Thursday, October 31, 2013

Evesham and the Witch of Wigmore

Simon de Montfort at Evesham, and the Witch of Wigmore

There is no doubting the firmness of Christian faith held by Simon de Montfort the Earl of Leicester, and that whatever he may have known of the surviving pre-Christian faith whose adherents were called witches and warlocks, he would have deplored. This is not a story of the Earl willingly involving himself with witchcraft. Nevertheless, his death at Evesham in August of 1265 is linked with the practices of that old pagan faith.

The royal entourage that Montfort was leading, on a tour of the King’s courts of law to reestablish peace and order, had been besieged and stalked. Lords opposing what they felt was Montfort’s excessive influence in the new, parliamentary government had banded together under the leadership of the young Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare.

Many felt that when the Parliamentary party, led by Monfort, had vanquished King Henry III’s forces at Lewes in 1263 the ransoms of the numerous lords taken prisoner should have been awarded as spoils to those who fought on Montfort’s side. Instead, the sums were used for governmental purposes, chiefly the arming of England against the likely prospect of invasion from abroad by any of a number of powers, from the Vatican to the King of France or any nobleman willing to take up the papal cause with the Crown of England as reward. England’s new government of elected representatives with power over the monarchy was a direct challenge to the entire system of hierarchy that the Church was trying hard to enforce through the doctrines of Thomas Aquinas.

The fending off of multiple attacks from abroad was successful. The ultimate threat to the Parliamentary party, and to Simon de Montfort personally, came from within. De Clare and his cluster of dissatisfied former followers of Montfort found allies among England’s lords. Many resented the adulation of Montfort expressed by the commons and the orders of friars who saw him as the Angel of the Apocalypse defending a new era of freedom for the common man.

And there were lords with holdings on the Welsh Marches who resented the treaties that Montfort had made with the Welsh in an effort to pacify England’s western border and focus her military strength to resisting invasion. The very success of Montfort’s defense policy – no invading army succeeded in landing – seemed to argue a lack of necessity and added to the irritation of the Marcher lords.

Leader of the Marchers opposing Montfort was Roger Mortimer, Lord of Ludlow and Wigmore. He joined the forces Gilbert de Clare was amassing. When Prince Edward escaped from Montfort’s entourage and joined de Clare, the stalking campaign that had besieged the royal tour at Hereford then pursued it through the hill country west of the Severn River gained focus and its end-game strategy.

The royal tour of the courts was not a military operation, therefore it had no army in attendance, only a small guard for the King, the royal clerks and the Treasury – the purpose being only to tour law courts, hear cases and give justice. Llewellyn, known later as the Last, leant Montfort a hundred archers when the deadly intent of Clare and his followers became evident.

In short, Clare had a substantial army at his command, and Montfort and his train of royal clerks and accountants had no army. 

Trapped west of the flooded Severn River, Montfort sent message after message to his son Simon in the east to raise an army and come to the rescue. Young Simon was slow in responding, but by the beginning of August he had amassed a substantial army at Kenilworth and had built boats to convey them over the Severn.

But, receiving no reply from his son for weeks, Montfort at last attempted a dash westward to reach safety at the castle of Kenilworth. The castle had been his own holding. He had returned to the Crown, then fortified for the Parliamentary party’s defense.

Prince Edward, well aware of young Simon’s activities, and fond of his cousin and close friend, apparently had no wish to hurt the Montforts, merely to end the Parliamentary movement that suppressed the free powers of the Crown. While young Simon and the leaders of the army he had raised caroused in feasting and debauchery in a bathhouse at Kenilworth, celebrating their departure for war the next morning, Edward stole their all arms, their horses and even their clothes.

Then the Prince turned his army again toward Montfort, an army he knew to be so large, so overwhelming to the meager force that opposed it, that the only reasonable response would be surrender. But there were those within his forces who had personal grudges to settle.

Having left the royal clerks and the wagons of the Chancery and Treasury at Hereford, Montfort -- with only the young lords who were his most devoted followers, the hundred Welsh archers, and King Henry who was effectively his prisoner -- succeeded in crossing the Severn at last and marched at speed through the night toward Kenilworth. He’d received no word of his son’s success in raising forces, and if indeed an army had been raised, the long wait with no word made it seem likely it had met the Prince’s forces and had been destroyed. He certainly knew nothing of Edward’s midnight thievery.

