Company Supper Evening and Talk at the Chesire Cheese 12th March 2008
The Battle of Evesham August 1265
Talk by David Carpenter, Professor of Mediaeval History, King's College, London
Professor Carpenter gave a fascinating talk about the battle of Evesham (August 1265) in which Henry III reversed his defeat by Simon de Montfort at the battle of Lewes the year before. At Lewes the king and his son Edward (later Edward I) were captured and Simon de Montfort was able to rule England until he was killed at Evesham.
The battle of Evesham was a significant event that restored the monarchy and started the end of the age of chivalry, beginning the period of modern warfare. The battle was so extremely violent that one chronicler, Robert of Gloucester called it the "murder of Evesham". At this time the nobility were only rarely killed in battle, but at Evesham over 30 of de Montfort's noble followers were done to death and de Montfort himself was killed by a death squad of seven sergeants specially established for this task. De Montfort's body, after being horribly mutilated, was sent to his enemies.
In his book, The Battles of Lewes and Evesham 1264/65 (British Battlefield Series, 1987), Professor Carpenter narrated the then known facts about the battles. However, since the book's publication new evidence in the form of a contemporary account of the battle of Evesham has come to light that requires a reconsideration of the battle. This account, found in the library of the College of Arms in 1998, is very detailed and has many local names that can still be identified. It is on the back of an early 14th century genealogical roll of the kings of England to Edward II in 1307. The description of de Montfort learning of the king's position at the top of Greenhill is graphic.
Before the discovery of this account, most commentators thought that de Montfort's army was divided into three groups designed to attack the king's forces from different angles. Those experienced in battle conditions said even in the early 1990s that such a division would be highly unlikely and in the fog of war, almost impossible to command. Professor Carpenter at that time nearly 20 years ago, however, pointed out that contemporary chronicles were most clear on this point and reasserted his view that de Montfort's army had been divided. The new evidence overruled that perspective, he said and much of the battle that he described in his book published in 1987 needed to be re-written.
The battle of Evesham was a watershed bringing in the time of the later middle ages. From 1075 - 1265 there were no political executions in England. Evesham was a descent into barbarism and Edward's treatment of Welsh and Scots princes seems to have started at this battle.
Simon de Montfort was a charismatic person. He married the king's sister and was a most unlikely person to attack the monarchy. He began the long route towards the rule by an elected parliament and reinforced Magna Carta. He was attributed with miracles by Evesham Abbey and there began a custom of pilgrimage to the Abbey until stopped by the king.
None of the accounts of the battle mention bows or archers and it is not until Crecy that we see the first massed phalanx of bowmen.
Other books by David Carpenter:
The Struggle for Mastery in Britain 1066-1284 (Oxford University Press, 2003)
The Reign of Henry III (Hambledon, 1996)
The Minority of King Henry III (Methuen, 1990)