The Song of the Battle of Lewes

Richard of Cornwall

The Song of the Battle of Lewes is a Middle English poem preserved in the famous British Library Miscellany, MS Harley 2253 of the early fourteenth century.  The poem itself belongs to the thirteenth-century and was probably written not long after the battle.

It was first published in Bishop Percy’s Reliques of Ancient Poetry (1764).The poem describes the defeat of King Henry III’s army by forces under Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Lewes (May 14, 1264), the opening engagement of the Second Barons’ War.  It is written from the point of view of a supporter of de Montfort.

The poem is composed mostly in seven line stanzas (the eighth stanza has nine lines) with a mocking refrain that plays on the name of the king’s brother, Richard Earl of Cornwall, King of the Germans (Almaine). In the battle, Richard was driven to take refuge in a windmill, and his opponents are said to have stood outside mocking him as a ‘wicked miller’, who thought the sails of the mill were a ‘mangonel’, a siege-engine used to hurl missiles.

The word trichard in the refrain means ‘traitor’ or deceiver’ and the verb tricchen to ‘cheat’ or ‘deceive’.