As you stand on Greenhill imagine that summer’s day – August 4th, 1265 interrupted by a heavy thunderstorm, as Simon, Earl of Leicester and his men rode up to meet Prince Edward’s mighty army. Simon de Montfort had challenged the King’s power and thus paved the way for the beginnings of representative and democratic government, a model to which other countries would later aspire.
It had been a long struggle between the English kings and their barons over the acceptance of the Magna Carta which decreed the king was not to be above the law. To enforce this was difficult and ultimately led to civil war. Simon had captured Henry III and his son Prince Edward at the Battle of Lewes in 1264 and governed England in the king’s name for a year. He had even called Parliaments in June 1264 and January 1265. Edward however escaped and now allied with dissidents barons led a formidable army determined to bring down Simon.
Simon had camped on the night of August 3rd at the Abbey in Evesham to rest and feed his army. His lookout had seen Edward approaching from the north and Simon decided to attack without delay although knowing he was heavily outnumbered. Here now began a massacre fro Edwards vengeance was terrible. Simon was surrounded and unhorsed by Edward’s men yet he continued fighting bravely on foot before being killed by one Roger de Mortimer. His body was cruelly dismembered. The dead and wounded lay everywhere and blood ran through the Abbey church and stained the Monk’s choir. The Abbey and the town were pillaged. Robert of Gloucester described it as “a murder of Evesham for battle it was none.” Simon’s remains and the bodies of his son Henry and that of Hugh le Despenser were carried away by the monks and buried near the High Altar of the Abbey.
Soon after the stories of miracles began to circulate and many people made pilgrimages to the Abbey and the Battle Well – said to be a source of healing. These were forcibly stopped and the stories suppressed. At some time a small chapel was built over the remains of the dead soldiers – called the Chapel of the Battle Well – a place of pilgrimage.
Remember then, Simon de Montfort who rose above his own frailties to pass on a heritage of principles, ideas and commitment to responsible government which has enriched us all.