Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester
Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester (1208 – August 4, 1265) was the principal leader of the baronial opposition to King Henry III of England. After the rebellion of 1263-1264, de Montfort became de facto ruler of England and called the first directly elected parliament since those of ancient Athens. Because of this, de Montfort is today regarded as one of the progenitors of modern democracy.
He was the youngest son of Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman, and Alix of Montmorency. His paternal grandmother was Amicia de Beaumont, the senior co-heiress to the Earldom of Leicester and a large estate in England, but King John of England would not allow a French subject to take ownership of such an estate in England.
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 II. 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, which she broke by marrying de Montfort. The archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Rich, condemned the marriage for this reason, though perhaps Eleanor can be forgiven, as she had been widowed at sixteen. 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 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 godfathers of Henry's eldest son, Prince Edward who would inherit the throne and become Edward I ("Long Shanks").
Crusade and turning against the king
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 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.
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 favour 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 rigour 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 the earl 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 the earl in friendly terms. But 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. But 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, and de Montfort in despair left the country.
War against the king
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 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, not excepting the triumvirs. The Parliament of 1265 (De Montfort's Parliament), which he summoned, it is true, a packed assembly; but it can hardly be supposed that the representation which he granted to the towns was intended to be a temporary expedient. 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 last charter was given to Newark in 1674.)
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.
The reaction against his government was baronial rather than popular; and the Welsh Marcher Lords particularly resented Montforts alliance with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales. Little consideration for English interests is shown in the Treaty of Pipton which sealed that alliance on June 22, 1265.
Many other 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, 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 so leading Simon into a trap.
Simon de Montfort died on August 4, 1265 at the battle of Evesham, and was buried at the nearby abbey.
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."
Today, de Montfort is mostly remembered for calling the first directly elected parliament and is regarded as one of the fathers of modern democracy.
De Montfort University in Leicester is named after de Montfort, as is the nearby De Montfort Hall, a concert venue.
A relief of de Montfort adorns the wall of the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives.
Simon de Montfort and Eleanor of England had seven children:
- Henry, born 1238, killed at the battle of Evesham 1265
- Peter, killed at the battle of Evesham 1265
- Simon, who died at Siena 1271, cursed by God, a wanderer and a fugitive
- Guy, died 1288
- Eleanor de Montfort, born 1252, died 1282. She married Llywelyn the Last, prince of Wales
- Maddicott, J.R. Simon de Montfort, 1996
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain
The Earl of Leicester
|Lord High Steward
The Earl of Leicester and Lancaster
Simon de Montfort
|Earl of Leicester||Succeeded by:
|Earl of Chester|