Blood Cries Afar

Featured in:
April 2012

by Sean McGlynn RRP £20

It is little known that a second Norman Conquest almost took place in England in the early part of the thirteenth century. What’s more, Lincoln played a central role in securing the country for Henry III.
In his latest book, ‘Blood Cries Afar’, author and lecturer Sean McGlynn paints a vivid picture of the largely overlooked Battle of Lincoln, one of the climactic episodes during the French invasion of England which occurred between 1215 and 1217. Against the backdrop of Magna Carta, English barons resentful of King John’s authority, taxation and the failure of military campaigns overseas, such as the Battle of Bouvines, called upon Prince Louis of France to take the place of their monarch. Over a period of two years, much of England fell to the French, including Lincoln. Except for Lincoln Castle, that is.

Lincoln Castle was one of a number of castles which formed a vital stronghold against the rebellious barons and the French army. Its position on the route north between London and Scotland placed it at the centre of one of the most traumatic conflicts of the Middle Ages. If the strength and persistence of the invaders was not challenging enough to overcome, what posed further problems for the royalists was the support shown to the French prince by Scotland’s Alexander II. Lincolnshire Life spoke to McGlynn about the role that Lincoln played in this story, which has seldom been recounted.

“It’s one of the most important sieges in English history, definitely,” said McGlynn. “After the events, the war turned and the French were on the defensive. Lincoln was on the front line going toward the north. The fact that Lincoln held out, by the skin of its teeth, against the French invaders was very important.”

Across thoroughly researched pages that form part of a larger narrative focusing upon Anglo-French conflict during the early thirteenth century, McGlynn brings the city of Lincoln as it was in 1217 to life. The story includes several striking characters who played an important role in retaining the city and ultimately the country, for King John’s young heir, nine-year-old Henry III. Perhaps the most inspiring figure is Nicola de la Haye, a forgotten figure who undoubtedly deserves wider recognition for her resolve as castellan of Lincoln Castle.

“The sheer fact that any woman had come to such prominence in this way is something that should be much more noted,” said McGlynn. “She was in her sixties at this time, but she had actually been involved in another siege in the 1190s. For a while in 1216 she was actually Sheriff of Lincolnshire, so she had a very prominent position.”

McGlynn explained that Prince Louis himself actually travelled up to Lincoln and asked her to surrender, offering assurances that no one would be hurt, but the castellan refused and retained the castle.

That the Battle of Lincoln is given little attention in our county’s history seems surprising, especially since McGlynn so convincingly argues for its centrality in developing English nationalism – long before most historians tend to consider nationalism, in its modern sense, as existing at all.

McGlynn explained: “I think there are three main reasons for it: one is that the events fall between the reigns of two kings – the end of King John’s reign and the next one. Historians often like to look at things neatly, in terms of reigns. Another thing is that it starts in the shadow of Magna Carta in 1215 so it’s overshadowed by those events. Finally, I think it’s because, ultimately, the invasion failed.”

Though King John made many enemies during his reign, the renewed loyalty following the accession of his son is clear and the desire to repel foreign influence and control more urgent. As McGlynn explains in the book, the rule of King John, which saw the suspected murder of his nephew Arthur of Brittany, cruel personal vendettas, arbitrary exercises of power and costly military campaigns, had led to deep resentment among many of his subjects; barons ensnared within his taxation policies were quick to switch sides at the outset of Louis’ invasion. But the sins of the father were not projected upon young Henry and it is in his cause that the Battle of Lincoln proved to be a blazing symbol of strength and resistance.

“The key moment came just before that because one of the leading rebels, Saer de Quincy, had a castle at Mountsorrel that he had asked to be relieved because it was being besieged by royalists,” said McGlynn. “Half the French army moved up north to relieve it. When they were there, the rebel and French leaders who were besieging Lincoln came to this force and said, ‘Can you come over and help us because Lincoln castle is about to fall?’ They had taken the town and it was just the castle that was holding out. They thought it was ripe for the taking so if only they had a few more men, they could do the job. So the French and the rebels went up there and that enabled the royalists to have one big battle with them.”

The research process drew the author to Lincoln for the first time and his enthusiasm for all things medieval, fostered from a young age, was well met by the city’s historical buildings. But McGlynn came with knowledge of the city that so few Lincoln residents are even aware of.

“I remember the Steep Hill in Lincoln, and as I mention in the book it’s hard enough to do in the best of times, so to do it in full armour and to fight – which is what happened in the aftermath of the battle – was quite something,” said McGlynn. “I was really taken by Lincoln and the proximity of the castle and cathedral – as a medievalist, I loved all that. I took lots of photos as I wanted to gauge the battleground; that’s why there are so many photos in the book of the place. And then of course I went to the cathedral and saw Magna Carta. It was strange to be in the middle of the city then, knowing that this massive battle had taken place.”

It is clear from McGlynn’s book that the Battle of Lincoln deserves more widespread recognition as part of our county’s history, and a compelling case is made here for its place in English history. McGlynn is hopeful that the publication will foster further awareness of this period.

“Hopefully during the tourist season the book will be available in the Lincoln Castle shop, because it was so central to what happened,” said McGlynn. “And of course it wasn’t just the battle which was epic in itself but the city was sacked afterwards and plundered on a massive scale. It had never experienced anything like that before or since. So it’s arguably the most traumatic moment in Lincoln’s history.”

Blood Cries Afar is published by The History Press,

Bookmark in Spalding will host Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, great-great-great granddaughter of Charles Dickens on Tuesday, 10th April at 7.15pm. The author of more than twenty titles, Lucinda is perfectly placed to have written the definitive illustrated guide to the man and his works. Tickets are £3.50 Tel 01775 769231.

Waterstone’s Lincoln has announced details of its World Book Night activities. The High Street shop will be open to customers on Monday, 23rd April 5.30-7.30pm. Acclaimed local author, Karen Maitland will be present as well as a representative from Siren FM’s Reading Room, who will be interviewing readers. There will be a WBN quiz and advice will be provided on setting up a reading group.

A new compact edition of the best-selling book, ‘Wood Identification and Use’ by Lincolnshire based woodturner Terry Porter has been released. This edition features all you need to know about 200 timber species from around the world,
with handsome illustrations.

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