Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Montfort, Simon of (1208?-1265)
MONTFORT, SIMON of, Earl of Leicester (1208?–1265), was son of Simon IV of Montfort l'Amaury (Normandy) and his wife Alice of Montmorency. The first lord of Montfort had owned nothing but a little castle on a "strong mount," halfway between Paris and Chartres, whence the family took its name. His son, Simon I, married the heiress of Evreux; their grandson, Simon III, married Amicia, daughter of Robert of Beaumont, third earl of Leicester. The fourth Earl of Leicester died childless in 1204 or 1205. In the partition of his inheritance between his two sisters the honour of Leicester fell to Anaicia's share, and, her husband and her eldest son being dead, devolved upon her second son, Simon IV of Montfort. John recognised him as "Earl of Leicester" in August 1206, but it does not appear that he was ever formally invested with the earldom, and in February 1207 John seized all the English estates of "Count Simon of Montfort" nominally for a debt which Simon owed him. They were restored a month later, but confiscated again before the end of the year. The Count of Montfort had been content to enter upon his patrimony, and also upon the Norman heritage of the Beaumonts, under the overlordship of Philip of France, and he had to pay the penalty laid upon all Norman barons having claims on both sides of the sea who took this course, the loss, of his English inheritance. He now threw in his lot wholly with France and with the party of ecclesiastical orthodoxy against which, in the person of Pope Innocent III, John was setting himself in opposition. In 1208 Simon became captain-general of the French forces in the crusade against the Albigensians, who were supported by John's brother-in-law, Raymond of Toulouse. Simon's skill, courage, energy, and ruthlessness carried all before him, and speedily made him master of all southern Gaul. He continued to style himself Earl of Leicester, and he seems to have kept up his communications with England and to have been an object of deep interest and admiration to his fellow-barons there, for in 1210 John was scared by a rumour that they were plotting to set up Simon of Montfort as king in his stead. One of the conditions required by the pope for reconciliation with John in 1213 was that Simon should be restored to his rights. This John at first refused, but in July 1215 he yielded so far as to give the honour of Leicester into the charge of Simon's nephew Ralf, earl of Chester, "for the benefit of the said Simon." In May 1216 Simon, having gone to Paris to collect fresh troops for his war with the Aragonese, and to settle the questions as to the disposal of the family heritage which had arisen owing to his mother's death, joined with the legate Gualo in endeavouring to dissuade Louis of France from his designs upon England (Robert of Auxerre, Rer. Gall. Scriptt. xviii. 283-4). The Leicester estates seem to have been still in the hands of Ralf when Simon was killed at the siege of Toulouse, 25 June 1218. After some changes of custody, they were put under Ralf's charge again in 1220, and it seems that Henry III afterwards actually granted them to him and his heirs in fee. In vain did Simon's eldest son, Almeric, appeal against this exclusion from the heritage of his English grandmother. At last he proposed to transfer his claim upon it to his only surviving brother Simon, in exchange for Simon's share in their continental patrimony.
Simon V of Montfort seems to have been the third son of Simon IV (Bibl. de l'Ecole des Chartes, xxxiv. 49). He was probably born about 1208. He is first named in a charter of his father's in 1217. In 1229, having somehow incurred the wrath of the queen-regent of France (W. Nangis, Rer. Gall. Scriptt'. xx. 584; N. Trivet, Engl. Hist. Soc., p. 226), he was glad to accept his brother's suggestion of trying his fortune beyond the sea. "Hereupon," he says himself, "I went to England, and besought my lord the king that he would restore my father's heritage unto me." He carried a letter from Almeric, entreating the king to restore the lands either to the writer or to the bearer. "But he answered that he could not do so, because he had given them to the Earl of Chester and his heirs by a charter. So I returned without finding grace." Henry, however, held out hopes of ultimate restitution, and offered the claimant a yearly pension of four hundred marks meanwhile, on condition of entering his service in England or elsewhere. This proposal was accepted by Simon after his return" to Normandy, and ratified by the king on 8 April 1230. "In that year the king," continues Simon, "crossed into Brittany, and the Earl of Chester with him; and I went to the Earl, and begged him to help me to get back my heritage. He consented, and next August took me with him to England, and besought the king to receive my homage for my patrimony, to which, as he said, I had more right than he; and he quit-claimed to the king all that the king had given him therein; and the king received my homage, and gave me back my lands." On 13 Aug. 1231 Henry ordered that seisin should be given to Simon of all the lands which his father had held, "and which belong to him by hereditary right."
