Simon de Montfort

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The elder Simon

The elder Simon de Montfort, Simon IV, was born in 1160, son of Simon III de Montfort and Amicia de Beaumont. In 1181 he succeeded his father as Baron de Montfort; in 1190 he married, to Alix de Montmorency, and the succeeding year his brother, Guy, left on the Third Crusade, as part of the rentinue of Philip II of France.

In 1199 Simon himself took the cross and joined the Fourth Crusade, which was diverted to attack Constantinople. By that time, Simon had left the Crusade, as he, in concord with the Pope, Innocent III, did not agree with Christians attacking fellow Christians.

He returned to his French estates where, in 1204, on the death of his maternal uncle, Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester, he obtained a claim, through his mother, to the earldom, something confirmed in 1207, even as John Lackland, England's king seized the lands for himself.

Simon remained in France, where in 1209 he was made captain-general of the Albigensian Crusade. He became infamous for his cruelty, which was based on his deep orthodoxy, and his hatred for heresy. Much of his work was done in the territory of Raymond of Toulouse, and in 1215 Simon was made Count of Toulouse and Duke of Narbonne. He was fated never to enter Toulouse itself, however, being killed in June 1218 during his siege of the city.

His French estates passed to his eldest son, Amaury, whilst it was his younger, Simon, who took the English lands and became Earl of Leicester.

The younger Simon

The younger Simon de Montfort was born in 1208, son of Simon IV and Alix de Montmorency. He was with his father when the later was killed at the siege of Toulouse in 1218. His elder brother Amaury succeeded to the de Montfort title in France but in 1229 the two agreed to divide their father's lands, Amaury taking the French, Simon the English.

In 1238 Simon, by then recognised as Earl of Leicester, married. His bride was Princess Eleanor, sister of the king, Henry III, and widow of William Marshall. However, in the following year Simon fell out with Henry, over a debt, and he and Eleanor went to France, and from there, on Crusade, following Amaury his brother. By 1241 he was in Syria, but he returned home in that autumn, and was sufficiently reconciled with Henry to serve the king in his Poitou campaign.

Again the two quarrelled -- Henry, hearing Simon planned to crusade again, prevailed on him to become governor of the Duchy of Gascony, in 1248-49. But, like his father, Simon was a ruthless soldier and administrator, and Henry was forced to hold an inquiry into Simon's actions. De Montfort was acquitted, but chose to retire to France in 1252. He was offered the regency of the French kingdom, but he elected instead to make peace once more with Henry.

However, from then on the two were increasingly at loggerheads, as Henry pressed on with rule with his favourites, and Simon grew to lead the demands for a broader oligarchy involving the leading members of the English nobility. Finally, in 1263, Simon entered open rebellion, and in 1264 he was triumphant at the Battle of Lewes, taking the king and Prince Edward into his custody. He set up a triumvirate of himself, the Earl of Gloucester and the Bishop of Chichester, whilst summoning a parliament which included (for the first time) elected representatives of each county and the leading boroughs. However others among the nobility were jealous and Prince Edward escaped, and led a counter-revolution, in the course of which he captured some of Montfort's troops' banners and used them to lure Simon into a trap, at the Battle of Evesham, where he was killed, and his body then cut apart for Edward's lords to use as trophies.

Of his children, his son Henry died at Evesham; his sons Simon and Guy fled into France after the battle; a forth son, Amaury, became a Canon in York; and his daughter Eleanor was married to Llewelyn Prince of Wales, and died giving birth to his daughter Gwenllian in 1282. (Gwenllian, unfortunately, represented two bloodlines (the de Montfort and the leading Welsh house) which the English wished ended, and she was taken into a nunnery whilst still very young, and never allowed to leave).