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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!