Morning came and Montfort’s followers were still hurrying toward the safety of the walls of Kenilworth when King Henry persistently demanded rest and breakfast. Against his better judgment, Montfort bent to his king’s wishes. Halt was called at the abbey of Evesham, and the monks provided a meal as scouts were sent out and a watcher placed on the abbey’s tower to warn of Edward’s coming.

Edward, closely following the small, fleeing group, divided his army in three to surround Evesham and Green Hill, just to the north of the town. Having stolen young Simon’s army’s flags, he raised them and Montfort’s scouts and watcher, seeing from a distance, were deceived.

Montfort and his followers were jubilant – young Simon was at last coming to their rescue. But, as they watched the approaching armies, they saw young Simon’s flags lowered and Prince Edward’s flags raised. They were deftly being surrounded by overwhelming force.

Montfort urged all those with him to flee from the town at once but they refused to leave him. Believing the Parliamentary forces raised by his son to be defeated, and preferring death in battle to almost certain  death by hanging, drawing and quartering as a traitor to the Crown, Simon de Montfort refused to surrender.

The contingent the Prince was leading was circling northeastward around Green Hill. Montfort may have thought there was a slim chance that, before they closed the way north to Kenilworth, a few of those with him might get through and reach the safety of the castle, about thirty miles distant. But by the time he and his followers, with King Henry in their midst in borrowed armor, reached midway up Green Hill, Edward’s forces were forming an array across the summit.

Edward demanded surrender. Montfort continued advancing. Edward cried out for surrender again and again. And he never gave the order for his forces to attack. Simon de Montfort was the Prince’s much loved uncle –some said his true father. And the youths with the Earl were all the Prince’s friends. But the men with Edward were infuriated by the Parliament that curtailed their rights over the peasantry, and some were Montfort’s personal enemies. They broke ranks and surged down Green Hill’s slope, engulfing and destroying the meager resistance that could be raised against them. There were few survivors.

Long after all the rest were dead or had surrendered, a core of battling continued. Fighting close together, surrounded by their enemies, Simon and his eldest son Henry were cut down even as the Prince tried to call halt. Foremost among their slaughterers were Roger Mortimer, the Marcher lord, and King Henry’s half-brothers of Lusignan, descendants of that witch of French lore, Melusine.

By some accounts the day was August 2, the holy day of the old pagan faith, called Lammas. It was said that when Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, hailed as Angel of the Apocalypse, lay dead, common folk came to sop up his blood and spread it on the fields for their blessing. So it was said.

What is known for a certainty is that, utterly counter to Christian custom, his body was dismembered by a knight named William Maltraverse. The hands, the feet, the arms, the legs, the genitals were distributed. The head was given to Roger Mortimer who sent it to his wife, a well-known witch, at Wigmore. There the Lady Mortimer “foully shent” it. The chronicler says no more and no doubt knew no more.

The hands of the Earl had a better fate. While a messenger was conveying them in a bag, they appeared in the air before him clasped in prayer. The messenger, like Paul of Tarsus, was stunned, repented and converted -- the first of many who experienced the miracles of Simon de Montfort and came to believe in his sanctity.

At Evesham, when Montfort’s stripped and mutilated torso was lifted from the ground, a spring burst from the earth with water rich in miraculous healing powers.

The significance of the Earl’s blood spread upon the fields, and more on the Old Faith, its beliefs and practices, will be discussed here in postings between Halloween and December 21, the Darkest Night.

See also Montfort the Angel with the Sword by Katherine Ashe







Monday, October 14, 2013

Simon de Montfort's Coat of Arms

Does an error become the truth when it's been repeated for over a hundred years? Of course not.

