Who was Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester?
Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, was an English peer of French descent, remembered for his contribution to evolution of the parliamentary system. Born and educated in France, he moved to England at the age of twenty-one in order to claim the earldom of Leicester, which his father had inherited but could not claim. Quickly, he found favor with King Henry III of England, eventually seducing and marrying his widowed sister, being invested with the earldom of Leicester at the age of thirty-one. However, over a period of years, he developed differences with the king, organizing ‘The Mad Parliament’ and establishing constitutional reforms called the ‘Provisions of Oxford.’ He later led the Second Barons’ Revolt, seizing power after the king’s defeat, holding the First English Parliament on 20 January 1265. However, he did not live long after that and got killed at the age of fifty-seven at the Battle of Evesham.
Childhood & Early Life
Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, was born in 1208 in Montfort-l'Amaury, a commune located near Paris, France. His father, Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, was the lord of Montfort and a well-known crusader. His mother, Alix de Montmorency, was a devout woman.
Simon was his parents’ fourth child and third son, having three brothers and three sisters. His eldest brother, Amaury VI, became the Lord of Montfort and inherited the County of Toulouse after their father’s death in 1218, while his second elder brother, Guy de Montfort, died in 1220, leaving him the second surviving brother.
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Although Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester, inherited the earldom of Leicester through his maternal grandfather, he was deprived of the estate by King Henry III of England because of his French citizenship. Amaury’s attempt to recoup the land was also rebuffed by the king.
In 1229, Simon de Montfort moved to England on receiving the right to the earldom of Leicester from Amaury in exchange of his share in the family estates. There, he presented himself at the court of King Henry III and petitioned for his inheritance. Very soon, he became the king’s favorite.
Although the king was sympathetic to his cause, he did not want to go against Ranulph de Meschines, 4th Earl of Chester, who was holding the estate. However, Montfort managed to win the trust of the childless earl, receiving the livery of the estate on 13 August 1231.
On 11 April 1239, he was formally invested with the earldom of Leicester. Meanwhile, he had continued play an important part in the royal court, receiving an annual fee of 500 marks, serving as the seneschal at the queen’s coronation in 1236, marrying the king’s sister, Eleanor, in 1238.
In 1239, Simon de Montfort used the king’s name as security for the repayment of his loan without the latter’s knowledge. When the king learned about it, he was very angry. In August, he and Eleanor fled to France. There in 1240, he joined the Barons’ Crusade.
His brother Amaury had also joined the Barons’ Crusade in 1239, being taken prisoner in Gaza in the month of November. Montfort joined the team that negotiated the release of Christian prisoners, including Amaury, who was set free on 23 April 1241.
He left Syria in the autumn of 1241. Returning to England, he joined King Henry's unsuccessful campaign against King Louis IX in Poitou in July 1242, winning his trust by covering his escape after his defeat at Saintes, France.
On returning from France in 1242, Simon de Montfort set up his headquarters at Kenilworth Castle, receiving it as a royal grant, continuing to rise in influence throughout the early 1240s. In 1244, he was one among the twelve barons who were chosen to mediate between the angry barons and the king.
In 1248, he was sent to Gascony, an English-held duchy located in southwestern France, where he sternly dealt with the excesses committed by the feudal lords, resulting in their protest. It led to issues between Henry and Simon, as a result of which he retired to France in 1252.
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In 1253, he reconciled with King Henry, being treated as a king’s man in spite of his opposition to certain matters. Eventually in 1258, he joined other barons in organizing ‘The Mad Parliament’ in Oxford, establishing constitutional reforms called the ‘Provisions of Oxford’.
In 1259, the parliament was divided into two factions, with the opposing group gaining more support. Eventually in 1261, as Henry revoked his consent to the ‘Provisions of Oxford’, Simon left England only to return in July 1263 at the invitation of a group of disgruntled barons.
Initially, he tried to negotiate with the king and set up a government in accordance with the ‘Provisions of Oxford,’ but failed. Finally in 1264, he raised a rebellion against Henry, defeating the king on 14 May at the Battle of Lewes, taking him and his son, Lord Edward, as prisoners.
Short Reign & Death
After seizing power, Simon de Montfort set up his government according to the Provisions of Oxford. Although he now retained the title of the king, all decisions were taken by the council, subject to the consultation of the parliament, which in addition to barons and clergies included two citizens from every borough.
Montfort’s monopolization of power alienated many lords, especially Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, who joined some royalists to secure Lord Edward’s escape in May 1265. Shortly, Edward began to isolate Montfort, depleting his forces, as a result of which he summoned his son, Simon, from Sussex in July.
On 2 August 1265, as Simon the Younger was resting at the priory of Kenilworth, Lord Edward captured the castle with the help of a spy, taking him prisoner. Thereafter, Edward continued his march, flying Montfort banners, which made him believe that Simon’s army was approaching.
The final battle took place on 4 August 1265, near the town of Evesham. Trapped in the horseshoe bend of the river, Montfort’s 6000 strong army was massacred by Edward’s men, consisting of 8000 soldiers. Montfort and his son, Henry, were also killed.
Simon de Montfort is best remembered for what is now referred to as Simon de Montfort's Parliament. Although Montfort died shortly after that, the idea of inviting both knights and burgesses to parliaments did not die, but became more popular under the reign of Edward I, becoming a norm by the 14th century.
Family & Personal Life
On 7 January 1238, Simon de Montfort secretly married Eleanor of England, the sister of King Henry III. The couple had seven children: Henry de Montfort, Simon de Montfort the Younger, Amaury de Montfort, Guy de Montfort, Count of Nola, Joanna, Richard de Montfort and Eleanor de Montfort Princess of Wales.
After his death during the Battle of Evesham, his body was mutilated and different parts were sent to his enemies as trophies by royalists. Whatever parts were found were first buried before the altar of Evesham Abbey church and later shifted on the king’s order.
Remembered as one of the fathers of representative government, Montfort had a great following among the common people of his time. His grave was frequently visited by pilgrims until it was shifted to a secret place.