750th Anniversary of the Battle of Evesham

The 4th of August is the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Evesham. Evesham was the second and final pitched battle of the Second Barons’ War (1263-67).


Henry III’s mismanagement of the realm through failure in foreign wars, rebellion in Gascony, poor distribution of patronage and increasing financial and judicial grievances, had led to increasing baronial dissatisfaction. This culminated in the Provisions of Oxford (1258) and Westminster (1259) where the barons forced reforms on the King. These covered three broad areas of grievance. The first was to check his favouritism of his foreign relatives. The second involved restructuring a judicial system which had become increasingly unjust, and the third was an attempt to force the royal finances to be better managed, reducing the need for constant, excessive taxation.

However this watershed moment in English constitutional history, which forced the King to have a privy council partly elected by the nobility, was soon undermined.  Fracturing in the baronial party meant that the King was able to secure a Papal Bull in 1261, declaring the provisions as null and void.  But the royal faction was similarly disparate, and infighting caused by political manoeuvring for power surrounding the Lord Edward (later Edward I) and Queen Eleanor alienated several keys nobles from the King’s cause. When Simon de Montfort returned to England in 1263 to lead the baronial faction, the scene was set for a civil war. This began with both sides raiding the lands of their rivals, with side neither gaining a clear advantage.

Soon both sides attempted to end the troubles peacefully at the Mise of Amiens (1264) when Henry III and Earl Simon de Montfort’s parties agreed to the arbitration of the King of France, Louis IX.  Perhaps unsurprisingly Louis ruled heavily in favour of his fellow royal, which far from ensuring peace left no option to the baronial faction but full scale civil war. A series of sieges (the mainstay of medieval warfare) ensued with neither side gaining significant advantage, and it was not until the Battle of Lewes (14 May 1264) that the two opposing forces met in strength.

Sword, probably English, about 1250. IX.5614

Sword, probably English, about 1250. IX.5614


Despite having fewer troops, perhaps as little as half the King’s number, the baronial army under Simon de Montfort won a significant victory.  A seasoned campaigner experienced from the Crusaders and fighting a series of rebellions in Gascony, Simon de Montfort was able to outmanoeuvre the much larger royal army with a forced march in darkness, overwhelming royal sentries and deploying his force on the high ground.

By way of contrast to the Earl Simon, King Henry was no warrior but a scholarly and pious man, who contemporaries said was better suited to a hair shirt than a mail one. De Montfort not only demonstrated his strategic superiority over his King by his forced march and domination of the best ground, but he also showed tactical shrewdness in the disposition of his forces.  Drawing his army into four divisions (known contemporarily as ‘battles’) he deployed three of these to his front and, crucially, kept the fourth under his own command as a reserve.

The royal right was commanded by the Lord Edward. Wishing to avenge the insult that the Londoners had given his mother Queen Eleanor, the Lord Edward led his cavalry against the left wing of the baronial army  – where the Londoners were deployed.  Although the heavily equipped royal knights routed the London levies, the protracted pursuit took Lord Edward and the cream of the royal army from the battle.  By the time they returned de Montfort had, using his command of the ground and tactical reserve, defeated the King’s larger army.  Lord Edward returned only in time to witness defeat.  The battle was a baronial victory against the odds, which resulted in the capture of King Henry, his brother Richard Earl of Cornwall and Lord Edward. Henry III was forced to comply to the Provisions of Oxford once more, with de Montfort effectively a ‘quasi-king’.

[DI 2013-0611] Lance head, European, 12th-14th century. VII.3048.

Lance head, European, 12th-14th century. VII.3048.


Nevertheless, a little over a year later the reforming baronial movement was dealt a fatal blow at the Battle of Evesham. The barons’ once again fractured over patronage and self-interest, with important nobles such as Gilbert de Clare deserting de Montfort’s cause.  By 1265 the Marcher lords Roger Mortimer and Roger Leyburn were in open rebellion against de Montfort, and when Gilbert de Clare orchestrated the escape of the Lord Edward, the Marchers had a royal figurehead to lead them.  Their cause was given added legitimacy by Papal support for Edward to rule in the captive King’s stead.  Running out of powerful allies, de Montfort looked to the Welsh king Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, a move that whilst adding men to his cause, made him more unpopular with English barons and only steeled the Marchers against him.

Whilst de Montfort’s Lewes campaign demonstrated strategic and tactical shrewdness, the events leading up the fateful battle of Evesham showed no such brilliance.  A large portion of his forces, under the command of his son Simon the younger, were ambushed and seriously weakened by a dawn raid by Lord Edward at Kenilworth.  Unable to join his forces, the elder de Montfort found himself outmanoeuvred by Lord Edward’s Marcher army.  When the two opposing forces met at Evesham Simon de Montfort was trapped between the river Avon and the much larger Marcher army.  Lord Edward had totally outmanoeuvred de Montfort, whose escape over the bridge to the east was guarded by the Marcher lord Roger de Mortimer.

Realising the hopeless of his situation, being out numbered and surrounded, Simon de Montfort prayed for God to have mercy on his soul – realising the enemy would soon have his body.  Forced to attempt to fight his way out, de Montfort ordered a central attack on Lord Edward’s army, hoping to break through the encircling force.  However, Humphrey de Bohun refused to led the baronial infantry in the assault, with de Montfort instead having to lead with his cavalry, uphill towards the Marchers.  Before battle was even joined de Bohun’s infantry quit the field, only to be caught and slaughtered in the rout that followed the battle, leaving de Montfort to a similar fate.

Cresting the hill, de Montfort’s contingent fully saw the task that confronted them and the Earl had his outnumbered force form a circle.  From this point the battle descending into a bloody slaughter, with Simon de Montfort, after being unhorsed eventually falling to the lance of Mortimer, who’s contingent  probably advanced from below, through the routing infantry of de Bohun to encircle the remains to de Montfort’s army.

Although the discrepancies between the various chroniclers mean the details of the battle will likely never be known for certain, all agree on its bloodiness. Lord Edward’s Marcher army secured victory swiftly, probably in less than two hours, and showed little mercy even to fellow knights.  Robert of Gloucester termed it the ‘murder of Evesham (for battle there was none).’ Such was the ferocity that the captive King Henry, taken forward by de Montfort when he advanced, only escaped being slain by his would-be rescuers by crying out ‘I am Henry of Winchester, your King. Do not harm me!’

After the battle de Montfort was stripped of his armour, and was found to be wearing a hair shirt underneath it.  A righteous and pious man, he had been convinced of the legitimacy of his cause and was prepared to die for it. But de Montfort’s righteousness did not dampen the ferocity of his opponents, who in the rout slaughtered so many in the local abbey as they attempted to escape or gain sanctuary, that the crypts ran with streams of blood.  Nor did de Montfort’s famous piety and self-conviction stop his enemies from mutilating his body. His killer, Roger de Mortimer sent de Montfort’s head and testicles, the latter draped over the dead Earl’s nose, to his wife as a trophy, whilst his hands and feet were cut off for public display.

With their leader slain, the survivors of the baronial faction fled to late Earl Simon’s stronghold of Kenilworth castle. The siege that ensured was much more typical of medieval warfare than the swift battle of Evesham, although the siege of Kenilworth was more protracted than most – being the longest in English history. The war eventually ended in October 1266, when the Dictum of Kenilworth brought peace to the realm and allowed the remaining Montfortians to buy back their confiscated lands.

The baronial reforming movement was over, and for the remaining six years of Henry’s reign there existed an uneasy peace.His successor Edward I went on to rule with a royal strength that his father had never possessed.  However, the seeds of reform had been sown, and in the 1275 Statues of Westminster Edward himself had enshrined elements of the Provisions of Oxford.  De Montfort was brutally slain at Evesham, but his legacy perhaps lived on.


Image from the ‘Morgan Bible’

Although depicting a crusading scene, this image from the near contemporary Morgan bible shows some of the types of arms and armour that would have been used during the Second Barons’ War.  It also show the potential brutality  of medieval warfare that manifest itself at Evesham.

Arms & Armour at the time of Evesham:

The main form of armour of the knightly classes was mail, which by this time completely covered the body, including hand and feet defences.  Helmets ranged from the conical nasal helm, to the wide-brimmed kettle hat, to the fully enclosed great helm.

However, this level of protection would have only been available to the social and military elite.  Infantry would typically be more lightly equipped with less armour, perhaps of fabric rather than metal.  The padded gambeson, worn under mail, could also serve as armour in its own right, but even this level of protection would have not been available to all.

