1265: The Murder of Evesham

The Second Baronial Revolt that came to a bloody confrontation at the Battle of Evesham was the climax of a clash between fundamentally antagonistic interests, with a kingdom as the prize on one side and survival on the other. Having beaten and captured the king, Henry III, at the Battle of Lewes, Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, faced his nephew, the future Edward I, on a hillside to the north of Evesham on August 4th 1265 in a battle that began in a summer storm and ended in a massacre of the rebel army. Evesham was a pivotal battle, if the outcome had been different then we might be living in a very different country today. Had Edward been left dead of Greenhill instead of Simon de Montfort, the United Kingdom might not exist today.

This book is an analysis of that battle, drawing heavily upon contemporary or near-contemporary sources. These vibrant echoes of the past are supplemented by the work of later historians and of battlefield archaeologists, the study of many sources and an appraisal of the battlefield landscape, that survives largely intact. This analysis is written by a confessed Montfortian; nevertheless, the picture of Earl Simon that emerges is not that of a pristine hero meeting an end of Homeric drama and pathos. Instead, it is that of a man riding a tiger. Not a good man, nor a bad one; just a man who had followed his destiny too far and so must ride it to its conclusion or be thrown off and destroyed.

1265 – The Murder of Evesham begins by providing a brief overview of the conflicts between Henry III and his barons that today we call ‘The Second Baronial War’ or ‘The First English Revolution’ to set the context, then focuses on the events of 1264 when king and prince were captured, foreshadowing a realignment of allegiances that made a second battle inevitable. It is essential to understand the nature of the armies that met on Greenhill, so a long chapter looks at the recruitment, supply, arming and deployment of mid-thirteenth century armies and we go on to see what we can learn from the battlefield itself, its configuration and archaeology before exploring various theories about the deployment of the two armies and the conduct of the battle itself and its aftermath.

Although most British battlefields are marked, few are venerated in the same way as those of, say, the American Civil War, and few are exploited.  Many of the public cannot understand why anyone would want to commemorate a site where thousands of men were killed, many of them not knowing where they were or for which cause they were dying. On the other hand, a battlefield is, in its way, an ancient monument and its preservation honours the memory of those who died, and this book is dedicated to their memory.

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