The one extant portrait of Simon of Montfort dates from the year of his adoption as an Englishman. In a window of Chartres Cathedral he is painted as a young knight, on horseback, with banner and shield, while from beneath the raised vizor a face with marked features and large prominent eyes looks out with an expression which makes one feel that the likeness, though rude, must be genuine. Several years passed before his position in England was secured. Even after a second renunciation from Almeric, Simon neither assumed the title of Earl of Leicester, nor was it given to him in official documents. Not only had a large share of the Leicester property passed away to Amicia's younger sister, the Countess of Winchester, but what remained of it had, as Simon declared, suffered so much "destruction of wood and other great damages done by divers people to whom the king had given it in charge," that it was quite inadequate to support the rank and dignity of an earl. A license granted by Henry III in June 1232 to "our trusty and well-beloved Simon of Montfort" to "keep in his own hands or bestow at his will any escheats of land held by Normans of his fee in England, which may hereafter fall in, until our lands of England and Normandy shall be one again" may have helped him a little. In April 1234 he seems to have contemplated buying back from his brother his share of the Montfort patrimony. In a list of nobles present at a parliament at Westminster, 12 Oct. 1234, "Simon of Montfort" appears not among the earls, but next after, them (Appendix to Beacton, ed. Twiss, ii. 608). On 20 Jan. 1236 he officiated as grand seneschal at the queen's coronation, despite a protest from the Earl of Norfolk, Roger Bigod, the office of seneschal having long been in dispute between the Earls of Norfolk and of Leicester. On 28 Jan. 1237, at Westminster, "Simon of Montfort" again appears, immediately after the earls, as witness to the king's promise to observe the charters. He was still with the king at Westminster on 24 March (Munimenta Gildhalloe, ii. 669), and again on 3 Aug. (Champollion, Lettres de Hois, i. 52). In September he witnessed the treaty at York between Henry and the king of Scots." This time his name, though still without' a title, precedes that of the Earl of Pembroke, who stands last among the English earls. Simon was now seeking the hand of the widowed Countess of Flanders, but this project, like an earlier one for his marriage with another middle-aged widow, the Countess of Boulogne, was frustrated by the king" of France, who looked upon it as part of a dangerous political scheme (Alberic of TroisFontaines, Rer. Gall. Scriptt. xxi. 619; cf. Layettes du Tresor des Chartes, ii. 336-7). A far higher match was in store for Simon. Henry III had now taken him into his closest confidence. Suspected in France on account of his relations with England, Simon was no less suspected and disliked by the English barons, as being one of the three counsellors who were believed to be instigating Henry's subservience to the pope and his legate, and whose encouragement of the king's unpatriotic policy was the more resented because–as Matthew Paris observes in words which strikingly witness to Simon's early adoption as an Englishman– "they drew their origin from the realm itself" (Chron. Maj. iii. 412). There seems to be no evidence for the charge against Simon beyond the fact that he was one of the nobles who acted as bodyguard to the legate on his way to and from a council at St. Paul's in November 1237, a precaution which, as his enemies were reported to be lying in wait to kill him, was hardly more than the honour of king and kingdom required. It was, however, only natural that the barons should greet with a burst of indignation the discovery that on 7 Jan. 1238 Simon had been privately married in the royal chapel at Westminster to the king's sister Eleanor, the king himself giving away the bride.
