Medieval Battles >

The Barons' Wars

Lincoln (1217)

Lewes (1264)

Evesham (1265)

The Battles

---------  First Barons' War  ---------

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Battle of Sandwich

24 August 1217

Kent

---------  Second Barons' War  ---------

Battle of Northampton

5-6 April 1264

Northamptonshire

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Historical Background

 

Medieval Kingship relied on a strong ruler who could balance the demands of the leading magnates and either keep taxation low or have success in military endeavours, with all the benefits of victory, to justify excessive expense. Notwithstanding a bitter civil war over the succession - the Anarchy - this had broadly been achieved by the first Kings following the Norman invasion. However the rule of King John (1199-1216) led to a re-evaluation of the relationship between monarch and the Barons.

 

 

The First Barons' War (1215-17)

 

When King John came to the throne in 1199 he was the ruler of a vast continental empire built by his father (Henry II) and maintained by his brother (Richard I). By 12xx it had almost all been lost fuelling an insatiable Royal appetite for money in order to recover his former territories. John's regime became proficient at extracting money from his Kingdom earning the enmity of the church and his Barons. When coupled with obscene events - even to contemporaries - such as the starving to death of Matilda de Braose and her son, King John's regime destabilised. By 1215 he had so alienated his Barons that they sought to impose Magna Carta - a charter which included a 'security clause' allowing them to wage war against the King if he failed to comply. Although the King put his seal to Magna Carta at Runnymede on 15 June 1215, he sought Papal support to revoke it which ignited the First Barons' War.

 

Numerous Barons revoked their fealty to John and invited Prince Louis of France, a maternal grandson of Henry II, to invade and take the English throne. Initially John went on the offensive devastating the lands of the rebel Barons and mounting a legendary siege against Rochester Castle. However French Knights arrived in London in November 1215 and in May the following year, Louis landed in Kent. John retreated west and Louis entered London without opposition where he was proclaimed King. By Summer 1216 he had overrun much of southern England although Dover and Windsor castles bitterly resisted his forces.

 

John died in October 1216 at Newark Castle eliminating the main cause of the war. William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke had been appointed Regent and under his guidance Magna Carta was re-issued minus the 'security clause'. There was now little reason to continue fighting with many of the Barons reluctant to deny the nine-year old King Henry III his rightful inheritance. Dwindling support coupled with defeats for Louis at the battles of Lincoln and Sandwich saw Louis give up his claim at the Treaty of Lambeth sealed on 11 September 1217.

 

 

The Second Barons' War (1264-67)

 

Whilst the accession of Henry III as a young boy helped defuse the First Barons' War, his autocratic rule and promotion of foreign favourites after he reached his majority contributed to a new conflict. In addition excessive taxation, attempting to fund efforts to secure the Kingdom of Scilly for his younger son Edmund, caused wide scale resentment amongst his Barons. Opposition galvanised around Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester whose personal relations with the King were fractious following his marriage to his sister, Eleanor, without Royal permission. Through Montfort the Barons once again sought to implement a charter known as the Provisions of Oxford which required the King to surrender key powers, particularly on taxation and inheritance, to a council headed by Montfort and overseen by a Great Council (Parliament). The Barons compelled the King to agree to these terms in 1258 but Henry sought, and was granted, a Papal annulment. The matter was eventually placed in the hands of Louis IX of France to act as arbitrator and in January 1264 in the Mise of Amiens, he annulled the Provisions of Oxford. The decision led to the Second Barons War (1264-7) with the rebel faction headed by Montfort.

 

The war started with each side securing key castles and in April 1264 the Royalists achieved an inconsequential victory at the First Battle of Northampton (1264). However the following month the forces clashed at the Battle of Lewes (1264) which saw the Royalists defeated with both Henry III and his eldest son, Edward (later Edward I), in custody. For 15 months Montfort ruled England in accordance with the Provisions of Oxford including calling the first Parliament in the Palace of Westminster (20 January 1265). However a former Montfort ally - Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester - was seduced back to the Royalist side and conspired to help Prince Edward escape captivity. With support from the Marcher Lords on the Welsh border, Edward mustered a large army and defeated Montfort at the Battle of Evesham (1265). The Second Baron's War was all but over although a final battle was fought at Chesterfield (1266) to deal with Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby whilst the rest of the hard-line Montfort supporters were besieged in Kenilworth Castle. With that fortification successfully besieged by the King's forces, Henry III finally triumphed with the Dictum of Kenilworth fully restoring Royal authority.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The Provisions of Oxford was never again used by the Barons as grounds for civil war and for the next 350 years they simply deposed weak and ineffective Kings - Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI - rather than attempt to regulate their powers with Charters. However Magna Carta and the Provisions of Oxford had created the concept of a monarchy whose power was not absolute. The idea of a Parliament had been introduced into English law and, upon his accession in 1272, Edward I called such a gathering. As the years progressed it became an increasingly regular event ultimately seeing the birth of the House of Commons in the fourteenth century. That institution would assert itself in the Seventeenth Century Civil Wars which ultimately limited the power of the monarch for good.

 

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