A higher seat of Learning

Did you know that in the late 12c, Northampton had one of the leading studiums in England and was on par with the European Universities, Both Geoffrey de Vinsauf, a leading proponent of the early medieval grammarian movement and Daniel of Morley an English scholastic philosopher, and astronomer taught there. It was during the reign of Richard I that the students migrated to Oxford, only to return to Northampton during the reign of Henry III at the time of the 2nd Baron’s War

The Battle of Northampton 1264

On 3 April 1264. King Henry III, his son Prince Edward (later King Edward I) and their army left Oxford marching towards Northampton. At their head, Henry’s dragon banner with sapphire eyes. In the meantime the rebels commanded by Simon de Montfort’s son, summons the men of the county to gather outside the walls of Northampton, near the modern day Beckets Park. Despite many protestations, they are forced to defend the towns south wall. The Second Baron’s War had begun!

On April 4 1264 Henry III’s army began to arrive at Northampton from the south. They brought with them a variety of siege engines which they brought along the modern London Road and set them up to the south of the town and in what is now Beckets Park. Behind the walls, as well as the 80 or so rebel barons and their men were all the students from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. They had all abandoned their cities after a major row with the Papal Legate two years before, and had made Northampton the main university centre of the country.

At dawn 5 April 1264, the Royal Army began its assault on the south gate of Northampton. Unbeknown to the defenders, Prince Edward and Phillip Basset lead a large body of men around the town to attack the north-west corner of St. Andrews Priory (most likely in the vicinity of the junction of the modern-day St. Andrews Road and Hampton Street). Whether the wall was in a poor state of repair, or it was weakened by the Prior, depends on the chronicle, but it quickly collapsed. On hearing of the breach, Simon de Montfort the younger races to its defence. Twice, the attackers are repulsed. During a third assault, Simon is thrown from his horse and is captured. The defense quickly collapses and the Royalist infantry pour into the town.. Some of the defenders flee into the churches where they are quickly captured, the majority retreating into the castle. Henry’s army begins to plunder and burn the town. Although numbers are not given, many towns people are killed. They then prepare to lay siege to the castle itself.

On the morning of 6 April 1264, the surviving rebels holding Northampton castle surrendered. Simon de Montfort the Younger was put on trial and exiled for a year. A number of the other barons were put in prison. The university scholars apparently fought hard for the rebels and Henry wanted to execute them. However, as many were the sons of his nobles, he was persuaded otherwise. Instead, Henry banned any university from being in Northampton again. The tables would be turned a few weeks later when on 14 May 1264, the royal army was smashed by the rebels at Lewes.

King Edward IV’s miracle at Daventry

On 7 April 1471, After landing at Ravenspur, heading towards London, Edward IV and his brothers stopped at the parish church of Daventry to hear Mass on Palm Sunday. As he prayed to his patron saint, St Anne, for help in regaining the country, the shutters around an alabaster figure of St. Anne (it was normal to board up all statues at Easter) opened exposing the statue, then closed again. It was taken as a miracle and a sign of success. Edward and his army then marched to Northampton where he was welcomed before going on to London. Exactly a week later he defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet.

Northamptonshire and the Magna Carta

Concerned over King John’s warlike preparations and Papal support, the Baron’s agreed to muster at Stamford near Peterborough during Easter week (19-26 April) 1215. Five Earls and forty Barons, mostly from the north, are mentioned by name as being present at the muster,” with many others“; they all came with horses and arms, and brought with them ” a countless host,” estimated to comprise about two thousand knights, besides other horsemen, sergeants-at-arms, and foot soldiers.

From Stamford they marched to Northampton, John, who had spent Easter in London, sent William Marshal, Archbishop of Canterbury, Steven Langton and some other bishops and magnates to parley with them. Several meetings appear to have taken place. At some point the Baron’s moved to Brackley. It was here they met with Marshal and the Archbishop on 27 April, and “presented to the envoys a certain schedule, which consisted for the most part of ancient laws and customs of the realm, declaring that if the king did not at once grant these things and confirm them with his seal, they would compel him by force.” It was this list of demands that became the Magna Carta.

Langton and the Marshal returned to the king, now in Wiltshire, with the list of demands. One by one the articles were read out to him by the Archbishop. According to Roger of Wendover, after he had heard them all John said ” Why do these barons not ask for my kingdom at once ?… their demands are idle dreams, without a shadow of reason” Then he burst into a fit of rage, and swore that he would never grant to them liberties which would make himself a slave.

He then sent the two back to the Barons and instructed them to repeat his words verbatim. On hearing this, the Barons immediately renounced their fealty to the King and chose Robert Fitz-Walter as their leader, to whom they gave the grandiose title of ” Marshal of the army of God and Holy Church.” They then marched back to Northampton, occupied the town and laid siege to the castle. However, they had not brought any siege equipment and after two weeks, were forced to give up, but not before many had been killed including Fitz-Walters standard bearer. The Barons moved to Bedford where William de Beauchamp readily gave up his castle and then to London.

A truce was brokered between the two sides but by the beginning of June  it had ended. On 29 May, John wrote to the Pope, complaining about the barons, and how it was impossible for him to fulfil his vow of a crusade. In reality, John knew it was all over. The king was almost deserted and at one point only had seven knights left. Four rebel armies were now in the field, one besieging the Tower of London, another capturing Lincoln, with none of them paying any attention to the truce. The townsfolk of Northampton had also risen against the royal garrison of
the castle and slain several of them. Although the King’s men had sallied out and burnt half the town. Finally, sometime at the beginning of June, John despatched William Marshal to the Barons in London saying “…that for the sake of peace and for the welfare and honour of his realm, he would freely concede to them the laws and liberties which they asked ; and that they might appoint a place and day for him and them to meet, for the settlement of all these things.” In the words of Ralph of Coggeshall, ” By the intervention of the archbishop of Canterbury, with several of his fellow-bishops and some barons, a sort of peace was made.” A meeting was arranged where John would agree to the Barons demands. The meeting was set for 15 June, and the place, a meadow between Staines and Windsor called Runnemede.

Our next meeting – 1 May

Our next meeting will be Thursday 1st May at the Marriot Hotel, Eagle Drive, Northampton, starting at 7:30pm. The subject of the talk will be ‘Inside the medieval mind’  and will examine late medieval man’s core beliefs and how they influenced everything from the structure of society to how illness was treated. £3.00 entrance fee.