After a relatively quiet few weeks, Henry III had a sudden burst of activity. He moved from Rochester, via Windsor and Reading, to Oxford. He resumed control of the machinery of government. And he summoned his supporters to prepare for all-out war.
Henry arrived in Oxford at a difficult time. There had been violent riots, following conflict in 1263 between the university and the city authorities over scholars’ immunity from arrest. Henry had written to the chancellor and the mayor from Rochester on 28 February, supporting arbitration, and ordering the scholars to remain peacefully in the town. According to Robert of Gloucester, further troubles broke out just before the king’s arrival, on the first Thursday in Lent (6 March). (History of the University of Oxford, I, 128-9; CPR 1258-66, 383; Church Historians, V, 364)
Although Henry had returned to England on 15 February, it was not until this week that the Chancery rolls recorded his return. His brother Richard stopped authorizing writs, and it was Henry himself who witnessed entries on the rolls from 4 March onwards.
The second fine roll entry which Henry witnessed concerned the earl of Oxford’s estates. Hugh de Vere, earl of Oxford, had died in December 1263. His estates had been taken into the king’s hands, to be administered by William of Axmouth (along with much else, as we have recently seen). The heir, Robert de Vere, had now done homage for Hedingham castle and all his father’s other possessions, which were to be handed over to him. If this was an attempt to win support from the new earl, it failed: de Vere fought with the baronial forces at the battle of Lewes; he was one of the young men whom de Montfort knighted on the eve of the battle. (CFR 1263-64, no. 80)
While he was at Windsor on 6 March, Henry sent letters to some 120 nobles and knights, instructing them to gather at Oxford at the end of March, with their followers, with horses and arms. Similar letters went to the bishops and abbots, and to the sheriffs of each county, who were to provide their due military service. The nominal reason for this summons was to deal with Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, who was occupying the lands of the king and Edward, occupying and destroying their castles. There was a hint of the real reason in a note in the close roll after the list of those summoned: ‘Those who are against the king are not written to.’ There was also a hint of the king’s actual target: he appointed John Lovel as constable of Northampton castle, and ordered Roger of Walton, who held it for the barons, to hand it over to Lovel. (Close Rolls 1261-64, 377-80; CPR 1258-66, 306)
Those against the king had taken the town of Gloucester, as we saw two weeks ago. Lord Edward, after capturing Humphrey de Bohun junior’s castles, moved rapidly to the rescue of the royalist garrison in Gloucester castle, which continued to hold out. Edward forced his way into the castle, getting past the baronial besiegers either by repairing the bridge over the Severn, which had been burned, or by taking a ship belonging to the abbot of Tewkesbury. (Flores Hist, II, 486-7; Ann Mon, II, 227; Church Historians, V, 365)