THE GREAT SIEGE OF KENILWORTH – Time Line

A timeline of the events of the great Siege of Kenilworth from its origins in August 1265 to its aftermath in December 1266:


August 1265 – survivors of the battle of Evesham make their way back to Kenilworth Castle where Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, is waiting with her younger children.  The castle has been kept well provisioned with both food and siege equipment.

Eleanor, Countess of Leicester
Eleanor, Countess of Leicester

The Countess and her children leave Kenilworth for Dover and eventual exile in France where she finds favour with the French Queen and lives out her life at Montargis. Several months of negotiations follow between King and revels within the castle.

Coat of arms of Simon de Montfort
Coat of arms of Simon de Montfort

Towards the end of the year Eleanor’s second son, young Simon, leaves the castle to meet with other supporters at Ely.  On his way back he is captured by Prince Edward and forced to agree to surrender Kenilworth Castle to the King.  However on arriving at the castle the garrison commander, Henry de Hastings, refuses to comply saying that he holds the castle in the name of the Countess of Leicester and will yield it to none but her.  Young Simon is then sent under guard to London but escapes on route and flees to France to try to raise support for the rebels.


March 1266 – King’s messenger returns from Kenilworth minus a hand.


May 1266 – King calls a muster at Northampton.


22 June 1266 – King arrives outside Kenilworth Castle with a vast army vowing not to leave until the castle falls.  Four siege camps are established commanded by King Henry, Prince Edward, Prince Edmund and Roger de Mortimer.

The King requisitions vast quantities of munitions, money, food and drink to be sent to Kenilworth.  Powerful siege machines (Trebuchets, Mangonels and Ballistas) and fighting towers are brought and also barges for what was to be an unsuccessful assault across the Mere.

Mangonel
Drawing of a Mangonel by Eric Pedlar

As Patron of the Priory the King was entitled to hospitality and would most likely have been accommodated there, with his Queen, when not at his siege camp.  The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and Cardinal Ottobuono (the Papal Legate) also spent much time at Kenilworth during the months of the siege.  The latter tried to mediate between the King and the rebels but to no avail.


July 1266 – Cardinal Ottobuono (wearing his red cope) excommunicates those inside the castle.  (It is said that he delivered this Papal Bull of Excommunication from a safe vantage point at the top of Castle Hill – still known as ‘Bull Hill’.  This may be apocryphal.

Cardinal Ottobuono
Cardinal Ottobuono, later Pope Adrian V

Apparently this act arouses the defiance of the rebels who, according to Robert of Gloucester, have a cope and other clothes made in white in which they dress Master Philip Porpeis, a cleric and their surgeon, who presents himself on the battlements of the castle as a ‘White Legate’ and “excommunicates” the King, the Cardinal and the whole army!


August 1266 – Papal Legate requests that the King call a Parliament at Kenilworth – given the people involved and the facilities which they would require, the most likely venue for this is the Priory.  The purpose of this meeting was to set up a Commission to decide what steps should be taken to return peace to the land and to consider the case of the ‘disinherited’ (as the rebels had come to be known).

Eventually agreement is reached and the terms of surrender are set out in a document known as The Dictum of Kenilworth.


31st October 1266 – The Dictum is read out to the rebels and also publicly proclaimed at St. Mary’s Church, Warwick.

The terms of surrender include allowing for the rebels to leave the castle unmolested and give the ‘disinherited’ the opportunity to buy back their lands on payment of heavy fines set on a sliding scale dependent upon the extent of their involvement in the war and siege.  The exceptions to this are the members of the garrison who were involved in maiming the King’s messenger and the garrison commander, Henry de Hastings.  They are to be imprisoned at the King’s will.

Dictum of Kenilworth
The Dictum of Kenilworth, dated 30th October 1266

The rebels decline on the basis that the terms are intolerable and they have not been given any say in choosing the Commissioners.   They are also still hoping that help will come from France.


November 1266 – the King gives the rebels 40 days of grace.  If no help is forthcoming by then (11th December) they must surrender or expect no mercy. The King and Prince Edward prepare for an all-out final assault.

