In the Westminster parliament at the end of April 1258, Henry III had agreed that the realm should be reformed by twenty-four men, half of them chosen by himself and half by the barons. Those close to him were in both camps because the court had split apart, but Henry’s twelve were far less powerful and included only one English earl, John de Warenne of Surrey. The work of reformation was to begin in June at a parliament summoned to Oxford. It met in an atmosphere of great tension, for under the pretext of a proposed campaign in Wales both sides had summoned their military forces. It was therefore to prevent any royalist revanche that the reformers immediately stripped the king of physical power by putting their own men into the royal castles. They then took control of central government. A panel drawn from the twenty-four appointed a new council for the king with fifteen members, amongst whom the king’s opponents (including Simon de Montfort and the earls of Gloucester and Norfolk) were in a large majority. The council was to choose the king’s chief ministers and control the whole running of central government, the key stipulation being that the chancellor was not to seal charters and writs (other than those which were routine) without its permission. This was utterly revolutionary. Henry was in practice reduced to a cipher. The council was to rule. Yet it was to do so in co-operation with parliament which was to meet at least thrice annually to ‘deal with the common business of the realm and of the king together’.
At Oxford the king’s Lusignan half-brothers, William de Valence, Bishop-elect Aymer, Guy and Geoffrey, all of them on Henry’s twelve, quickly realized they were marked men. Losing their nerve they fled to Winchester. The barons followed in hot pursuit and expelled them from the country. Some leaders of the regime may well have thought their main objectives were now achieved. But the Oxford parliament, crowded with knights, had already embarked on a much wider reform of the realm designed above all to deal with the local grievances which had arisen during Henry’s rule. The totality of the reforms down to October 1259 were known loosely by contemporaries as ‘the Provisions of Oxford’ after the place where the movement had begun.
At Oxford Hugh Bigod, brother of the earl of Norfolk, had been made justiciar. The office was thus revived but with a new remit. Earlier justiciars had been in general charge of central government. Bigod’s task was more specifically to hear complaints and dispense justice. He was to deal with grievances of great men; the first case he heard was that of John fitz Geoffrey (see above, p. 360). But he was also from the first expected to tour the country and give justice to all. Individuals could bring actions before him simply by verbal ‘complaint’ (querela), a deliberate attempt to make justice more readily available by removing the bother of obtaining writs. At the same time Bigod also heard complaints brought to light by the investigations of panels of four knights appointed in each county in August 1258. By July 1259 he had heard around 268 cases, determined most of them quickly and was lauded by the St Albans abbey chronicler for the impartiality of his justice. In November 1259 his efforts were supplemented by those of groups of judges whose eyres were designed to cover the whole country.
The reforms also dealt with grievances over sheriffs. At Oxford it was decided that they should hold office only for a year, that they should be major county knights and receive an annual salary or allowance. In practice the allowance proved unworkable, but the same result was achieved in 1259 by allowing the sheriffs to answer for smaller increments above the county farms than those in force in the 1250s, leaving more money for their upkeep. Then in October 1259 legislation, known to modern historians as ‘the Provisions of Westminster’, dealt (among other things) with the abuses of the justices in eyre. They were no longer to amerce villages because all males over the age of twelve had not attended coroners’ inquests; nor were they to levy the murdrum fine in cases of death by misadventure – a reform prompted by the large numbers of unidentifiable vagrants left dead by the recent famine. Both these concessions were of particular value to the peasantry (see below, p. 413).
A striking feature of the reforms was that they were concerned as much with the malpractices of the barons as with those of the king, thus reflecting another problem which had grown during Henry’s personal rule. The leading reformers in a proclamation of February/March 1259 promised not to obstruct complaints brought against themselves and their bailiffs, and Hugh Bigod and his colleagues did indeed hear many cases involving baronial officials. Likewise the Provisions of Westminster, in three long, detailed clauses right at the start, dealt with the issue of ‘suit of court’ (see above, p. 350). Tenants could no longer be forced to attend the courts of lords unless such attendance had been customary before 1230 or was a duty specifically mentioned in a charter of enfeoffment.
In stipulating that sheriffs were to be local knights, introducing the querela, remedying lordly as well as royal abuse, and above all in taking control at the centre, the measures of 1258–9 were far more radical and wide-ranging than those of Magna Carta. Richard de Clare for one was unhappy about how the local reforms impinged on his local power – not surprisingly, given the uniquely large network of courts and officials he controlled as earl of Gloucester and Hertford. Others may have felt the same way. But having coerced the king, the new regime needed support. Therefore the early reforms were explained in a proclamation of October 1258 issued, uniquely, in English as well as French and Latin, a striking indication of the desire to reach as wide an audience as possible. The regime also remained under pressure from below. Thus the Provisions of Westminster, with their regulations on private courts so unpalatable for Clare and his like, were only promulgated after a protest at parliament by ‘the community of the bachelry of England’, probably knights in magnate entourages, speaking here for powerful forces in the counties – the knights increasingly holding office in the shires and the substantial freemen running the hundreds.
Some of the reformers, for instance Roger de Mortimer who was seeking to recover the manor of Lechlade in Gloucestershire, were driven on by personal grievances. But the movement was also influenced by political ideas, ideas all the more precise and pervasive through being elaborated at a new base (Oxford university) and propagated by a new movement (the Friars). Franciscan teachers in Oxford, like John of Wales, following John of Salisbury, frequently compared the body politic to a human body in which the health of the whole was dependent on that of all its parts, an analogy used by the council of fifteen in a letter to the pope. It followed that reform should benefit everyone, hence in part at least the attention to peasant grievances. The embrace of the movement was summed up by a term used again and again in this period, the ‘community of the realm’. It was this body which was said both to sanction reforms and profit from them. Admittedly, the ‘community of the realm’ spoken in one breath could sometimes become ‘the community of the barons’ in the next, showing where the leadership lay. But the term was also employed quite genuinely to mean everyone in the land. Indeed such a community had actually been formed at the start in 1258 by the oath taken by ‘all faithful and loyal men’ to support the reforms and treat opponents as mortal enemies.
