for commanders to take personal charge of forming up: Bohemund did so at Antioch, as did Simon de Montfort before Muret, and his son at Lewes in 1264. The troops fell in early on Saturday morning, arranging their conrois in four or five batailles or eschieles. ‘Few they were, but they bore themselves well’: 406 knights, 80–100 per squadron, and 317 crossbowmen. Precise and realistic numbers suggest that the poet saw a contemporary muster roll in the Marshal family archives. Later he refers to another 200 sergeants, and there may have been more. Roger of Wendover gives similar figures: 400 knights and 250 crossbows, ‘besides innumerable sergeants and horsemen who could take the place of knights if necessary’. The Earl of Chester took the van, followed by the two Marshals, father and son, then William Earl of Salisbury, and finally Peter des Roches. Peter later appears in front of the army, which suggests that he delegated command of the fourth squadron. A blank line after the History’s reference to Peter may have mentioned a fifth squadron whose existence is implied later, but it is anybody’s guess. Roger of Wendover names seventeen other royalist barons, ‘with many castellans experienced in war’. He also specifies ‘seven dense and well drawn up squadrons’, but the History’s account is preferable, derived from eyewitnesses and reflecting the battle’s tactical development.
The crossbowmen formed an advance guard, a mile (1.6km) ahead, led by Fawkes of Bréauté. Omitted from the History’s order of battle, the routier for once earned Roger’s approval as praiseworthy – laudabilis. Wagons and pack horses followed: ‘on every side the glittering banners and shields struck terror into onlookers’ (Wendover). Such pageantry was customary. Richard of Hexham describes the English going to fight the Scots in 1138, ‘with costly splendour, as to a royal marriage’. Unlike modern camouflage, knightly display focussed attention on the individual combatant, encouraging prowess and ensuring notoriety for slackers.
Once the troops were formed up, ‘as they should be’, the Marshal addressed them, ‘as someone who well knew how’. He spoke more briefly in the field than at Newark. The enemy who sought to take the land by force were at their mercy, as long as hearts and courage did not fail; the slain were assured of paradise, while victory ensured everlasting renown; the enemy were fighting God and his Church, and would go straight to hell:
God has delivered them into our hands;
Let us hasten to fall upon them,
For now is the time and the hour!
Before moving off, the Marshal made some final adjustments. Peter des Roches took command of the crossbowmen, who were drawn out in extended line opposite the enemy’s right flank, with orders to pick off their horses. This oblique position kept the marksmen clear of the mounted action, shooting into the enemy’s unshielded side, as Norman longbowmen did in similar circumstances at Bourg Théroulde in 1124. As a further precaution against mounted attack, 200 sergeants were told off ready to kill their own horses to form an obstacle. One imagines this was less to halt the hostile onslaught outright than to disrupt its formation, leaving it vulnerable to the counter-charge that had been William’s trademark in the 1170s. The ready acceptance of such hazardous instructions indicates a remarkable confidence and discipline amongst John’s old routiers:
All those who heard the earl, bore themselves joyfully,
As cheerfully as if it were a tournament.
Inflamed by hopes of heaven, victory, and plunder, their only concern was lest the enemy decamped before they reached the city.
A contemporary song says that the royalists moved off as ‘the sun was touching the earth with its first beam’, about 3.40 am GMT at that season and latitude. Roger of Wendover started the battle between the first and third hour. Calculating twelve hours between dawn and dusk in the medieval way, the host might have reached Lincoln between 5.00 and 7.45 am, rather less than three hours to cover the 9.5 miles (15km) from Stowe via Tillbridge Lane. They rode slowly: 3.5 miles per hour (5.7 km/h). Exactly equal to the 1914 War Office cavalry ‘walk’ rate, such a measured pace would preserve both horseflesh and formation, while preventing surprises. The Earl of Salisbury had done likewise at Winchester in April, when he told his men to ride prudently, well closed up, to avoid ambush.
The optimum final approach would follow the 60-metre contour along the top of Lincoln Edge. The route of today’s B1398 has several tactical advantages, beside approaching Lincoln, as Roger of Wendover says, ‘from the castle side’. The steep western slope protected the Marshal’s right flank, the gentler eastern slope leaving space for his second and subsequent eschieles to deploy left of the van, which they presumably followed in an open column of squadrons. Had William followed Ermine Street directly towards Newport Arch, he would have lost the high ground, and hampered communications with Lady Nicola.
The rebels had sufficient notice of the Marshal’s approach to avoid tactical surprise, though not enough to respond so effectively as some historians suggest they might have done. Not being in the castle, they lacked the extensive views available to Lady Nicola. They could have posted a lookout in a church tower, as Simon de Montfort did at Evesham in 1265, but there is no evidence for this. The alarm probably came from scouts posted on Lincoln Edge, perhaps at the viewpoint where Tillbridge Lane climbs the escarpment. Lacking telescopes, they would see only the glitter of arms as the royalists traversed the flat country east of the River Till, towards 5.00 am. Allowing twenty minutes for reports to reach Lincoln, their commanders had just over an hour to react to William’s approach.
