Simon V de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester (1208 – August 4, 1265) was the principal leader of the baronial opposition to King Henry III of England, his brother-in-law. Son of a French noblemen who married into the de Beaumont family, earls of Leicester. Simon inherited the title Earl of Leicester in 1218 (although this was not confirmed until 1239) and by renouncing his claims to French territory also inherited the Leicestershire estates. Marrying the king's sister in 1238, Simon attracted Henry's anger in 1239 when he cited Henry as surety for a loan without the king's knowledge. In 1240, he left for Jerusalem to take part in the Crusades. He then joined Henry in France where he was campaigning to secure his Gascony dukedom. De Montford was a skilled soldier. In comparison, Henry was incompetent. Favoring his French relatives, he caused civil unrest in Gascony. Appointed Governor, Simon managed to restore stability but was then accused dealing too harshly with some of the factions and was reprimanded, although an inquiry cleared him.
In 1254, however, he led Parliamentary opposition to Henry's demand for additional finances to pay for his war in Wales followed by his involvement in Sicily. As discontent with Henry's wars and demands for subsidies grew, Parliament demanded reforms. At first, de Montford tried to help Henry extricate himself from his expensive war in Sicily but by 1258, he was again leading the Parliamentary opposition. Henry agreed to reforms, including a council of fifteen to which governance was delegated. In 1261, when Henry repudiated the reforms and assumed direct power, de Montfort left the country. In 1263, he was invited back by the barons and revolt followed. After the rebellion of 1263-1264, de Montfort became de facto ruler of England and called the first directly-elected parliament in medieval Europe. Inclusion of commoners in governance went too far for some of the barons, who, joining forces with Henry's son, the future Edward I of England rebelled. De Montfort is regarded as one of the progenitors of modern parliamentary democracy. The right of the people to constrain kingly rule and to share in governance began the process of creating a nation-state. If kingdoms had been more or less the personal estates of their rulers, nations may still be headed by an hereditary monarch but all citizens had equal rights including the right to vote for a government that was of, by and for the people.
He was the youngest son of Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman, and Alix de Montmorency. His paternal grandmother was Amicia de Beaumont, the senior co-heiress to the Earldom of Leicester and a large estate owned by her father Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester in England, but King John of England would not allow a French subject to take ownership of such an estate in England. (Simon's grandfather was Baron de Montfort in the French peerage. He married Amicia de Beaumont, daughter of Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester. When his wife's brother, the 4th Earl, died without an heir in 1204 they became the Earl and Countess but without title to the estate.)
As a boy, de Montfort accompanied his parents during his father's campaigns against the Cathars. He was with his mother at the siege of Toulouse in 1218, where his father was killed after being struck on the head by a stone pitched by a mangonel. On the death of their father, de Montfort's elder brother Amaury succeeded him. Another brother, Guy, was killed at the siege of Castelnaudary in 1220. As a young man, Montfort probably took part in the Albigensian Crusades of the early 1220s.
In 1229, the two surviving brothers (Amaury and Simon) came to an arrangement whereby Simon gave up his rights in France and Amaury in turn gave up his rights in England. Thus freed from any allegiance to the King of France, de Montfort successfully petitioned for the English inheritance, which he received the next year, although he did not take full possession for several more years, and was not yet formally recognized as earl.
In January 1238, de Montfort married Eleanor of England, daughter of King John and Isabella of Angouleme and sister of King Henry III. While this marriage took place with the king's approval, the act itself was performed secretly and without consultation of the great barons, as a marriage of such importance warranted. Eleanor had previously been married to William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, and she had sworn a vow of chastity on his death, when she was aged sixteen, which she broke by marrying de Montfort. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Rich, condemned the marriage for this reason. The English nobles protested the marriage of the King's sister to a foreigner of modest rank; most notably, Eleanor's brother Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall rose up in revolt when he learned of the marriage. King Henry eventually bought off Richard with 6,000 marks and peace was restored.
Relations between King Henry and de Montfort were cordial at first. Henry lent him his support when de Montfort embarked for Rome in March 1238 to seek papal approval for his marriage. When Simon and Eleanor's first son was born in November 1238 (despite rumors, more than nine months after the wedding night), he was baptized Henry in honor of his Royal uncle. In February 1239, de Montfort was finally invested with the Earldom of Leicester. He also acted as the King's counselor and was one of the nine godfathers of Henry's eldest son, Prince Edward who would inherit the throne and become Edward I ("Longshanks").
