Tag Archives: Magna Carta

The Medieval Sheriff of Lincoln: A very cunning, bad hearted and vigorous old woman

What is the connection between the unusual officer holder of a Plantagenet Local Goverment Position, the Second Battle of Lincoln and Utah Beach in Normandy?
Funerary effigy of King John, Worcester Cathedra
Funerary effigy of King John, Worcester Cathedra

The answer is a woman, Nicholaa de la Haye. Chatelaine of Lincoln Castle and Sherriff of Lincoln, described by the anonymous contemporary French Chronicler from Bethune as a “very cunning, bad hearted and vigorous old woman”  Nicholaa was a remarkable medieval woman who played a significant part in the Second Battle of Lincoln, 20 May 1217, the turning point of the First Barons War.

Nicholaa de la Haye is thought to have been born between 1150 and 1155 into a Lincolnshire family which claims to have owned the Barony of Brattlesby since pre Norman times. Nicholaa outlived two husbands, William FitzEmeis, who died in c. 1178, and Gerard de Camville, who died in c. 1215. The closing months of King John’s reign and the opening years of King Henry III’s minority not only saw her directing the royalist defence of Lincoln castle against the supporters of the French Prince Louis but also saw he created sheriff of the county of Lincoln. (1) The story of Robin Hood, and its villain the Sherrif of Nottingham gives an insight into the life of a Plantagenet local government official. Nicholaa was involved in seizing land from rebels and taking and moving hostages.   However she might be described in heroic terms by the Royal party as the manful defender”, she was King John’s servant and carrying out some of his dirty work.

480px-Castle_Acre_Priory
Nicholaa de-La-Haye was a benefactor of Castle Acre Priory in Norfolk.

The De La Haye Family took its name from La Haye-du-Puits in the Manche department on the Cotentin peninsular. Her second husband Gerard de Camville had commanded King Richard’s fleet and his family name was from an area near la Haye-du-Puits. Nicholaa’s family inheritance included land in Poupeville and Varreville in Normandy, on what would be the rear exits from Utah Beach. The lands in France were ultimately settled to Nicholaa’s sister Julia and her husband, which may have removed the potential for conflicting loyalties as King John had lost Normandy to the king of France in 1204.

800px-Lincoln_Castle_Entrance-BAnew
Lincoln Castle

20 May is the 797th anniversary of the second Battle of Lincoln. which was fought around Lincoln Castle on 20th May 1217. The battle was fought between the forces of the future Louis VIII of France and those of King Henry III of England, in what is known as the First Baron’s War. This conflict lasted from 1215-17 and arose in the aftermath of the signing of Magna Carta. King John repudiated the Carta and the Barons invited Prince Louis to England to depose King John. After the death of John ion October 1216, his faction fought in the name of the infant King Henry III. By May 1217 the French forces were as far North as Lincoln. Lincoln Castle itself was held for the Royalist party by Nicholaa de la Haye.

BitvaLincoln1217ortho
Illustration of the Battle of Lincoln. thought to show the death of the Compte de Peche.

Louis’ forces were attacked by a relief force under the command of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke. One of the most famous soldiers of his day. The Comte du Perche, commanding the French troops, was killed and this heavy defeat led to Louis being expelled from his base in the southeast of England. This event is known as “Lincoln Fair” after the looting that took place afterwards. The citizens were loyal to Louis so Henry’s forces  sacked the city, which was regarded as being pro rebel.

Lincoln Castle is still preserved and as the site of one of the extant copies of Magna Carta.

Local tradition holds that this C13th funerary effigy is of Nicolaa de-la-Haye who died in 1230. The late C13th clothing suggests it might be a niece instead
Local tradition holds that this C13th funerary effigy is of Nicolaa de-la-Haye who died in 1230. The late C13th clothing suggests it might be a niece instead

There is a further Normandy battlefield connection. Nicholaa’s lands included Folkingham, the site of one of the airfields used by the US 82nd Airborne division in September 1944 for their airborne landings in the Netherlands

The sites of associated with Magna Carta and the are barons wars check the Magna Carta 800th Website

For more information on visiting the battlefield of Lincoln, and other sites from the Barons’ wars contact British Battlefields.

  1. PD D Thesis by Louise Jane Wilkinson Thirteenth Century Women in Lincolnshire.
  2. Anonymous of Bethune

14 May 1264 Battle of Lewes

Lewes_Oman
Interpretation of the Battlefield of Lewes by Sir Charles Oman

14th May 2014 is the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes, a key event in the Barons wars, which resulted, in the cocmmitment of the Kings of England to abide by the Magna Carta signed just under fifty years earlier.

The Battle of Lewes was one of two main battles of the conflict known as the Second Barons’ War. It took place at Lewes in Sussex, on 14 May 1264. It marked the high point of the career of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, and made him the “uncrowned King of England”. Henry III left the safety of Lewes Castle and St. Pancras Priory to engage the Barons in battle and was initially successful, his son Prince Edward routing part of the Baronial army with a cavalry charge. However Edward pursued his quarry off the battlefield and left Henry’s men exposed. Henry was forced to launch an infantry attack up Offham Hill where he was defeated by the Barons’ men, defending the hilltop. The royalists fled back to the castle and priory and the King was forced to sign the Mise of Lewes, ceding many of his powers to Montfort.

King Henry III, in his efforts to subdue the reforms springing from the Provisions of Oxford of 1258, provoked a baronial faction led by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, to the extent that civil war as only a matter of time.

Simon de Montfort and the baronial army marched on the King at Lewes and positioned themselves on the crest of the Downs to the north-west of the town. The King’s foot soldiers followed the cavalry under Prince Edward up the long hill, but were pushed right back against the Castle and Priory in the town. The royal army suffered significant casualties, several leading supporters of the King had fled, and much of the town was ablaze.

10 Battle of LewesThe only near contemporary account is from one William of Rishanger. Chronicle of William de Rishanger of the Barons’ Wars ed. J.O.Halliwell (Camden Society 1840).  Here in the English Heritage Battlefield report.

Earl Simon passed that night without sleep, giving time, as was his habit, to divine offices and prayers and exhorting his men to make sincere confessions. Walter de Cantilupe, Bishop of Worcester, absolved them all, and commanded that for the remission of their sins they should manfully strive for justice on that day, promising to all who should die thus the entry into the heavenly kingdom.

Battle being therefore certain, at daybreak before the rising of the sun, they went out from the village of  Fletching, where a great part of them had spent the night, and which was about ten miles from Lewes. Before the start earl Simon de Montfort girt Gilbert de Clare with a knight’s sword.

When they had marched near the town of Lewes and were hardly two miles distant from it, Simon with his men ascended a hill and placed his chariot there in the middle of his baggage, and having purposely placed and firmly erected his standard upon it, he encircled it with many armed men.

Then with his own forces he held the ground on either side and awaited the issue of events. In the chariot he set four London citizens, who a little before, when he passed the night in Southwark, had conspired to betray him. This he did as a warning.

LPT_battle_of_lewes_crop.jpg670x498When he had thus prudently arrayed his forces, he ordered white crosses to be sewn on their backs and breasts over their armour, so that they should be distinguished from their enemies, and to indicate that they were fighting for justice. At dawn the baronial army suddenly attacked the  king’s guards who had gone out to seek for food or fodder and killed many of them.

When the king therefore was sure of the coming of the barons, he soon advanced with his men, with his  standards unfurled and preceded by the royal banner, portending the judgment of death, which  they call the ‘Dragon’. His army was divided into three parts: the first line was commanded by Edward, the king’s eldest son, together with William de Valance, earl of Pembroke, and John de Warenne, earl of Surrey and Sussex; the second by the king of Germany with his son Henry; and the third by king Henry himself. The baronial forces were divided into four, of which the first line was given to Henry de Montfort, the second to Gilbert de Clare together with John FitzJohn, and William of Montchensy; in the third were the Londoners under Nicholas Segrave; while the  earl himself with Thomas of Pelveston led the fourth.

Then Edward with his line rushed on his enemies with such violence that he compelled them to retreat, and many of them, to the number of sixty knights, it is said, were overwhelmed. Soon the Londoners were routed, for Edward thirsted for their blood because they had insulted his mother, and he chased them for four miles, slaughtering them most grievously. But through his absence the strength of the royalists was considerably diminished.

Meanwhile many of the might men of the royal army, seeing the earl’s standard on the hill and thinking he was there, made their way thither and unexpectedly slew those London citizens, for they did not know that they were on their own side. In the meantime the earl and Gilbert de Clare were by no means inactive, for they smote, threw down and killed those who opposed them, endeavouring with the utmost eagerness to take the king alive. Therefore many of the king’s supporters rushed together – John earl of Warenne, William de Valance, Guy de Lusignan, all the king’s half brothers, Hugh Bigod and about three hundred warriors – and seeing the fierceness of the barons, fled. There were captured Richard, the king of Germany, Robert Bruce and John Comyn, who had led the Scots thither. Also King Henry had his horse wounded under him, and giving himself up to earl Simon was soon brought under guard to the priory.

There were killed on that day many Scottish barons, and a great number of the foot soldiers who came with them had their throats cut. Meanwhile Humphrey de Bohun earl of Hereford, John FitzAlan earl of Arundel, William Bardolf, Robert de Tateshale, Roger de Somery, Henry Percy and Philip Basset were taken prisoner. But on the king’s side there fell the justiciar, William of Wilton and Fulk FitzWarin, the one slain by a sword, the other drowned in the river. On the barons’ side fell Ralph Haringod, baron, and William Blund the earl’s standard bearer. On both sides five thousand are said to have fallen.

When Edward and those fighting with him returned from the slaughter of the Londoners, not knowing what had happened to his father, he went round the town and came to Lewes castle. When he did not find his father there, he went to Lewes priory, where he found his father and learned what had happened. Meanwhile the barons made an assault on the castle, but as those shut up in it defended themselves manfully, the barons withdrew. When Edward saw their boldness within the castle, he was greatly inspirited, and collecting his men again, he wished to continue the battle afresh. Discovering this the barons sent arbitrators of peace, promising that they wished to treat for an effectual peace the next day.

LewesBattle_Big

If you would like to visit the Battlefield of Lewes contact British Battlefields. info@britishbattlefields.com 

Battlefields Trust Resource Centre here 

The 75th anniversary website is here website http://simon2014.com/

Festival programme here

More about the battles and sieges associated with Magna Carta and the Barons Wars here