The Normans and the Barons Wars

After the death of William the Conqueror in 1088, more than half of the largest landowners in England were determined to unite the Anglo-Norman aristocracy under one leader. Their choice was Robert of Normandy, In the first six months of his reign, Robert’s younger brother William Rufus had made himself one of the most hated monarchs in English history. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states, he was “hateful to almost all his people and odious to God.” Simon Senis I, third Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon, joined Rufus and fought with him in Normandy. Hugh de Grentemaisnil of Leicester joined the rebels. And, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, waged private warfare in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. 

1174 Rebellion

Henry II’s sons Henry and Richard (the lionheart) rise against their father. Many Barons in England and Counts in France support them. King William of Scotland starts his own.

July 1173. King comes to Northampton from France, gives orders for the campaign and returns to France.

May 1174. An army led by Ansketill Malory, Constable of Leicester attacks Northampton. A battle takes place under the walls of the town. The Burghers of the town are beaten with 200 killed and 200 taken prisoner. 

July 1174. King William captured and brought to Northampton tied to a horse. 31 July, rebels surrender to King Henry II at Northampton Castle.

Magna Carta

19 April 1215. Disaffected Barons assemble at Stamford. Five earls and forty barons are mentioned by name as 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.

26 April. Barons reach Northampton

27 April. The Barons are at Brackley where they are due to meet John. John sends William Marshall and the Archbishop. The Barons send John a list of demands which becomes the basis of the Magna Carta. John refuses to listen.

5 May. The Barons renounce their oaths of allegiance, proclaim Robert Fitzwalter their leader and march on Northampton, laying siege to the town. Fitzwalter’s standard bearer killed and numerous others. However, after two weeks, lacking siege equipment they move on to Bedford which is given up by William de Beauchamp. They march on London at which point John agrees to Magna Carta which he seals at Runnymede. In the meantime, men of Northampton attack the Castle. After killing several of the garrison, part of the town is burned down in retaliation. In September 1215, the  Barons march on Northampton again and a Fleming Army breaks the siege.


21 September 1216. King John heads from Stamford to Rockingham, burning Oundle and the manors of the Abbey at Peterborough.

In June 1220, William de Forz, the Earl of Aumarle, refused to surrender Rockingham Castle which he had made the centre of his power base. Sheriff of Northampton, Falkes de Breauté was ordered to take it by force and lay siege to the castle for a week with “rams and catapults and all the engines of war then in use”. When the castle finally surrendered after a surprise assault, only three loaves were found left in the place.

During the following January, the Earl of Aumarle seized Fotheringhay castle. It was poorly garrisoned, and helped by a frozen moat, he attacked it on all sides, setting fire to the door and killing two soldiers. They then ravaged the county in all directions. The King, summoned all the magnates and all the armed forces they could raise to Northampton, who then took it back by force. Aumarle fled, but was excommunicated by the Papal legate and 10 bishops.

August 1297. Edward I is on the throne and England is heading towards Civil War. The Earls call an assembly at Northampton. 21 Sept 1297. They meet at Northampton with 1500 horse and a large number of foot. It is stopped when the Earls learn of the massive defeat at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Thorpe Waterville

Thomas of Lancaster, frequently displayed his power by using his military force to further his own career. The most well known example of this is the Thorpe Waterville dispute of 1312. This complex affair arose from Lancaster’s desire to hold the Northamptonshire manors of Alwinkle, Aehurch and Thorpe Waterville. Amongst the retainers Thomas employed to increase his own status was William Tuchet, who was not only retained by the Earl, but was an adherent of Walter Langton, the unscrupulous Treasurer of England.  Langton had conveyed these manors to Tuchet. However, when Langton fell from favour, the king presented the manors to the Earl of Pembroke.

In response to this, Thomas sent a small garrison of squires and crossbow-men, under the control of his constable, John Barrington, to the area. Tuchet forcibly entered Thorpe Waterville castle, and claimed the lands of Pembroke and his tenant, John Hotot. However, armed assemblies hired by the Earl of Pembroke prevented Tuchet and Lancaster’s legal advisors attending the hearings. “with an armed multitude approached them and uttered such threats and caused such terror as well to the justices as to the jurors coming there for the assize, that the justices were unable on that account to take it”.