Roger of Wendover has a long rigmarole explaining how the rebels laughed at the messengers, before sending two separate reconnaissance parties, one English and one French. Robert fitz Walter and Saer of Quincy argued that the rebel army had superior numbers, so should meet the royalists at the ascent of the hill, where ‘we will catch them all like larks’, like limed birds. The Count de la Perche reckoned the royalist array ‘in the French manner’, and was misled by spare banners flying from its attendant wagons. Overestimating enemy numbers, he preferred to stay within the city and defend the walls.
The History’s account is simpler and more credible. The Count and Saer rode out together, and reported that, in the usual epic fashion, never had anyone anywhere seen a force better equipped for war or more resolute. On this, the rebels retreated inside the walls, saying that the royalists lacked the strength to assault the city, and were bluffing. When they were forced to withdraw, the besiegers could attack them at a disadvantage, the relieving army’s horses worn out from bearing their riders all day. The History has no suggestion of heading off the royalists, an evolution for which there was no time. William was already nearer the crucial ascent than the rebels. The Barnwell and Dunstable chronicles both suggest that the rebels had just enough time to deploy outside the walls before retreating inside: ‘The others trusting in numbers and courage, having at first drawn up their squadrons, indeed went out to meet them, but soon withdrawing, having changed their opinion, took themselves back into the city’ (Barnwell). Roger’s speeches are highly suspect, the multiplicity of banners a monkish tale to explain the battle’s surprising outcome, while casting the blame on the cowardly French.
The rebel withdrawal was a setback, frustrating William’s scheme for an all-arms battle. He made the best of a bad job, as a good leader should, claiming a successful first round. The French, usually foremost in a tournament, had broken their array and hidden behind walls. William was not far wrong. The rebels now occupied an ambivalent tactical position, simultaneously attacking the castle and defending the city, with the disadvantages of both forms of war. From the streets, the rebel commanders could not see what the royalists were doing, leaving themselves open to further surprises. Their mounted opponents could hardly climb walls, but they could ride round to exploit any breach. Assaulting knights entered Northampton during the Second Barons’ War in 1264 in just this way. A defensive line has only to be penetrated at one point to crumble more generally.
Rebel numbers justified de la Perche’s confidence: 611 French knights and a thousand foot, ‘without counting the English on their side’. The latter claim appears unlikely; the poet is exaggerating enemy numbers to enhance his hero’s glory. Reports of prisoners and fugitives added together indicate a total of 600 mounted rebels. Most of the named prisoners appear to have been English, suggesting that real French knights were in a minority. Again the History’s precision suggests a written source, such as a ransom roll.
Professor Tout’s idea that the walls were too extensive for the defenders is incorrect. The Burghal Hidage, a pre-Conquest document listing contingents required to defend English burhs, allowed one man per 4 feet (1.2m) of wall. Given similar military technology, the rebels had quite enough infantry to defend Lincoln’s northern walls. The half-mile (800m) circuit from West Gate to East Gate would absorb 660 men, leaving 300 to blockade the castle. Nobody attacked the lower city walls on the steep hillside below. Some rebel barons took charge of the gates. Others formed a mobile reserve, south of Bailgate in Castle Hill. If the royalists ever got in, however, the narrow streets would hamper efforts to control the defence, lack of space preventing the rebels exploiting their superior numbers.
At this point, a pause ensues in both narrative and battle. The History’s author found that his sources disagreed, and he could not follow both: ‘for in a true story, no-one ought to lie’. A humble poet had to steer carefully between the conflicting accounts of powerful men, especially when one of them was Peter des Roches. John the Tourangeau quickly recovered his narrative poise, however, describing two successive missions to make contact with the garrison of the castle, leaving the continuity to take care of itself. Roger of Wendover mentions neither mission, saying that the garrison took the initiative in contacting its would-be rescuers. All three accounts may be true, the to-and-fro of messengers reflecting various royalist attempts to resolve their tactical impasse.
William’s first move, as he closed up to the walls, was to send his nephew to clear up the situation in the castle. On the way, John Marshal met Geoffrey of Serland, one of Lady Nicola’s knights. Not only was the castle still in royalist hands, Geoffrey showed John an entrance by which the host might enter – clearly the castle’s West Gate, not a postern as some sources say. On his way back, John crossed some French laggards. It was a classic knightly encounter, except that they all attacked him at once. Undismayed, he met the leaders so boldly the others let him pass:
Well he made them see,
He had come to seek them out
And challenge them for his land.
