Montfort IV, Simon de, earl of Leicester

views updated May 18 2018

Montfort IV, Simon de, earl of Leicester (1208–65). Earl Simon was no stranger to controversy in his lifetime, and has been the subject of extraordinary controversy ever since his death at the battle of Evesham (1265). Then, the victorious royalists dismembered his body in revengeful exultation; a detested traitor had met his end. But his followers found solace in the rapid emergence of a cult. Evesham abbey, where his mutilated remains were buried, became the centre of a pilgrimage, and the cult took hold so fast that the attempt was made to suppress it. But so strong was popular canonization that it defied suppression and, within thirteen years of his death, over 200 miracles had reputedly occurred. A ‘political’ saint was born.

It is as a supposed martyr for justice and the liberties of the realm that Simon has largely attracted both denigration and adulation ever since. Nineteenth-cent. scholars saw the baronial movement for reform, which Simon came to lead, as a formative phase in the making of the English constitution, his famous Parliament of 1265, to which knights and burgesses as well as barons and clergymen were summoned, being a crucial step on the road to democracy. A popular, creative statesman, the champion of oppressed classes, had emerged. The view of Earl Simon as a liberal statesman has been carried into our own times, most notably by Treharne, but Powicke reacted sharply, considering Simon to be a fanatic, a moral and political crusader, whose arrogance and stubbornness wrecked the early promise of the reform movement enshrined in the provisions of Oxford (1258). Recent work, particularly on the early history of Parliament, has tended to diminish Simon's reputation so far as his longer-term historical significance is concerned. What does seem clear is that Simon was no great radical or social reformer. Rather, he accepted the social order of his day and took support from whatever quarter he could once it became apparent that he could not unite the magnates behind him. But that does not necessarily mean that he was purely a cynical manipulator and self-seeker. Popular veneration suggests otherwise.

S. D. Lloyd

Montfort, Simon de, Earl of Leicester

views updated Jun 11 2018

Montfort, Simon de, Earl of Leicester (1208–65) French-born leader of a revolt against Henry III of England. Montfort distinguished himself on crusade. Resentful at being forced to cede power in Gascony to the future Edward I, Montfort led the rebel barons in the Barons' War (1263). He won the Battle of Lewes (1264), and formed a Parliament. Edward defeated and killed at Evesham.

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Simon de Montfort earl of Leicester

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