Trebuchet
Drawing of a trebuchet by the late Eric Pedlar, taken from the siege booklet from the 1966 commemorations

Mid November 1266 – Conditions within castle deteriorate rapidly and starvation and disease cause many deaths. They have no alternative but to surrender.


13 December 1266 – the King grants letters of safe conduct to the rebels to go where they wish and they depart, banners flying.


15 December 1266 – the King leaves ending an almost six months’ stay during which time England was governed directly from Kenilworth – a situation unprecedented in English medieval history.

The Arms of Henry de Hastings
The Arms of Henry de Hastings

Despite the exclusion of Henry de Hastings and others from the ‘benefits’ of the Dictum, by July 1267 Prince Edward had received them into the King’s peace, they having sworn on the Holy Gospels to keep the peace and never bear arms against the King or his heirs again.  De Hastings did not keep his word!  He became leader of the remaining “disinherited” in the Isle of Ely (just prior to their surrender) and died the following year.


THE AFTERMATH

 The conditions inside the castle must have been quite dreadful and the Sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire was given the obnoxious task of having it cleared up.  He was also instructed to dismantle the siege engines.  The Priory was completely impoverished, having been forced to support the King for such a very long time.


16 December 1266 – The King grants the castle and the earldom of Leicester to his second son Prince Edmund, later also creating him Earl of Lancaster.  Thus begins almost 200 years of Lancastrian ownership of the castle and patronage of the priory during which time both grow and prosper once more – but that is another story!

A depiction of Prince Edmund and St George
A depiction of Prince Edmund and St George

 

Share this article:

The Second Barons’ War & the Siege of Kenilworth – the short and long term effects both locally and nationally

Extract from KHAS original Siege booklet published 1966:

 “The effects of this long siege on the lives of the local people in Warwickshire were severe.  Even before it started, the defenders were looting and destroying property and taking what they required to stock the castle.  Then the King’s army lived off the land for many months causing great hardship to the community by their demands for supplies.  Contemporary accounts record some of the relevant facts.  For instance, the Canons of the Priory of St. Mary at Kenilworth were impoverished to such an extent that in January 1267 the King issued Letters Patent requiring all the tenants of the Priory to contribute money to relieve its immediate financial difficulties.  It is on record too that, during September alone, the Priory had been obliged to give 300 quarters of corn to the army.

Henry III
A depiction of Henry III’s coronation from the 13th-century

Further afield, the Monks of Stoneleigh Abbey made representations to the King for provisions supplied to him and, two years later, the Sheriff of Warwickshire was paid £75.13.9 for 255 quarters of wheat, 52 oxen and 173 sheep which had been collected throughout Warwickshire for the King’s army.”

In 1268 King Henry III granted a Market Charter and Fair to his son Edmund for a weekly market on Tuesdays at his Manor of Kenilworth and an annual fair there on the Vigil, the Feast and the Morrow of St. Michael.  This would certainly have helped to boost the local economy.

 

The arms of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and King Henry III.
The arms of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and King Henry III.

As for Simon de Montfort – he has been remembered down the centuries as “the father of democracy”.  This may not have been quite what he had in mind at the time but in the future parliaments would gradually see an increase in the inclusion and involvement of men of lower rank until eventually there would be two “houses” – “Lords and Commons”.

A plaque bearing de Montfort’s name adorns the House of Representatives in Washington DC:

Bust of de Montfort in US Capitol
Bust of Simon de Montfort from the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol. One of 23 marble relief portraits over the gallery doors depicting historical figures noted for their work in establishing the principles that underlie American law. They were installed when the chamber was remodeled in 1949-1950.

 

Jan Cooper
30.5.16

Share this article:

The Great Siege of Kenilworth 1266

Siege Booklet Cover
‘The Great Siege of Kenilworth 1266’ booklet Cover drawn by the late Eric Pedlar, produced for the 1966 commemorations

Jan Cooper discusses the events of the Great Siege of Kenilworth 1266, following on from her earlier article on the life and death of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham:

Those of Earl Simon’s supporters who had escaped the carnage of Evesham made their way back to Kenilworth Castle where we believe Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, was waiting with her younger children. Also returning to Kenilworth was the Earl’s second son, also called Simon, who had arrived at Evesham too late to help his father and elder brother. There was much anger and bitterness amongst the Montfortian supporters and that anger was directed towards Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the King’s brother, who had been at Kenilworth in his sister’s custody since his capture at Lewes. He had therefore played no part in the battle of Evesham or Earl Simon’s death but Young Simon so feared for his uncle’s life that he had him released.

