The Battle of Lincoln (1217), according to Roger of Wendover

Roger of Wendover (d.1236) was a monk at St.Alban’s monastery in England.  His work, Flores historiarum (Flowers of History) is a chronicle that starts at creation and goes to 1235.  From 1201 to 1235 his work is original.  In the following section, the author relates the events of the battle of Lincoln in 1217, fought between forces loyal to King Henry III, against rebellious nobles and a French force led by Louis, son of the King Philip Augustus.  Another account of this battle can be found in the History of William the Marshal.  Another section of Roger of Wendover’s chronicle, detailing his account of the Battle of Bouvines (1214), can also be accessed here.

The Battle of Lincoln (1217)

The raising of the siege of the castle of Montsorel, and of the siege of Lincoln castle.

The army of Louis and the barons of England arrived at Dunstable, and there passed the night. In the morning it took its march northward, hastening to the relief of the before-mentioned castle of Montsorel; earl Ralph of Chester and the others who were with him besieging it, being informed of this by their scouts, raised the siege, and retreated to the castle of Nottingham, where they determined to watch the progress of their approaching enemies.  When the barons then arrived at the castle of Montsorel, after pillaging in their usual custom all the cemeteries and churches on their march, it was determined unanimously to march to Lincoln, where Gilbert de Gant and other barons above-mentioned had carried on a long siege without success.  They therefore marched through the valley of Belvoir, and there everything fell into the hands of these robbers, because the soldiers of the French kingdom being as it were the refuse and scum of that country, left nothing at all untouched, and their poverty and wretchedness was so great, that they had not enough bodily clothing to cover their nakedness.  At length they arrived at Lincoln, and the barons then made fierce assaults on the castle, whilst the besieged returned their showers of stones and missiles with stones and deadly weapons with great courage.

How the king of England assembled an army to raise the siege of the castle of Lincoln.

Whilst these events were passing at this place, William Marshall, the guardian of the king and kingdom, by the advice of Walo the legate, Peter bishop of Winchester, and others by whose counsels the business of the kingdom was arranged, convoked all the castellans belonging to the king, and the knights who were in charge of castles in different parts of the kingdom, ordering them, on the command of the king, to assemble at Newark on the second day in Whitsun week, to proceed together with them to raise the siege of Lincoln castle. They, having an ardent desire to engage with the excommunicated French, and also to fight for their country, joyfully came at the time and place pre-arranged on, and with them also there came the legate himself, and many other prelates of the kingdom, with horses and soldiers, to assail with prayers as well as arms these disobeyers of their king, and rebels against their lord the pope; for it appeared to them they had a just cause of war, especially as he was innocent, and a stranger to sin, whom his enemies were endeavouring in their pride to disinherit. And when they were all assembled together, there were reckoned in that army four hundred knights, nearly two hundred and fifty crossbow men, and such an innumerable host of followers and horsemen were present, who could on emergency fulfill the duties of soldiers. The chiefs of this army were William Marshall and William his son, Peter bishop of Winchester, a man well skilled in warfare, Ralph earl of Chester, William earl of Salisbury, William earl of Ferrars, and William earl of Albemarle; there were also there the barons, William d’Albiney, John Marshall, William de Cantelo, and William his son, the renowned Falkes de Breaute, Thomas Basset, Robert de Viport, Brian de L’Isle, Geoffrey de Lucy, and Philip d’Albiney, with many castellans of experience in war.

They made a stay of three days at Newark, to refresh the horses and men, and in the meantime employed themselves in confession, and strengthened their bodies by partaking of the body and blood of our Lord; asking his protection against the attacks of their enemies and thus all of them were prepared for extremities, and were determined to conquer or die in the cause of right.

How, when the king’s army was assembled, the legate encouraged then all to battle.

At length, on the sixth day of Whitsun week, after the performance of the holy sacrament, the legate rose and set forth to all of them how unjust was the cause of Louis, and the barons who had joined him, for which they bad been excommunicated and alienated from the community of the church; and in order to animate the army to battle, he put on his white robes, and, in company with the whole clergy there, excommunicated Louis by name, together with all his accomplices and abettors, and especially all those who were carrying on the siege of Lincoln against the king of England, together with the whole provinces, inclusive and included. And to those who had undertaken to assist in this war personally, he, by the power granted to him from the omnipotent God and the apostolic see, granted full pardon for their sins, of which they had made true confession, and as a reward to the just he promised the reward of eternal salvation.  Then, after all had received absolution and the blessing of God, they flew to arms, mounted their horses at once and struck their camp rejoicing.

