John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey (1231-1304)

This is a detail from a 13th century aquamanile. It is the kind of high status object John de Warenne, the owner of Lewes Castle in 1264, might have had at his dinner table. Aquamaniles held scented water with which diners could wash their hands. This one was found during the digging of a railway tunnel through the town  in 1846. 

In his early thirties at the time of the battle, de Warenne was one of the younger knights who rushed from Lewes Castle with his friend Prince Edward (later King Edward 1) to attack the de Montfort supporters known as the Londoners. When they returned to the field, the battle was lost.

It is possible it was de Warenne who ordered the castle garrison to set fire to the town with burning arrows to slow up the rebel army. He later escaped to France, returning to England to fight at the Battle of Evesham, where the king was victorious.

De Warenne was married to Henry III’s half-sister Alice de Lusignan. His daughter married John de Balliol, and the couple’s son later became King of Scotland. De Warenne’s own son was killed at a young age in a tournament.

When Prince Edward became king, he made de Warenne governor of all his Scottish conquests but he was later defeated and chased from the field by William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling.

Factfile 

  • De Warenne was still fighting battles at 67.
  • When asked by what right he held Lewes Castle, he grabbed the sword of his ancestor who had fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and said: “This is my warrant. King William did not conquer this realm all by himself”.
  • De Warenne demanded the right to imprison townsfolk for three days and once stabbed the King’s Justice during a trial.
  • It is said he escaped from de Montfort’s soldiers by crossing the bridge over the River Ouse, callously pushing people into the water as he went.

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