During this period knights still predominately fought mounted, as heavy cavalry dominated the battlefield. The lance was their primary weapon of shock, which when couched with the weight of horse and fully armoured rider behind it could cause immense damage in a charge.  Swords, axes, maces and daggers would have been carried for close combat and the melee or pursuit that followed. Larger, two-handed weapons were also known, but the shield was still an important part of defensive equipment at this time, so most weapons were wielded in one hand.


[DI 2010-1561] Sword, probably English, about 1250.

Sword, probably English, about 1250.

[A8.47] Sword, European, about 1260.  IX.1107.

Sword, European, about 1260. IX.1107.

The primary arms of the infantry would have been staff weapons or missile weapons.  The most common form was the spear which if not excessively long could be used in conjunction with a shield, but heavier forms of two-handed staff weapons were also in use.

[DI 2012-1576] Spear head, European, 11th-14th century. VII.1650.

Spear head, European, 11th-14th century. VII.1650.

The infantry of the period also used bows and crossbows.  And although English and Welsh archery had no yet gained the fame it massed use was to win in the next century, they still featured in armies of the period. However at a battle such as Evesham which was decided by a single charge, their opportunity to influence the battle would have been limited.  Crossbows, although also used in the 13th century battlefield, were particularly favoured in sieges. Not yet having reached their full power potential, with prods of the period primarily being wooden rather than composite or steel, they were still potentially deadly to even armoured men.

BL MS Nero D ii –  Detail from f. 177v – The Mutilation of Simon de Montfort,

BL MS Nero D ii – Detail from f. 177v – The Mutilation of Simon de Montfort,



Marking 70 years since VE Day – The Big Guns of WWII: 25 pounder self-propelled gun

To mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe day, our Portsmouth site Fort Nelson will be firing the impressive 25 pounder self-propelled gun at 1pm and 3pm today. Also known as the Sexton, the gun was developed to support rapidly advancing forces in later stages of World War Two. The gun will be fired at at 1pm and 3pm today.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The Royal Artillery experimented with a number of designs in their attempted to improve the mobility of artillery. Self-propelled guns on tracked mountings gave much better cross-country mobility. The ‘Flanders Mud’ of the First World War made it difficult and sometimes impossible to move heavy guns. Early tanks showed the way forward, leading to the gradual introduction of self-propelled guns [SPGs]. The towed 25 pr gun, examples of which can be seen on display in the Voice of the Guns gallery and the Artillery Hall, required a towing vehicle and limber and had limited off-road ability.

Early prototypes included the ‘Bishop’, combining a mounted 25 pounder quick firing gun to chassis of a Valentine tank. The Royal Artillery also used the American M7 self-propelled 105 mm which was known as the ‘Priest’, as its gun mounting resembled a pulpit. However, the British needed a self-propelled gun which incorporated the 25 pounder.

The answer, which came to be known as the Sexton, was created by adapting a Canadian Kangaroo chassis, based on the M3 American tank, to carry a 25 pounder field gun. Manufactured at the Montreal Locomotive Works in Canada, over 2150 Sextons were produced between 1943 and 1945.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

This example on display at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson is painted in the colours of the 90th City of London Yeomanry, which landed in Normandy on D–Day, 6 June 1944. On the final run into the beaches they fired their guns from the landing craft in support of the troops already ashore. This example was transferred to Portugal after the Second World War and reimported in the 1980s and  has been restored to running order

See the mighty 25 pounder self-propelled gun fired at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson on Friday 8th May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Firings take place on the Parade at 1 pm and 3 pm.

Unusual War Efforts: Attack of the Easter-bunnies!

General CP Deedes_Rabbits

General C.P Deedes, Major of the Kings Own Light Infantry at the time. Credits: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/general-sir-c-p-deedes-18791969-69660

On this day in 1915, the then Major CP Deedes, member of the King’s Own Light Infantry, currently G.H.Q (General Headquarters Staff) at the War Office, received a very unusual letter suggesting a new alternative “method of warfare”.

Rabbits. Around 200-300 Rabbits as a guideline.

Rabbits at War-1

Credits: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Rabbits at War-2

Credits: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

This is a real letter, sent to the war office in April 1915, suggesting that rabbits be used as a weapon in trench warfare.

The unique idea was to train the rabbits to enter the trenches of the Germans by “feeding them at night on a diet, similar if possible, to what the Germans have.”

These bunny warriors would then be able to carry either smelling or sneezing gas, or even bombs on their “errand of destruction”.

The aim of this – “to play havoc with the enemy” and therefore “put the men out of action for a time, and enable us to attack”.

This may sound incredibly insensitive to us now, however the unknown author justifies this by writing “the above idea is not very humane, but at these times one has to drop sentiment, and adopt all sorts of ideas”. He even goes further to say if the plan proves ineffective, the rabbits could be used for a more savoury suggestion…!

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse…

With Halloween imminent and the chance of a so-called Zombie Apocalypse increased, our Visitor Experience Team have been exploring the different weapons and methods, that could be used to battle the living dead.

The Visitor Experience Team at Royal Armouries, Leeds get into the Halloween spirit...

The Visitor Experience Team at Royal Armouries, Leeds get into the Halloween spirit…

In a light-hearted blog, our team have identified the best and worst weapons within the Royal Armouries’ collection to defeat a zombie….

Short Magazine Lee Enfield/SMLE MK.III*
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Calibre: .303 in
Rate of fire: 12-15 rpm (rounds per minute)
Capacity: 10 rounds
Effective Range: about 500 -550 yards
Year: 1916
Pros: Easy to use, accurate at range and has a bayonet attachment.
Cons: Only carries 10 rounds, slow rate of fire compared to more modern guns, single shot.
Zombie Rating: 6.5/10

Mills Bomb No.5
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Effective Range: 30 yards
Pros: Potential to “kill” a large amount of zombies with one hit.
Cons: Only as good as your throwing arm. High possibility of accidentally blowing yourself up.
Zombie Rating: 2/10

Bren Gun Mk.I
Country of Origin: Czechoslovakia / United Kingdom
Calibre: original BREN .303 in changes to 7.62 mm in 1954 when we joined NATO
Rate of fire: 500 rpm
Capacity: magazine box 30 rounds or pan 100 rounds
Effective Range: 1800 yards
Year: 1937
Pros: Works with single fire or burst so you can either mow down en masse, or pick off targets. Accurate at long range. The bi-pod can be used to set up a defensible position. The handle allows the user to run and gun, Rambo style!
Cons: It’s very heavy; this is the heaviest version of the BREN gun and is prone to jamming if not loaded correctly. You may need to buddy up if there’s anyone left alive.
Zombie Rating: 9/10

Mosin-Nagant M1891/30
Country of Origin: Russia
Calibre: .303 in
Rate of fire: 12-15 rpm
Capacity: 5 rounds
Effective Range: 730 yards with optics/ 500 yards without (of course the usual trajectory, conditions and marksmanship principles apply)
Year: 1938
Pros: It’s all about head shots when it comes to zombies so you have to be accurate. This weapon has a very good effective range and takes a large round, which is good for stopping power. This is a sniping rifle in 7.62 x 54 Russian, it has a turned down bolt to allow for its PU sight, which is quite accurate.
Cons: Relatively slow rate of fire. Not very helpful at close range. Also the Mosin-Nagant – unlike most B/A rifles – has no holes in the bolt body for gases to escape should there be a catastrophic cartridge failure.
Zombie Rating: 7/10

Liberator Pistol
Country of Origin: United States
Calibre: .45 in
Rate of fire: Single shot weapon
Capacity: 1 round
Effective Range: HAHAHAHAHAHA
Pros: It’s very light.
Cons: Useless in a zombie horde, terrible accuracy, unusable after one shot. You are better off with a water pistol!
Zombie Rating: 1/10

Our resident “zombie expert” aka Curator of Firearms, Jonathan Ferguson couldn’t resist joining in with his own suggestions…

“The obvious choice to fit the bill is the famous Kalashnikov rifle (AK47), particularly the Chinese Type 56 version which has a permanently attached, folding spike bayonet that would make short work of a zombie’s skull when the 30 round magazine runs out. Weapons like this aren’t necessarily available in all countries, so the next best thing is the humble 12-gauge shotgun. Nothing is more devastating at close range and the right type of ammunition increases the chance of a hit. Some are available in semi-automatic guise, like the Franchi SPAS 12 pictured.

However, guns are loud, difficult to use precisely, and require ammunition and maintenance. You might be better off with an edged or impact weapon. There’s the cutting power of the legendary Japanese katana, or the British basket-hilt with its built-in hand protection. A staff weapon like the halberd pictured below would keep grasping hands and gnashing teeth at bay! All of these would require a degree of skill to ‘remove the head or destroy the brain’, as the famous quote goes, so a handier alternative would be something like the flanged medieval mace.”

