Simon de Montfort

Simon de Montfort, the 6th Earl of Leicester was born in Dreux, France in the early 13th century. His father was Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester and mother Alix de Montmorency. He was a French nobleman with English and French royal ancestry and he inherited the title and estates of the earldom of Leicester in England.

De Montfort was King Henry III’s friend and counsellor. He was married to the king’s sister, Eleanor of England and he was godfather to Prince Edward (later Edward I). But in 1239 Simon and Henry fell out and Henry threatened to imprison him in the Tower of London. For several years, despite discontent, Simon joined King Henry’s various campaigns and in 1253 chose to make peace with the King in obedience to the dying Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln. By 1261, following two parliaments that Henry failed to adhere to, de Montfort left the country in despair. In 1263 he was invited to return to England by the barons who were convinced of the King’s hostility to all reform. De Montfort led a rebellion with the objective of reforming the government. This was successful for a time, but Prince Edward used bribes to turn many of the barons against de Montfort. In 1264 civil war broke out.

Simon de Montfort, a seasoned Crusader and successful military leader with a reputation for brutality, led the rebellion against King Henry III during the Second Barons’ War and subsequently became de facto ruler of England following success at the Battle of Lewes. During his rule he called two famous parliaments. The first stripped the king of unlimited authority, the second included ordinary citizens from the towns. Then there was the Battle of Evesham in 1265. De Montfort was brutally killed and hailed a hero by many who then attempted to have him canonised, and so turned into a Saint. This was prevented by Henry III who had de Montfort's body exhumed and reburied in secret - banning the Cult of de Montfort before it gained momentum.

De Montfort's representative parliament is the template of many others in democratic countries today. He was named, alongside Edward I as a person of influence by the United States as they formed their laws in 1776 and is one of the 23 Lawgivers who have bas-reliefs in the House of Representative's Chamber in Capitol House, Washington.