On May 14th 1264, a usurper took control of England. At the Battle of Lewes an alliance of rebel barons led by Simon de Montfort confronted the forces of King Henry III and his son, Prince Edward. As in most rebellions, the barons were fighting to take power from the king, as well as for various other complicated reasons. King Henry’s forces had the advantage but Prince Edward made the mistake of leading a cavalry charge directly at the enemy army.
The charge was a success and the part of the Baronial army went into retreat, but like many mistaken generals throughout history, Edward made the mistake of pursuing the retreating soldiers too far. In doing so, he left King Henry exposed with only a few remaining soldiers to protect him. The King was promptly captured by de Montfort, and Edward was captured soon after, leaving their forces to retreat back to a nearby castle. De Montfort ruled England for the next year and a half without any royal authority other than that provided by holding the royal family captive. He is known to history as the “uncrowned King of England”.
This moniker may not be entirely accurate, however, as de Montfort was not, according to some accounts, really a king. The rebel baron’s motto was supposedly “England for the English,” and during his short time in office he called two meetings of parliaments, possibly the first experiments in representative democracy in England’s history. These representative bodies were still only open to wealthy, land-owning men but it was more than England had before de Montfort. Ironically, de Montfort was not English at all, he had been born and raised in France. Still, he was likely more popular among the common people of England than the English King Henry had been.
Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective, Prince Edward would later escape and raise another army to confront de Montfort, eventually cornering his forces at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. De Montfort, his son Henry, and 4,000 of their 6,000 soldiers were killed, returning power in England to Prince Edward and ending the rebellion. Nevertheless, Prince Edward would implement his own versions of representative parliaments in England and some historians believe that he was actually inspired by his enemy, de Montfort, to limit royal powers in the coming years.