If you can think of a better weapon or method to survive a zombie attack, let us know on twitter using #ZombieWeapon.

Join us all this week (26 Oct – 3 Nov) at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds for a variety of spooky activities including daily talks on how to defeat a zombie. For further details visit the website.

No sitting on the fence for these Giants!

Clash of the Giants ….

Huddersfield Giants’ quartet Jermaine McGillvary, Michael Lawrence, Luke George and Leroy Cudjoe clashed swords at the Royal Armouries in Leeds – thanks to the Royal Armouries Fencing Club.

3 men fencing with swords

L to R: Huddersfield Giants’ players Leroy Cudjoe, Jermaine McGillvary, Luke George, Michael Lawrence.

Like Rugby League, fencing requires considerable skill and speed so the Giants’ stars were ideally placed to enjoy one of Europe’s oldest combat sports.

Huddersfield Giants' Stars with Royal Armouries staff.

L to R: Michael Lawrence, Jo Clements, Leroy Cudjoe, Ann Lindsay, Jermaine McGillvary, Luke George and Royal Armouries Fencing Club coach Mark Murray-Flutter.

The RFL have encouraged all the Super League teams to try their hands at various sports and activities. To see a film clip of the rugby stars in action, visit The Giants’ website.

Bite the Bullet

In 1857 native soldiers of the Indian Army rose up against the British Empire in what became known as the Indian Mutiny. It’s often said that the cause of this unrest was the paper cartridge issued for use with the new Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle. These were greased at one end to lubricate the bullet, which had to be pushed down the barrel from the muzzle end for loading. In order to open the cartridge, soldiers were instructed to tear it with their teeth, resulting in the ingestion of some of the grease. Rumours spread that this grease was derived from pig fat, forbidden to Muslims, or from cows, which would be a serious issue for Hindus. Moreover, the rumours suggested that this was a deliberate practice intended to degrade and even to force conversion to Christianity.

Paper cartridge issued for use with the P'53 rifle, containing a lead 'Minié syle bullet

Paper cartridge issued for use with the P’53 rifle, containing a lead ‘Minié syle bullet

In fact, the causes and background to the mutiny were rather more complicated than this, but historians agree the cartridge rumours were one of the main triggers or tipping points for the mutiny. Some have disputed the claim of pig and/or cow fat, but although it is clear that their use was not intentional, both types of grease were indeed used on the cartridges. Although many officers in India recognised this serious oversight and attempted to address it, the offence and concern had already been caused. The result was widespread violence, bloodily put down by the Imperial authorities, with ringleaders being ‘blown from guns’, or tied to the muzzle of cannon which were then fired.

The tangent backsight of the Pattern 1853 rifle, graduated up to 900 yards, and the Pattern 1859 musket for native troops with its basic 'V' notch

The tangent backsight of the Pattern 1853 rifle, graduated up to 900 yards, and the Pattern 1859 musket for native troops with its basic ‘V’ notch

One less obvious result of the mutiny was the introduction of a new pattern of arm. Though it outwardly resembled the Enfield rifle, the rifling lands and grooves themselves were machined away, and a much more basic rear sight fitted. These new Pattern 1858 and 1859 smoothbore muskets effectively put ‘Brown Bess’ back in the hands of Indian troops. This was a deliberate attempt to limit the effectiveness of any future uprising, as they would be much less effective at range, and make the targeting of officers far more difficult.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms

Illustrating Armour

The Royal Armouries, Leeds has teamed up with local artist Sean Casey to showcase some of his latest works inspired by the Museum’s collection.

Sean hard at work in the Tournament Gallery

Sean hard at work in the Tournament Gallery

The drawings Sean has produced at the Royal Armouries relate to a lifelong interest in armour, from playing with toy Timpo Knights, because he couldn’t get Greek warriors, but which were beautifully made all the same, to an admiration for the awe-inspiring skills of the people who produced the armour itself. For him war games, at the top of the landing steps, evoked childhood notions of a fairytale world of romantic heroism and honour, that gave way to the academic investigation into the true horrors of warfare, coupled with his feelings of pride in our armed forces.

Sean hopes that all those who see his artwork will gain an aesthetic pleasure through the medium in which the subject matter is presented – detailed and often intricate drawings that pay homage to the craftsmanship of the armourers themselves. An exhibition of Sean’s work is currently on display in the Tournament Gallery of our Leeds Museum.

Blogger: Projects Team