Nowhere was the interaction between idealism and self-interest more blatant and more baffling than in the case of Simon de Montfort himself. He was the brother-in-law of the king, but from the outset the special force of his attachment to the Provisions was quite apparent. In 1259 he both upbraided Richard de Clare for dragging his feet over local reforms and made support for ‘the common enterprise’, as he called it later, a condition of his alliance with the heir to the throne, the Lord Edward. Again and again he pointed to the oath all had sworn to uphold the Provisions. He almost certainly came to see them as a crusading cause for which he would fight, and if needs be die, just as his father had died leading the crusade against the Albigensians. Montfort’s attitudes had been shaped by Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln and former chancellor of Oxford, the greatest theologian of the age who died in 1253, and Grosseteste’s friend Adam Marsh, professor of the Oxford Franciscans. Montfort had seen the tract in which Grosseteste (drawing on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics) had elaborated the distinction between just rule and tyranny: ‘a tyrant devotes himself to his own interests; a king to those of his subjects’. And could anyone say Henry had done that? Grosseteste also ordered the malpractices of his estate officials to be investigated and redressed, just as Montfort in his will of February 1259 sought to compensate the ‘poor people and cultivators of his land’ whom he had harmed. But for all his concern for others, Montfort also thought the baronial enterprise should do justice to himself; it was easy therefore, especially for those on the inside, to think that he was driven on by private grievances and ambitions. Montfort certainly hoped that the 1258 regime would secure for Eleanor, his wife, the portion of the dower she had never received as the widow of William Marshal II. By 1259 the arrears, so the Montforts claimed, amounted to some £24,000! He also thought she should have a landed endowment fit for a king’s sister, not just a money pension – all the more vital since Montfort’s Leicester lands, all he held in hereditary right, were only worth £500 a year. He was thus left as one of the poorest earls with little to endow five sons (and also with far less to lose from local reforms than Clare). In 1259 the council indeed granted the Montforts at least temporary custody of royal manors worth £400 a year, thus in effect succumbing to blackmail, because Eleanor refused otherwise to make the renunciations required of her by the Treaty of Paris. And there was one other factor driving the steely Montfort on, namely his contempt for the waxen king. Henry had been too craven to settle the question of the dower (for it had to be prised from the Marshal heirs), too indulgent to others to afford Eleanor a proper settlement, and too fearful of the protests to back Montfort to the hilt in Gascony. ‘You should be taken and locked up like Charles the Simple,’ Montfort had burst out prophetically in 1242, comparing Henry to the ill-starred Carolingian king.
Not surprisingly, Montfort was at the centre of the crisis in 1260 which revealed the first serious cracks in the baronial regime. Henry, still in France after the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, and achieving a measure of independence, forbade the February parliament to meet in his absence. Montfort, in England, insisted it should go ahead, being one of the thrice-yearly meetings stipulated in the Provisions. He also threatened a hot reception to the king if he returned with foreign mercenaries, and warned the justiciar, Hugh Bigod, not to send him any money. What made this even more serious was that Richard de Clare stood by the king, while the Lord Edward, seeking to gain his own independence, was in alliance with Montfort. In the end violence was just avoided. Montfort and Clare patched up their differences and the council remained in control. At the October 1260 parliament Bigod (a broken reed in Montfort’s eyes) was replaced as justiciar by Montfort’s own man, Hugh Despencer, Clare’s price being an ordinance which gave the magnates power to hear complaints against their bailiffs, the implication being that special eyres would no longer do so. Inevitably these events weakened the council and early in 1261 its authority collapsed. Henry recovered control over the chancery, once more issuing his own writs and charters. He then moved to the Tower of London, and launched a bid formally to destroy the Provisions of Oxford. He was aided by Richard of Cornwall, temporarily back in England, and by the queen, alarmed when Peter of Savoy left the council in 1260, and now reconciled to a recalled William de Valence (Aymer had died in exile). Henry also had money from Louis IX under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, which he used to retain household knights and hire mercenaries. In June he published a papal bull, which he had contrived to obtain from Alexander IV, quashing the Provisions, and then dismissed the justiciar, Hugh Despencer, and the reform regime’s sheriffs.
These moves provoked stiff resistance in the localities where rival sheriffs were set up in many shires. In Gloucestershire the local knight, William de Tracy, challenged the king’s appointee Matthias Bezill, calling him a Frenchman set up in contravention of the Provisions. With Montfort and Clare standing together, resistance was partly orchestrated by the baronial leaders – Tracy indeed was in Gloucester’s retinue. The king cleverly proclaimed that the reforms as a whole had simply been devices to increase baronial power, the 1258–60 sheriffs being their creatures. Nevertheless the strength of the resistance also reflected genuine support for the reforms among knights and those below them in local society. In the end it was the leadership which fell apart. Henry won over Richard de Clare, and by the end of 1261 Montfort was alone in refusing to accept the overthrow of the Provisions. Instead he withdrew to France, declaring that he would rather die landless than depart from the truth and be perjured.
Henry’s recovery of power proved short-lived. His prestige was damaged by the failure to defeat Llywelyn in Wales. His support was reduced through antagonizing Gilbert de Clare, heir to the earldom of Gloucester, by preventing him succeeding while still under age on his father Richard’s death in 1262. Even more important was the conduct of the Lord Edward. Aged nineteen in 1258, since the revolution he had aimed essentially to free himself from the restrictions imposed by the baronial regime. Now in 1262 he broke with own entourage, notably Roger of Leybourne and Roger of Clifford, accusing them of peculation. He was urged on by the queen. She had condoned the revolution of 1258 because it rid Edward of the Lusignans; now she turned on another group of undesirables, thereby inadvertently causing another revolution. In this crisis, Edward’s disgraced friends, who included John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, and several marcher lords, held together. Needing an upheaval to restore their fortunes, they turned to Montfort to provide it, a man with a cause and the cutting edge to sustain it. Only Montfort had remained true to the Provisions. He alone had consistently urged that they should be defended by force. When he returned to England in April 1263 it was above all the return of a general. Montfort was joined by the ex-Edwardians, Gilbert de Clare, and his own affinity. The latter, including Peter de Montfort (no relation) and Hugh Despencer, was largely composed of knights and magnates from the midlands where the great Montfortian base was at Kenilworth castle. Also rallying to Montfort were several young magnates (‘boys’, as the chronicler Thomas Wykes contemptuously called them), like John fitz John (son of John fitz Geoffrey) and Henry de Hastings. As a whole, the party was a rag-bag, but Montfort’s leadership was dynamic. Justified by the oath of 1258, he ravaged the estates of the royalists, secured the Channel ports, and then forced the surrender of the king, who was quailing in the Tower of London. The queen, made of sterner stuff, had tried to escape up the Thames but had been driven back by missiles pelted down on her from London Bridge. On 16 July 1263 the Provisions of Oxford were reimposed, which meant essentially that Henry was once more subjected to a council, which Montfort, of course, led.
Meanwhile, with consummate skill Montfort, short of major supporters, had transformed the nature of the reform movement. A foreigner himself, he had, as the Melrose chronicler put it, become ‘the shield and defender of the English’ against the terrible threat posed by foreigners. This period between 1263 and 1265 saw the apotheosis of all the xenophobia that had been gathering force during Henry’s reign. Under Montfort’s leadership such feelings gave ‘the English’ a new sense of cohesion and identity. For the baronial leaders the revolution of 1258 had been aimed at only one group of foreigners, the Lusignans. The queen’s uncles, Peter and Boniface of Savoy, had actually been on the council of fifteen. But outside the court there was already, as we have seen (above, pp. 353–4), hostility to foreigners in general. After 1258 such sentiments had intensified. The queen was blamed for overthrowing the Provisions in 1261 and then for purging Edward’s entourage in 1262. In 1263, for his abortive campaign in Wales, Edward had returned to England with large numbers of foreign knights. Might they not be used to oppress the king’s native subjects? As early as 1260 Montfort had declared that Henry seemed to place his trust more in foreigners ‘than in men of his own land’. Now, in 1263, he channelled the xenophobic tide to sweep him into power, beginning the war by arresting the Savoyard bishop of Hereford, Peter d’Aigueblanche, and then sanctioning attacks on the properties of the queen, on Italian clerks provided to English livings and on foreign money-lenders. When the king submitted on 16 July he was made to issue an extraordinary new ‘statute’, one which marked the high-water mark of antipathy to foreigners in medieval England. The statute confined office in England to native-born men, and, with certain qualifications, expelled foreigners altogether from the country ‘never to return’.
Such a programme had wide appeal. It enabled Edward’s ousted followers to punish the queen, and Gilbert de Clare to rid himself of rivals at court. It also enabled those in the localities from knights down to peasants to punish the Savoyards and Lusignans for their oppression and get the better of foreigners like Matthias Bezill. In 1261 he had dragged William de Tracy through the mud. Now it was his turn to be humiliated. Although the numbers who had actually suffered from the tyranny of the aliens and their agents was very small, stories of their activities were on every lip. The St Albans abbey chronicler caught the flavour of popular xenophobia in 1263 when he observed that ‘whoever did not know the English tongue was despised by the masses and held in contempt’. Meanwhile churchmen resented the foreigners presented by the pope to English benefices and also entered fully into the more general xenophobia. The Song of Lewes, written in the aftermath of Montfort’s great victory in 1264 by a learned friar in the entourage of the bishop of Chichester, opined that during Henry’s personal rule ‘certain men had aimed to blot out the name of the English’. Montfort stuck through thick and thin to the ban on aliens holding office. More than anything else the issue unified his movement and gave it meaning, so much so that chroniclers came to see the oppression by foreigners as the sole cause of the revolution of 1258. A common resistance to this purported threat sent for the first time since 1066 a sense of a shared membership of an English race resonating through all classes of society.
Montfort, however, still failed to hold on to power. The revolution of 1263, brought about by a noble faction, was quite different from that of 1258, which commanded wide noble support. Hugh Bigod, symbol as justiciar of the 1258 reforms, now sided with the king. So did his brother the earl of Norfolk, who had led the armed march that had begun the 1258 upheaval. Such men regarded Montfort as violent, power-hungry and extreme. To accept his leadership was anathema. Soon Montfort’s own party began to break up. In August 1263 Edward, now full square behind his father, bribed back his former followers – probably what they had wanted all along. In October Henry himself shook himself free from Montfort’s control and the realm divided into armed camps. All that could be agreed was to refer the quarrel to the arbitration of Louis IX. Hitherto Louis had been cautious about expressing his views, but the truth was, as he said later, he would rather break clods behind the plough than live under the Provisions. His verdict, the Mise of Amiens (January 1264) condemned them in toto and restored Henry to all his powers. This judgement Montfort and his followers refused to accept and the result was civil war.
Even with the adherence of Gilbert de Clare, Montfort had far less noble support than the king. His power centred on London and on his bases in the midlands, radiating out from Northampton, Leicester and Kenilworth. Henry and Edward placed themselves aggressively in between at Oxford and on 5 April by a surprise attack seized Northampton, taking many prisoners. Montfort’s response to this disaster showed the measure of the man, for he now drove on the war with daring and judgement. First he mounted a brief siege of Rochester castle, bringing the king’s army south as he had intended. Then on 6 May he marched out of London, determined to meet his enemies and fight ‘with all for all’. On 14 May 1264, having led his army up onto the Sussex Downs during the night, he charged down the hill above Lewes and won a crushing victory, making Henry, Edward and Richard of Cornwall prisoners. The next month, in the spirit of the Provisions, a council of nine was imposed on the king, chosen by and responsible to three electors: Montfort himself, Gilbert de Clare and the bishop of Chichester. Although the three were to be responsible to the prelates and barons in parliament, in practice Montfort was dominant. He was the first noble in English history to seize power and rule the country in the king’s name.
Montfort had now to stabilize his government, and it was not easy. Queen Eleanor, who had remained overseas after the Mise of Amiens, gathered an army in Flanders with Louis IX’s support and threatened invasion. The papal legate, Guy de Foulquois, excommunicated Montfort and his supporters, although he was kept out of England. Meanwhile the great marcher baron, Roger de Mortimer, unwisely released by Montfort after Lewes despite a bitter private feud, refused to accept the regime’s authority. Gilbert de Clare, now earl of Gloucester, was Montfort’s only supporter from among the earls. The young earl of Derby, Robert de Ferrers, played a lone hand, obsessed by his claims for possession of the Peak, part of the Peverel inheritance which the Ferrers had long coveted.
Montfort’s reaction was to base his regime on sections of society outside the great barons and he had good grounds for doing so. Even the unfriendly London alderman Arnold fitz Thedmar acknowledged in his chronicle that Louis IX’s verdict had been rejected by ‘the community of the middle people of the kingdom of England’. To the parliament of June 1264, which approved the new constitution, Montfort summoned four knights from each county, chosen by the county court to ‘discuss the business of the realm’. To his parliament of 1265 he summoned burgesses from the towns as well, the first occasion they had been summoned. Here truly was the House of Commons in embryo. All this marked an important shift since 1258. Knights had certainly been present and influential at the parliaments of 1258–9, as the protest of the community of the bachelry showed. But the Provisions of Oxford had not called for any formal representation of the shires and boroughs, despite the precedent of 1254. Now Montfort took that momentous step.
Of all the cities, by far the most important for Montfort was London, which gave him massive support, providing a whole division at Lewes, just as it had supported the rebels in 1215. To be sure, the ruling elite of aldermen were tied to the court through supplying it with wine, cloth and precious metals. Yet some also resented Henry’s attempt to tax the city at will and establish a fair for Westminster Abbey. In 1258, before the political revolution, Henry had purged his enemies on the city council and his supporters remained in power thereafter; London, therefore, was a safe base for the king’s recovery of power in 1261. It was a political and social revolution in 1263 which changed the situation. This ousted the aldermanic regime and handed power to the folkmoot, the general assembly of the citizens, which elected a Montfortian mayor, Thomas fitz Thomas, a member of the old elite but with connections to those purged in 1258. Fitz Thomas permitted crafts, previously held down by the aldermen, to organize for the first time, and told the king to his face that the city’s loyalty depended on his good behaviour.
Montfort also, as his summons to parliament shows, coveted the support of the knights, both for fighting and also for control over local government. (By this time there might be fifty or so knights active in a medium-sized county like Oxfordshire.) Montfort was not altogether successful. A large majority of the knights employed to investigate grievances in 1258 and as sheriffs in 1258–9 played no discernible part in subsequent events, doubtless keeping their heads down. On the other hand, of a sample of 123 knights drawn from Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Cambridgeshire and Staffordshire, sixty-eight (or 55 per cent) opposed the king in some way or other, or at least were accused of so doing, between 1263 and 1265, this against only sixteen (though the evidence here is much less full) who were active royalists. The midlands were Montfort’s heartland so the proportions were probably smaller elsewhere, but the figures are still impressive. Some knights had direct personal grievances against the king or members of his regime, like Gilbert of Elsfield (in Oxfordshire) who complained of disseisin by William de Valence. Many seem to have been situated in regional pockets surrounded by other contrariants, a pattern also seen in 1215 – Gilbert himself died at Evesham alongside his neighbour, Robert fitz Nigel of Iffley. Clearly neighbourhood was very important in determining political allegiances. So, within that context, was the power of lordship, with tenure, reward and coercion all coming into play. Given the paucity of earls in his party, Montfort relied increasingly on a group of minor barons. Some, like Ralph Basset of Drayton, he made keepers of the peace to act alongside the sheriffs after Lewes. Others, like Ralph de Camoys, he placed on the council of nine, a very different body from the earl-dominated council of fifteen in 1258. It was men of this stamp, in particular, whom Montfort helped by alleviating the debts they owed the Jews. They were also helped by a brutal attack on the London Jewry led by John fitz John. In some areas the political allegiances of such magnates depended more on the course of their local disputes than on the merits of the national cause. Thus in the west midlands Ralph Basset of Drayton, mixing litigation with violence, was struggling for regional dominance against the local royalists, Roger de Somery of Dudley and Philip Marmion of Tamworth. In that respect the conflict in the 1260s resembled those during the civil wars of Stephen and of John.
It was not merely knights and magnates who were politically active in this period. Many ordinary freemen and peasants took part in local raids, fought in the armies, and slaughtered the royalists fleeing from the battle of Lewes. When Montfort rallied the nation to resist the queen’s threatened invasion in the summer of 1264 – invasion by ‘a great multitude of aliens’ – he summoned four to eight men from each village to Barham Down in Kent. The response was overwhelming and the atmosphere on the Downs perhaps rather like that in England in 1940. Equally impressive was the support of churchmen, despite the hostility of the pope. No less than five bishops were later suspended from office for supporting Montfort, including Walter de Cantilupe of Worcester, one of his oldest friends. Such prelates were inspired by Montfort’s ascetic brand of personal piety and the connections they had all shared with the saintly Grosseteste. All would probably have shared the passionate commitment to reform which runs through the 968 mesmeric, throbbing lines of The Song of Lewes. The Song stands as an eternal warning against an explanation of Montfortian support simply in terms of local conflicts, personal grievances and the power of lordship. The churchmen who are known to have preached to the populace about the great earl must have spoken, like the Song, of how he stood for the community of the realm and was saving England for the English. In 1265 the peasants of Peatling Magna in Leicestershire attacked a royalist captain on the grounds that he was ‘going against the community of the realm and the barons’. Even villagers, therefore, understood the concept, and believed they were members of the community of the realm.
For all his support, Montfort failed once again to stabilize his regime. He had to keep both the king and the Lord Edward as virtual prisoners. His decision to extract Cheshire from the latter in March 1265, to be held henceforth by the Montforts in hereditary right, shows that he thought reconciliation impossible. Faced with a choice between King Henry and King Simon, which was what de facto it boiled down to, most magnates preferred the former. Montfort’s overweening power (a condition of survival, he would have said) led to the disastrous defection of Gilbert de Clare. In May 1265 Edward himself escaped, reaching Wigmore where he was welcomed by Matilda de Mortimer, Roger’s wife, who was in command of the castle. Edward quickly struck an agreement with both Mortimer and Clare. Their army trapped Montfort’s much smaller force at Evesham on the morning of 4 August 1265. Montfort, spurning suggestions that he should take refuge in the abbey (‘churches are for chaplains; the field is for knights’), marched out of the town and up Green Hill where he was surrounded, killed and horribly mutilated, his head being sent to Lady Mortimer. Montfort’s son Henry, Peter de Montfort, Hugh Despencer and over thirty other knights suffered with him.
‘The murder of Evesham for battle was it none,’ wrote the chronicler Robert of Gloucester. The slaughter was indeed unprecedented and reflected the fear and hatred Montfort had inspired. That bitterness also prevented any easy post-war settlement. London was punished by a fine of £13,333. The return of rebel lands which had closed the 1217 war was not repeated. Instead, the estates of the Montfortians were first pillaged by the victors ‘in an irresistible wave spreading outwards from the battlefield’ (Clive Knowles), and then, having been officially confiscated, were distributed by the king among his supporters in woefully haphazard fashion. Not surprisingly this led to a renewal of the war. One group of disinherited was defeated in a skirmish at Chesterfield in May 1266. Another, under the leadership of Henry de Hastings, set up their standard at Kenilworth castle, which the king in June 1266 began to besiege. Meanwhile wiser counsels prevailed, thanks in good part to the labours of the remarkable papal legate Ottobuono (later Pope Adrian V) who had now arrived in England. In October 1266 the Dictum of Kenilworth was issued, which allowed former rebels to redeem their lands at up to seven times their annual value, depending on the gravity of their offences. These were still harsh terms, however, and the Kenilworth siege continued till the garrison’s provisions were exhausted in December, its length a remarkable tribute to Simon de Montfort’s skill in developing the castle’s water defences. Another group of rebels continued to hold out in the Isle of Ely, ravaging the surrounding area. In June 1267 Gilbert de Clare, with scant personal reward from rebel lands despite having led the initial pillage through his network of officials, intervened. He occupied London and forced an improvement in the Dictum’s terms. Next month Edward extinguished the last resistance in the Isle of Ely and the war was over.
However, this was hardly peace. The earl of Derby, captured at Chesterfield, was saddled with a deliberately unpayable redemption fine of £50,000 and had to surrender his lands to Edmund, Henry’s younger son, marking the end of the Ferrers earldom. Edward himself quarrelled acrimoniously with Gilbert de Clare. The king, pitifully short of money, formed patronage queues reminiscent of those of the 1250s, put stops on payments out of the exchequer, and then nullified the effect by coming up with all kinds of exceptions. Meanwhile the site of Montfort’s death and his ‘shrine’ in Evesham abbey became places of miracle and pilgrimage. Yet there were more positive signs. The government soon after Evesham had looked after the wives and widows of the Montfortians, allowing them their inheritances and a proportion of their husband’s lands (usually between a quarter and a third). Such provision was helped by family connections across the rebellion. For example the two daughters of one of the most respected loyalists, Philip Basset, were married to Hugh Despencer and John fitz John. Moreover, although the financial cost was high, the great majority of the Montfortians – magnates, knights and lesser men – did recover their lands, usually as soon as the redemption agreement was made. To some extent their cause was won. The king could not live with the central controls of 1258, but he could certainly accept the Provisions of Westminster, the legislation of October 1259, which aimed at controlling the abuses of sheriffs and justices, and limiting attendance at private courts. In January 1263, struggling for support, Henry had indeed reissued them. In November 1267 he did so again, definitively, in the Statute of Marlborough. Another lesson was learnt. Between 1268 and 1270 Henry sought taxation to support Edward’s projected crusade. He negotiated with parliament after parliament, summoning to them knights and on at least one occasion burgesses as well. In the end he secured a tax, after imposing restrictions on the Jews and confirming Magna Carta. Legislation which conciliated the counties, the summoning of representatives to parliament and the granting of taxation: that was the way in which the monarchy could begin to close the gulf which had opened between it and the nation.
On 13 October 1269 Henry translated the body of Edward the Confessor to its shrine within the new church at Westminster. He had spent well over £40,000 on the works, a sum which could have built three or four of the castles with which his son later conquered Wales. But it was worth it. The new church was considered the finest in Christendom. The God-given nature of Henry’s rule, which he had done so much to stress, had not saved him from revolution, but it may well have saved his throne. There was no attempt to depose Henry as there had been King John. Henry died in November 1272. Edward was still away on his crusade. Not the least of his problems was the transformation in the political shape of Britain produced by the collapse of English royal power.
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In 1247 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd shared the rump of Gwynedd with his brother Owain. Twenty years later he was prince of Wales.
Welsh poets and chroniclers portrayed the movement Llywelyn led as one of national liberation against ‘the grievous bondage of the English’, and with considerable truth. In the south, the rulers of Ystrad Tywi had long resented the jurisdictional claims of the king’s bailiff at Carmarthen. In the north, the English administration of the Four Cantrefs was becoming increasingly harsh, especially after their conferral in 1254 on the Lord Edward, along with Chester and the other royal lands in Wales. The English chroniclers themselves wrote in terms of a tyrannical attack on Welsh law and custom. The boast in 1252 of Alan la Zouche, justiciar at Chester, that ‘all Wales lies obediently and peacefully subject to English laws’ reveals official attitudes all too clearly. Having stoked the fires, the English government was soon powerless to put them out. The long period of revolution, reform and civil war between 1258 and 1267 destroyed royal authority and absorbed baronial energy. It was not the king who brought down Llywelyn, but Llywelyn who twice brought down (or helped bring down) the king by his successes in 1257 and 1262–3.
