On 15 May 1266 (I’m late, as usual), the Disinherited barons under Robert de Ferrers, 6th Earl of Derby, suffered a bad defeat at Chesterfield in Derbyshire. It was more of an ambush than a pitched battle, in which the rebels were attacked as they lay in camp outside the town. Some of them were even confident enough to go off hunting in the woods, and were thus taken completely by surprise.
The royalist army was led by Henry of Almaine, Henry III’s nephew, and his lieutenants Earl Warenne and Warin of Basingbourne. Warin was the chap who raised his helm at the battle of Evesham and delivered a speech to the royalist knights, just as they were on the point of breaking:
“Again, traitors again,
And remember how vilely ye were brought to the
ground at Lewes,
And think that the power is now all ours,
And we shall,
As if they were nought,
Overcome them to a certainty.”
Earl Ferrers was a sickly fellow. He had inherited the family curse of gout, and on the day of battle was lying flat on his back in his pavilion, having his blood let. This was a common remedy for gout, though one imagines the treatment was worse than the malady. His comrades Sir John de Eyvill, Henry Hastings and Baldwin Wake had led the hunting party into the forest, to chase after deer with spear and bow.
A pleasant time was being had by all, then, but not for long. As soon as word of the northern conspiracy reached London, Henry of Almaine had raced north to deal with the threat. Whatever their faults, all the Angevins could move at speed when they wanted to, and his army arrived near Chesterfield at dusk after a forced march.
The royalists attacked at once. Ferrers’s men scattered, while the earl himself fled into Chesterfield - trailing blood and stained bandages - and took refuge in a church. The only serious resistance came from John de Eyvill and his fellows, who stormed back from the woods and hurled themselves at the enemy. John was knocked off his horse by a royalist knight, Gilbert Haunsard, but climbed aboard a spare:
“With a lance he brought a knight at the first onset down;
Yet he broke through the host, and wounded many a one.”
John and his comrades saw the battle was lost, and fled back into the forest. They made their way back to the Isle of Axholme, an impregnable hideout deep inside the dreary fens of Lincolnshire:
“The Deyvill escaped, bold and valiant,
Into the Isle of Axholme, where he was before.”
There was no such escape for Earl Ferrers. Not exactly a born hero, he was eventually found hiding under a pile of woolsacks in the church. His position was given away by a young woman of Chesterfield, whose lover Ferrers had allegedly hanged outside the town gates. He was packed off to prison at Windsor, where he spent the next three years cooling his heels in (probably quite comfortable) captivity. His men weren’t so lucky. At least one of the earl’s knights, Henry Ireton, was killed in the fight outside Chesterfield. Another, Robert de Wollerton, was taken and hanged on Sheene hillside. The rest scattered into the wilds of Sherwood and the High Peak, where they gathered in sullen bands and plotted revenge:
“They collected in bands in the woods, which were suitable hiding-places, and made hide-outs in various places. They were more dangerous to meet than she-bears robbed of their cubs and seized everything they wanted from anywhere.”
- the Bury chronicler
Thus England continued to slide into ruin and chaos. As the Scottish chronicler, Walter Bower, put it - nowhere was there peace, nowhere security.