The spotlight then shifts abruptly to Peter des Roches, undermining the History’s chronology if not its credibility. The succession of events makes military sense, an individual patrol naturally preceding a reconnaissance in force. Seeking more information, the bishop led a party of crossbowmen down to the gate. Leaving them outside to cover his retreat, he entered the castle and met Geoffrey of Serland, ‘who had been in a great fright’. The walls were shaken and tottering, rebel mangonels and perrières crushing people and buildings, smashing everything in the bailey to pieces. Urged to take cover, Peter hurried into ‘the tower’ to meet Lady Nicola. As the garrison’s senior officer, the personal embodiment of the castle’s resistance, she presumably occupied the Lucy Tower on the south-west wall, safer from bombardment than the Observatory Tower and better suited to her age and dignity. Perrières were no respecters of social status. The year after Lincoln, Simon de Montfort, the Albigensian Crusade’s invincible leader, was killed by a stone shot by a group of Toulousaine women, his corpse buried without its head.
Peter des Roches enjoys mixed reviews. Roger of Wendover, no admirer of King John’s servants, admits that he was ‘learned in the art of war’. The History describes him as ‘master counsellor to our people that day’, on which basis modern historians anachronistically promote him to be William’s chief of staff. Peter’s biographer credits him with primary responsibility for the victory, a full-scale battle overtaxing the Marshal’s intellectual capabilities. Brooks and Oakley are less enthusiastic, describing Peter as over-excited, dismissing his scouting exploits as invented. We might prefer to compare Peter to Brother Guérin, Bishop of Senlis, the erstwhile Hospitaller who led the French army in the opening stages of Bouvines, shaping events without diminishing Philip Augustus’s overall responsibility.
Monastic sources took a dim view of the ‘warrior at Winchester’ – ‘sharp at the accounting, slack at the scripture’. He found it hard to escape personal responsibility for the descent into civil war, the Waverley annalist styling him ‘the principal agent of discord’. The Tewkesbury Annals punningly describe Peter as ‘hard as a rock’. Militant bishops were always suspect, like Richard I’s bête noire the Bishop of Beauvais. Roger of Howden showed little sympathy for the Bishop of Acre shot in the face at Hattin, who had placed more trust in his hauberk than divine protection. Peter’s sulphurous reputation was entirely consistent with being given command of a troop of mercenary crossbowmen.
Having cheered Lincoln’s chatelaine, Peter pursued his reconnaissance, sparking the battle’s most vexed debate. Going out on foot through a postiz or postern, he spied an old gate:
… of great antiquity
and which joined the walls of the city
with those of the castle.
… anciently closed up
with stone and cement,
so no-one could pass through …
The History says a merciful God showed Peter the gate. More likely somebody in the garrison pointed it out. Peter may have known already that it was there, having once been precentor at Lincoln Cathedral. Some historians, forgetting the poet’s lack of archaeological training, have interpreted the words grant antequité as implying the gate was Roman. This is a difficult view to maintain. Archaeologists agree that the Roman West Gate had disappeared beneath the castle’s western embankment years before the battle, to emerge briefly during building work in the 1830s. The Lucy Tower’s south-west postern has similarly caused much confusion. Kate Norgate, a pioneering historian of Henry III’s minority, thought Peter used the postern to explore the besiegers’ front line in disguise, making a counter-clockwise circuit past the enemy siege engines in full swing, and so into Westgate. Professor Tout found the story so improbable he rejected it entirely.
The consensus today is that Peter found the Norman West Gate, which had been blocked up by persons unknown. Just beyond the north-west corner of the castle, West Gate would indeed connect the city walls with the castle, as the History says. Its location near the Strugglers public house at the junction of Burton Road and Westgate suits the direction of the royalists’ approach. The Dunstable Annals specifically say that the Marshal ‘approached Lincoln from the west side’, the barons forming their line of battle ‘outside the city on the west’, while the Barnwell Chronicle specifies that the royalists ‘broke in at the nearest gate’. Covered by archery from the castle walls, this would have been difficult for the rebels to watch closely. There is no evidence of any aperture in the city walls south-west of the castle, where the ground slopes away at an awkward angle for pedestrians, let alone horsemen. Leaving instructions to clear the barricade, Peter returned to the army with his news, laughing and joking that they should reserve him the bishop’s palace, as he had found the way into Lincoln. Everyone was in an exalted humour, the troops singing, like the Crusaders at Antioch, as if they had won the battle already.
The battle narrative that follows below is a composite. Neither of our main sources tells the whole story. Roger of Wendover distinguishes two main events: a diversion created by Fawkes of Bréauté from the castle, while the royalist main body broke in through Newport Arch, and a single decisive encounter before the cathedral. The History adds William’s entrance through the blocked gate, while downplaying the part played by Fawkes. According due prominence to the cathedral fighting, it additionally attributes the final decision to the joint defeat of a rebel counter-attack on Steep Hill by William and the Earl of Chester, who appears from nowhere on the enemy flank. Both sources then describe the defeated rebels’ flight across High Bridge, and their escape to open country through the Bargate.
Our understanding of this complex battle would be greatly impoverished without the History. Its lucky survival in a single manuscript is a reminder of the slender basis of our knowledge, not just of this battle but of so many other medieval events. Taken with Roger of Wendover, the History suggests a four-stage battle: a break-in at three separate points; the melée before the cathedral; the repulse of the rebel counter-attack; their flight. The Barnwell Chronicle’s summary is similar:
seeing [the rebel withdrawal], and thereby encouraged, [the royalists] boldly charged and broke in at the nearest gate, though not without loss.
Meanwhile some of the king’s army, having got in through the postern gate of the castle, fell on unexpectedly, and shouting came instantly to sword strokes. Astonished the other side, hardly able to move from the narrowness of the place, fought back less bravely. The royalists began to burst in on all sides. There was fighting in the city streets, and even on the cathedral porch itself; and the king’s party coming off best, the others turned and fled.
The initial attack came in three stages: the Earl of Chester’s assault on Newport Arch; Fawkes’ diversion; William’s charge down Westgate. Rejecting the History’s account of Bishop Peter’s doings out of hand, Brooks and Oakley would shift the axis of the battle eastwards, so that William broke in at Newport Arch and Ranulf at East Gate. Carried away by scepticism, they ignore the additional difficulty of forcing not one but two closely defended gates, and neglect several telling pieces of evidence.
The Earl of Chester’s vanguard would naturally run up against Newport Arch as it followed the retreating rebels, who had no other way of regaining the city. John Marshal’s passage of arms suggests that his mission occurred before Chester’s men sealed off the city’s northern entrance. Modern accounts attribute Ranulf’s initiative to impatience with William’s cautious investigation of the defences. As in other respects, however, Chester was following family tradition. His grandfather had been repulsed from Newport Arch in 1147 with heavy loss. There is no evidence that Chester got any further. Roger of Wendover and the contemporary songster both say that the royalists broke in there, but fail to explain how. The Normans had updated the ancient Roman structure with square bastions and a new arch on the outside, creating a substantial defensive feature. This stood considerably higher than its modern remnant, which owes its squat appearance to an 8-foot (2.5m) rise in the street level. Newport was a tough nut to crack without ladders or axes.
Fawkes of Bréauté played the vital role in the battle’s opening phase. While distracting attention from Lincoln’s outer defences, he also inflicted significant material and moral damage on the enemy. The castle’s large gates, East and West, made it the obvious way to enter the city, as Geoffrey of Serlant appreciated when he opened the castle’s West Gate. The History gives only the briefest account of Fawkes’ intervention, saying that he entered the castle immediately the bishop returned from his reconnaissance, and that his men were roughly handled. The brevity may be politic, the poet writing soon after Fawkes’ disgrace in 1224. Alternatively, his informants may have been unaware of events within the walls. In any case, their purpose was to celebrate the Marshal, not rehabilitate some low-born routier.
Roger of Wendover is, for once, the better source, adding significant detail with none of his usual embroidery. Entering the castle’s West Gate while the royalist main body was parading outside Newport, Fawkes swiftly deployed his crossbowmen on the ramparts to pick off the Franco-rebel horsemen in Castle Hill:
who, directing their death dealing missiles at the barons’ chargers, laid horses and riders on the ground, so that in the twinkling of an eye they had reduced a great mass of knights and barons to foot soldiers.
Seeing so many valuable prizes at their mercy, Fawkes and his companions dashed out through the East Gate, into the midst of the enemy. Surrounded by hostile ‘legions’, Fawkes was himself captured and dragged off, having to be rescued by his household knights and crossbowmen. One has to admire their nerve, going out to mix it with heavily armed knights who would have slaughtered their humble tormentors with no question of ransom. The Dunstable Annals swell the chorus of praise: ‘Fawkes, like a brave knight indeed, brought in through the castle postern gate by the garrison, attacked the barons in the rear.’
Peter des Roches was unimpressed. ‘They have not found the correct entrance,’ he told the Marshal. ‘Part of the wall is open for our use, and concealed from those inside. I will take you there; come on.’ William was equally anxious to press the attack: ‘God’s Lance!’ he said, ‘Fetch my helmet.’ The bishop was anxious not to fall into a trap, and insisted on sending forward ten scouts, two from each bataille, like the flankers thrown out by Napoleonic cavalry squadrons. The numbers conflict with the History’s order of battle, but the precaution belies idle stereotypes of knightly armies rushing blindfold to disaster.
Pressing on, William’s men roughed up some sergeants fleeing the city, without appreciating the tactical advantage the discomfited routiers had bought them. While Fawkes was hogging the limelight on Castle Hill, another royalist party had been clearing the city’s West Gate. Kate Norgate suggests that stones piled outside the doors were surreptitiously removed, out of sight of those within, until suddenly the gates were flung open. William now seems to have lost patience with the bishop’s prudence. ‘Errez!’ he cried, ‘Charge … you’ll see them, they will soon be beaten. Shame upon anyone who hangs back any longer!’ Bishop Peter continued to advocate cohesion over speed: ‘Await your men,’ he said, ‘our enemies will fear us the more when they see us all together.’ William spurred on, ‘quicker than a falcon’, his boldness infectious. A valet had to remind him about his helmet. An enemy at his lance point for the first time in fifteen years, William could hardly be expected to resist this God-given opportunity to relive the excitements of his youth.
Helmet laced on, William looked the finest of them all, as swift as a bird, a sparrowhawk or eagle. A famished lion, the same image the History uses for Richard at Gisors, could not have fallen upon his prey more quickly than the Marshal charging his enemies. Striking in with his spurs, he thrust three lance lengths into the opposing ranks, disrupting their formation, driving the press before him: espresse and empresse – dense and unyielding – a play on words that the History uses more than once. The bishop rode behind him, raising the old tournament cry: Ça! Dex aïe al Marechal – ‘Here! God help the Marshal!’ One casualty of the sudden irruption was the French perrière master. Mistaking royalists for his own people, he calmly loaded a stone into his machine:
And someone who was behind him,
Just as he said ‘é!’ twice made him miss another ‘é!’
For he cut his head off, without further ceremony.
The poet’s sponsor has his own moment of glory, young William leading his men through the breach while his father was donning his helmet, his banner foremost in the melée. Together, the Marshals and the Earl of Salisbury drove the enemy before them, roughly down the line of today’s Westgate street, past the castle’s north wall towards St Paul’s Church. Established on the site of the Roman forum, St Paul’s stood near the southern end of Bailgate until its demolition in 1786. It was the logical place for the royalist main body to turn right to reach the upper city centre, between the cathedral and Castle Hill. The perrière master’s immediately preceding death implies a Franco-rebel artillery position nearby, opposite the castle’s north-east corner. As yet the area was unswept by the arrow slots of Cobb Hall, built after the war, perhaps in response to the sector’s proven vulnerability. Archaeologists may have found the attackers’ exact route, a curved lane which shadows the castle’s northern embankment, passing either side of St Paul’s before turning south-east towards St Mary’s Cathedral.
As the royalists wheeled right, they passed un moustier or minster on their left. Kate Norgate believed that this was All Saints Church, described in 1114 as a monasterium, meaning minster. Brooks and Oakley denied this, claiming that other buildings blocked the view and ‘a minster’ must mean the cathedral, a fatal blow they thought for a Westgate entry point. The upper city was still relatively empty, however; All Saints and the newly discovered lane were adjacent, and if the poet meant the cathedral, he would surely have used the definite article, as he did unambiguously twenty-two lines later. We do better to accept the consensus, and imagine the Marshal clattering into Bailgate between St Paul’s and All Saints with 200–300 knights, to confront the rebel’s main body before the cathedral.
The Franco-rebel army appeared paralysed, ‘in great fear and dismay’. Attacked from several directions, they were caught under a deadly hail of crossbow bolts, to which slow-acting perrières were no answer. Not every rebel remained spellbound. Robert of Ropelai, one of King John’s witnesses at Runnymede, had turned traitor. Now Gilbert of Ghent’s second-in-command, he counter-charged with such force that he broke his lance upon the Earl of Salisbury. William in turn struck him a sword blow between the shoulders that almost knocked him from his saddle. Fearing worse treatment to come, Robert slipped into a nearby house and hid upstairs as the cavalcade swept past.
As often happens, the attack became bogged down once the initial impetus was spent. The royalists were probably in full strength now, the Earl of Chester forcing Newport Arch as rebels nervous of being outflanked abandoned their positions. Fawkes was still in action, one of his household knights featuring in the melée’s savage denouement. It was a struggle in slow motion, horses at a standstill while riders laid about them in fury:
They defended themselves most stoutly,
While our people sought to injure them with all their might
For they hated the men of France
Many on both sides were wounded, bruised, crushed, or captured, for nobody looked for quarter: ‘Everybody meant to fight’.
The melée’s epicentre was unequivocally devant le moustier – before the cathedral – between its West Front and the later Exchequer Gate. The area had been a burial ground before the Norman Conquest, the Dunstable annalist confirming that the Count de la Perche defended himself in ‘a certain cemetery’. The Barnwell Chronicle places the fighting in ipso atrio matricis ecclesiae – on the very cathedral porch itself. Franco-rebel numbers should have proved superior to royalist fury. Roger of Wendover, however, seems to have discussed the battle with one of Fawkes’ veterans. He accorded rare praise to the plebeian crossbowmen: ‘by whose skill the horses on which the barons were sitting were mown down and slaughtered like pigs’. Unlike their noble riders, safe in their hauberks, the rebel horses were terribly vulnerable to crossbow bolts raining down from above.
Killing horses was common in battle, as opposed to tournaments, but it took time. Joinville’s horse remained operational at Mansourah in 1250 after fifteen hits. William’s pincer movement through the castle and down Bailgate, however, had trapped the rebels in a killing ground from which they could only escape by flight. Fawkes’ crossbowmen on the castle ramparts could safely support William’s charge from the flank without hitting their own people. The combination of missile and shock action had featured in the Marshal’s deployment at Stowe, and in more than one of Richard I’s battles; its reappearance at Lincoln suggests tactical foresight rather than a topographical fluke. For Roger, or his informant, it was the crossfire from the castle that wore down the barons’ resistance, ‘for when the horses fell … their riders were taken prisoner, as there was no-one to rescue them’. Stunned from the fall, they were easy meat for royalist squires whose job it was to follow their lords into action to finish off disabled enemies or drag them off in chains, depending on their commercial value. Charles of Anjou detailed two varlets to mop up behind each mounted man at the battle of Benevento in 1266. Richard I made similar arrangements during his attack on a Saracen caravan in 1192.
The Marshal watched rebel resistance ebbing away. As his men pushed the enemy off the high ground to surround the French commander, he seized the count’s bridle to take him prisoner:
… as seemed right
Because he was the most eminent man
Who was there among the French …
It would have been the crowning catch of William’s career: the commander of a hostile army, representing the heir to the French throne, taken on the field of battle:
But first he was wounded
Through the eye-holes mortally
By a straight cruel sword thrust.
Reginald Croc, one of Fawkes’ knights, had rudely interrupted the chivalric niceties. Offered quarter, Thomas refused to surrender to English traitors, and was neatly stabbed through the oiliére of his helmet. Thrust through the brain, the dying count dropped his reins, took his sword in both hands, and dealt William three great blows so powerful they left marks on his helmet, before falling backwards off his horse.
Everyone thought the count had fainted. William asked a knight to dismount and remove his helmet to give him air. Great was the distress when, on removing the helmet, Thomas was found stone dead. The grief may have been as insincere as William’s for his brother in 1194. Thomas was related to the Marshals via an aunt who married a de la Perche in the 1140s. He left English estates to which the Earls of Pembroke and Salisbury would soon lay claim. As George Duby remarked, grief was a sentiment only indulged in by those due to inherit.
The moral ambiguity of de la Perche’s death, liquidated by a mercenary while the Marshal tried to take him prisoner, once more reveals the clash between competing styles of war: professional ruthlessness against chivalric cupidity. The word leidement, used to qualify the fatal blow, means shabby and outrageous as well as cruel. Unlike Reginald who used the point or estoc, William is usually described as delivering great sweeping blows with the edge of his sword, no doubt hoping to disable his opponent, like the constable at Milli, while leaving them in a saleable condition. Croc’s initiative could have had disastrous repercussions for the Marshal. Henry I survived a series of blows to the head at the battle of Brémule thanks to his helmet, but a similar onslaught in 1106 left Robert fitz Hamon with permanent brain damage. William remained clearheaded, however, directing operations and finding time to discuss the course of the battle with his son.
The count’s death convinced the rebels they could no longer defend the graveyard, and they filed away towards Wigford down a street on their left, i.e. Steep Hill. A commander’s elimination was usually decisive, as Bouvines and Muret demonstrated, but the rebels had other leaders. Men as inured to treason as Robert fitz Walter and Saer of Quincy were unlikely to give up prematurely. Part way down the slope, they found some more of their supporters, upon whom they rallied, though, as the History comments, they might have done better to keep moving.
The exact spot where the rebels reformed is debatable. Roger of Wendover is no help, omitting the episode entirely. Some historians put it beyond the Strait outside St Peter at Arches, at the bottom of the lower city just inside Stonebow. Others, led by Brooks and Oakley, prefer the relatively level junction of Christ’s Hospital Terrace and Steep Hill, just beneath the Norman House attributed sometimes to Aaron of Lincoln, the prince of usurers. This would save the rebels remounting the slope, a challenge for unencumbered pedestrians let alone armoured men on jaded horses. It also agrees with the History’s statement that the rebel counter-attack was defeated near the top of the hill, as the royalists emerged between the church and castle.
The rebel advance began in good order, serré & bataillé, but soon ran into trouble. The Earl of Chester re-enters the History’s narrative on the rebel right flank, implying that he had found the breach in the city walls created to extend the cathedral eastwards, and was picking his way across the site of the unfinished Bishop’s Palace. If the encounter took place near Stonebow, he must have got in through Clasketgate, raising similar access problems to the upper city gates. It is a pity we do not have Ranulf’s commemorative poem, if one existed, to elucidate his part in the battle.