There were Welsh rulers, however, who would have grimaced at Llywelyn’s stance as a national hero, not least in Gwynedd itself where he had come to the top by eliminating his brothers. The decisive moment had been the great victory at Bryn Derwin in 1255, a battle fought ‘for a kingdom’ and won by a ‘lion of the warband’, as a court poet put it. The captured Owain was held prisoner for over twenty years, along with another brother Rhodri. Only Dafydd, Llywelyn’s youngest brother, remained free, his disruptive career amply justifying the imprisonment of the others. On the back of this success, Llywelyn went on (in 1256) to wrest the Four Cantrefs from the Lord Edward (save the new castles at Deganwy and Diserth) and Meirionydd from his own kinsman, Llywelyn ap Maredudd. He was now master of all Gwynedd. He at once demonstrated his authority in the south by invading Ceredigion and seizing Edward’s lands around Aberystwyth. This time, however (as the Brut noted), ‘he took nothing for himself save the glory’, preferring to reward his allies in Deheubarth. Next year (1257) he led a great plundering expedition which threatened the marcher lordships of Glamorgan, Gower and Pembroke.
The English establishment had every reason to respond to these events, yet it received scant leadership from the king, whose eyes were firmly set on Sicily. Henry talked big. He would seize Anglesey with a fleet from Ireland and keep it for the crown. But no fleet arrived. Henry reached Deganwy in August 1257, re-provisioned the castle, and then hurried back to Westminster in time for the feast of Edward the Confessor. Llywelyn was free to expel the king’s ally Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn from southern Powys.
After these triumphs, Llywelyn in 1258 assumed the title prince of Wales, which had been defiantly adopted by Dafydd towards the end of his career. Of course ‘prince’ implied a ‘principality’, and Llywelyn was clear about the kind he envisaged. As he later told the pope, ‘the principality of Wales is such that all the Welsh barons of Wales hold their lands in chief from us and our heirs and do homage and fealty to us and our successors… for which we and our successors are bound to do homage and fealty to the king and his successors’. This of course had been the vision of Llywelyn the Great, and in realizing it Llywelyn ap Gruffudd faced the same obstacles as his grandfather, obstacles which had persuaded the latter not to assume the title. One problem was the opposition of the English crown, which claimed the homages of the Welsh rulers for itself. Another was that the rulers themselves were hardly crying out for Gwynedd’s overlordship. The unpleasant penalties for a breach of homage and fealty owed the prince were made plain in 1259 when Maredudd ap Rhys of Ystrad Tywi, an early Llywelyn ally, was imprisoned and deprived of his lands. If Welsh political unity was necessary to stand against English officialdom, such men might think it could be achieved as in the past through confederation, not Gwynedd’s supremacy. Llywelyn’s task was also impeded by the factional strife which divided the ruling families. A condition of Maredudd ap Rhys’s return to Llywelyn’s ‘unity’ in 1261 was that he should not have to ally with either his nephew and rival, Rhys Fychan, or Maredudd ab Owain of Ceredigion. Such conflicts overrode any ‘patriotic’ considerations. If one side was with Llywelyn, the other was as likely to be with the king. A major reason why Llywelyn needed recognition from the king was to deprive the native rulers of their English escape route.
In these treacherous waters, Llywelyn navigated at first as though piloted by his cautious grandfather. He was not merely a mighty warrior, as the bards at his court frequently proclaimed; he was also, at least early in his career, a sinuous politician. He adopted the title ‘prince of Wales’ in 1258, almost at once to abandon it. With the Welsh rulers, he continued at times to talk of mutual pacts and alliances. With the English government, under cover of a series of truces, he opened negotiations for a settlement. But the political revolution which had removed the crown as a threat had also deprived it of the ability to make decisions. So in 1260, as England hovered on the verge of hostilities, Llywelyn turned once again to war, depriving Edward of Builth, Dafydd’s old strategic base in the upper valley of the Wye. At the same time, building on moves in 1256, Llywelyn established control over much of the area between Wye and Severn, while his chief rival, Roger de Mortimer, was distracted by his suit for the Gloucestershire manor of Lechlade and (from the end of 1263) by a personal feud with Simon de Montfort. From Builth, Llywelyn could move south and in 1262 he received homages from parts of Brecon, thus bringing his power to the northern fringes of Glamorgan. In all this he was aided again by the English conflict, for Humphrey de Bohun, eldest son of the earl of Hereford, the lord of Brecon, was fatally wounded at Evesham, after which there was a minority till 1271. As for Glamorgan, after the death of Richard de Clare in 1262, so long its astringent ruler, his son Gilbert first endured a period of wardship and then plunged into the English civil war. To the west, Pembroke was in the hands of Henry III’s half-brother, William de Valence, who was expelled temporarily from England in 1258 and did not visit the lordship till 1265.
From the late summer of 1262, Llywelyn began once again to call himself prince of Wales, and this time he continued to do so. It was no empty title. In March 1263, from north, south and west Wales he mustered an army (so the English estimated) of some 10,000 foot. Edward’s response in 1263 was a damp squib of a campaign, despite having tempted Dafydd into his camp. That August and September, while Edward and his father struggled to free themselves from Montfortian shackles, Llywelyn finally forced the surrender of Deganwy and Diserth, long lone outposts in the Four Cantrefs. At the end of the year Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn reluctantly did him homage. What Llywelyn still desperately needed, however, was recognition from the English government, just as Simon de Montfort desperately needed all the support he could get. Out of that mutual need emerged a treaty in June 1265. The puppet King Henry recognized Llywelyn’s principality and his ‘dominion’ over all the native magnates of Wales. In return Montfort gained a large contingent of Welsh foot soldiers. They let out a blood-curdling shout before the battle of Evesham six weeks later, but for all their readiness for the fight they were unable to save Montfort from death at the hands of Roger de Mortimer.
