Longsword by David Pilling

Friday, 12 April 2013

The prince and the outlaw

Following on from my recent posts on Sir John Deyville, this is about Sir Adam de Gurdon, another unjustly forgotten figure of the Baron's Wars, and his dealings with the future Edward I.

GurdonCoat of arms of Sir Adam de Gurdon

Sir Adam was a minor country knight, the Lord of Selbourne in Hampshire and Bailiff of Alton. He sided with Simon de Montfort during the wars of the 1260s and probably fought at the Battle of Lewes, where the royalists were defeated and Henry III taken prisoner along with his son, the Lord Edward. He seems to have avoided being present at the slaughter of Evesham in 1265, and like many of the surviving rebels his lands were stripped from him by the vengeful King Henry. This left the 'Disinherited' with little option but to carry on fighting.

It was now that Adam made his brief cameo in history. He became the leader of one of the outlaw bands that plagued England in the aftermath of Evesham, and set up camp near Alton Pass in Hampshire. The pass was the main route from London to Southampton, so the outlaws could prey on travellers making their way between the capital and the south coast.

It seems that Adam made a serious nuisance of himself, so much so that the Lord Edward decided to deal with him in person.

Edward led a division of royal troops in a head-on attack against the rebel camp near Alton Pass, which was guarded by timber barricades. The barricades were quickly stormed, and a vicious hand-to-hand struggle broke out in the woods. The prince and the outlaw knight met in the thick of the fighting and engaged in single combat.

Medieval knights getting stuck into each other. Quite literally.

Unlike his rather cowardly portrayal in Braveheart, Edward was an accomplished knight, whose height and length of limb gave him an advantage over most other men in a fight. After a hard scrap he beat Adam to his knees and accepted the outlaw's surrender. Adam's men were not so lucky, and most of them were hanged on trees. 

There is a pretty story that Edward raised Adam up, greeted him as his friend and comrade, and sent him as a present to his wife Eleanor at Windsor. This doesn't sound much like old Longshanks, and sure enough the truth is slightly different. Adam was loaded down with chains and sent as a prisoner to Farnham Castle and then Guildford. He was finally sent to the dungeons at Windsor, where, Edward quipped, he could keep the captured Earl of Derby company.  

Despite his hard words, Edward had no intention of punishing Adam further. There were only a finite number of armed knights in England, and the future king needed bellicose men like Adam and Sir John Deyville on his side.

Thus Adam was soon released and restored to his estates. For the rest of his long life (he died in 1305) he remained loyal to the crown, and served as a justice of the forest and commissioner of array, as well as doing military service in Wales and Scotland.

His fate is testament to Edward's gift for inspiring loyalty in former enemies, and a corrective to the modern image of Edward I as an utterly merciless tyrant: mercy, as the king well appreciated, can be useful as well as admirable.

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