John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey and Sussex
Died: September 29, 1304
Kennington, Kent, England (Age c. 73)
Sussex in History
As the only son and heir of the wealthy William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey, John de Warenne became one of the wealthiest individuals in the nation at the young age of nine upon his father's death in 1240. Since he was still a minor, William was made a ward of King Henry III until he finally reached his majority (1252) and was able to fully enjoy his inheritance. By this point, the earl had made a number of valuable connections at court and was even married to the king's sister Alice. By 1258, Surrey became entangled in the lengthy struggle between Henry III and the English nobility (who were unhappy with the way the king was running the country, especially the fact that he held his foreign relations with so much esteem, ignoring the native Englishmen in the process). Though Surrey remained loyal to the king, he was among those who protested of the surplus of French influence in England. That same year, the Oxford provisions were ratified which helped to limit the king's power and place more control in the hands of the nobility (as such, it can be looked at as a followup to the Magna Carta). As fact would have it, Henry III learned nothing from this humiliating experience, and he continued to run the government as he saw fit, ignoring the nobles. When the Second Baron's War erupted in 1263, Surrey would this time side with the rebel leader, Simon Montfort, Earl of Leicester and another brother-in-law of the king's.
The alliance between Surrey and Montfort, however, would be a short one (he was one of several lords to switch sides at various points within the rebellion) and the earl fought on the side of Prince Edward (Henry III's eldest son and heir) at the Battle of Lewes (1264). After the battle, which was decisively won by the rebels, both Henry III and Prince Edward were taken prisoner, and Surrey, with several other lords, fled to France. The act was looked at by certain chroniclers as cowardly, but Surrey did not face any repercussions for his flight. When Prince Edward escaped his captors the following year, Surrey returned to England and participated in the decisive Battle of Evesham, that saw the defeat and death of Montfort and the restoration of Henry III to the throne. Surrey was given a full pardon for his earlier participation in the rebellion and was used to put down some of the lingering smaller rebellions, though he was not given any substantial rewards (undoubtedly because he had not remained unswervingly loyal to the king). When Henry III died in November 1272, Surrey was one of several lords to act as co-regent until the new King Edward I returned from crusade, which he did not do until 1274.
The earl remained loyal to Edward I until the day he died, participating in the subduing of the Welsh revolts, which ended with the deaths of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and his brother Dafydd (successively prince of Wales) in 1282-83 and also played a role in the war with Scotland. In 1292, Surrey's son-in-law, John Balliol, was chosen as the new King of Scotland. However, Balliol would rebel against Edward I (whom he was supposed to look at as his lord and master, as was agreed upon when the king placed John on the Scottish throne), and Surrey himself was sent to put down the rebellion, which he succeeded in doing. Balliol was captured and forced to abdicate the crown. Though his life was spared, he lived the rest of his life as an exile in France before dying in 1314. With the Balliol threat now subdued, Edward I required Surrey to stay in Scotland to deal with the escalating revolt of William Wallace, who was now taking advantage of the chaotic situation caused by English repression and the fact that Scotland was now, once again, a king-less nation. The struggle with Wallace would take up the rest of the aging earl's life, and the rebel would not be captured and executed until the year after Surrey's death (1305). Meanwhile, as hard as Surrey worked at controlling the rebellion, it seemed as if he was never able to gain any significant ground against Wallace and his fellow Scots. He died in September 1304 as a man of roughly seventy-three. Surrey had not always been the most faithful subject, and his loyalties always had to remain somewhat in question, but in the end, the earl proved that, even as an old man, he was willing to fight for his country.
Sussex in Peele
Appears in: Edward I
The Earl of Sussex appears as a minor character throughout Edward I. He fights for the king against the Welsh and Scots, and his loyalty is never called into question. He is never referred to by his other title of Earl of Surrey, the title which, historically, he was better known for.