Evesham destroyed Montfort, but did nothing to weaken Llywelyn. It was not till July 1267 that even a semblance of peace returned to England. Edward wished now to fight, not in Wales but on crusade. The government was desperately short of money. So Llywelyn made an offer it could not refuse and in September 1267 the Treaty of Montgomery was concluded. Llywelyn was to pay £16,666 (25,000 marks), £3,333 at Christmas 1267, the rest at a rate of £2,000 a year. In return, Henry accepted the bulk of Llywelyn’s conquests. He was to retain the Four Cantrefs, Cedewain and Ceri between Wye and Severn, together with Builth and his gains in Brecon. Even more significantly, he was given ‘the principality of Wales’ and was henceforth to be called ‘prince of Wales’ and have the homage of ‘all the Welsh barons of Wales’. Only he as prince was to do homage to the king. All of this was conceded to Llywelyn and his heirs in perpetuity. He had established his principality. Would he sustain it?
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When English royal power collapsed in the 1215–17 civil war, King Alexander II had allied with the baronial rebels and invaded England to reassert his claims to the northern counties. The conduct of his son, Alexander III, was very different. He sent a large Scottish force which fought for King Henry at the battle of Lewes and was about to dispatch another when news arrived of the battle of Evesham. His policy was therefore the exact opposite of Llywelyn’s, who allied with the Montfortians. Indeed had Evesham been fought a few weeks later, it might have seen a confrontation between the Welsh and the Scots. Alexander’s behaviour was a measure of the long period of peace between the two kingdoms and the family ties which now bound the English and Scottish courts together, cemented by his own marriage to Henry III’s daughter. Alexander thus remained true to the reorientation of Scottish policy achieved by his father. During the period of English weakness, instead of moving south he moved west and secured control over the Isle of Man and the Western Isles, thereby achieving a major expansion of his kingdom. This is not to say Alexander did not profit from the English vacuum. A powerful English state might possibly have obstructed his conquest of Man whose kings, although they owed allegiance to Norway, had also sometimes been knighted at the English court.
If the fifteenth-century chronicler Walter Bower was basing himself on a reliable earlier source, then Alexander was tall and well-built, and very much a ‘hands-on’ ruler. With a picked retinue, and accompanied by the justiciar to dispense justice, he travelled the kingdom almost every year and was welcomed into each sheriffdom by a body of local knights who acted as escorts – quite the reverse of King Henry’s sedentary rule. Alexander, at times masterful and at others conciliatory, quickly liquidated the factional struggles of his minority and never allowed them to revive. Those struggles had originated in the last years of his father with the conflict between the Comyns and Alan Durward. The compromise of 1259 had brought Durward back onto the council, but left the government very much in Comyn hands. The family remained prominent thereafter in the sheriffdoms and ecclesiastical office. At the centre Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan, was justiciar of Scotland north of Forth for the whole period from 1258 until his death in 1289, and was more frequently at court than any other magnate. The tearaway of 1242, however, was now the sagacious councillor, with his daughters married to the earls of Dunbar, Strathearn and Angus and his son to the countess of Fife. That the Comyns formed no monolithic faction of which the king was the prisoner was shown by the events of 1261. On the death of Walter Comyn, earl of Menteith, three years before, the earldom had passed to his widow (in whose right he had held it) and her new husband John Russell, an English knight. This infuriated Walter’s nephew, John Comyn of Badenoch, who seized the Russells and forced them to make the earldom over to himself, an act which recalled the Comyn violence back in 1242. But John was soon put in his place. The magnates decided against his claims and conferred the earldom on Walter, younger brother of Alexander Stewart.
Politically, Alexander was therefore well placed to renew his father’s attempt to replace Norwegian lordship over Man and the Isles with his own. In 1261–2 he combined offers to buy out King Hakon with a violent assault on Skye, led by the earl of Ross. According to King Hakon’s Saga, churches were burnt and men, women and children slaughtered. ‘The Scottish king,’ the Saga affirmed, ‘intended to lay under his authority all the Hebrides.’ King Hakon, aged though he was, was determined not to let him. He built a new ship entirely of oak with a long prow surmounted by a gilded dragon’s head, and in July 1263 set sail from Bergen. His fleet, when joined with Hebridean forces, numbered between 100 and 200 vessels. If this was the Norwegian sunset, its rays were to be red and bloody.
Hakon made his first base in Orkney; its earl, Magnus Gilbertson, who was also earl of Caithness, had joined him in Bergen. King Magnus Olafson, ruler of Man and Skye, and most of the MacSorleys (some of them threatened by the Stewart advance into Arran and Knapdale) likewise rallied to his cause. From Orkney, Hakon proceeded westwards through the Western Isles into the Firth of Clyde. He then sent the king of Man and the MacSorleys inland to ravage Walter Stewart’s earldom of Menteith. King Alexander kept his nerve. His tactics were to hold his fortresses, defend the coastline and wait for Hakon to go away. Then he could assert his own dominance over the native rulers. In the north Alexander, earl of Buchan, and Alan Durward (a striking co-operation between two old rivals) were placed in command and they extracted hostages from Caithness and Skye. In the west Walter Stewart, earl of Menteith, commanded the king’s main base at Ayr where ships were built and the castle held by 120 sergeants. On 4 October on the shore at Largs, under the looming Cunningham hills, there was a great fight between the two sides with the Scots, according to Hakon’s Saga, commanding 500 horse. Certainly the accounts of Alexander’s chamberlain in 1264 show £710 being spent on horses and saddles.
The campaign of 1263 had, in fact, ended in a draw. King Hakon had demonstrated Norwegian power in the west on a scale (as his Saga commented) unseen since Magnus Barelegs’ expedition in 1098. Yet he had not dented Alexander’s pretensions to the area and therefore he planned to winter in Orkney and renew the war in 1264. It was not to be. On 16 December the aged hero, consoled by readings from the Sagas of his predecessors (he had first listened to Latin books, doubtless of a devotional nature, but had not understood them), died in the bishop’s palace on Orkney. Alexander at once saw his chance. He assembled a fleet and prepared to invade Skye, a move which brought Magnus of Man’s submission and proffer of hostages. After that Alexander Buchan, Durward and the earl of Mar (who had 200 sergeants under his command) invaded the Western Isles where (according to Fordun) ‘they slew the traitors who the year before had encouraged the king of Norway’, and returned with much plunder.