Outflanked by Chester’s gallant band, the remaining French and their English associates were met frontally by the Marshal:
Our people charged them
So vigorously they threw them
Back down the hill by force
Without caring which way they went.
At this psychological moment, another royalist party led by Sir Alan Basset charged the rebels in rear. One of John’s familiars, Alan had accompanied the Marshal to Flanders in 1197, and proposed the regency shortlist in November 1216. Now he decided the battle of Lincoln, sending the rebels tumbling down the hill in irremediable disarray.
The rebels did not stop until High Bridge, where Ermine Street crosses the Witham and becomes High Street. Here they were outside the city, on soft ground rather than paved streets. So suddenly did they halt at the obstacle that the younger Marshal’s standard bearer overshot and went into the river, horse and all. Pinned against the stream, the rebels expended their last reserves of strength. No-one had to look about for feats of arms, for everyone had their hands full. There was no time for the alehouse challenges of an evening. Even the strongest were exhausted with giving and taking blows.
This final passage of arms, on the point of victory, is the poem’s dramatic climax, an opportunity for the poet to interrupt the narrative and ponder the nature of chivalry, justifying the pampered life style of its exponents, compared with the peasant’s humdrum existence:
What is it to bear arms? Are they handled
Like a sieve or riddle
Or a mallet or an axe?
No, it is much harder work,
For he who labours takes a rest
When he has worked a while.
What then is chivalry?
So rough and bold a thing
And so very painful to learn
That no-one unworthy dare undertake it.
To emphasise the knightly calling’s uniquely fearsome nature, the poet evokes the final struggle in all its sound and fury:
There might be seen great blows struck,
Helmets ringing and echoing
And lances flying in pieces,
Knights captured and saddles emptied.
There might be heard among the courtyards
Great blows of swords and maces
On helmets and arms,
And knives and daggers drawn
To stab horses to death:
Horse covers were not worth a monk’s habit.
There might be seen hands stretched out
On many sides to seize bridles.
Some spurred on to help
Their companions and to rescue
Those they saw coming to grief,
But safety there was none.
There was the noise so very great
God’s thunder might not be heard …
When they cried, ‘Royals, Royals!’
The struggle did not last long before the rebels turned and fled. The fugitives would not rally again. Among those taken were Saer of Quincy and Robert fitz Walter, leaving the rebels definitively leaderless.
The survivors’ difficulties were not over. Their flight down High Street soon brought them to what the History called la dererene porte – Lincoln’s back door – the only exit from the cul-de-sac formed by the Witham and Sincil Dyke. There were two gates, West Bargate on the main road and East Bargate off to one side. Primarily a commercial barrier, they were lightly fortified. The king allowed £20 from Lincoln’s tax bill in 1228 against repairs to the walls and little towers of ‘Vicford’, near St Katherine’s Hospital, which like modern hospitals lay just beyond urban limits. None of these structures survive, except the bridges, the Dyke itself, and the streetname ‘Bargate’.
Our sources do not specify which Bargate the fleeing rebels sought to pass. One can imagine the leaders arriving directly at West Bargate, later arrivals forking left to avoid the tailback. This was aggravated by a circumstance so ridiculous that Brooks and Oakley claimed it was invented. Both the History and Roger of Wendover refer to the incident, however, and it is too bizarre to suppress. Both sources describe the gate as a flail, fleel porte or flagellum respectively. Sometimes translated as ‘drawbridge’ or ‘portcullis’, this term also suggests a vertical swing barrier, with an up and down action like a counter-weight stone thrower. Easier to raise than a portcullis, it allowed just one rider through at a time. Not only did individuals have to dismount to activate the mechanism, the History claims that a luckless cow had trapped herself in the gate, blocking the passage, and a great haul of knights was taken. One chivalric deed shone out amidst the rush to escape. A rebel knight was lifting his wife onto his saddle to get away, when a royalist told him to leave her behind. Putting her down, the knight dismounted his challenger with a well-directed lance blow to the chest, recovered the lady, and rode off.
Roger of Wendover reckoned that 200 rebel knights escaped to London, led by the Castellan of Arras, whom the History made the butt of a rude joke about rats. So frightened were the fugitives, they stopped neither by night nor day, nor in town nor house. Thinking every bush full of Marshals, they threw away everything that might slow them down. Where Holland Bridge was broken, they killed their horses to make a way across, as defeated English men-at-arms did after Bannockburn a century later. Holland Bridge was the causeway at Bridgend near Horbling, now the A52 Sleaford–Boston road. Its eastwards direction suggests that some rebels took King’s Street, a Roman road that forks left off Ermine Street, heading for Peterborough. That they were still running, 25 miles (40km) south of Lincoln, indicates the complete moral dislocation of the defeated army.
