The English statesman and soldier Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester (1208-1265), led the opposition to Henry III and played a major role in constitutional development.
Simon de Montfort, born in Normandy, was the fourth and youngest son of Simon de Montfort IV and Alice de Montmorency. After spending his first years in Normandy, where in 1210 his father had been deprived of his English estates, Simon decided in 1229 to go to England with his elder and sole brother, Almeric, to claim the earldom of Leicester by right of his English grandmother. He soon became a royal favorite, made friends with such important people as Robert Grosseteste, and on Aug. 13, 1231, was given livery of the estates. In 1236 Simon was seneschal at the coronation of the Queen, and 2 years later he married Eleanor, the sister of Henry III and widow of William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke.
Simon was formally invested with the earldom on April 11, 1239, and after a quarrel with the King over money matters, he decided to go on crusade. He was so effective that the barons of Jerusalem asked that he remain there as governor. Returning to France in 1242 to help in holding Poitou, he then retired to his English estates for the next years and was called by Henry III in 1248 to govern Gascony. A hard ruler, he was able to force those in opposition to the English to submit. Although charged for his repressive activities, Simon was acquitted, and he resigned in 1252 at the King's request.
Simon hoped to go back into retirement, but the King called upon him to serve on several diplomatic missions to Scotland, France, and Italy. At the "Mad Parliament" of 1258 he served as one of the leaders appointed for effecting administrative reforms, which resulted in the Provisions of Oxford, and Simon moved to join the reformers against the King. Many of the reformers were native English who resented the foreign-born favorites at court, and soon Simon, though foreign-born himself, became their leader.
After being attacked by the King in council in 1260, Simon left the country, but he was called back in 1263 by the leaders of Parliament to head their opposition to the King and his foreign favorites. Claiming that the King had violated his oath and the Provisions, the barons referred the dispute to the arbitration of King Louis IX of France, who sided with the English king in the Mise of Amiens of 1264. As a result of this defeat, Simon and the barons resorted to civil warfare and in the battle of Lewes on May 14, 1264, defeated the royalist forces and captured the King. To counteract the Mise of Amiens, the barons issued the Mise of Lewes, which placed the King and country under the control of Simon and the barons with a program of reform.
To solidify his position, Simon on December 10 called for a meeting of Parliament in January at London that would be fully representative not only of the traditional members but also of every borough in England. This Parliament, later called the "Model Parliament," established a precedent for greater representation in the Commons.
Simon quarreled with Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, who left to join the King's forces led by Prince Edward. Further war resulted, ending in the battle of Evesham on Aug. 4, 1265, at which the opponents of the King were defeated, and Simon was killed. His body was dismembered, and his followers were deprived of their estates. His remains were buried near the high altar at Evesham Abbey, and his tomb became a rallying point for later generations that opposed the powers of the monarchy. Simon's contributions to English constitutional development were not so much in the actions of his life as in their symbolism for later reformers. He stands as a hero for justice rather than as a parliamentary statesman.
There are many studies of Simon de Montfort and his period. Recommended biographies are Charles Bemont, Simon de Montfort (trans. 1930); Margaret Wade Labarge, Simon de Montfort (1962); and C. H. Knowles, Simon de Montfort (1965). For the historical period see Ernest F. Jacob, Studies in the Period of Baronial Reform and Rebellion, 1258-67 (1925); Reginald F. Treharne, The Baronial Plan of Reform, 1258-63 (1932); and Sir Frederick Maurice Powicke, The Thirteenth Century, 1216-1307 (1953).
Bemont, Charles, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, 1208-126, Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press 1974.
Labarge, Margaret Wade, Simon de Montfort, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975, 1962.
Maddicott, John Robert, Simon De Montfort, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. □