Battle of Lincoln 20th May 1217


After King John reneged on Magna Carta, the country fell into a civil war for nearly 2 years, divided between barons still supporting the crown and rebel barons who then invited Prince Louis, the son of the French King, to take the English throne.

By May 1217, King John was dead and his son, Henry III, was only a child with William Marshal acting as regent. The city of Lincoln had been taken by the combined French and rebel English forces, but Lincoln Castle held out for the royalist cause under the command of the lady constable, Nicola de la Haye.

There was a counter attack by the royalist army during which the royalists managed to relieve the castle. There followed fierce fighting between the castle’s East Gate and Lincoln Cathedral. When the French commander was killed the French and English rebels fled down the hill. The Royalists claimed victory and in pursuit of those retreating sacked the town, giving rise to the chronicler’s nickname for the battle, the Battle of Lincoln Fair.

This battle was of national significance. If the Royalists had lost, England would have become part of France.

This year’s Magna Carta lecture, focusing on the Battle of Lincoln 1217, will be delivered by distinguished historian, academic writer and presenter Dr Thomas Asbridge on 26th May, at Lincoln Cathedral. Dr Asbridge’s interest in the Magna Carta began when he studied medieval history at Cardiff University. He then undertook doctoral research on the early history ‘crusader’ principality of Antioch at Royal Holloway, University of London. Since Dr Asbridge received his Doctorate he has published a number of books and articles as well as writing and presenting BBC Two hit series The Crusades. He is also an advisor on the Battles and Dynasties exhibition being held in Lincoln this summer. The lecture will begin at 7.30pm and tickets will cost £6.00.

The contemporary chronicler, Roger of Wendover, described the pillaging of Lincoln by the king’s soldiers after the Battle of Lincoln, 1217.[1]

“After the battle was thus ended, the king’s soldiers found in the city the waggons of the barons and the French, with the sumpter-horses, loaded with baggage, silver vessels, and various kinds of furniture and utensils, all which fell into their possession without opposition. Having then plundered the whole city to the last farthing, they next pillaged the churches throughout the city, and broke open the chests and store-rooms with axes and hammers, seizing on the gold and silver in them, clothes of all colours, women’s ornaments, gold rings, goblets, and jewels. Nor did the cathedral church escape this destruction, but underwent the same punishment as the rest, for the legate had given orders to the knights to treat all the clergy as excommunicated men, inasmuch as they had been enemies to the church of Rome and to the king of England from the commencement of the war; Geoffrey de Drepinges precentor of this church, lost eleven thousand marks of silver. When they had thus seized on every kind of property, so that nothing remained in any corner of the houses, they each returned to their lords as rich men, and peace with King Henry having been declared by all throughout the city, they ate and drank amidst mirth and festivity. This battle, which, in derision of Louis and the barons, they called “The Fair,”….. Many of the women of the city were drowned in the river, for, to avoid insult, they took to small boats with their children., female servants, and household property, and perished on their journey ; but there were afterwards found in the river by the searchers, goblets of silver, and many other articles of great benefit to the finders ; for the boats were overloaded, and the women not knowing how to manage the boats, all perished, for business done in haste is always badly done.”

[1] Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History