The Battle of Evesham

During the Second Baronial War in 13th Century England, Simon De Montfort, the Earl of Leicster, and several prominent barons rose in revolt against King Henry III and his son, Prince Edward (the future King Edward I “Longshanks”, the bad guy from Braveheart). Henry III had violated the letter and spirit of the Magna Carta signed fifty years before by demanding more money to purchase the title of King of Sicily (long story). In 1263, England had a famine and they couldn’t pay the extra money, so the barons revolted just as they had against Henry’s father, King John (the Sheriff of Nottingham’s boss from Robin Hood). Simon De Montfort won the Battle of Lewes in 1264 and captured Henry and imprisoned Edward.

In 1265, the 26 year old Edward escaped, rallied the King’s supporters, and convinced several of Montfort’s allies to defect. On 4 August, Edward outmaneuvered Montfort and trapped his small army in a bend of the Avon River (not far from Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown) near the village of Evesham. Edward’s troops outnumbered the Barons’ nearly 2-1 and despite a gallant charge by the Baronial knights, it was not enough to keep them from being surrounded. Bad blood existed between barons’ men and the king’s, and eventually the battle turned into a massacre. Instead of capture and ransom which was the custom for knights and lords, the King’s men outright killed them all, thus breaking the power of the barons for the foreseeable future. King Henry, present at the battle as Montfort’s captive, was only saved from the massacre when one of Montfort’s knights identified him in exchange for his life.

Despite the loss, the barons eventually got what they demanded though it took decades. King Henry III died ten years later and the talent, raw competence, and foresight Prince Edward displayed during the war showed when he became King Edward I. Although despised in Scotland, (Longshanks was nicknamed “Hammer of the Scots”) and Wales (which he conquered and colonized in the 1280s), King Edward I maintained the spirit of the Magna Carta, if not the letter, and reformed England’s administration and Common Law. He was not particularly loved by his subjects but they respected him and he was thought of as the ideal medieval king. He recognized the need for his subjects’ input into the governance of state, if only so they would pay more taxes. i.e. taxation WITH representation. King Edward I formed England’s first permanent Parliament, essentially giving in to the demands of the barons that he slaughtered at Evesham ten years before his reign.

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