Monday, 26 May 2014

The Battle of Lewes

An obvious topic for history came up this month, as our town has been celebrating the 750-year anniversary of one of the most important political battles ever fought in Britain: the Battle of Lewes. I had already decided that we would explore history through our local area, so this was a good starting point.

Charlie and I watched The Bald Explorer's video on the battle, which gives a good overview. Over the three weeks of the celebration in Lewes, we visited lots of commemorative events and supplemented our excursions with reading and writing about the battle and medieval times at home, as well as recreating the battle in Playmobil all over the sitting-room floor and sofas (a good excuse to avoid hoovering).

The battle was led by two men: Henry III and his brother in law and former friend, Simon de Montfort.
Henry III

Simon de Montfort

Charlie was surprised to find out that Henry became king when he was only nine - just a year older than him. We talked about what Charlie would do if he became king. His laws included the following:

1. If banks went bankrupt, the bank would have to start up a charity to repay the money.
2. People would have to pay a charge of £7 every time they dropped litter on the beach.
3. It would be illegal to smoke.
4. Planet Minecraft would allow people to vote for mods. If people who'd made the mods received more than 100 votes, they would get £1.

To help Charlie understand how people lived in medieval times, I used a template I'd downloaded from the TES website (a great teaching resource). Charlie created a pyramid which demonstrated the medieval hierarchy, with the unfortunate peasants or serfs at the bottom and the king at the top.

I explained that Henry III believed that God had made him king and that he should make all the decisions (the 'divine right of kings'), but Simon de Montfort and his barons had become annoyed at some of the bad decisions he made and wanted to share in the decision-making process. I told Charlie that when Simon de Montfort won the battle and established a parliament, this was the beginning of democracy in this country.

Together, we imagined how Henry and his followers were relaxing at Lewes Priory (a place Charlie has visited) the night before the battle, unaware of the approaching army. It was the Feast of St Pancras, so they were celebrating.

Lewes Priory as it is now

Charlie's portrayal of Henry relaxing the night before the battle

Henry's son, Edward, was being entertained at Lewes Castle by John de Warenne.

Lewes Castle

Edward and John de Warenne

Meanwhile, the king's army and Edward's army were camping in the town or in tents outside the town walls.

Simon de Montfort and his supporters marched from Warningore Wood and around Black Cap, ending up at Mount Harry, where they had a great view of the town.

Black Cap 

At daybreak, the king's army marched up the hill to meet de Montfort's troops, meeting around the area of Landport Bottom and what is now Lewes Prison. 

Three weeks ago, Charlie and I went to a festival held at Landport Bottom, where the battle started, to celebrate the beginning of the Battle of Lewes celebrations. The site is a chalk grassland area, part of the South Downs National Park, and has spectacular views. It was strange to imagine it as the scene of a major battle.

Over the past week, we have enjoyed several events held in the town to celebrate the anniversary of the battle. On 14th May, the anniversary date, we watched the arrival of walkers in Lewes who were recreating Simon de Montfort's march from the village of Fletching. Organised by the Mid-Sussex Ramblers and the Sussex Archaeological Society, the walkers had met at dawn and walked the 12.5-mile walk from Fletching, arriving in Lewes High Street at midday.

The walkers were met with cheers from the onlookers


The ramblers relax

The following weekend, there was a costumed march through the town, with re-enactors fighting at Landport Bottom, Lewes Castle and the Priory. It was enormous fun to watch.

A  pause in the battle outside the prison walls
The king's army retreats back into the town - and is greeted with boos from the crowd

Michael also took Charlie along to the music festival and medieval camp that had been set up at a nature reserve in Lewes. 

The medieval camp

We are lucky enough to have our very own Norman castle in Lewes. Over the past three years, volunteers have been working on the Battle of Lewes project, which culminated in a three-week festival.

A specially designed tapestry to commemorate the battle was unveiled at the castle on 14th May and covered on BBC News.

Our outings were supplemented with activities at home, with Charlie making pictures and writing for his project book. I found useful overviews of the battle on the Sussex Archaeological Society website and the UK Battlefields Resource Centre.

Charlie's recreation of the battle outside the castle

Henry III by Charlie

Eyewitness account

Charlie wrote his own eyewitness account of the battle:

'I am writeing this with my dying breaths. I can here swords clashing together, maces swinging, stones falling, arrows shooting through the sky. Roofs on fire, blazing trees. People rushing people killing men pulling back crossbows redy to shoot. People fleeing from the scene high up on the hill, the battle of lewes took place.'

As we learned through our studies, even though Simon de Montfort's army was smaller than Henry III's and Edward's, it was Simon who won the battle. Simon de Montfort had also had the misfortune to break his leg falling from a horse, but this didn't deter him: he directed the battle sitting in a cart - a fact which Charlie reflected in his play.

Simon de Montfort directing the battle

Henry retreated back to the Priory, but later surrendered. The battle raged for the rest of the day, with the thatched roofs of local houses set on fire by flaming arrows and thousands of people killed and wounded. 

Henry was forced to sign the Mise of Lewes, which handed over many of his powers to Simon de Montfort. Simon de Montfort established a new parliament, which included representatives from each borough and city and two from each county - the first time such a democratic approach had been taken.

Charlie and I spent an afternoon working on the storyboard for a Lego-animated version of the Battle of Lewes using Charlie's Hue Animation kit. So far, we have planned each scene and sorted out the heroes and the villains. As Charlie doesn't have any medieval Lego characters, they are going to be an odd assortment. The film is going to take some time to make, but I'll post it on here if it's ever finished.

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