The coat of arms of Simon de Montfort the Earl of Leicester is a red lion rampant on a white ground. But depictions of his arms almost always show a white lion on a red ground. The error is quite understandable. In the cathedral at Chartres there's a window depicting Simon de Montfort, and there his shield shows a white lion on a red ground.
The problem is that this portrays the Earl of Leicester's father, Simon de Montfort, the great crusader in Palestine and against the Albigensians. Financial contributions for Chartres' windows were being collected at a perfect time for this hero of militant Christianity to be so honored. There is no conceivable reason why England's revolutionary Earl of Leicester should be honored with a window at Chartres.
As a younger son, Earl Simon would have had a shield "differenced" from his father's -- as indeed it is in showing the colors reversed.
The proof of the Earl's red lion on white is absolute. Matthew Paris, who knew the Earl well and published both private letters of his and private conversations in that most reliable of all medieval English chronicles, the Chronica Majora, devoted an entire page to the depiction of the shields of England's lords. Simon de Montfort's shield is shown with a red lion on a white ground. And, should there be any quibble about the writing of the name beneath the shield, the 13th century illustration of Simon's dismemberment at the battle of Evesham should leave no doubt whatsoever -- for the shield with the red lion rampant on a white ground is depicted right beside the dismembered body.

 It should be noted that the lion is a European lion, similar to a mountain lion or cougar, not an African lion. The difference is that the European lion was smooth-coated without mane, "feathering" of legs or a tasseled tail.   
There are beautiful stained-glass windows, toys, and emblems of Simon de Montfort, intending the Earl but showing the Crusader. It may be too much to hope that what is out in public circulation can be changed, but perhaps future use of the Earl's heraldry actually will show that of the Earl.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

English Historical Fiction Authors Celebration: Castles

English  Historical Fiction Authors Anniversary Celebration

A Tour of Castles: Kenilworth

by Katherine Ashe


Kenilworth, the name was chosen by Sir Walter Scott for his novel of romance and murder set in Elizabethan times. Did Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, have his pregnant wife hurled down the stairs and killed so he might be a widower and free to marry Queen Elizabeth? Historians doubt it now, but Amy Robsart did die at an opportune time for the Queen’s favorite to be available should she chose him for her consort.
Scott chose his title from the central episode of Dudley’s wooing, the great Progress and the glorious feasts and entertainments held for Elizabeth at Kenilworth. What was that banquet hall that now reaches up but a small part of its stone frame, gaping with fretted windows, when those long lancet windows were filled with colored glass, when the groined ceiling, painted like the night sky, arched above the tessellated floor and rank upon rank of tables where the Queen and her courtiers dined in costumes more elaborate with gems and tissues of gold than ever glorified the human form before or since?

And the entertainments on the Mere, the lake that now is no more than a trickling stream through a grassy meadow. There, magnificently staged allegories from antiquity, in floating tableaus, gave courtly compliment to the virtues and accomplishments of Gloriana.

Was this perhaps the greatest moment for lavishness in England’s history? It was intended to capture a Queen’s heart. But it failed. Perhaps Elizabeth, having observed the marital state as practiced by her father, had no liking for it. Perhaps she suspected in Dudley a similarity to her wife-murdering father?

While Dudley’s extravaganza was no doubt Kenilworth’s most glittering moment, it was not the most significant. That was in 1265-6 when the castle withstood siege for 18 months and proved itself unconquerable: the defenders surrendering only to what they were deceived into believing would be generous terms. The promises were broken and Kenilworth’s defenders became known as the “dispossessed.”

But they, and Kenilworth, had proved the castle’s fortifications were as strong as any in the world. We see the result of that: Cromwell had the surrounding towered battlements destroyed and the massive central tower packed with explosives. Yet three of that tower’s walls still stand, defying ruin by the hand of man and the erosions of weather.

Kenilworth’s history as a castle may be quite ancient. That four-square tower is built upon a small man-made hill such as constituted “castles” in Britain’s prehistoric times -- those nearly mythic times before Julius Caesar got there to record what he saw.

Surrounding and rising from that mound is the edifice built by Geoffrey de Clinton, Chamberlin to King Henry I. With the Clintons’ fall from royal favor the castle became part of the royal demesne, a favorite of John of Gaunt and Richard III.