De Montfort Plaque
Plaque laid near where the altar of Evesham Abbey Church would have been to mark the spot where Simon de Montfort’s remains were buried.

King Henry tried to persuade the rebels to leave the castle, saying that if they would surrender immediately they would lose neither their lives nor lands but they did not trust him and remained where they were. He then disinherited all of those who continued to stand out against him.

The Countess Eleanor and her younger children went to Dover Castle and eventual exile in France where she found favour with the French Queen and lived out her life at Montargis.

Kenilworth castle had been kept well provisioned with both food and siege equipment, including Trebuchets. During the next few months the rebels ravaged the countryside looting and stock-piling food and munitions against the expected siege.

Late in 1265 Young Simon left the castle to meet with other supporters at Ely. On his way back he was captured by Prince Edward and forced to agree to surrender Kenilworth Castle and accept the King’s peace. However on arriving at the castle the garrison commander, Henry de Hastings, refused to comply saying that he held the castle in the name of the Countess of Leicester and would surrender to no one but her. This may have been something which had been agreed between Young Simon and de Hastings prior to him leaving the castle, just in case he should be captured. He was then sent under guard to London but escaped on route and fled to France to try to raise support.

In March 1266 one of the King’s messengers returned from Kenilworth minus a hand – the time for talking seemed to be over and the King called a muster which finally took place at Northampton in May. Once all the armies were assembled they set out, arriving at Kenilworth around 22nd June, the King vowing that he would not leave until the castle fell.

Four siege camps were established commanded by King Henry, Prince Edward, Prince Edmund and Roger de Mortimer.

Siege Map
Map of the Siege of Kenilworth 1266, drawn by the late Eric Pedlar

The King requisitioned vast quantities of munitions, money, food and drink to be sent to Kenilworth. Powerful siege machines (Trebuchets, Mangonels and Ballistas) and fighting towers were brought and also barges for what was to be an unsuccessful assault across the Mere.

Cardinal Ottobuono
Cardinal Ottobuono, later Pope Adrian V, was sent to England in 1265 by Pope Clement IV

As Patron of the Priory the King was entitled to hospitality and would most likely have been accommodated there, with his Queen, when not at his siege camp. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and Cardinal Ottobuono (the Papal Legate) also spent much time at Kenilworth during the months of the siege. The latter tried to mediate between the King and the rebels but to no avail.

In July Cardinal Ottobuono (wearing his red cope) excommunicated those inside the castle. (It is said that he delivered his Papal Bull of Excommunication from a safe vantage point at the top of Castle Hill – still known as ‘Bull Hill’. (This may be apocryphal.)

Apparently this act aroused the defiance of the rebels who, according to Robert of Gloucester, had a cope and other clothes made in white in which they dressed Master Philip Porpeis, a cleric and their surgeon, who presented himself on the battlements of the castle as a ‘White Legate’ and “excommunicated” the King, the Cardinal and the whole army! Morale was clearly still very high as they awaited the expected relieving force from France.

In August, at the Cardinal’s request, the King called a Parliament at Kenilworth – given the people involved and the facilities which they would require, the most likely venue for this is the Priory Church. The purpose of this meeting was to set up a Commission to decide what steps should be taken to return peace to the land and to consider the case of the ‘disinherited’ (as the rebels had come to be known). An order was made for an initial committee of 3 Bishops and 3 Barons’ representatives:

  • Walter, Bishop of Exeter
  • Walter Gifford, Bishop of Bath and Wells (then Chancellor)
  • Bishop of Worcester
  • Roger de Somery
  • Robert Walerand
  • Alan de la Zouch

They then co-opted the following:

Bishop of St. David’s, Earl of Gloucester, Earl of Hereford, John de Baliol, Phillip Basset and Warin de Bassingbourne, making a full Committee of 12.

