I am leaping around historically speaking at the moment. The Battle of Evesham was fought on the morning of the 4th August 1265. Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester was in Evesham when news arrived that the royal army under the leadership of Prince Edward had been sighted – probably from the abbey. Despite holding Henry III captive, De Montfort was outnumbered by as many as three to one which is why he started the battle with a cavalry charge which had it succeeded would have split Edward’s army and given de Montfort an opportunity to escape from Evesham with most of his men. He had to charge uphill which was never going to be tactically satisfactory. Unfortunately for de Montfort Prince Edward was going to turn into King Edward I – probably England’s most effective martial king. Edward learned much from de Montfort regarding tactics when he’d been at the receiving end of them at the Battle of Lewes. Now he employed them against de Montfort himself. The royal army swung in from both sides on de Montfort’s flanks and after several hours fighting it became a rout. Henry III barely escaped with his life so eager was the royal army to let blood.
There was even a thunder storm to add some atmosphere to an already bloody battle. As many as 4000 of de Montfort’s 6000 men were killed. Many of the nobles that fought on his side were slaughtered including de Montfort and his son Henry. Prince Edward did not offer any quarter regarding de Montfort as a rebel who needed to be extinguished. This was unusual at the time as it was generally accepted that quarter would be given and ransom obtained. De Montfort was killed by Roger de Mortimer. It proved to be the decisive battle of this particular Barons’ War –the Second one- but it would be another two years before peace was restored to the kingdom on account of many of the rebellious barons having well defended castles.
Almost inevitably the town and abbey of Evesham suffered in the aftermath of the battle. Simon de Montfort, whose body was badly mutilated, was finally buried near the high altar in the abbey. Only the bell tower remains today.
Our story actually began when Henry III tried to turn the clock back. The Provisions of Oxford in 1258 had led to reforms from which many would argue parliamentary democracy had its foundation. Henry III tried to undo the reforms and in 1264 had fought the Battle of Lewes. In that battle de Montfort captured Henry III and Prince Edward, effectively allowing de Montfort to rule England for a year and to summon Parliaments thus drawing on Magna Carta which was about fifty years old at that point as well as the Provisions of Oxford. De Montfort ensured that barons loyal to the Crown were fined or incarcerated – the Earl of Derby found himself in the Tower for instance.
However, things did not go all de Montfort’s way. In May one of de Montfort’s supporters, the Earl of Gloucester (yup – that’s right he was a de Clare) suddenly changed sides. The so-called Red Earl on account of his hair colouring and temper helped Prince Edward escape and put an army together. He drew on his extended family and affinity – many of the Crown’s army came from the Welsh marches. The outcome was the slaughter on the 4thAugust 1265 but ten years later in 1275 the Statute of Westminster accepted many of the Oxford provisions and there was reconciliation between Crown and barons.
A first hand account of the battle may be found at the National Archives. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/magna-carta/battle-of-evesham/