Alexander now renewed his offers to buy out the Norwegians, and found Hakon’s pacific son, King Magnus, ready to accept them. The result in 1266 was the Treaty of Perth, the first of the great thirteenth-century documents of conquest. Magnus retained Orkney and Shetland, but resigned Man and the other western islands to Alexander and his heirs. All the ‘vassals’ of the islands were to be ‘subject to the laws and customs of the kingdom of Scotland’. However, the islanders were to be pardoned for injuries done in support of the king of Norway and could leave if they wished. In return for all this, Alexander paid £2,666 and promised Norway an annual fee of £66. For some of the native chiefs the Scottish conquest was a disaster, their fate foreshadowing that of the native rulers swept aside by the Edwardian conquest of Wales twenty years later. Dugald, lord of Garmoran refused to submit to Alexander; his son Eric threw in his lot entirely with the king of Norway. Murchaid of Knapdale (whose son was a hostage in 1264) fled to Ireland, where he was captured and imprisoned. Nothing more is heard of Rhodri, the MacSorley to whom Hakon had given Bute.
In Man, it was not just the ruling family who suffered. King Magnus had died in 1266 before the conclusion of the Treaty of Perth. The claims of Godfrey, his illegitimate son, to succeed were ignored and the island was governed by royal bailiffs. They may well (as permitted by the Treaty) have set about subjecting the islanders to the laws and customs of the Scottish kingdom, much as Alan la Zouche had subjected the Welsh of the Four Cantrefs to English law in the 1250s. The result was that when in 1275 Godfrey, son of Magnus, returned to Man he was accepted as king ‘universally and unanimously’. Alexander gathered a large fleet and army from Galloway and the Isles and placed the Anglo-Scottish baron John de Vesci in command. A battle was fought in which (according to the local chronicle) 537 Manxmen perished. Godfrey and his wife escaped to Wales but it was the end of his ancient dynasty. The monastery of Rushen was sacked, the monks dispersed and the land was ravaged. Thus had King Alexander brought the west within his kingdom.
As so often, there was another side to the conquest, one of more peaceful integration. The Treaty of Perth was different from the 1284 Statute of Wales. The one was negotiated between equals; the other imposed after the defeat of a general rebellion. The Perth Treaty protected Norwegian supporters in the Isles from disinheritance, provided they were now faithful to the king of Scotland; the Statute of Wales followed an almost general forfeiture. Likewise, although the Treaty spoke of Scottish laws and customs, outside Man they were only gradually established: it was not until 1293 that Argyll and the Isles were finally divided into three sheriffdoms. One of the sheriffs, that of Lorn, was none other than Alexander, son of Ewen of Lorn, the MacSorley who in the 1240s had boasted the title ‘king of the Isles’. From king to royal official: this might seem to sum up the decline of the MacSorleys. Nevertheless the western sheriffs were men of high status within the Scottish realm: Alexander’s colleagues were the earl of Ross and the head of the Stewarts. Alexander of Lorn also retained wide independence within his own lordships. He was not alone in coming to terms with the Scottish crown. Another MacSorley, Alan of Garmoran, as well as Alexander, were involved in the final conquest of Man in 1275. The arrangements in 1284 for succession to the throne were witnessed by three MacSorleys (including Alexander), and the earl of Orkney, all described as ‘barons of the realm of Scotland’. In their use of Latin charters, adoption of knighthood, marriages and naming patterns (Alexander married a daughter of John Comyn), these nobles were all coming within the Scottish realm and the wider European polity of which it was part. The expansion of the kingdom was achieved both by violence and accommodation.
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The politics of England also helped set back the English position in Ireland, facilitating a recovery of the native rulers, just as happened in Wales. To some extent this would have occurred anyway with the demise of both the Lacys and the Marshals in the 1240s, and the de Burgh minority between the death of Richard in 1243 and the succession of his son Walter in 1250. A generation of self-confident conquerors had come to an end. The English situation made it difficult for successors to become established. The obstruction of Edward as the new Lord of Ireland effectively nullified the grant of land worth £500 to Geoffrey de Lusignan (see above, p. 361). Then John fitz John’s Montfortianism meant that he could do nothing to consolidate the grant in Thomond made to his father, John fitz Geoffrey. The movement led by Brian O’Neill, ‘king of the kings of Ireland’, was ended by his defeat and death in 1260, but in the following year the MacCarthys killed John fitz Thomas, to whom Edward had granted the lordship of Desmond. Then from 1265 Aedh O’Connor, from his base in Roscommon, began to disturb the position of Walter de Burgh in Connacht.
By this time Edward’s difficulties in England had led to a major restructuring in Ireland, Walter de Burgh being the beneficiary and the crown the loser. In 1263 Edward conceded Ulster, in royal hands since Hugh de Lacy’s death in 1242, to Walter, thus joining Connacht and Ulster under de Burgh lordship. Like King John’s restoration of Meath to Walter de Lacy in 1215, this concession was entirely due to the political situation in England. It took place on 15 July 1263, the day before Henry III surrendered to Simon de Montfort and became once more a cipher. At this moment of supreme crisis, Edward was enlisting de Burgh and his Irish resources for the continuation of the fight in England. He was not entirely disappointed. The immediate effect of de Burgh’s installation was a violent conflict with the fitz Geralds who feared for their own position in Ulster, but with peace restored (by Geoffrey de Joinville), the main Irish barons crossed over to help Edward around the time of the battle of Evesham. The crisis in England had, however, destroyed the prospect of Ulster becoming a new royal base in Ireland.
If Edward wished to reassert royal authority in Britain and Ireland, he would have first, like Henry II, to reassert it within England itself. If the limbs were weak, the fundamental trouble concerned the heart.