Leicester, having added a body of fifteen thousand citizens to his army, marched from London, with a resolution to bring the controversy to an issue.
Continuing How The House of Commons Began in England,
our selection from The History of England, From the First Invasion by the Romans to the Accession of Henry VIII by John Lingard published in 1819. The selection is presented in eleven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in How The House of Commons Began in England.
The barons had already taken their resolution. The moment the decision was announced to them they declared that it was, on the face of it, contrary to truth and justice, and had been procured by the undue influence which the Queen of Louis, the sister-in-law to Henry, possessed over the mind of her husband. Hostilities immediately recommenced; and as every man of property was compelled to adhere to one of the two parties, the flames of civil war were lighted up in almost every part of the kingdom. In the North, and in Cornwall and Devon, the decided superiority of the royalists forced the friends of the barons to dissemble their real sentiments; the midland counties and the marches of Wales were pretty equally divided: but in the Cinque Ports, the metropolis, and the neighboring districts Montfort ruled without opposition. His partisan, Thomas Fitz-Thomas, had been intruded into the office of mayor of London; and a convention for their mutual security had been signed by that officer and the commonalty of the city on the one part, and the earls of Leicester, Gloucester, and Derby, Hugh le Despenser, the grand justiciary, and twelve barons on the other. In the different wardmotes every male inhabitant above twelve years of age was sworn a member of the association: a constable and marshal of the city were appointed; and orders were given that at the sound of the great bell at St. Paul’s all should assemble in arms and obey the authority of these officers. The efficacy of the new arrangements was immediately put to the test. Despenser, the justiciary, came from the Tower, put himself at the head of the associated bands, and conducted them to destroy the two palaces of the King of the Romans, at Isleworth and Westminster, and the houses of the nobility and citizens known or suspected to be attached to the royal cause. The justices of the king’s bench and the barons of the exchequer were thrown into prison; the moneys belonging to foreign merchants and bankers, which for security had been deposited in the churches, were carried to the Tower; and the Jews, to the number of five hundred, men, women, and children, were conducted to a place of confinement. Out of these, Despenser selected a few of the more wealthy, that he might enrich himself by their ransom; the rest he abandoned to the cruelty and rapacity of the populace, who, after stripping them of their clothes, massacred them all in cold blood. Cock ben Abraham, who was considered the most opulent individual in the kingdom, had been killed in his own house by John Fitz-John, one of the barons. The murderer at first appropriated to himself the treasure of his victim; but he afterward thought it more prudent to secure a moiety, by making a present of the remainder to Leicester.
Henry had summoned the tenants of the crown to meet him at Oxford; and being joined by Comyn, Bruce, and Baliol, the lords of the Scottish borders, unfurled his standard and placed himself at the head of the army. His first attempts were successful. Northampton, Leicester, and Nottingham, three of the strongest fortresses in the possession of the barons, were successively reduced; and among the captives were reckoned Simon the eldest of Leicester’s sons, fourteen other bannerets, forty knights, and a numerous body of esquires. From Nottingham, he was recalled into Kent by the danger of his nephew Henry, besieged in the castle of Rochester. At his approach the enemy, who had taken and pillaged the city, retired with precipitation; and the King, after an ineffectual attempt to secure the cooperation of the Cinque Ports, fixed his head-quarters in the town of Lewes.
Leicester, having added a body of fifteen thousand citizens to his army, marched from London, with a resolution to bring the controversy to an issue. From Fletching he dispatched a letter to Henry, protesting that neither he nor his associates had taken up arms against the King, but against the evil counsellors who enjoyed and abused the confidence of their sovereign. Henry returned a public defiance, which was accompanied by a message from Prince Edward and the King of the Romans, declaring in the name of the royal barons that the charge was false; pronouncing Montfort and his adherents perjured; and daring the earls of Leicester and Derby to appear in the King’s court and prove their assertion by single combat. After the observation of these forms, which the feudal connection between the lord and the vassal was supposed to make necessary, Montfort prepared for the battle. It was the peculiar talent of this leader to persuade his followers that the cause in which they fought was the cause of heaven. He represented to them that their objects were liberty and justice; and that their opponent was a prince whose repeated violation of the most solemn oaths had released them from their allegiance, and had entailed on his head the curse of the Almighty. He ordered each man to fasten a white cross on the breast and shoulder, and to devote the next evening to the duties of religion. Early in the morning he marched forward, and, leaving his baggage and standard on the summit of a hill, about two miles from Lewes, descended into the plain. Henry’s foragers had discovered and announced his approach; and the royalists in three divisions silently awaited the attack. Leicester, having called before the ranks the Earl of Gloucester and several other young noblemen, bade them kneel down, and conferred on them the order of knighthood; and the Londoners, who impatiently expected the conclusion of the ceremony, rushed with loud shouts on the enemy. They were received by Prince Edward, broken in a few minutes, and driven back as far as the standard. Had the Prince returned from the pursuit, and fallen on the rear of the confederates, the victory might have been secured. But he remembered the insults which the citizens had offered to his mother, and the excesses of which they had lately been guilty; the suggestions of prudence were less powerful than the thirst of revenge; and the pursuit of the fugitives carried him with the flower of the army four miles from the field of battle.
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