Battle of Fornham
Henry II is unjustly remembered mainly for the murder of Thomas Becket , the latter elevated to sainthood for the manner of his death in Canterbury Cathedral when the underlying reason for it – his to modern minds inexcusable defence of church legal privileges – is forgotten.
The religious may see divine retribution in the struggles Henry II faced after Becket’s death in 1170, including the Young King’s Revolt, the rebellion by Henry’s similarly-named son and heir. The Young King, so called because he had been crowned as co-regent while Henry remained very much alive, concocted a rebellion with Louis VII of France and William the Lion of Scotland in 1172, their plans first put into action at Easter the next year. The initial scenes of conflict were Normandy and the Scots-English border region, but in the autumn of 1173 a third theatre of war was added when the Earl of Leicester landed a large Flemish mercenary force at Walton near Felixstowe , quickly uniting with troops under the Earl of Norwich to push inland after resting at Framlingham .
That combined force mainly comprised foot-soldiers. They numbered in the thousands, perhaps as many as 10000 according to some, though a better estimate is probably 4000. On the march, however, the army may have stretched out invitingly thinly. When the rebels reached Fornham about three miles north of Bury St Edmunds a small royalist force led by the man Henry left in charge of England in his absence, Richard de Lucy, along with the Royal Constable Humphrey de Bohun, seized the opportunity to attack them in the flank. This was a bold move given the loyalists fielded perhaps fewer than 1000 men, but those men included around 400 trained cavalry against some 80 mounted warriors on the rebel side.
Action on the initial field of battle may have been brief, the Earl of Leicester rapidly captured, the loyalist cavalry charges dispersing the inexperienced foot-soldiers. The small groups of Flemish fighters fleeing the fight were easy prey for the local peasantry whose motivation must have been in part a desire to rob those who had come to plunder them, and in part a furious drive to prevent a return to the anarchy of Stephen’s reign just a generation earlier. The invaders were slaughtered in droves.
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