The battle was all over by the ‘ninth hour’ – almost 4.00 pm. If the royalists spent all morning probing the defences, the fighting had lasted about four hours. This seems a long time for the small numbers engaged. Battles in the open, like First Lincoln, were often resolved ‘in the twinkling of an eye’. The confined space at Second Lincoln, and the succession of partial engagements with pauses to regroup, ensured a more protracted affair.
Fatalities among the chivalry were absurdly low: Thomas de la Perche, Reginald Croc, and an unknown rebel sergeant. Matthew Paris added two more French knights, but he is late and unreliable. Neither of the baronial party’s casualties could be buried on consecrated ground being excommunicate, so the count was laid in the hospital orchard near the scene of his army’s final trial; the sergeant at a crossroads outside the city. The moral ambiguity of the count’s death was underlined by Reginald’s own killing, the only royalist casualty of note. The historical novelist Alfred Duggan suggests foul play spiced with class prejudice, William’s retinue permitting the count’s men to take revenge on the mercenary intruder.
The rebel foot did not get off so lightly, ‘for the inhabitants of the towns through which they passed in their flight, went to meet them with swords and bludgeons, and, laying snares for them, killed numbers’ (Wendover). The Barnwell Chronicle confirms Roger’s account, referring to the fugitives’ sufferings along the road, ‘which was long and exceedingly dangerous, [being] either spoiled or indeed killed’. Enraged peasants exacted a terrible revenge on their demoralised tormentors, as they had after Northallerton, Fornham, and Alnwick.
Roger of Wendover said that the royalists restricted their pursuit for reasons of kinship. Prisoner lists do not support him. Gervase of Canterbury, the most extensive, named forty-six magnates, among them ‘those who had most actively promoted the war’ (Waverley). Eight were members of the committee of Twenty-Five, now reduced to half strength following the earlier deaths of Eustace of Vesci and Geoffrey of Mandeville. The rebel cause had been decapitated. Anonymous of Béthune commented that nearly all the great men of England had been taken. John Marshal did especially well, capturing seven barons flying banners. Most sources claimed that 300 unnamed knights were taken, a figure that the Barnwell chronicler inflated to 380, ‘though of sergeants, burgesses and the middling sort of men there was no count’. About 200 knights reached London. To eliminate over half the enemy’s mounted strength and most of their foot in a single day was not bad going.
Record evidence reveals no inhibitions about extorting ransoms. Some prisoners were held into the 1220s, compelled to pay such high ransoms they could no longer fulfil their social duties as knights. This was not just the behaviour of hard-faced castellans with garrisons to pay. Nicolas of Stuteville, one of Gervase of Canterbury’s list, paid the Marshal 1,000 marks. Among the hardest bargainers was John Marshal. The History made no bones about the material advantages of victory:
No knight intent
On gain or taking knights
Could miss doing so that day.
Lincoln was given over to plunder. The citizens had backed the wrong side, as in 1141, and were ‘pillaged to the last farthing’ (Wendover). The History says little about this. The deliberate sack of one of England’s most prosperous cities would not enhance its hero’s image. Roger of Wendover covered the episode at some length, and other sources confirm his story. Churches, including the cathedral, were a particular target, partly as traditional depositories of treasure, and also ‘because the clergy of the city had sided with the rebels, and [were] hence excommunicate and their churches defiled’ (Barnwell). The royalists came prepared with axes and hammers to break open chests and store rooms, ‘seizing the gold and silver in them, clothes of all colours, women’s ornaments, gold rings, goblets, and jewels’ (Wendover). Bishop Peter’s successor as precentor lost 11,000 marks in silver ingots, an immense sum.
The disorder was soon over, compared with the two days and nights when Wellington’s army ran riot in Badajoz in 1811. After six hours, King Henry’s peace was declared, and everyone ‘ate and drank amidst mirth and jollity’ (Wendover). The worst aspect of the sack was the accidental loss of life when a large number of townswomen took to the boats in Brayford Pool with their children, servants, and property, and capsized the over-loaded craft. The disaster was a sad conclusion to what became known as Nundinae Lincolniae – Lincoln Fair. Roger of Wendover said it was named in derision of Louis and the barons, but the term was commonly associated with tournaments and other military gatherings. Stephen banned militares nundinas at York at Easter 1142 as a distraction from fighting Matilda. When Richard beat the French at Gisors, the poet compared the press to a market or fair. William the regent could not stay to enjoy the festivities. Once the prisoners were secured, he rode straight back to Nottingham without eating, to carry news of the victory to the king and legate. This final 36-mile (58km) ride would have taken him seven hours at a regulation ‘trot and walk’, not arriving before 11.00 pm at the earliest. For a septuagenarian who had been in the saddle for nineteen hours and led a cavalry charge, it had been a long if satisfactory day.