Sunday, January 31, 2010

Discourse: How Big was LEWES?

First of all, if I’m going to assemble the 28mm armies at a representative troop scale of 1:20 or less, I’m going to need a definite idea of how many soldiers were present at Lewes in 1264 and that is not so clear cut as you might think. How big were the armies of King Henry III and de Montfort’s rebels?


I have almost every reference written on the subject, several online articles, contemporary and close to contemporary chronicles, and I make particular reference to the following:

E L Mann The Battle of Lewes (1976) S B Publications
David Carpenter The Battles of Lewes & Evesham 1264/65 (1987) British Battlefield Series, Mercia Publications
English Heritage Battlefield Report: Lewes 1264 (1995) English Heritage
Sir Charles Oman Battle of Lewes from The Art of war in the Middle Ages (1898) Methuen

As the Battlefield Report states, chronicles vary in estimations from 15,000 to a total of 100,000 combatants. Not all estimates include all arms but limit themselves to cavalry only. The following is a sample spread of estimates:

Winchester Chronicle has 60,000 royalists all arms and 40,000 rebels all arms
Gilson fragment has 3,000 royal cavalry and 500 rebel cavalry
Canterbury/Dover Chronicle has 1,500 royal cavalry and 500 rebel cavalry
Trinity fragment has 1,200 royal cavalry and 200 rebel cavalry
Sir Charles Oman has less than 1,600 royal cavalry and more than 600 rebel cavalry
English Heritage has 10,000 royalists all arms including 3,000 cavalry and 5,000 rebels all arms
David Carpenter has 1,500 royal cavalry & several thousand foot against 500 rebel cavalry & several thousand foot
E L Mann attempts no estimation.

So, no definitive numbers then. In spite of the understandable conservatism of our later historians, I nevertheless require a number to collect against for Project Lewes. There are only a few relative certainties arrived at through the above consensus: a) the rebels were outnumbered by the royal army and, b) the rebels were significantly outnumbered in terms of cavalry.

I am inclined toward the view that the rebels were definitely outnumbered may not have been as outnumbered in general terms (all arms) as even 2:1. I have formed the view that the disparity in numbers were most telling, even perhaps exclusively in the relative strengths of cavalry. My reasoning for this is that the rebel army marched to meet the royal army at Lewes. Furthermore it marched from London, de Monfort’s base of operations and the largest, most populous city in the land, loyal to the rebel cause. If the rebel force was too significantly outnumbered, London would have been easier to defend with a smaller force than any army besieging it. Whilst de Montfort may have been concerned that his support would fall away over time and that the royal army was ‘touring’ the country gathering strength, he would not have made an otherwise seemingly suicidal strategic move from London if he did not feel safe to do so.

The timing of the battle within the political environment at the time indicates that baronial support was very much in the balance. That, taken with the isolation of de Monfort’s northern supporters and the access to foreign knights by the King and his ‘continental’ family members would certainly support the weight in numbers in terms of cavalry being very much in the King’s favour. Simon de Montfort’s appeal to the lesser baronage together with any grass roots popularity with a revolt against authority might well have seen a greater emphasis on foot soldiery within the rebel army.

On the day of battle, the rebels force marched in the pre-dawn to appear at the top of the downs above Lewes and apparently were in battle array before the royal army was prepared. Whilst stealing the tactical initiative and choosing particularly good ground, de Montfort then waited, handing the first move back to the King. Why? I am of the view that he had sufficient forces to make a show of strength which might elicit terms from his normally ‘un-marshal’ brother-in-law (the King). If all failed, he may be able to carry the day in a defensive posture on good high ground. Simon de Montfort was a competent, even talented field commander and was definitely a gambler – politically and militarily. I certainly think if he had greater numbers, he’d have come down off the heights before the royalists had time to form up and drive them to rout through the town. There may have also been an element of surprise, even alarm in the mind of de Montfort. Once in position, he may have looked down in disbelief at the size of the royal army and simply hesitated.

So, what size of armies am I to go for?

Not being one to dismiss chroniclers out of hand, I am going to keep to the odds provided for by the Winchester chronicle of 2:3 odds in favour of the King. I am also going to use the upper limits for the Kings army of 10,000 as provided for by English Heritage thus providing me with a rebel army of some 6,700 all arms. From that I will allow for 3,000 royalist cavalry leaving 7,000 foot and will take 800 cavalry for the rebels leaving them with 5,900 foot. This provides me with army sizes in accordance with some calculations taken from my sources and sympathetic to my own appreciation of the battle.

In Warhammer Ancient Battles terms for 1:20 representative troop scales, I have the following numbers to build:

Royal army: 150 cavalry figures and 350 infantry figures

Rebel army: 40 cavalry figures and 295 infantry figures

No comments: