Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Nov 12, 2023

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Simon V of Montfort († August 4, 1265 in Evesham, Worcestershire), 6th Earl of Leicester, was an English magnate of French descent from the noble family of Montfort-l'Amaury and brother-in-law of King Henry III of England. Montfort was the leader of the first revolution on English soil, de facto regent of England, and founder of the House of Commons with the proclamation of De Montfort's Parliaments named after him. He died fighting against his brother-in-law's troops.

Montfort was the youngest son of Simon IV of Montfort and Alix de Montmorency. He was probably born shortly before the start of the Albigensian Crusade, which his father had led until his death in 1218. As a younger son, Montfort grew up almost penniless in France, but from 1226 he took part in the revolt against the regent Blanka of Castile, whereupon he had to leave the country. In April 1230 he is mentioned for the first time at the court of King Henry III in England.

Montfort was himself of Anglo-Norman descent through his paternal grandmother and thus had hereditary rights in England. This inheritance consisted mainly of the Earldom of Leicester, but since his father had once declared himself loyal to the French king as a member of the French nobility, the English Montfort lands were confiscated by King Henry III and later given elsewhere. Simon de Montfort, as well as his older brother, Amalrich, now campaigned for restitution of the disputed property. To this end, the brothers agreed in the winter of 1230 on a mutual renunciation of inheritance demanded by the monarchs of England and France, which was intended to prevent an overlap of family interests in both kingdoms. While the elder brother, Amalrich, retained the family estates in France, Simon was to take over the English inheritance. To this end, he took the oath of fealty to King Henry III for his grandmother's inheritance on August 13, 1231, and when Ranulph de Blondeville, 4th Earl of Chester, died heirless in October of that year, he was actually able to take possession of most of it, for the Earl of Chester had been given the Montfort inheritance in previous years.

Simon de Montfort had thus been naturalized into the English nobility and had risen to become a close confidant of King Henry III. But despite his family lineage, he was viewed with suspicion by the established Anglo-Norman feudal society. He was considered by the English barons to belong to the circle of mainland nobles (called poitevins) who had a strong position at court and a great influence of trust on the king.

On January 7, 1238, Montfort married the king's sister, Eleanor, with the king's consent in the royal chapel at Westminster (St. Stephen). When the marriage became public, it immediately provoked the protest of the leading nobles, headed by the king's brother Richard of Cornwall, who felt ignored in this matter. To accommodate the barons, Montfort was excluded from the royal council. However, the marriage also met with criticism from the English clergy, as Eleanor had agreed to take the veil after the death of her first husband, William Marshal, in 1231. Although she had not sworn this under oath, Montfort was ordered to travel to Rome in person to have the marriage approved by the pope. On his journey he made the acquaintance, among others, of Emperor Frederick II, whom he met after his victory at Cortenuova and from whom he received a personal recommendation for the Pope. On May 10, 1238, Montfort finally received from Pope Gregory IX the legitimizing dispensation for his marriage. On October 14, 1238, Montfort was back in England, where shortly thereafter his wife gave birth to their son Henry, named after the king, at Kenilworth. On February 2, 1239, he was finally formally made Earl of Leicester, and in June 1239 he became the godfather of his nephew and later King Edward.

On August 9, 1239, however, Montfort and the king unexpectedly broke off during a joint church visit. The chronicler Matthew Paris reported that the king suddenly reproached his brother-in-law for his marriage to his sister, which was unlawful under canon law. The king seemed to ignore the preceding papal dispensation, which ultimately legitimized the marriage. Together with his family, Montfort left London on the same day and then went into exile in France.

In recent historical research, a political motive is suspected behind the king's criticism of Montfort's marriage. Only a few months earlier, Emperor Frederick II had been banished by Pope Gregory IX, which marked the beginning of a major conflict between the two highest secular powers in the Christian world. Apparently, King Henry III of England intended to distance himself from his imperial brother-in-law so as not to lose papal favor, especially since he had once placed his own kingship under papal protection against the threat of France. The removal of Montfort from the royal court, who had befriended the emperor during his trip to Rome, may thus have represented a further commitment by the king to the papal cause.

During the period of his exile, Montfort corresponded with some influential English clerics of his time: Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, Walter de Cantilupe, Bishop of Worcester, and the Franciscan Adam Marsh. It was especially to the intercession of the former that he owed his reinstatement in royal favor in April 1240, coupled with his return to the English royal court. Together with his brother-in-law, Richard of Cornwall, he took the cross and participated in the English campaign of the Crusade of French Barons (Crusade of the Barons), initiated by King Theobald I of Navarre as early as 1239. While his brother-in-law sailed directly from Marseilles to Acre, Simon, accompanied by his wife, made a stopover in Brindisi, Italy, to meet again with Emperor Frederick II. While his wife then traveled back to England alone, he followed the crusade to Palestine. In the Holy Land, Montfort enjoyed such an outstanding reputation among the local barons that they asked the emperor to appoint him as their regent. After the emperor rejected this request, Montfort traveled back to Europe in the summer of 1241.

Possibly he met the emperor again on the journey in Apulia, but in any case his brother Amalrich, who had also participated in the crusade, died there.

Once in France, Montfort immediately joined the army of King Henry III, who was campaigning against King Louis IX of France. However, at the Battle of Taillebourg (July 1242), the English troops suffered a defeat at the hands of the French. Back in England, Montfort was now fully back in the favor of Henry III, from whom he was now given Kenilworth Castle. In October 1247, he negotiated an extension of the 1242 armistice with France to another five years in Paris as the English plenipotentiary. The following year he again took up the cross to join Louis IX's crusade to Egypt (the Sixth Crusade), but then refrained from participating after being appointed lieutenant of Gascony, the last French possession of the Plantagenets, by Henry III. In Gascony, Montfort had to fight against the threat from Castile and a persistent resistance from local vassals, especially Vice Count Gaston VII of Béarn, which was further complicated by a lack of financial and material support from England. In the end, he had to use private means to preserve English rule in Gascony. Despite this effort, the complaints of the Gascon nobles once again brought him into disfavor with Henry III, for which reason he had to face charges of high treason by exceeding his authority in a veritable court case in 1251. At the trial, Montfort acted as if he were the king's equal, not subject, and said of the accusation of treason, "That word is a lie and were you not my souvereign it would be an ill hour for you when you dared utter it." ("That word is a lie and were you not my sovereign it would be an ill hour for you when you dared utter it.")

By standing up to the king, Montfort was able to win the sympathy of his English peers, to whom he ultimately owed his acquittal of all charges. Nevertheless, he returned to Gascony once again in 1252 and then preferred to settle in France. Financial issues in particular continued to plague his relationship with his brother-in-law. Thus, Henry III delayed payment of the dowry from Eleonore's first marriage and continued to refuse compensation for Montfort's private involvement in Gascony. In France, when the reigning Queen Blanka of Castile died in 1252, Montfort was offered the regency of the country by the French court for the period of Louis IX's absence, but he declined. Through the mediation of Louis IX, who returned home in September 1254, at least a small part of his loan was repaid to him by the English king.

While Montfort spent his years in seclusion in France, King Henry III increasingly maneuvered himself into deep conflict with the English barons. Crucial to this was Henry's strong commitment to winning the kingdom of Sicily for his younger son, Edmund Crouchback. Pope Alexander IV had offered Edmund the throne of Sicily because he hoped it would destroy the Hohenstaufen under King Manfred. King Henry III had accepted this offer without prior consultation with the barons and levied a crusade tax to finance the enterprise. It was precisely this, however, that led to profound bitterness among the barons, on whose shoulders the financial and military burden was to be placed first and foremost. In doing so, however, the king overstretched his standing among the barons, with whom he was already heavily in debt in the first place due to an empty crown treasury. Henry III had also become a debtor to Montfort due to the purchase of the county of Bigorre, in that Montfort had paid for the majority of the purchase sum. In compensation, however, he was granted rights of use in Bigorre.

On May 10, 1255, Montfort and Peter of Savoy negotiated another three-year truce with France. He then returned to England, where he assumed leadership of the barons after the election of Richard of Cornwall as Roman-German king in 1257. That same year, there were major weather-related crop failures in the country, grain prices rose, and famine broke out. The king's inability to counter these ills led to the open front of influential nobles, including Montfort, Richard de Clare, 5th Earl of Gloucester, and Roger Bigod, 4th Earl of Norfolk, at the Parliament of Westminster at Easter 1258. Just as they had once done a generation before them, the barons believed that the king, like his father John Ohneland, was a danger to England and that his rule needed to be brought under controlled supervision, just as Magna Charta had once provided. Under Montfort's word leadership, the barons refused to support the king's Sicily plans and openly denounced the political influence of foreign favorites (Poitevins), especially the royal half-brother William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke. King Henry III had no choice but to agree to a reform of the state administration, which was to take place in a subsequent meeting of twelve royal and baronial representatives each in Oxford at Whitsun 1258.

Montfort was one of the most influential members of this body, which was derisively called "Mad Parliament" by his opponents. On June 11, 1258, it adopted a document that is considered England's first written constitution, the Provisions of Oxford. In it, the baronial party was able to assert almost all of its positions vis-à-vis the royal representatives and stipulate that in the future a body of fifteen people, only three of whom were appointed by the king, would have the task of dealing "with the common business of the realm and of the king" - state power de facto passed to this body. In it was also determined a regular appointment of the Parliament and expulsion of all Poitevins together with their expropriation. With the brother of the Earl of Norfolk, Hugh Bigod, a Justiciar was appointed from the ranks of the barons, who was to have jurisdiction from then on. While King Henry III immediately recognized the validity of the Provisions on oath, the Poitevins around William de Valence, who also enjoyed the support of the heir to the throne Edward and Henry of Almain, opposed them. Only after the Poitevins had gambled away their remaining sympathies by their murder of a brother of the Earl of Gloucester, their front was crushed. De Valence and his ilk had to leave England by the end of 1258, and their castles were turned over to state administration. Princes Edward and Henry now also swore in the Provisions.

In 1259, Montfort again stayed in France with his wife and the king, where on December 4, as a representative of the Parliament, he was one of the signatories of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the generations-long conflict between the English royal house of the Plantagenets and the French crown. While he returned to England immediately thereafter, Henry III extended his stay in France. Montfort's increasingly autocratic behavior, which sometimes took on dictatorial characteristics, earned him the displeasure of his supporters. In April 1260, the king returned to England, immediately barricading himself in the Tower of London. During his time in France, he had consolidated his relations with the Pope, who still counted on the English king as an ally against the Hohenstaufen and therefore supported the royal position.

At a Parliament convened by the King in the Tower, the King succeeded in taking the right of appointment of the sheriffs into his own hands, which was contrary to the provisions of the Provisions of Oxford. Hugh Bigod resigned as justiciar, and the barons elected Hugh le Despenser, but this did not prevent the loss of authority. In the spring of 1261, the king succeeded in gaining control of London with the help of hired mercenaries, whereupon William de Valence and other Poitevins returned to England. On June 14, 1261, he convened a new Parliament at Winchester, but it was no longer composed in the form of 1258. Relying on a papal bull, King Henry III here declared himself absolved of all his obligations to the barons and thus invalidated the Provisions of Oxford. Thereupon the Earl of Gloucester and other high barons went over to the royal side, and at Easter 1262 the Earl of Cornwall also professed opposition to the validity of the Provisions. The baronial opposition did not end there, however, for the majority of the knighthood as well as the urban citizenry was still on his side. And when the Earl of Gloucester died shortly thereafter, his son, Gilbert the Red, immediately declared his support for the barons' cause.

In the following years, the country was paralyzed between the conflicting factions, which began to fight each other increasingly militarily with mercenaries. In early 1263, Montfort assembled at Dover a large army of barons, of about 160 knights-more than the king's force and that of his son Edward-with which he succeeded in capturing several castles in southern England that were loyal to the king. In addition, he allowed the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd unhindered in the Welsh Marches, which especially kept the forces of the heir to the throne Edward in check. The queen had transferred the crown jewels to the Templars to ensure the financing of the royal mercenary forces. The king was again forced to barricade himself and his family in the Tower of London, from where Edward made a raid on the New Temple. Under the pretext of wanting to examine or redeem the jewels, he robbed not only the same, but also the gold and silver of the Templars. This incident caused the population and citizens of London to defect again to Montfort's side, the queen tried to flee to her son's troops at Windsor, but was recognized by the enraged population and had to seek refuge in St Paul's Cathedral. On July 15, 1263, Montfort entered London to the cheers of the people. The king, as well as the heir to the throne, had to again legitimize the Provisions by oath at a new Parliament on September 9 in St Paul's.

Despite this success, the party of the barons could not be sure of their victory yet, because especially the nobility of the north still stuck to the king's cause. Thus, the balance of power of the conflicting parties was mutually balanced, without either of them being able to force a decision. On July 28, 1263, Pope Urban IV again released the English king from any obligation and had the crusade preached against the opposition barons. Then, in this situation, France's King Louis IX agreed to intervene in the matter as an arbitrator. Louis IX had been asked several times before by both sides for an arbitration award, but until then he had always refused. In December 1263, however, Montfort and the barons immediately declared their willingness to recognize any ruling on the commission by the French king, and the royals followed suit only a few days later with a similar declaration. On January 23, 1264, in the Mise of Amiens, where Montfort was not personally present, Louis IX of France declared the Provisions of Oxford invalid in the sense of a monarchical omnipotence.

Contrary to their word, the barons around Montfort did not intend to recognize the arbitration award of Amiens and again prepared for battle. On January 15, 1264, King Henry III returned from France, with a papal legate in his entourage, who reconfirmed the verdict in March. Montfort now openly allied himself with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and fortified his castles in the border marks. He successfully repelled an attack by the heir to the throne on Gloucester on March 13, and on April 5 suffered a defeat against him at Northampton, in which his son, Simon the Younger, fell into royal captivity. On May 6, Montfort addressed a final peace petition to the king, with the condition of recognition of the Provisions, but this was immediately refused. Only a few days later, on May 14, he was victorious over the united royal army in the Battle of Lewes, the king, the heir to the throne as well as several of their supporters could be captured. To calm the country, Montfort sent peacekeepers to all counties. On June 23, 1264, however, he summoned a new Parliament to London, which was to include not only barons and ecclesiastical princes, but also four knights from each county and deputations from all the country's municipalities. In order to restore peace between the crown and the people, a three-member council was to be elected from the Parliament in the future, which in turn was to appoint a nine-member supervisory body, after whose advice the king was allowed to issue decrees. Only Parliament could make personnel changes to these councils. King Henry III had no choice but to recognize these procedures during his imprisonment. In addition to Montfort himself, Bishop Stephen Bersted of Chichester and the Earl of Gloucester were elected to the first council of three, with Montfort as the dominant force having de facto rule over England.

No sooner had the first parliamentary system of government in English and European history been established than severe criticism of Montfort's leadership arose. Critics saw him as a usurper who was primarily pursuing the interests of his family. The continued imprisonment of the king and the royal family also stirred up tempers. The royals who had escaped at Lewes gathered on the Flemish coast, whereupon Montfort assembled an army at Canterbury. Diplomatic negotiations with France in Boulogne, aimed at recognition of the new government of England, were unsuccessful. No concession could be expected from Rome either, as long as Henry III was in captivity. On October 20, 1264, the Earls of Leicester, Gloucester and Norfolk were excommunicated. In the winter of 1264, some knights from the Welsh Marches tried to free the heir to the throne from his prison in Wallingford, whereupon he was transferred to Kenilworth, where he was allowed a brilliant court life, with Montfort's wife and aunt of the heir to the throne present.

Around the same time, King Henry III had to agree to the convening of a new parliament at Westminster Hall. This was to consist mainly of ecclesiastical prelates, but also of five earls and two knights from each of the counties and the cities of York and Lincoln, as well as two burgesses from each of the other "patches" (boroughs) and four men from each of the Cinque Ports. This was the first time ever that Parliament met in such a form. The large number of communal representatives compared to the noble members is particularly striking and illustrates the growing importance of the commoners in the political and economic spheres in 13th century England. De Montfort's Parliament is thus equated in historiography with the founding of the "House of Commons". It met on January 20, 1265, and was to deal primarily with the release of the crown prince from captivity. It broke up again on February 15. On March 31, Crown Prince Edward pledged to agree to a general amnesty and to refrain from future persecution of Montfort, Gloucester, and the citizens of London. Further, he was to tolerate no more foreign men as advisors, nor was the pope ever to be allowed to intervene in English affairs. King Henry III, Princes Edward and Henry of Almain, and ten bishops swore to this agreement, which was to be valid in all parts of the Plantagenet dominions, including Ireland, Gascony, and Scotland as well. On March 19, Montfort met with his wife and royal nephews at Odiham.

Despite all this, Montfort's power was in decline after the days of his parliament. In April 1265, his one-time chief ally, the Earl of Gloucester, deposed from him to the Welsh Marches, where an uprising was on the horizon. Immediately thereafter, the royalist Earls of Warenne and Pembroke landed an army on the Pembrokeshire coast. On May 28, the heir to the throne, Edward, took advantage of the only loose supervision on his person to escape. He immediately allied himself with Warenne, Valence and also Gloucester, who vowed to restore the old institutions of the kingdom. Montfort hastily allied himself again with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in the treaty of Pipton-on-Wye. His son, Simon, was ambushed by the heir to the throne at Kenilworth on the night of July 31, leaving the Earl of Oxford a prisoner. On August 3, Montfort, on his march against Edward, was received at Evesham Abbey. When the approach of his son was reported to him at mass the next morning, he intended to ride out to meet him. Too late, the ruse of the heir to the throne was realized, who had carried the Montfort banner captured at Kenilworth, thus luring Montfort into a tactically disadvantageous position. The latter's followers had already cut off the escape route to Evesham, so Montfort was forced to fight outnumbered. The Battle of Evesham was one of the bloodiest in England's medieval history. Besides Simon de Montfort himself, his son Henry and the Justiciar Hugh le Despenser were killed along with at least 160 knights. Even King Henry III, who had been in Montfort's entourage, was almost killed by his son's knights because he had not made himself known in time.

Montfort's body was torn to pieces by the throne's uncontrollable warband, and his head is said to have been presented to the Lady of Wigmore. The remains of his body, which the monks of Evesham found still on the battlefield, were buried in their abbey.

With Montfort's death, the movement of the barons led by him came to an end for the time being, and with it the political and social upheavals they had created. King Henry III and, above all, Crown Prince Edward immediately eliminated from the English state system the provisions of the Oxford Provisions and the principle of parliamentary separation of powers that had resulted from them. Instead, they re-established the feudal-hierarchical order so characteristic of the High Middle Ages, in which monarchical state power emanated from the will of the king. The privileged position of the baronial class, which he had won a generation earlier in the Magna Charta, remained untouched, of course, which is why he continued to press for a constant say in the politics of the kingdom. Nevertheless, 30 years were to pass before another English Parliament was convened.

Simon de Montfort's nephew, godson and opponent at Evesham, Edward, as King Edward I, again convened a Parliament in 1295, later known as the Model Parliament. The composition of this body was based entirely on that of De Montfort's Parliament of 1265, giving both the nobility and the bourgeoisie of England a voice before the king. Like the rebellious barons of 1215, Montfort's actions set an important landmark in the history of English parliamentarianism.

In England today, several squares, streets and public buildings are named after Simon de Montfort, especially in Leicester with its De Montfort University and De Montfort Hall. A statue of him is part of an ensemble of Leicester's Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower's built in 1868, next to him are depicted William Wigston, Thomas White and Gabriel Newton. Since 1967, in St Andrews Church of Old Headington.

His marriage to Eleanor of England produced the following children:


  1. Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester
  2. Simon de Montfort, 6. Earl of Leicester
  3. Reinhold Röhricht, Regesta, S. 286 – der Brief der Barone an den Kaiser datiert auf den 7. Mai 1241.
  4. Simon Schama: A History Of Britain 3000BC–AD1603. BBC Worldwide, London 2000, ISBN 0-563-38497-2, S. 175.
  5. ^ Montfort's father (Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester) is also sometimes known as Simon V. The discrepancy in numbering arises from confusion between Simon III de Montfort (died 1181) and his son Simon de Montfort (died 1188). The latter was historically unknown, and Simon III was believed to be the father (not the grandfather)[2] of the 5th Earl, who is therefore known as Simon IV in some sources.[3] and Simon V in others.[4]
  6. Thomas B. Costain, The Magnificent Century, p. 308
  7. For example, see BBC website, accessed 11 May 2008, on the Godberd theory.
  8. Maurice Hugh Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval England, 1987, Routledge.
  9. Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon’s Notes on English History made on the Eve of the French Revolution, illustrated from Contemporary Historians and referenced from the findings of Later Research by Henry Foljambe Hall (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1905), 12, 56.
  10. ^ (EN) Record for Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, su URL consultato il 12 ottobre 2022 (archiviato dall'url originale il 7 ottobre 2022).
  11. ^ Elisabetta Woodville, regina consorte di Edoardo IV d'Inghilterra, fu una delle discendenti di Guido attraverso la figlia, Anastasia di Montfort, contessa di Nola.

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