May 14, 1264

Lewes, East Sussex

rebellious barons under Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester vs. royal troops under Henry III

Montfort and his faction were fed up with years of poor government and profligate spending by the king. They fiercely objected to Henry's reliance on foreign advisors and friends, and his refusal to abide by the Magna Carta.

Montfort was one of those rare men who seems to have been motivated, not by greed or personal ambition, but by a genuine desire to make a better society.

In 1258 the barons forced Henry to sign The Provisions of Oxford, which established the principles of government by council rather than by royal whim alone. The king repudiated the Provisions in 1261, and civil war was almost inevitable.

The Battle
Montfort drew up his men in a commanding position on Offham Hill. The battle began badly for the rebels. The royal cavalry under Prince Edward routed the Londoners on Montforts left flank, but the inexperienced Edward allowed his men to pursue the Londoners far from the field, thus throwing away any chance of turning the initial gain into victory.

In fact, Edward and his men chased their foe for so long that they did not return to the battlefield until the fight was over.

Without Edward's cavalry on the scene, Montfort now held a superiority in numbers, and his small cavalry was virtually unopposed. He swept down upon Henry's men and after only a brief engagement, completely routed the royal army. Many died while trying to escape across the River Ouse, and by the time Prince Edward returned to the field Montfort had taken Henry prisoner and occupied the town of Lewes.

The Result
For a time, at least, England was in the capable hands of the man probably most qualified to give it good leadership. During his all too brief tenure at the helm of government, Simon de Montfort initiated many reforms, and can be credited with beginning the process of Parliamentary representative government.

However, the Barons War, as the conflict became known, was not over. Prince Edward escaped from his captivity and raised the royal standard again. He had learned from his youthful mistakes at Lewes, and he routed and killed Montfort at The Battle of Evesham in 1265.

Related
The Baron's War

More British Battles

Medieval knight image