The Battle of Lewes in East Sussex took place on 14 May 1264. It was between a number of rebel Barons led by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, and the army of King Henry III.
In April 1263, Simon de Montfort, (who was actually French), returned to England to find the English barons in revolt against the king.
Henry III was unpopular due to his foreign wars, his autocratic style, his favouritism and his refusal to negotiate with the barons. Simon de Montfort assumed the leadership of the barons. He was trying to expand Parliament to make it more representational by introducing four knights from each county to sit with the nobles and clergy.
There had been skirmishes between the two sides in the Midlands and elsewhere in the south east. However, Sussex was a stronghold of royalist support with the Lords of Arundel, Lewes, Pevensey and Hastings standing for the king. Worried additional royalist support from France might land in the county, de Montfort marched into Sussex. The two armies met at Lewes on Sussex 14th May 1264.
De Montfort’s army approached Lewes from the Downs to the west of the town taking the royal army by surprise. They met and engaged on Offham Hill. After initial success, Henry was defeated and the royal army was forced to flee to the safety of Lewes Priory. The king was subsequently forced to sign the Mise of Lewes, whereby the king’s army laid down its arms, the king’s son, Prince Edward, became de Montford’s hostage and de Montfort governed as the “uncrowned King of England”. King Henry remained as head of state, but his powers were severely restricted.
De Montfort called two parliaments in 1264 and 1265, both consisting of knights and leading men who had been elected or chosen in the shires and major towns of England. However, in May 1265, Prince Edward escaped and gathered an army. De Montfort was eventually killed at the Battle of Evesham on 4th August 1265.
A Battle of Lewes re-enactment
Once a year, on the anniversary of the Battle of Lewes, Crown Events hosts a re-enactment of the battle throughout the town.
Two armies amass at The Gallops near the prison and then follow the original route through the town, passing the site of the windmill where the king’s brother hid, before battling their way onto the castle and down to Convent Field next to Lewes Priory. There’s a Medieval trading village, falconry and archery, metal and leather works, and even an apothecary, and the whole town is taken back in time. It’s a fabulous event and a great way to learn and embrace local history.
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