It appears from the outset that the tower was intended both as a home and a defensible structure. Massive walls enclose the nearly square structure, with square towers at each corner rising a story above the main roof. These corner towers contained a three-story latrine (each seat-ledge cantilevered out beyond the one below so the user would be in no danger of what might be falling from above), a staircase and small rooms. Beneath the tower to the left of the entrance is a pit, used for wines and, apparently, occasionally for prisoners. When Simon de Montfort told his rebellious sons that he would “put them where (they’d) have the benefit of neither sun nor moon” this is no doubt what he had in mind.

The main hall is one of the handsomest of Norman buildings. Its artistry, free of ornament such as graced the later banquet hall, relies upon the perfect proportions of the three soaring arches that pierce the north and south walls. Clean half-circle curves not even elaborated with the rickrack bas relief of which the Normans were so fond. On the inner side the arches narrow to defensive arrow-slits with high steps rising to form window-seats. An attached foyer building covers the entrance staircase from the courtyard.

The floor above the hall (and we know there was one from the holes for floor-joists in the high walls) was reached by the tower staircase which must have opened on a passage giving access to a corridor that’s cut within the thickness (the walls are 16 feet thick at base) of the south wall. Wooden partitions, no doubt decoratively carved and sometimes hung with tapestries, formed three chambers. The chamber overlooking the Mere was improved by King Henry III, during the period 1240-44, with larger windows, a chimney and hearth. For this room, the chambers in the corner towers opening into it would have served as bedchambers for waiting servitors. Only the corner towers rise another story, the three chambers there opening onto the battlements.

In 1238 Simon de Montfort received Kenilworth as his home, upon his marriage to King Henry III’s sister Eleanor. The Chronica Majora records the Montforts’ residence at Kenilworth in 1238. Montfort’s ancestor Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick, was the enemy of Geoffrey de Clinton and may have been the reason why Clinton felt a need to build so strong a structure. Nonetheless, writing a brief autobiography in 1260, Montfort records that when he received Kenilworth the building was deteriorated past habitation and he had to spend much money on repairs.

He’d lived there only a year and a half when King Henry, at the ceremony of the Queen’s Churching after the birth of the Crown’s heir, astonished everyone apparently but Montfort and the Queen. As reported in the contemporary Chronica Majora, he accused Simon, his closest friend, of a list of wrongdoings, all of which had been resolved. Montfort fled for his life across the Channel and remained in exile for four years, returning only after the King, in need of his military expertise, promised restoration of his confiscated titles and holdings, and Kenilworth became the Montforts’ principal home again.

But the friendship Henry had felt for Simon never revived. While making use of Montfort’s considerable abilities -- to subdue rebellious Gascony, to negotiate with France -- Henry periodically not only worked against his own agent, but twice tried him for treason and, when that failed, attempted to contrive his death. By 1258, when England’s lords rebelled against King Henry’s incompetent rule, Montfort joined them.

At Oxford, when the lords framed the first constitution for a bi-cameral elected government – the original model for modern Parliament and all modern democracies – it was agreed that, instead of the King’s levying onerous extra taxes, all lands formerly belonging to the royal demesne should be returned to the Crown, enabling Henry to function reasonably within his own finances. Montfort was among the first to renounce the King’s gifts to him, and Kenilworth became again part of the royal demesne.

King Henry, while agreeing, of necessity, to observe the new form of government created by the Provisions of Oxford, raised forces abroad to counter what he saw as usurping rebellion. Montfort led the baronial forces – in the name of the King based on Henry’s vows to the Provisions. It was Montfort who designed and built, at the expense of the royal taxes, the surrounding walls studded with towers, the walls of the causeway crossing the foot of the Mere, and the powerful barbican defending the causeway’s gate – the defenses that made withstanding a siege of 18 month possible.

When the siege took place Montfort already had been killed at the battle of Evesham, his limbs dismembered, his head sent to his enemy Roger Mortimer’s lady, a purported witch. But his sons and followers held out for the cause of the newly created Parliament. And Kenilworth was long known, not as the site of an expensive party, but as the stronghold of England’s democracy.

Free on Kindle, September 23, 24 and 25: Montfort The Early Years 1229 to 1243

For Castles, Customs and Kings, the anniversary collection of the best articles on some of the most interesting, and usually obscure, elements of English history, contributed by numerous authors on the English Historical Fiction Authors site: