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Reign of Henry III. Part 3 page 2


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The earl, unacquainted with this disaster, advanced his army to Evesham on the Avon. On arriving there he perceived his own standards on the hills, advancing from the direction of Kenilworth, His eyes were gladdened by the sight, and he advanced unsuspiciously to meet the destruction which was gathering around him. The standards were those of his son in the hands of his enemies; and when at length this was discovered it was too late to retreat. Meanwhile Prince Edward had directed a combined movement of troops in his flank and rear, so that the earl found himself completely surrounded. As he perceived the high degree of military skill evinced in these arrangements, he is said to have complained that his enemies had learnt from him the art of war. He then exclaimed, "May the Lord have mercy on our souls, for our bodies are Prince Edward's."

If such was the old general's opinion, it is not probable that he expressed it openly, and it is certain that he took measures for defence as energetically as though he were assured of victory. Having spent a short time in prayer, and taken the sacrament, as was his custom before going into battle, he marshalled his men in compact order, and placed himself at their head. In the first instance he endeavoured to force his way through the royal troops with the intention of reaching Kenilworth. The attempt was frustrated, and he then formed his troops in a solid mass on the summit of a hill, which was speedily surrounded by his enemies. The king, who still remained with the earl, had been encased in armour and placed on horseback. During the confusion of the light the old man was thrown from his horse, and only escaped being slain by calling out, "Hold your hand, I am Harry of Winchester." The prince, who heard the voice, ran to his father's assistance, placed him on horseback, and carried him to a place of safety. Again and again the royalist troops advanced against the little band on the hill, and again and again were repulsed with heavy loss. Leicester's horse was killed under him - a serious accident in those days, when the motions of the knight were encumbered by a mass of armour - but the earl rose to his feet, and continued the struggle in that position. But the numbers of his foes were overpowering; as a few men with toil and difficulty were driven back, a hundred others stepped forward to supply their place, and it became evident that the contest was hopeless. Leicester then sent messengers to the royalists to demand whether they gave quarter; and the answer returned was that there was no quarter for traitors. His son Henry fell by his side, and each moment some one of the best and bravest of his friends was also struck down. At length the earl himself, after surviving most of the champions of his cause, and standing, as it were, alone, met the fate of his companions, and fell, sword in hand.

The acts of slaughter by which this victory was followed appear in very unfavourable contrast to the humanity which had been displayed by Leicester and his associates on a similar occasion. The usages of chivalry were altogether lost sight of; and such was the hatred of the royalists towards their opponents, inflamed still further by the gallant resistance they had met with, that no mercy was shown to them. No prisoners were taken, no quarter was given to rich or poor, no offer of ransom stayed the uplifted arm of the smiter; and barons and knights, yeomen and citizens, were mingled in an indiscriminate slaughter.

Leicester was beyond the vengeance of his foes? but nevertheless they gratified their brutal rage upon his inanimate corpse, which they cut up and disfigured in a horrible manner, and in this state presented it to a lady, the wife of one of the earl's most deadly enemies, to whom they appear to have considered that it would prove an acceptable gift. According to their custom, the people of England declared the dead hero to be a martyr, and from the reported holiness of his past life, they considered it certain that miracles would be wrought by him after his death; and such was generally believed to be the case, although, for fear of the king, they did not dare openly to express the belief which they held in secret. Whatever degree of justice there may have been in the popular view of his character, his name was reverenced among the people for many years, under the title of Sir Simon the Righteous.

The victory of Evesham restored the king at once to his authority. He proceeded to Warwick, where his brother, the King of the Romans, had advanced to meet him, accompanied by many of the noble prisoners of Lewes, who now for the first time regained their liberty. Within a month afterwards a parliament assembled at Winchester. The king was little more than a cipher among the company of his barons. He knew that by their arms his success had been won, and that he owed their support not to any desire for an absolute monarchy, but to a resistance to a power which seemed likely to exceed that of royalty itself. Henry, therefore, made no attempt to revoke the Great Charter; and widely different as his real sentiments and desires may have been, he assented to those measures of constitutional government which were laid before him.

But the parliament of Winchester was not proof against personal animosities, and it passed heavy sentences against the family and some of the adherents of Leicester, at the same time depriving the citizens of London of their charter.

These were not the times in which such measures would be quietly submitted to. In every part of the kingdom some baron raised the standard of insurrection, and maintained a desultory warfare upon the troops and property of the king. Simon de Montfort, with a small band of desperate men, maintained a position for many months in the isles of Axholme and Ely, while his retainers still held the castle of Kenilworth against repeated attacks. The cinque ports preserved an obstinate defence, and in lie forests of Hampshire the famous Adam Gourdon defied the royal authority. This baron was one of the most gallant soldiers of his time, and from the recesses of the forest he conducted rapid movements against the royal troops, inflicting upon them heavy losses. Prince Edward took the field against the rebels, and during two years he had full opportunity of gratifying his taste for war. He passed hither and thither throughout the country, striking a blow now in this direction, now in that, and with varying success.

All the efforts of the prince proved unavailing to bring the insurgents to submission, and it became necessary to relax the stringent measures of punishment which had been adopted, and to make a display of clemency on the part of the government, as an inducement to the rebels to lay down their arms. For this purpose a committee was appointed, consisting of twelve bishops and barons, and their award, known as the "Dictum de Kenilworth," was formally adopted by the king and Parliament. This award appears to have been generally received with satisfaction; but at this juncture the Earl of Gloucester quarrelled with the king, and assumed a warlike attitude, asserting that the Dictum of Kenilworth was not sufficiently lenient, nor such as the barons had a right to expect. The citizens of London, indignant at the loss of their charter, witnessed the dissension between the king arid Gloucester with great satisfaction, and when the earl took up arms they opened their gates to receive him. But Gloucester was ill-prepared to maintain the contest on which he had entered, and at the approach of the royal army he demanded leave to negotiate. The permission was granted, and Gloucester obtained a pardon for himself on condition of entire submission to the king, while the Londoners purchased their safety for a fine of 5,000 marks.

Henry was-naturally of a humane disposition, and he was further dissuaded from harsh measures by the letters of the Pope, who at this time exerted his influence in the cause of humanity and mercy. The determined attitude of the people also showed very clearly the policy of such a course of action. It is not an easy thing to conquer Englishmen, even by Englishmen, and the king had good reason to dread the prolonged hostility of his stubborn subjects. It would appear, however, that one chivalrous act on the part of Prince Edward contributed in no small degree to extinguish the spirit of disaffection. In a battle fought in a wood near Alton, the prince encountered the redoubtable Adam Gourdon in single combat. The prince struck him from his horse, and when the vanquished knight lay at his mercy, instead of dispatching him Edward gave him his life, and, on the same night, presented him honourably to the queen, and obtained for him a full pardon. The story ends like a romance, for we are informed that the prince "took Sir Adarn de Gourdon into his especial favour, and was ever afterwards faithfully served by him."

On the 18th of November, a.d. 1267, a Parliament was held at Marlborough, in which the king adopted some of the most important enactments of the Earl of Leicester, and added to them other laws equally calculated to promote the welfare of the people. The resistance of the insurgents, which was by no means unreasonable, was almost immediately removed by these measures; one after another the barons threw down their arms, the last to do so being the fugitives of the Isle of Ely. These at length joined in accepting the Dictum de Kenilworth, which they had seen scrupulously fulfilled in the case of others.

The country being now restored to a state of tranquillity, Prince Edward took the cross, and determined to proceed to the Holy Land. The papal legate had actively urged him to take this step, and he had the example of Louis IX., afterwards called Saint Louis, who had lately departed on a second crusade. Before quitting the country, Edward took measures which displayed a high degree of wisdom and foresight, having for their object to preserve the peace of the realm during his absence. Among these was a new charter, securing to the citizens of London the restoration of their liberties, and a free pardon to all those nobles who still remained proscribed by the king. In the month of July, a.d. 1270, the prince departed with his wife Eleanor, his cousin Henry, the son of the King of the Romans, and nearly 200 English nobles and knights of high degree. The best and bravest of the chivalry of England had assembled round their gallant prince, with all the pomp and pageantry with which the nobles of that age marched forth to war; few, indeed, among them were likely ever to return; but such considerations affected them little, while the Church followed them with its blessing, and the minstrels accompanied them to sing the story of their prowess, and to raise their name from the dust. With the belief that he should attain honour here, and happiness in heaven, the soldier of the cross might hurl a double defiance at death, and bear an undaunted brow over the deserts of Syria, or the mountains of Judaea.

The young Henry D'Almaine, the son of the King of the Romans, was one of the first to perish in this disastrous expedition. The manner of his death was unusually tragical. He had been dispatched back to England by Edward upon some secret mission, and took his way through Italy, passing through the city of Viterbo, where a new Pope was then being elected. One morning, at an early hour, when he was engaged in saying prayers in one of the churches, he was suddenly aroused by a well-known voice at his side, which exclaimed, in menacing tones, " Thou traitor, thou shalt not escape us! " Turning round hastily, he perceived his two cousins, Simon and Guy de Montfort, who, with their mother the Countess of Leicester, had been driven out of England. The countess was King Henry's sister, and her sons referred this harsh measure to the influence of the King of the Romans, who had ever been considered as their bitterest enemy, The two De Mont forts were in complete armour, and, drawing their swords, they advanced upon their cousin. Henry, who was utterly without means of defence, clung to the altar before which he had knelt, and two priests who were in the church threw themselves before him. But his foes were implacable: they neither respected the sanctuary, nor the persons of the ministers of God. The two priests were slain before the altar, and Henry, after being pierced with many wounds, was dragged without the church, where his body was mutilated by the murderers, in revenge for the indignities which had been inflicted upon the corpse of their father. They then effected their escape to the castle of the Count Aldobrandini, one of whose daughters had been married to Guy de Montfort, and by whom it is related that they were protected from the consequences of their infamous deed.

The King of the Romans had lately married a young German bride, and he was then occupying himself with feastings and displays, still believing that he should live to call himself Emperor of Germany, But the death of his son was a fatal blow to such vain ambition, and the shock affected him so severely that he died in December, a.d. 1271. In the winter following the king was attacked by an illness which also proved mortal. His last moments were characterised by great demonstrations of piety, and Henry III. followed his brother to the grave on the 16th of November, a.d. 1272. The abbey church of St. Peter's at Westminster had been rebuilt by him, and he desired that his bones should be laid there, in the grave formerly occupied by Edward the Confessor. The remains of that saintly king had been removed by Henry, and placed in a golden shrine.

As the body of the king was about to be lowered into the grave, the barons who were present placed their hands in turn upon it, and took an oath of allegiance to Edward, then absent in the Holy Land. Henry III. died at the age c: sixty-five years, during fifty-six of which he had worn the crown. A few words only are needed to sum up the character of this prince as it is presented to us in contemporary records. He was certainly not without good qualities, which would probably have been more conspicuous in a humbler sphere of life. He was, as had been said of one of his predecessors, rather a monk than a king; he was humane, generous, true to his friends, but he was guided in the choice of those friends rather by his own inclinations than by any regard for the public good, or to the characters of the persons whom he so distinguished. He was remarkable for weaknesses rather than for vices; but in the case of oue placed in the seat of authority, it may be considered that such weaknesses are not less than vicious, and may be productive of more serious injury to the governed than positive vices. Few men who have occupied the English throne have rendered themselves so thoroughly contemptible in the eyes of all men as did Henry III. During the whole of his long reign, from the regency of the Earl of Pembroke to the assumption of power by the Earl of Leicester, Henry was a king only in name, and in those instances where he exercised the royal authority, he did so for purposes of exaction and extortion of money from his oppressed subjects.

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Pictures for Reign of Henry III. Part 3 page 2

Henry III. at the Battle of Lewes
Henry III. at the Battle of Lewes >>>>
Prince Edward and the Baron Adam Gourdon
Prince Edward and the Baron Adam Gourdon >>>>
Temple Church
Temple Church >>>>

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