It’s a cool and damp morning somewhere in the Welsh Marches.
Prince Edward, heir to the English throne marches with a strong armed contingent along the river Avon,
searching for the rebel army led by Simon de Montfort.
Edward, with still vivid memories of the painful loss at the Battle of Lewes,
is determined to force the rebels into a pitched encounter to redeem his sins and free his father,
the king Henry, currently in Montfort’s custody.
One of the accompanying lords rode up to share the latest reports.
The rebels were camping in a town an hour or so down the river.
There was no time to waste.
Prince Edward turned and ordered the marching column to hasten.
The battle was about to begin.
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It’s late May of the year 1264.
Dark storm clouds gather over medieval England.
A civil war that broke out several months earlier is taking a heavy toll on the realm’s integrity and economy.
King Henry of Winchester, who bears much of the responsibility for the on-going turmoil,
mostly due to his inept and costly domestic policies,
swiftly gathered a sizeable host and met the rebelling barons in battle near the town of Lewes.
But despite a considerable numerical advantage, the royal army was badly beaten and not only were both the King and his brother captured,
but also Henry’s talented son and heir, Prince Edward, was forced to enter rebel custody.
These events were outright disastrous for the English monarchy
and, conversely, a huge triumph for the baronial faction and even more so for its charismatic leader - Earl Simon de Montfort,
who suddenly became the most powerful man in England.
Although a long-time favourite of King Henry, Earl Simon grew disillusioned with the King’s autocratic rule.
Over the course of roughly a decade De Montfort jostled for and eventually gained control of the government.
A highly coveted position which he intended to use to hold a proper parliament in London,
putting in place the necessary reforms to get the English Kingdom back on track.
Unfortunately for Simon however, this was easier said than done and as months passed,
the Earl of Leicester struggled to consolidate power and maintain a solid following among English upper nobility in the parliament he convened.
With waning baronial support Simon tried to retain the necessary backing
by appealing to the lesser nobility of the English shires and boroughs creating a sort of early representative government.
But his measures were usually inadequate and unsuccessful,
and his administration began showing the traits of a military dictatorship.
Eventually, de Montfort’s unpopular ruling methods and gradual monopolization of power alienated his most important ally,
young earl Gilbert de Clare, who deserted the rebel cause in the spring of the year 1265,
heavily weakening Earl Simon’s ranks.
Yet this was just the beginning of the bad news for the rebels.
A mere two months later, with the help of said Gilbert de Clare and other lords,
Prince Edward, heir to the English throne escaped de Montfort’s custody in Hereford
and started organising royal forces to put down the rebellion.
As it soon turned out, the flight of Prince Edward breathed new life into the royalist faction,
which essentially remained leaderless since its stunning defeat at the battle of Lewes one year earlier.
Edward’s ranks quickly rose in numbers and many of the English magnates that grew disgruntled with Earl Simon’s government turned against his regime,
gathering under the prince’s banner.
This was a somewhat unexpected turn of events for Simon de Montfort.
Although he still kept King Henry in captivity and was enjoying a dominant position in England,
it was obvious that the recent break out of Prince Edward,
who had enough skill and authority to reliably command the royalists, was a threat Simon could not underestimate.
Knowing that the royalist numbers were rising quickly, Simon had no time to waste,
especially as his own military potential was significantly depleted since Lewes.
He dispatched a message to his son, incidentally also named Simon to raise another army in England,
while he travelled to Wales to conclude an uneasy agreement with Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd,
who provided de Montfort with infantrymen in exchange for recognition of Llywelyn’s title and military gains.
Earl Simon’s deal with the Welsh prince didn’t bring him much popularity,
but he barely had any other choice with an encounter looming on the horizon.
Time was of the essence as Prince Edward didn’t stay idle.
He recaptured the cities of Worcester and Gloucester with relative ease
and took control over all major crossings on the river Severn - destroying bridges, sinking the ferries and putting watches at the fords,
thus isolating Simon to the western, Welsh side of the river.
It was a smart move on Edward’s part which scuppered Simon’s plans to join with his son’s army assembling in England.
Realising that his strategic possibilities were significantly reduced Simon’s only reasonable option
was to move his host south to Newport in the hope of ferrying his troops across the Bristol Channel back to England.
Of course this was an obvious move and Prince Edward anticipated the rebel’s steps,
reaching Newport before the enemy and denied them access to the ferry.
Thus, with Simon’s attempt so easily thwarted and with no other options available, he retreated back to Hereford.
It was the second week of July.
Despite the successful blockade at Newport, Prince Edward certainly had reasons to stay vigilant.
At the end of the month, while the princely host stood in Worcester,
royal scouts reported that a freshly assembled rebel support army led by Simon the Younger was already on the move,
having just reached Kenilworth to the north-east.
The positioning of the two rebel contingents posed a serious challenge for Edward,
whose main task was then to deal with either army before the two Simons could close the distance and establish effective communication.
Edward hesitated, but eventually decided to strike the probably less numerous and undoubtedly less experienced host of Simon the Younger,
even though it meant marching a greater distance.
Edward’s departure from Worcester presented a convenient opportunity for Earl Simon,
who then marched out of Hereford
and used the barely guarded fords south of Worcester to finally cross the river Severn.
From there, the Montfortian host continued marching eastward as Simon’s top priority
was to join with the contingent of Simon the Younger before challenging Prince Edward.
It was already getting dark when they reached the small town of Evesham located in a loop of the river Avon,
where Earl Simon commanded to pitch tents and rest for a night.
The early morning of the 4th of August heralded a rather unpleasant day.
Gusts of cool wind and heavy clouds soon brought torrential rain accompanied by a thunderstorm.
As everybody in the town and nearby camp sought shelter, Simon de Montfort heard the reports of his scouting parties.
Thankfully, the gloomy weather was brightened by some good news.
De Montfort’s son was marching from Kenilworth with a support army, and was already just a couple of hours away from Evesham.
Simon longed for the arrival of reinforcements, which would help to turn the course of the war in favour of the rebels.
A mere hour later the faint blare of a horn announced the troops arriving from the north.
Earl Simon turned his head and looked up in disbelief.
These were not the banners of his son.
A more than ten thousand strong royalist army led by Prince Edward began forming a battle line on a slightly elevated terrain north of the town.
Edward managed to ambush and shatter the forces of the younger de Montfort in Kenilworth
and used captured Montfortian banners to trick the enemy’s scouts, as it turned out, to great effect.
Not a soul down in the rebel camp was prepared for such an unexpected encounter.
Upon seeing enemy forces mustering in the distance,
Earl Simon instantly realized how dire his position suddenly became,
as Edward essentially trapped the rebel forces in a loop of river Avon.
Theoretically, the bridge in Evesham could be used to evacuate,
but it was too small to allow the roughly 5,000 rebels to cross the river in a timely manner.
Moreover, it was soon blocked by Edward’s unit detached earlier from the main body of his army.
De Montfort’s only option to turn the odds of the upcoming encounter was to hack his way through the Edwardian ranks.
Several hundred cavalrymen, all mounted units at Simon’s disposal gathered at the foot of the hill,
preparing for battle.
Behind them, a contingent of Welsh infantry assembled in the second line of rebel array.
According to one of the chroniclers, Earl Simon,
all soaking wet as the downpour had still not abated took a look towards Edward’s army bustling on the top of the hill
and, having the previous year’s victorious Battle of Lewes in mind bitterly remarked:
“By the arms of St James, they come on skilfully, but it is not by themselves, but from me that they have learned this.
So let us commend our souls to God; for our bodies are theirs”.
Following his speech, Simon turned his horse and yelled, giving the signal to attack.
The Entire cavalry unit rode out pushing uphill through the sodden grassland.
As the distance closed and the rebel charge gained momentum,
Edward’s men on the hill were still not entirely prepared for the impact, giving Simon’s men hope.
At last the rebel cavalry struck the first line penetrating deep into the ranks of the Edwardian array.
The clamorous clang of weapons, shields and armours accompanied by the agonising screams of perishing soldiers
reached the townsfolk of Evesham, relaying the tale of the atrocities happening up the hill.
Simon’s bold attack against the odds was well carried out and the rebel cavalry put many royal infantrymen to the ground
piercing deep into Edward’s line which, although severed, didn’t break struggling on to fight the enemy.
Yet there was still hope for the Montfortian cavalry,
as the Welsh infantry was about to join the fight and try to secure the flanks.
Unfortunately for Simon however,
the Welsh, upon seeing the enemy’s superior numbers lost faith and fled back to Evesham, refusing to fight.
Though it’s debatable whether the Welsh infantry could have turned the tide of the battle,
without their help Simon’s cavalry was doomed and slowly started to succumb to the flanking manoeuvres of Edward’s troops.
Soon the encirclement was complete and the Montfortian riders were mercilessly cut down.
No quarter was given to the rebels and many of Simon’s followers were killed that day.
The leader of the rebellion shared their fate perishing in the heat of the final phase of battle.
His corpse was mutilated and dismembered by Edward’s victorious troops.
The severe losses at Evesham were a huge setback for the baronial faction,
but even though the leader of the rebellion was no more,
the war dragged on for another year and a half when finally the last opposing barons
were compelled to yield and reinstated King Henry.
Simon de Montfort was undoubtedly one of the leading figures of his day and although his rebellion failed,
it was under his rule when the ideas of a representative government in England sparked for the first time
and set a foundation for the future evolution of the English Parliament.