The Papal Legate and Henry of Almain (the King’s nephew) were appointed Arbiters in the event of a dispute – their services were called upon several times during the deliberations.

Eventually agreement was reached and the terms of surrender set out in a document known as The Dictum of Kenilworth. This allowed for the rebels to leave the castle unmolested and gave the ‘disinherited’ the opportunity to buy back their lands on payment of very heavy fines set on a sliding scale dependent upon the extent of each individual’s involvement in the war and siege. The exceptions to the ‘benefits’ of the Dictum were the members of the garrison who were involved in maiming the King’s messenger and the garrison commander, Henry de Hastings. They were to be imprisoned at the King’s will.

The Dictum was delivered to the castle on 31st October 1266 and was, the following week, publicly proclaimed at St. Mary’s Church, Warwick.

De Hastings declined to accept on the basis that the terms were intolerable and they had been given no say in choosing the Commissioners. He demanded changes and was playing for time, still hoping that help would come from France.

Dictum of Kenilworth
The Dictum of Kenilworth, dated 30th October 1266

As chivalry demanded the King gave the rebels 40 days of grace saying that if no word had been received from France by 11th December they must surrender or expect no mercy. The King and Prince Edward then began to prepare for a final all-out assault upon the castle.

Conditions within the castle must then have deteriorated very quickly. Their dwindling food supplies had run out, they had already eaten their own starving horses and then disease, probably dysentery, swept through the castle. In their weakened state many died and those who survived were forced to accept the terms of the Dictum of Kenilworth and surrender. Starvation and disease had succeeded where siege warfare had failed! (The Annals of Dunstable tell us that “at the beginning of the siege there were within the castle 1000 men – 700 of whom were armed and ‘vigorous’ – plus 160 women and an unknown number of servants.” There is no record of how many survived).

On 13 December the King granted letters of safe conduct to the rebels to go where they wished and they departed, banners flying.

Henry III Effigy
Effigy of King Henry III in Westminster Abbey, c. 1272

King Henry finally left on 15th December ending an almost six months’ stay, an unprecedented length of time for a medieval monarch to remain in one place. During that time the whole of England had been governed directly from Kenilworth.

The conditions inside the castle when the siege finally ended must have been quite dreadful and the Sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire was given the obnoxious task of having it cleaned up. He was also instructed to dismantle the siege engines.

The Priory was completely impoverished, having been forced to support the King for such a very long time.

On 16 December 1266 King Henry granted the castle of Kenilworth and the earldom of Leicester to his second son the Lord Edmund, later also creating him Earl of Lancaster, and thus began almost 200 years of Lancastrian ownership of the castle and patronage of the priory during which time both grew and prospered once more – but that is another story!

Despite the exclusion of Henry de Hastings and others from the ‘benefits’ of the Dictum, by July 1267 Prince Edward had received them into the King’s peace, they having sworn on the Holy Gospels to keep the peace and never bear arms against the King or his heirs again. De Hastings did not keep his word! He became leader of the remaining “disinherited” in the Isle of Ely (just prior to their surrender) and died the following year.

A final thought. Many “Kenilworthian’s” believe that the 1266 Parliament was held on the field now known as “Parliament Piece”. There is actually no contemporary written evidence to tell us exactly where in Kenilworth the 1266 Parliament was held, nor to support the suggestion that Parliament Piece is in any way connected with this event. Indeed, since 17th century musket balls have been found there – but no 13th century artefacts – it seems more likely that the name derives from Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces who may have camped there when they came to Kenilworth during that Civil War. For further comment on this see Kenilworth History 2016 page 16.

Jan Cooper

6.4.16

 

Share this article:

From the Archives: The Brays

We know a great deal of the phases of development of Kenilworth Castle itself, but what of its enigmatic counterpart known as The Brays? Was it a hastily constructed rampart thrown together as a result of the Siege of 1266? Was it constructed earlier during the reign of King John? Or does it in fact pre-date the Castle altogether and date from Anglo-Saxon times, the Roman era or even earlier?

Norman Stevens ponders these very questions, in an article first published in the 2010 edition of Society’s yearly publication Kenilworth History:

The Brays

by Norman Stevens

That Kenilworth had a Roman settlement within it or in the immediate vicinity cannot be doubted. The tile kilns at Cherry Orchard and Chase Wood underline that, as do the Roman tiles to be found associated with the Abbey, in what little is left of the visible structure and in the debris washed into the 12th century access shaft of the water conduit running from near the Queen & Castle to the Abbey. A ground-penetrating radar trace of an underground continuous level beside the Abbey ruins suggests a building layer years before the Abbey.

Roman artefacts found in the Cherry Orchard Dig of 1964
Roman artefacts found in the Cherry Orchard Dig of 1964

Further, the settlement known as “Chesford” clearly has a Roman origin, and an examination of the topography shows possibly one or two platforms above the River Avon to the east of Chesford Bridge in the contiguous fields there, beyond the clearly defined hollow-way that at one time was the access to the ford itself. An investigation of the site is well over-due.

A quotation from a principal commentator on the Anglo-Saxon (A-S) development of England, Warwick Rodwell, ties the Roman presence in Kenilworth with a later Anglo-Saxon feature. He says: “There are . . . many instances of Anglo-Saxon manor houses emerging on or close to the sites of Roman villas and farmsteads . . .” “. . . it is fundamental to the history and topography of the late Saxon and mediaeval country-side.” p14 col. 1

He goes further: “. . . . the villa was the central point of an estate, the residence of authority, and it was that authority which could and did embrace Christianity, giving rise to the construction of a private estate church which formed an integral part of the contemporary suite of manorial buildings. As so often happened, that church became parochial in the tenth or eleventh century.” p15 col. 1. [Churches in the Landscape: Aspects of Topography and Planning, Studies in Late Anglo-Saxon Settlement. Ed. Margaret L. Faull. Oxford University Department for External Studies. 1984]

I have argued before that the pair of stone cottages on Castle Green, Nos. 12 & 13, is, in fact, a Saxon church [Kenilworth History 2001-2, KHAS, published annually]. Then, I claimed the mass dial, arrow-sharpening marks, the double plinth, the squint, the orientation, and the recorded fact that there was a church/chapel in Kenilworth before S. Nicholas’ Church, made it quite clear that this was a very early church. Since that article, I have had the privilege, thanks to the present incumbent, of measuring the thickness of the walls, and these, at just under 30 inches, (75 cms) are typical of a Saxon church, and atypical of a Norman one, which was very rarely less than three feet.

No's 12 & 13 Castle Green - a Saxon church?
No’s 12 & 13 Castle Green – a Saxon church?

We have to accept, if all this is true, that Kenilworth was a stable Anglo-Saxon community in the early 1100s, already recorded at Domesday in 1086. At the moment, all we have is the Castle Green “church”. There is not a lot of evidence otherwise of Anglo-Saxon presence in the town, although there is plenty around, nonetheless. Perhaps the nearest most significant is Blacklow, where the Society found a high-status A-S burial and associated grave goods in the course of a rescue dig in 1971-2.

The Avon valley, generally, has evidence of A-S presence, as one might expect. One might almost ask “why not?” And by far the most important is Warwick itself, a major A-S site. It would appear to have enjoyed some sort of defensive bank and ditch arrangement appropriate to its importance, but much of that has been subsumed by the major works applied since the Conquest.

Tamworth, further north, enjoyed a similar treatment, and, as a Saxon “burh”, or burgh, was well fortified, and, as Warwick, later over-whelmed by Norman work.

As I have argued before [KH1994] Kenilworth stands on a drovers’ road, of what antiquity we don’t know, although these were in use for centuries. It is near a significant crossing of the Avon, and is a nodal centre for a number of ancient trackways. It is not very far, in fact, from Watling Street, which became the boundary between A-S Wessex/Mercia and the Danelaw. So there is some reason to suppose that it had an importance which is not reflected in theDomesday entry which speaks of a community of some seventy souls.

All this is merely a preliminary to the question: what is “The Brays”? Considerable research, examination and thought may provide an answer. To the best of our knowledge, no concentrated, even superficial, work has ever been carried out on the area other than an English Heritage (EH) survey of levels. In his article on the 1563 Survey of the Castle in EH Historical Review, Vol 3, 2008, Nicholas A D Molyneux speaks of ‘a massive earthwork enclosure of uncertain date’. The Castle as we know it is such an iconic structure that it absorbs all our attention, and we fail to address a remarkable, but very knocked about, feature right alongside it.

The Brays
Aerial view of The Brays, courtesy of Bing Maps

From the top of the banks to the bottom of the ditches it is 30 feet (Keith Croucher’s otherwise excellent monitory article in KH2002-3 suffered a regrettable misprint which states 25 metres). This is not, then, an insignificant earthwork. The extensive works that clearly once existed in the area of the Brays will have been executed either in an emergency, or at a time when such things were normal and could be achieved within the every day routine. If the former, was it Geoffrey de Clinton, newly arrived in an unknown environment, providing himself a secure earthwork camp he could use as a base for building the castle that Henry I had commissioned? If the latter, was it an A-S ‘burh’, like Warwick, built against the threat of the Dane ? On the other hand, however, the earthworks may already have been there. Whenever they were built, there were considerable resources available, either of manpower or time.

Brays Entrance
The entrance to The Brays from Castle Road

It stands at the end of a tongue of land sloping down towards a confluence of three streams, and, as we have noted, commanded several established routes through the countryside. No dating evidence has ever been found, and, we suspect, ever been looked for, to determine when these substantial earthworks were made. They are the size of Helmsley Castle’s, Castle Acre’s, and Castle Rising’s. But, and it is a big ‘but’, they are a funny shape. No Norman motte and bailey ever had a perimeter as irregular as this. An examination of Iron Age and Neolithic forts, contour-hugging, shows a much closer parallel. A-S towns, like Wareham, were not as regular as the Norman fortifications. Roman fortifications were utterly and predictably regular, so these are not Roman.

Where are we to place them in the time scale? We can see that they were much curtailed and reduced later. Who did that ? King John, in building his dam to heighten the Mere ? Were they really erected against the 1266 siege, complete with walls, and with the towers that the 1925 Ordnance Survey map shows ? In that short time? That is the received wisdom, but a walk up the lane towards Grounds Farm shows us that the powerful trebuchets of the 13th Century would have caused havoc, as the fortification is downhill from there. Or were the changes made by John or Robert Dudley redesigning the site, landscaping it to the ideas of their day ?

The Brays as seen from Castle Grove
The Brays as seen from Castle Grove

Ultimately, we are forced back to saying that “The Brays” is an enigma. We have found no detailed research work on it as yet, and (apart from a recent unrevealing trench dug along the road to lay cables) no excavation or even soil-sampling to establish either the actual depth of the ditches, or the presence of stone where the mediaeval walls and those ‘Towers’ shown on the 1925 Ordnance Survey sheets were supposed to be. The iconic presence of the Castle, as we and the rest of the world knows it, is our enemy ! All eyes are on that : the Brays is where you park your car !

Share this article:

Forthcoming Events for 2016

Details of KHAS events for 2016

Festival of Archaeology 2016

On 31st July 2016 KHAS members will be hosting a free guided walk of  Kenilworth Abbey ruins in support of the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology 2016.

KHAS Events for 2016
Council for British Archaeology (CBA)

Take a walk back in time to when Kenilworth’s St. Mary’s Priory, later Abbey, was one of the wealthiest and most prestigious Augustinian houses in the Midlands. Hear about the men who lived here, what their lives were like and what happened to them and their beautiful buildings.

The Great Siege of Kenilworth 1266 - 2016 (750 years)
The Great Siege of Kenilworth 1266 – 2016 (750 years)

2016 is the 750th anniversary of the Great Siege of Kenilworth. In 1266 King Henry III (the Priory’s Royal patron) spent six months besieging Kenilworth Castle. Hear how this momentous event affected the Priory and its Canons.

The walk will commence at 3pm and lasts about one hour. We will meet outside the Abbey ‘Barn’ Museum and Heritage Centre on Abbey Fields, Kenilworth.

Jan Cooper
Chairman, KHAS.

Share this article: