The Battle of Lewes Conference: A Review

A few weekends ago I attended The Battle of Lewes Conference, it was absolutely fantastic!

The event was designed to raise awareness of The Battle in 1264 and it’s significance with regards to the beginnings of parliamentary democracy in the UK.

On the day of the Conference I arrived nice and early so I could look round the stalls; there were books, the amazing tapestry project and diorama figurines on display, and a Battlefield Trust table. I grabbed my cup of tea, chose a good seat and began to thumb through my conference pack. I had tried to organise ‘live tweets’ from the venue and I did manage to send a few out with details of the lectures and speakers but I became too engrossed in taking notes to continue. The event was sold out and the hall began filling up fast with a variety of people; young and old.

Baroness Andrews provided the Introduction to the Conference, reminding everyone that in two years time Lewes would be celebrating the 750th anniversary of The Battle of Lewes. She explained that The Battle ‘opened the way’ to what later became parliamentary democracy.

After the Baroness’ Introduction the first lecture began. Below is a summary of the day, the speakers and their lecture topics:

10:05am Lewes: the Campaign and the Battle, speaker: Prof. David Carpenter, Kings College London.
Davids talk was excellent! He discussed the key questions, covering the location of The Battle, what actually happened, the landscape, where King Henry III was captured and where the fallen soldiers were buried. This links to my project to find the fallen which I’ve posted about previously. David also analysed how it was possible for Simon de Montfort, who had considerably less resources than Henry, managed to defeat the King on 12th May 1264.

10:45am How did all this Political Turmoil begin: what were the causes of the Revolution of 1258? Speaker Dr. Huw Ridgeway, Formerly of Sherborne School.
Huws lecture was detailed and informative. He provided an insight into the events before The Battle, analysing the causes of the rebellion against the Royal Government. He discussed the Kings surrender to a Council of Magnates and the constitutional frameworks of the ‘Provisions of Oxford’. Huw discusses the long and short term causes of the 1258 revolution including the social, economic and political aspects. The ‘Baronial Regime’ of 1258-1261 was an important factor in The Battle of 1264.

11:05am The Road to Civil War: implementing the Baronial Reform Programme and the Royalist Reaction, 1258-64 speaker Dr. Adrian Jobson, author of The First English Revolution: Simon de Montfort, Henry III and the Barons’ War.
Adrians lecture was packed full of information. He discussed the legislative and administrative reform of the 1258 revolution, including the ‘Provisions of Oxford’ and the ‘Provisions of Westminster’. Adrian covered the development of the elected council, ‘authority that was exercised on the Kings behalf’ and the need of the people to reform in 13th Century English society.

12:30pm Simon de Montfort, the Battle of Lewes and the Development of Parliament speaker Dr. John Maddicott, Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford.
Johns lecture was stimulating. He discussed the level of importance of Simon de Montforts role in the development of parliament. John analyses who does what, where and when and how it affects 13th Century parliament. He also narrows his focus and looks at the Baronial reform and the role the Knights played in the development of political decision-making.

2:15pm Eleanor de Montfort speaker Dr. Louise Wilkinson, Senior Lecturer, Canterbury Christ Church University.
Louises lecture was interesting. She detailed the life of Eleanor de Montfort using her household roll and other sources, throughout the time leading up to The Battle and gave an account from a different perspective, it was like being Eleanor herself. Louise discusses Eleanors role during the Barons war; a loyal and committed wife to her husbands cause. Eleanors household roll of 1265 gives a detailed history of life for Eleanor, her sons and Simon de Montfort.

2:55pm Sussex in the Barons Wars speaker Dr. Andrew Spencer, Fellow of Corpus Christi, Cambridge.
Andrews lecture was very detailed. He analysed the effects the Barons Wars had on Sussex, and how it came to take place in this location; the majority of the lords being of Sussex. Andrew discusses in fine detail how the Montfortians tried to re-order the County after their victory at Lewes, who fought where and which side towns were on.

4:00pm Medieval Weapon Trauma: conflicting evidence from Towton and beyond speaker Tim Sutherland, visiting Lecturer, York University; Hon Research Fellow, Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, Glasgow University.
Tims lecture was THE one I had been waiting for all day! As an osteoarchaeologist, I’m crazy about human remains and what we can learn from them, how they can tell us their story, their life through the analysis of the skeleton. Tims lecture did not fail in delivering. The pictures alone were fantastic; gruesome weapon traumas, some leading to instant death, others a life of pain and disfigurement. Tim discussed the ways to identify Battle trauma, and why it is important to archaeologists, osteos, historians (everyone really) to understand the life of each person. He looked at evidence from single and mass graves, the different types of weapons and the wounds they can inflict. Tim used fantastic case studies from Towton and other Battle sites throughout Europe.

From the above summaries you can see I had a great day out. All of the speakers were amazing, their topics informative and well delivered. The audience was on the edge of their seats, wanting more.

If you are interested in The Battle of Lewes Research Group then do check out the website, there are a range of projects that volunteers can get involved with on the run up to the 750th anniversary. There are also additional events running, so check out whats on.

Battle of Lewes 750

There are several projects:
The Tapestry:
Coming events: