4 August 1265: Simon de Montfort is killed at the battle of Evesham
The former de facto ruler of England and father of parliamentary democracy meets a grisly end
By the summer of 1265, Simon de Montfort’s luck was running out. Only a few months earlier, the French-born Earl of Leicester had effectively been ruler of England. Indeed, by calling his Great Parliament at the beginning of the year, de Montfort had unwittingly secured his reputation as one of the founders of parliamentary democracy, which would have astonished contemporaries who knew his greed, ruthlessness and brutality.
As battle was joined on 4 August, however, de Montfort knew the end was near. Many of his baronial allies had defected to his adversary, Henry III, while his son Simon’s troops were besieged at Kenilworth. Trapped in a corner of the river Avon, near Evesham, de Montfort was now facing a much larger army led by Henry’s son, the future Edward I. When his Welsh allies deserted, it was all over. The royal army closed in on de Montfort’s remaining forces with terrible savagery.
The first major casualty was de Montfort’s son Henry. When the earl heard the news, he supposedly remarked: “Then it is time to die.” Cornered at last by Edward’s men, he was stabbed in the neck by a lance, at which he reportedly, but rather implausibly, said: “Thank God.”
As de Montfort fell to the ground, his enemies closed in, mutilating his dying body. His hands were cut off and sent as gifts to his leading opponents. As for
his severed head, decorated with his butchered testicles, it was claimed by royalist commander Roger Mortimer, who had struck the fatal blow. Mortimer duly sent it to his wife Maud as a present. Sadly, history does not record what she made of such a generous gift. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook
4 August 1641
The House of Commons formally impeached 13 Church of England bishops for enacting illegal canons and making illegal grants to King Charles I.
4 August 1812
Shropshire miller James Robinson, Sussex fisherman William Hatter and John Hughes, the landlord of the Red Lion Inn in Rye, were found guilty at Lewes Assizes of helping General Armand Philippon and another captured French officer break their parole and escape to France from Oswestry. Philippon had been governor of Badajoz and had been taken prisoner when the town was stormed by Wellington’s army. All three were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment while Hughes and Robinson were also made to spend an hour facing France in the pillory on Rye beach.
4 August 1859
Death of Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, pastor of the village of Ars near Lyon. He was canonised in 1925 and is the patron saint of parish priests.
4 August 1870
Music hall singer Sir Harry Lauder was born in Portobello, Edinburgh. The songs he made famous include I Love a Lassie; Roamin’ in the Gloamin’; Keep Right on to the End of the Road; and Stop yer Tickling, Jock.
4 August 1902
After three years of work, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, one of the marvels of late Victorian engineering, opens beneath the river Thames.
4 August 1944
German police find Jewish fugitives hiding in a secret annexe in Amsterdam, including teenage diarist Anne Frank, her parents and sister. Within a year, all but her father are dead.