On their arrival at Stowe, eight miles from Lincoln, they there passed the night without fear. In the morning, seven dense and well appointed battalions were formed, and they marched against the enemy, only fearing that the latter would take to flight before they reached the city; the crossbow men all the time kept in advance of the army almost a mile; the baggage wagons and sumpter-horses followed altogether in the rear with the provisions and necessaries, whilst the standards and bucklers glittered in all directions, and struck terror into those who beheld them.


How the barons went out of the city of Lincoln and reconnoitered the king’s army.

The barons who were in the city and the French felt such great confidence of success in their cause, that when their messengers told them of the approach of their adversaries theyonly laughed at them, and continued to hurl missiles from their mangonells, to destroy the walls of the castle. But Robert Fitz-Walter, and S. earl of Winchester, when they heard that the enemy were approaching the city, went out to watch their approach and to count their numbers; and when they had made a careful survey of the approaching enemy they returned to the city to their companions, telling them, “The enemy are coming against us in good order, but we are much more numerous than they are; therefore, our advice is that we sally forth to the ascent of the hill to meet them, for, if we do, we shall catch them like larks.” In reply to them, the count of Perche and the Mareschal said, “You have reckoned them according to your own opinion we also will now go out and count them in the French fashion.”  They then went out to reconnoitre the coming army of the king, but in their estimation of them they were deceived; for when they saw the wagons and baggage in the rear of the army, with guards who followed the squadrons which were already disposed in order of battle, they thought that this was an army of itself, because they beheld there a great multitude of men with standards flying; for each of the nobles had two standards, one, as we have already said, following the troops at a distance in the rear, with the baggage, and another preceding the persons of each of them, that they might be known when engaged in battle.  And the count of Perche with the Mareschal, being thus deceived, returned in a state of uncertainty to their companions.  On their return into the city they proposed this plan to their companions, whose advice they did not despise, namely, to divide the nobles that the gates might be guarded and the enemy prevented from entering by some, until the others had taken the castle, the capture of which would soon be effected.  This plan was approved of by many, but several disagreed with it.  They then secured the gates, appointed guards to them, and prepared for a defence.

Of the battle fought at Lincoln, called by some the ‘Fair’

The King’s army in the meantime approached the city on the side nearest the castle, and when it was discovered by the castellans they sent a messenger by a postern door of the castle to the commanders of the army, to inform them of what was being done inside.  This messenger told them that if they wished they could enter the castle by the postern, which had been just opened on account of their arrival; the commanders of the army, however, would not enter the castle that way, but sent Falkes de Breaute, with all the division under his command, and all the crossbowmen, to force open at least one gate of the city for the army.  The whole body then marched to the northern gate and endeavoured to force it open, the barons, notwithstanding this, continuing to cast heavy stones from their petrarie against the castle.  But during this time, Falkes de Breaute entered the castle with the company of troops under his command, and with the crossbowmen, and stationed them on the roofs of the buildings and on the ramparts, whence they discharged their deadly weapons against the chargers of the barons, leveling horses and riders together to the earth, so that in the twinkling of an eye they made up a large force of footsoldiers, knights, and nobles.  Falkes de Breaute then, seeing a great many of the more noble of the enemy struck to the earth, boldly burst forth with his followers from the castle into the midst of the enemy; he was, however, made prisoner by the number who rushed on him, and carried away, until he was rescued by the bravery of his crossbowmen and knights.  The great body of the king’s army having in the meantime forced the gates, entered the city and boldly rushed the enemy.  Then sparks of fire were seen to dart, and sounds of dreadful thunder were heard to burst forth from the blows of swords against helmeted heads; but at length, by means of the crossbowmen, by whose skill the horses of the barons were mown down and killed like pigs, the party of the barons was greatly weakened, for, when the horses fell to the earth slain, their riders were taken prisoners, as there was no one to rescue them.  At length, when the barons were thus weakened, and great numbers of their soldiers had been made prisoners and safely secured, the king’s knights rushed in a close body on the count of Perche, entirely surrounding him; and as he could not withstand their force as they rushed him, they called on him to surrender, that he might escape with his life.  He, however, swore that he might not surrender to the English, who were traitors to their lawful king.  On hearing this, a knight rushed on him, and striking him in the eye, pierced his brain, on which he fell to the ground without uttering another word.  Then the French battalions, seeing the fall of their commander, took to flight, both horse and foot soldiers, with great loss; for the flail of the southern gate through which they took their flight had been replaced in a traverse way across the gate, which greatly impeded their flight; for when any one came up and wished to go out at that gate, he was obliged to dismount and open it, and after he was obliged to dismount from his horse and open it, and after he had passed the gate was again closed, and the flail again fell across it as before, and thus this gate was a great trouble to the fugitives.  The king’s troops pursued the flying barons and French, but although several were made prisoners in their flight, yet the king’s men only feigned to pursue them, and if it had not been for the effect of relationship and blood, not a single one of all of them would have escaped. But not further to prolong the account to no purpose, of the commanding barons were made prisoners, Sayer earl of Winchester, Henry de Bobun earl of Hereford, count Gilbert de Gant, whom Louis had lately created earl of Lincoln; and the count of Perche lay dead there. There were also made prisoners, the barons Robert Fitz Walter, Richard de Montfitchet, William de Mowbray, William de Beauchamp, William Maudut, Oliver d’Haencurt, Roger de Creisi, William de Coleville, William de Roos, Robert de Roppele, Ralph Chainedut, and many others, to mention whom would be tedious.  Three hundred knights were taken, besides soldiers, horse and foot, not easily to be counted.  The count of Perche was buried in the orchard of the hospital outside the city.  Reginald, surnamed Crocus, a brave knight of Falkes de Breaute’s retinue, who was slain there, was honourably buried at the monastery of Croxton.  There was also slain in this battle a soldier of the barons’ party, not known to any one, who was buried outside the city at the meeting of four roads, as one excommunicated.  And only the above-mentioned three are mentioned as having been slain in this great battle.

