Simon de Montfort and King Henry III
All of God's Creation forms a line of power and greatness, from the hierarchies of heaven, through popes, kings, lords and common mankind, and so on down to the lowliest worm - so said Thomas Aquinas. It was a great relief to kings and the Pope who were seeing the Hand of God favoring the common people and their leader Simon de Montfort. It was indeed a happy thought Aquinas offered, and it prompted the Pope to make heretics of the followers of Montfort and his armies fighting for the common people's right to govern themselves.
That was in 1262. A lot has happened since then. But Aquinas succeeded in halting the rise of democracy for five hundred years, bolstering the power of kings to do as they pleased under a proclaimed Divine Right.
Who was Simon de Montfort, and how did he come to be fighting for democracy so very long before it freely blossomed?
Carcassone, where Simon was born.
Simon was the son of Simon de Montfort the Crusader, then much lauded, now much hated for his campaign against the Albigensian heretics of southern France. Orphaned and bankrupted by his father's wars, young Simon apparently grew up at the Court of Paris, close to the Regent Queen Blanche and her son King Louis IX, who was to be Saint Louis. But Simon's future was not to be in France.
While probably still in his teens, young Montfort went to England to try to gain his family's lapsed English titles, Earl of Leicester and Steward of England. King Henry III befriended him, but for years was coy about granting the titles. While waiting, Simon gained fame as a knight in warfare against the Welsh - and fell in love with the king's sister, who was a nun. Their secret marriage most likely was necessary.
Apparently Henry thought he only need ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to lift Sister Eleanor's vows and all would be well. Not so. The Archbishop flatly refused, and only the Pope could overrule him. Simon went to Rome - and came back with Eleanor's vows lifted, but in debt for the rest of his life. If this sounds like a romance, it is nonetheless actual history.
Debt can be a great dampener to even the most yearned-for honeymoon, and apparently the princess, relieved of her vows of poverty and chastity, had been spending like a tycoon, despite the new debt from Rome. (Romance fades for a moment, and chilling economics peep into the story. Letters from both Eleanor's and Simon's spiritual advisers warn then against shouting at each other - especially in front of the servants.)
Simon was King Henry's closest friend at this time -- until Henry seems to have been disabused of his faith in the saint's responsibility for the birth. The occasion was the Churching of the Queen, an event held to welcome the Queen back into the Church after the lying-in and birth. The ceremony was preceded by the Queen's first confession since her pregnancy was known, and she made that confession to the Archbishop of Canterbury - Simon's enemy who had even traveled to Rome to block his marriage to the nun.
The 13th century Chronicler Matthew Paris reports on the Churching with the precision of an eyewitness. Henry nervously paced back and forth across the dais as the Queen trembled at the altar. Simon arrived late with his wife. Seeing him, the King halted the proceedings, shouting, “So, you do dare show your face here, among decent Christians!” Simon fled, but was evicted by the King's bailiffs from the grand mansion Henry had lent him for the summer.
Returning to the church with his wife, infant son and baby nurse, Simon went forward through the parting crowd and knelt, weeping at Henry's feet, begging forgiveness. “Forgive you!” Henry shrieked. “My friend! Always so ready to serve! It seems your serving knows no end! You seduce…”
But Henry desperately needed this heir to curb the maneuverings of those who would overthrow him to put his far more capable brother Richard on the throne. He curbed himself, and accused Simon of seducing his sister the nun and bribing Rome to relieve her of her vows. Old news resolved more than a year past. He added a few more complaints about debts, also already settled, before he collapsed in tears into the waiting arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Simon fled for his life. So began a career that was eventually to make him the people's champion, founder of Parliament and creator of modern democracy. He was hailed as the Angel of the Apocalypse, bringing in the New Millennium that would see the Church, kingship and nations dissolve and a single World Order take form, guided by the common man through the power of the vote.
From his beginnings, no one could have seemed less likely than Simon de Montfort to come to such an end.
Katherine Ashe is the author of :
Montfort The Early Years 12229 to 1243
Montfort the Viceroy 1243 to 1253
Montfort The Revolutionary 1253 to 1260
Montfort The Angel with the Sword 1260 to 1265
Simon de Montfort: The Early Years is FREE on Amazon Kindle from February 11th through 15th, 2012.
Note by Katherine Ashe: Standard histories credit Henry III as the father of Edward I, ignoring the bill for the physician with the magic tea, recorded in the Great Roll of the Pipe for November 1238; the seven month pregnancy, which Henry himself believed was such a miracle that he renovated Saint Edward's tomb in gratitude; and the murderous attitude Henry had thereafter toward Montfort and, periodically, toward Edward. As for Henry's well-recorded accusations at the Churching, they're lightly dismissed by historians as mere madness. No one but myself, it seems, has taken the trouble to investigate the ancient Churching ritual, to find that it was preceded by a long delayed confession, and would, in the case of the Queen, be made to the officiating Archbishop.
Some historians, sensing doubt, claim Edward was clearly a Plantagenet because he had inherited deformities that ran in the Plantagenet line. They are confusing him with his hunch-backed brother Edmund Crouchback, who probably was Henry's son, for Henry went so far as to hock the Crown of England to gain the Crown of Sicily for him. Edward, called Longshanks, was extraordinarily long of limb, like the Montforts.
It was believed by many, in the 13th century, that Edward was Montfort's natural son. If so, then the royal line returned from the Montforts to the Plantagenets with Henry Bolingbroke, who was descended of Edmund Crouchback on his mother's side. The Tudors, however, proudly claimed direct descent from Simon de Montfort through his daughter Eleanor, who was wed to Llewellyn the Last, and whose daughter Katherine, in her marriage to the prince of southern Wales, united north and south under a single Welsh ruling house. Modern scholars don't think Owen Tudor had quite so fine a pedigree, but Henry VIII, on his family tree in Winchester Hall, blazed large the name of Simon de Montfort.