Medieval > First Barons' War


When King John died in October 1216 he left his country in a state of civil war with many his barons actively supporting Prince Louis of France who had come to England to depose him. William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke assumed the role of Regent for the King's heir, the young Henry III, and at the Battle of Lincoln (1217) he defeated the French force and stabilised the new regime.

Historical Background


On the 15 June 1215, John sealed Magna Carta – a document intended to prevent a civil war with his own magnates. But within weeks of the document being agreed, John had sought Papal authority to revoke it. The country descended into civil war (the First Barons War) with the King’s key opponents inviting Prince Louis of France to invade and take the English Crown. Louis landed in England in May 1216 and entered London where he was proclaimed King. However, in October 1216 John died leaving his 9 year old son, Henry III, as successor. Few of the Barons had any grievance against the new King and the nominated Regent - William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke - successfully adopted a policy of reconciliation. By the start of the 1217 campaigning season, he was able to muster a large army to counter Prince Louis.




Despite concurrently maintaining a siege of Dover Castle, where Hubert de Burgh was maintaining a spirited defence for the King, Prince Louis sent a portion of his forces north to capture the strategic town of Lincoln under the command of Thomas, Count of Perche. The town walls were quickly overcome but the castle resisted and was besieged. William Marshal moved to relieve the castle.



The Battle


The battle was fought in and around the castle and walled town on 20 May 1217.


- Stage 1: Royalist Advance

Although Thomas was aware of the advance of the Royalists, he did not have intelligence as to the size of the force. Rather than risk a pitched battle, potentially with a much larger force, he decided to adopt a defensive strategy and retain his forces within the confines of Lincoln town (defended by its Roman walls).


- Stage 2: Crossbowmen Enter Castle

With all of the French forces having withdrawn into Lincoln, William Marshall sent his crossbowmen ahead of the main force access the castle via the West Gate. They attacked the besiegers from the castle ramparts causing a significant distraction.


- Stage 3: Royalists Storm Lincoln

Aided by the diversion generated by the crossbowmen in the castle, William’s forces assaulted the town. They captured the north gate (now called Newport Arch) and swept into Lincoln. The forces besieging the castle were routed and Thomas, Count of Perche was killed in the fighting. Lincoln was extensively looted following the Royalist victory and accordingly became popularly known as “Lincoln’s Fair”. Many of the French who escaped the town were murdered as they retreated south towards London.




The defeat of the Baronial-French forces at Lincoln marked the beginning of the end for Prince Louis’ campaign for the English Crown. Many of the rebel Barons were captured in the battle and, due to conciliatory approach taken by William Marshal, many switched allegiance to Henry III. Furthermore French reinforcements, under the command of Eustace the Monk, were defeated by Hubert de Burgh at the Battle of Sandwich on 24 August 1217. Prince Louis returned to France and the subsequent Treaty of Lambeth (1217) ended the First Baron’s War.



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What's There?

Lincoln Castle is a major tourist attraction with an excellent wall walk, a Magna Carta exhibition and Victorian prison. Nearby are ruins of the Roman East Gate, Newport Arch (where the Royalists stormed into the town) and the medieval entrance to the Cathedral Close at Pottergate.


Lincoln Castle West Gate

Newport Gate

Getting There

The castle is a major tourist attraction and is well sign-posted. Numerous (pay and display) car parks around Lincoln with several in direct proximity to the castle.

Lincoln Castle


53.234772N 0.540290W

Newport Gate


53.237206N 0.538199W

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