Of the plunder and pillage of the city.

After the battle was thus ended, the king’s soldiers found in the city the wagons of the barons and the French, with the sumpter-horses, loaded with baggage, silver vessels, and various kinds of furniture and utensils, all which fell into their possession without opposition. Having then plundered the whole city to the last farthing, they next pillaged the churches throughout the city, and broke open the chests and storerooms with axes and hammers, seizing on the gold and silver in them, clothes of all colours, women’s ornaments, gold rings, goblets, and jewels. Nor did the cathedral church escape this destruction, but underwent the same punishment as the rest, for the legate had given orders to the knights to treat all the clergy as excommunicated men, inasmuch as they had been enemies to the church of Rome and to the king of England from the commencement of the war; Geoffrey de Drepinges, precentor of this church, lost eleven thousand marks of silver. When they had thus seized on every kind of property, so that nothing remained in any corner of the houses, they each returned to their lords as rich men, and peace with king Henry having been declared by all throughout the city, they ate and drank amidst mirth and festivity. This battle, which, in derision of Louis and the barons, they called “The Fair,” took place on the 19th of May, which was on the Saturday in Whitsun-week; it commenced between the first and third hour, and was finished by these good managers before the ninth.  Many of the women of the city were drowned in the river, for, to avoid insult, they took to small boats with their children, female servants, and household property, and perished on their journey; but there were afterwards found in the river by the searchers, goblets of silver, and many other articles of great: benefit to the finders; for the boats were overloaded, and the women not knowing how to manage the boats, all perished, for business done in haste is always badly done.  After thus finishing this business, William Marshall ordered all the castellans to return to their castles with the prisoners, and there to keep them in close custody till they should learn the king’s pleasure concerning them. The said William Marshall returned the same day, before he took any food, to the king, and told him in presence of the legate what had happened, and they, who had been praying to God with weeping, soon changed their tears to smiles.  In the morning messengers came to the king and told him that the knights at Montsorel had left that castle and fled; on which the king ordered the sheriff of Nottingham to go in person to the castle and to raze it to the ground.

Of the flight of the barons and the French from Lincoln.

After the count of Perche was slain, as above stated, they all took to flight, horse as well as footsoldiers, towards the city of London, and the foremost among them was the Mareschal of France, with the castellan of Arras, and all the French; many of them however, and especially almost all the foot-soldiers, were slain before they got to Louis; for the inhabitants of the towns through which they passed in their flight, went to meet them with swords and bludgeons, and, laying snares for them, killed numbers. About two hundred knights reached London and went before to Louis to tell him of their sad losses; he however sneeringly told them that it was owing to their flight that their companions had been made prisoners, because if they had remained to fight, they would perhaps have saved themselves as well as their companions from capture and death.  It must be believed that this defeat happened to Louis and the barons of England by a just dispensation of God, for as they had now continued nearly two years under sentence of excommunication, unless they were corrected by divine punishment, men would say, “There is no God,” and so there would be none who acted rightly, no, not one.

This translation is from Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History, translated by J.A. Giles (London, 1849).

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