Shortly after Prince Edward's birth, however, there was a falling out. Simon de Montfort owed a great sum of money to Thomas II of Savoy, the uncle of Henry's Queen, and named Henry as security for his repayment. King Henry had evidently not been told of this, and when he discovered that Montfort had used his name, he was enraged. On August 9, 1239, Henry confronted Montfort, called him an excommunicant and threatened to imprison him in the Tower of London. "You seduced my sister," King Henry said, "and when I discovered this, I gave her to you, against my will, to avoid scandal." Most historians perceive this to be the outbursts of an angry monarch, rather than fact. Simon and Eleanor fled to France to escape the King's wrath. Having announced his intention to go on a crusade two years previously, de Montfort raised funds and finally set out for the Holy Land in summer 1240, leaving Eleanor in Brindisi, Italy. His force followed behind the much larger army led by his brother, Amaury. Also at the same time de Montfort's brother-in-law Richard took the cross, but their armies traveled separately. He arrived in Jerusalem by June 1241, when the citizens asked him to be their Governor, but does not seem to have ever faced combat in the Holy Land. That autumn, he left Syria and joined King Henry's campaign in Poitou. The campaign was a failure, and an exasperated de Montfort declared that Henry ought to be locked up like Charles the Simple. Henry rarely consulted his barons. He made disastrous decisions, so needed their help to extricate himself from the difficult situations he created.
Like his father, Simon de Montfort was a hardened and ruthless soldier, as well as a capable administrator. His dispute with the King largely came about due to the latter's determination to ignore the swelling discontent within the country, caused by a combination of factors which included famine and a sense among the English Barons that the King was too ready to dispense favor to his Poitevin and Savoyard relatives. In 1248, de Montfort again took the cross, with the idea of following Louis IX of France to Egypt. But, at the repeated requests of King Henry and Council, he gave up this project in order to act as Governor in the unsettled and disaffected Duchy of Gascony. Bitter complaints were excited by the rigor with which de Montfort suppressed the excesses of the Seigneurs and of contending factions in the great communes. Henry yielded to the outcry and instituted a formal inquiry into the Earl's administration. De Montfort was formally acquitted on the charges of oppression, but his accounts were disputed by the King, and he retired in disgust to France in 1252. The nobles of France offered him the Regency of the kingdom, vacant by the death of the Queen-Mother Blanche of Castile, but he preferred to make his peace with Henry which he did in 1253, in obedience to the exhortations of the dying Grosseteste. He helped the King in dealing with the disaffection of Gascony; but their reconciliation was a hollow one, and in the Parliament of 1254, de Montfort led the opposition in resisting a demand for a subsidy. In 1256 and 1257, when the discontent of all classes was coming to a head, de Montfort nominally adhered to the Royal cause. He undertook, with Peter of Savoy, the Queen's uncle, the difficult task of extricating the King from the pledges which he had given to the Pope with reference to the Crown of Sicily; and Henry's writs of this date mention de Montfort in friendly terms. In 1255, Henry had accepted the Crown of Sicily for his son, Edward; the problem was that Sicily was controlled by the German Hohenstaufens and the Pope expected Henry to pay for the campaign against them.
At the "Mad Parliament" of Oxford (1258), de Montfort appeared side by side with the Earl of Gloucester at the head of the opposition. It is said that de Montfort was reluctant to approve the oligarchical constitution created by the Provisions of Oxford, but his name appears in the list of the Fifteen who were to constitute the supreme board of control over the administration. There is better ground for believing that he disliked the narrow class-spirit in which the victorious Barons used their victory; and that he would gladly have made a compromise with the moderate Royalists, whose policy was guided by Prince Edward. The King's success in dividing the Barons and in fostering a reaction rendered such projects hopeless. In 1261, Henry revoked his assent to the Provisions after obtaining a Papal Bull absolving him of the oath he had taken to uphold them. De Montfort, in despair, left the country.
The barons referred to themselves as the "community of England" (communitas) and it has been suggested that they conceived governance in republican terms, although at this point only nobles were involved. The English barons had already asserted their right to share in the king's rule when they compelled Henry's father, John of England to sign the Magna Carta, a document that was republished several times during Henry's reign. The Provisions gave the Council the right to be consulted on all matters of state and removed the Exchequer and the custody of royal councils and ministerial appointments from the king's remit. Similar restrictions would be placed on Edward II led by an admirer of de Montfort, Thomas Plantagenet, 2nd Earl of Lancaster. Edward II would be asked to vow, at his coronation, to "maintain the laws and rightful customs which the community of the realm shall have chosen," which again asserted that no law could be passed without the agreement of king and parliament.
Simon de Montfort returned in 1263, at the invitation of the barons, who were now convinced of the king's hostility to all reform; and raised a rebellion with the avowed object of restoring the form of government which the Provisions had ordained. For a few weeks it seemed as though the royalists were at his mercy; but he made the mistake of accepting Henry's offer to abide by the arbitration of Louis IX of France. At Amiens, in January 1264, the French king decided that the Provisions were unlawful and invalid. De Montfort, who had remained in England to prepare for the ruling, at once resumed the war, and thus exposed himself to accusations of perjury, from which he can only be defended on the hypothesis that he had been led to hope for a genuine compromise. Though merely supported by the towns and a few of the younger barons, he triumphed by superior generalship at the Battle of Lewes on May 14, 1264, where the king, Prince Edward, and Richard of Cornwall fell into his hands. De Montfort now, more or less, was the government. However, genuinely interested in reforms, he used his victory to set up the government by which his reputation as a statesman stands or falls. The weak point in his scheme was the establishment of a triumvirate (consisting of himself, the young Earl of Gloucester, and the Bishop of Chichester) in which his colleagues were obviously figureheads. This flaw, however, is mitigated by a scheme, which he simultaneously promulgated for establishing a thorough parliamentary control over the executive, including the triumvirs. The Parliament of 1265 is known as De Montfort's Parliament.
De Montfort sent out representatives to each county and to a select list of boroughs, asking each to send two representatives. This was not the first parliament in England, but what distinguished it was that de Montfort insisted the representatives be elected. It is from him that the modern idea of a democratic representative parliament derives. The list of boroughs which had the right to elect a member grew slowly over the centuries as monarchs gave out more Royal Charters.
The right to vote in Parliamentary elections for county constituencies was uniform throughout the country, granting a vote to all those who owned the freehold of land to an annual rent of 40 shillings ("Forty-shilling Freeholders"). In the Boroughs, the franchise varied and individual boroughs had varying arrangements. For the first time, commoners (although not all of them) served in parliament, forming the precursor to House of Commons. The barons (and bishops), who were by right members of parliament, would now constitute their own chamber, the House of Lords. Pauli says that de Montford was a genuine champion of the oppressed and believed that they too should have a say in how taxes were levied. There is evidence, he says, that "knights as well as barons were elected on several of the commissions" although it is not known whether "joint deliberation" took place.
Many barons who had initially supported him now started to feel that Montfort's reforms were going too far, and his many enemies turned his triumph into disaster. Prince Edward escaped, and Montfort's ally, Thomas de Clare, abandoned him and took with him his garrison. Though boosted by Welsh infantry sent by Montfort's ally Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Montfort's forces were severely depleted. Prince Edward attacked the Montfort forces at Kenilworth, capturing more of Montfort's allies. Montfort himself had crossed the Severn with his army, intending to rendezvous with his son Simon. When he saw the army awaiting him at Evesham, Montfort initially thought it was led by his son but the army belonged to Prince Edward, flying the Montfort banners he had captured at Kenilworth, and lead Simon into a trap.
Simon de Montfort died on August 4, 1265, at the battle of Evesham, and was buried at the nearby Evesham Abbey. De Montfort and his army were awaiting the army led by his second son, Simon. He saw his son's banners flying high and began to hope, with the two armies they had a fighting chance to claim England. However, his son had been ambushed, and Prince Edward, Henry's son, led the army carrying de Montfort's stolen banners. From within the church of Evesham, de Montfort and his army led a final charge to their death. After a charge uphill against superior forces, Simon's army was completely destroyed; the battle was quoted as the "murder of Evesham, for battle it was none." Simon's body was cut up and different parts sent to the Lords who had accomplished the most. His head hung on London Bridge until it rotted. Such remains as could be found were buried under the altar of Evesham Abbey by some clerks. It was visited as holy ground by many commoners until King Henry caught wind of it. He declared that Simon deserved no spot on holy ground and had his remains buried under an insignificant tree. The remains of some of his soldiers were found in the nearby village of Cleeve Prior after fleeing from the battle of Evesham. His last words were said to have been "Now it is time to die!"
Matthew Paris reports that the Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste, once said to Simon's eldest son Henry: "My beloved child, both you and your father will meet your deaths on one day, and by one kind of death, but it will be in the name of justice and truth."
Evesham Abbey and the site of de Montfort's grave were destroyed with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the sixteenth century. In 1965 a memorial stone was laid on the site of the former altar by Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Harry Hylton-Foster and Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey. The inscription reads:
Here were buried the remains of
SIMON DE MONTFORT, EARL OF LEICESTER
pioneer of representative government who was
killed in the Battle of Evesham on August 4 1265.
This stone brought from his birthplace the
Castle of Montfort-l'Amaury in France
was erected to commemorate the seven hundredth
anniversary of his death.
Unveiled by the Speaker of the House of Commonson the 18th day of July 1965.
and dedicated by
His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury
In the years that followed his death, Simon de Montfort's grave was frequently visited by pilgrims. There was an attempt to canonize him; this was not carried out however, due to opposition by the English monarchy at the time. Today, de Montfort is mainly remembered for calling the first directly elected parliament and is regarded as one of the fathers of modern democracy.
De Montford's Parliament fell far short of a full-blown democracy but it established the principle that all classes of people had a right to be represented and to share in governance. The Magna Carta had established the right to as fair trial and that the king was also bound by the law but it was de Montford who first introduced the notion that ordinary people had a right to be consulted "in the same manner as the great barons." The advice of the deputies, who received an allowance (which was itself an innovation that endured) were not merely consulted on the "question of peace or war" but on "the affairs of the realm in general." Although a "reaction in favor of the restored kingly power set in" it would not be too long before no law could be passed without "the presence of representatives of towns and shires." In fact, it was Edward I the "conqueror of Evesham" who on November 5, 1297 "with a heavy heart" pledged "to raise no more taxes except by common consent of clergy, nobility and commons and for the public weal." Later, Edward III passed a statute that new taxes had to be justified and shown to benefit the whole realm.
De Montford's own early struggle to inherit his estates due to his foreign parentage may have sensitized him to the rights of those who were often regarded as little more than expendable assets by the feudal lords, that is, the rights of non-aristocrats. Pauli suggests that his ideas about participation were influenced by conversations with the Bishops of Lincoln and Worcester, who were strong supporters of the Franciscans, and order that was characterized by concern for the welfare of non-elites. De Montford's ideas may have been too progressive for his time. However, the process he set in motion a process quickly gathered momentum and was very soon unstoppable. His death was in many respects tragic. He can rightly be said to have placed the concerns of others ahead of his own. He could easily had stayed on his Leicester estates, administering them. Obliged as a noble to attend Parliament, he could have remained silently on the side-lines, as many others did. He chose to spend most of his life serving king and country. His understanding of "country" included the commoners of the realm, whom he did much to secure constitutional rights. De Montford did regard his Parliament as a constitutional development. Pauli observes that although some germ of an idea of governance as a communal responsibility already existed, "it was first called into life when Simon came forward." "His mind had been impregnated by popular influences, and fertilized the nation in return." De Montfort enunciated more clearly than anyone had yet done so "the idea of a combination between constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government, both over-arched by the sacredness of law."
De Montfort Hall, a concert venue in Leicester, is named after de Montfort, as is the nearby De Montfort University.
A statue of de Montfort is one of four to adorn the Clock Tower in Leicester.
A relief of de Montfort adorns the wall of the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives.
Sharon Penman's novel, Falls the Shadow, is a fictional retelling of de Montfort's life from his arrival in England to his death.
A school, Simon de Montfort Middle School, Evesham is named after him in Evesham.
Simon de Montfort and Eleanor of England had seven children:
The last member of the family line to bear the name de Montfort was: Marie-Jean-Baptiste-Benoît de Montfort (1784-1839), 2nd Marquis of Chardonnay, Lord of La Marne, of La Malloniere, of Bicherel, who married D. Joana de Lima Barreto Coelho (London, 1814).
The Earl of Leicester
|Lord High Steward
The Earl of Leicester and Lancaster
Simon de Montfort
|Earl of Leicester||Succeeded by:
|Earl of Chester|
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