Eighteen months later, when the brothers-in-law quarrelled, Henry declared that he had but yielded to the necessity of covering his sister's shame; but it is impossible to believe that he spoke truth. Eleanor's marriage was, however, an offence against ecclesiastical discipline, for on the death of her first husband, William Marshal, second earl of Pembroke [q.v.], in 1231, she had taken, in the presence of Archbishop Edmund, a vow of perpetual widowhood. It seems, indeed, that Edmund, before he left England in December 1237 [see Edmund, Saint, archbishop of Canterbury], knew of the king's project and protested against it. When the marriage became known, the king's brother, Earl Richard of Cornwall [see Richard, king of the Romans], in his own name and that of the other barons, vehemently reproached Henry for having disposed of the hand of a royal ward without their consent or knowledge. An actual revolt was threatening, but on 23 Feb. Simon "humbled himself to Earl Richard, and by means of many intercessors and certain gifts obtained from him the kiss of peace." On 27 March Henry commended to the pope "our trusty and well-beloved brother Simon of Montfort, whom we are sending to Rome on business touching the honour and welfare of ourself and our realm." The business was to get a dispensation for Eleanor's marriage; this was granted 10 May. In England, however, the marriage was not yet wholly forgiven, and Simon gave time for the storm to die down by lingering on the continent throughout the summer. It was probably now, rather than, as Matthew Paris says, on his way to Rome, that he engaged for a while in military service under the emperor. He was well received on his return to England, 14 Oct. His first child, born in Advent, was joyfully hailed as a possible heir to the crown; and on 2 Feb. 1239 he was at last formally invested with the earldom of Leicester.
On 20 June 1239 Simon stood godfather to the king's eldest son [see Edward I]. In August he and his wife were invited to the queen's churching at Westminster; on the night before the ceremony, however, they met with a most insulting reception from the king. A debt which Simon owed to Count Peter of Brittany, and for non-payment of which, due in the summer of 1237, he had been threatened with excommunication, had been somehow transferred to the queen's uncle, Thomas of Savoy. Thomas had apparently set the king to enforce its payment. Henry chose to mix up this story with a wholly different one, and to accuse Simon of having led Eleanor into sin before their marriage, gained a dispensation by promising large sums to Rome, then incurred excommunication by failing to pay them, and finally used the king's own name as security without his permission or knowledge. Simon answered that he was willing to fulfil his legal obligations, but desired leave to defend himself according to law. Henry, according to Simon's account, ordered out ' the commons of London' to seize him that night and carry him to the Tower, but this was prevented by Richard of Cornwall. Next evening the earl and countess escaped down the Thames. They withdrew "first beyond the sea, and then beyond the Alps." Simon appears to have taken the cross immediately after his marriage, but postponed the fulfilment of his vow at the pope's express desire. He now renewed it, and, thus protected against the royal wrath, came back to England on 1 April 1240. The quarrel was compromised, Henry taking on himself a part of the debt, and Simon selling some of his woods to pay the rest. He then proceeded with the other English crusaders to Marseilles, and thence overland through Italy to embark at Brindisi for the Holy Land. His cousin Philip de Montfort, lord of Toron, was one of the leaders of a party among the nobles of Palestine who were struggling against the control of Richard Filangieri, the bailiff set over them by the Emperor Frederic II, whose young son Conrad was heir to the crown of Jerusalem. On 7June 1241 this party proposed to Frederic that he should end the strife by appointing, in Filangieri's stead, Earl Simon of Leicester to be bailiff and viceroy of Palestine until Conrad should attain his majority (Archives de I'Orient Latin, i. 402-3; Botfield, p. xix note). Their request was not granted; but that they should have ever seriously made it to the emperor is a striking proof of the high repute in which Simon already stood alike in east and west. Next spring, however, Simon was back in Europe. In Burgundy he received a command to join the English king in Poitou, where Henry, having just landed with an army of invasion, wanted his help, and was glad to purchase it by a very insufficient indemnity for the forced sale of the Leicester woods. Simon did good service at the battle of Saint es, 22 July, and was one of the few barons who stayed with the king, "to the great damage of their own fortunes and interests," when the rest went back to England in the autumn. A year later king and earl alike went home, and the royal appreciation of Simon's services was shown by liberal grants to him and his wife.
In 1244 Simon appears for the first time as taking part in English politics. Matthew Paris states that the parliament of that year appointed twelve commissioners to answer the king's demand for money; that of these twelve Simon was one; and that their answer took the form of a remonstrance against the king's wastefulness and his non-observance of the charters, and a demand for the appointment of responsible ministers of state. He inserts under the same year a draft scheme of administrative reform which he says "the magnates devised with the king's consent," and which in a remarkable way "anticipates several of the later points of the programme of Simon de Montfort" (Stubbs, ii. 63). Yet he also says that when Henry refused all concession, and sought to treat with the different orders singly, Simon was one of the bearers of the royal appeal to the clergy. From these obscure notices no theory can be formed as to Simon's actual position or policy. In May 1246 his name follows that of the Earl of Cornwall at the head of a remonstrance against the demands of the pope. In 1247 he went to France "on secret business" for the king, returning 13 Oct. At the close of the year he again took the cross. It seems to have been contemplated that he should lead the English contingent in the crusade about to set forth under Louis of France; the pope desired the English clergy to supply the earl with funds, and in August 1248 the Bishops of Lincoln and Worcester promised him four thousand marks from their dioceses whenever he should start for the Holy Land. By that time, however, his crusade was indefinitely postponed. In the spring Henry III had asked him to undertake the government of Gascony, which nobody else had ever been able to manage. Simon, "not wishing," as he says, "that the king should suffer for lack of aught that I could do for him," accepted the task on condition that he should be secured in the office of governor for seven years, should have absolute control over the revenues and feudal services of the land during that time, and should be entitled to claim the obedience of the people as if he were the king himself. For the government and internal pacification of the country he took the whole responsibility on himself; only in case of attack from the neighbouring sovereigns did he stipulate for aid from Henry. A commission on these terms was issued to him on 1 May 1248, the king undertaking to give him two thousand marks, and to supply him with fifty knights for a year.
In the autumn he set out. On 20 Sept. he was at Lorris, making a truce for two months with the queen-regent of France. At Epiphany 1249 he reappeared at Westminster to report the success of his first three months' work in the south. Two of the worst troublers of the land were in prison; a third, Gaston of Beam, had been forced to make a truce; a fourth, the king of Navarre, had in a personal interview been persuaded to submit to arbitration all his disputes with the English king; the turbulent robber-knights, the stubborn burghers of the Gascon towns, had all been made to feel the strength of their new ruler's hand. He was back again by the end of June, when he suppressed a faction fight at Bordeaux, and threw the heads of one of the rival factions into prison; he put down by sheer force a similar tumult at Bazas; he razed the castle of Fronsac, and seized the estates of its lord, who was accused of traitorous dealings with France; he captured Gaston of B6arn and sent him over sea to beg pardon of the king. By the end of the year the whole country appeared subdued; so "manfully and faithfully," as Matthew Paris says, had the earl laboured at his task, "striving in all things to follow his father's steps, or even to outgo them."
Simon was in truth imitating but too well his father's high-handed severity and repression of independence among a people whom the ordinary machinery of civil government was powerless to control, and who were above all others quick to resent any interference with the local franchises and the un- bridled license which for ages they had regarded as their birthright. The mutterings of a coming storm reached his ears early in 1250. In March he went to Paris to negotiate a five years' truce between Henry and the queen-regent. Thence, on Easter eve (27 March), was written to King Henry the sole extant letter of Simon of Montfort. He has heard, he says, that certain Gascon knights whose lands he has seized for the king, and who know that they have no chance of recovering them by process of Gascon law, are resolved to regain them by force, and intend to begin the enterprise directly after Whitsuntide. "And forasmuch as the great folk of the land look upon me with evil eyes, because I uphold against them your rights and those of the poor people, it would be peril and shame to me, and great damage to you, if I went back to the country without having seen you and received your instructions. For when I am there, and they stir up war against me, I shall have to return to you, because I cannot get a penny of your revenue the king of France holds it all and I cannot trust the people of the land; nor can they be checked by an army as in a regular war, for they will only rob and burn, and take prisoners and ransom them, and ride about at night like thieves in companies. Therefore, so please you, I must by all means speak with you first, for those who have hinted to you many sinister things about me would all tell you that it is I who have given occasion for the war." He went over to England accordingly, early in May. By the end of the month he was back again, making good use of some money which had been furnished him, buying here the custody of a castle, there a plot of land on which to build a new one, here the friendship of one baron, there the homage of another, and at last, on 27 Nov., dictating to the citizens of Bordeaux terms which left them wholly at his mercy.
Suddenly, on 6 Jan. 1251, he reappeared in England, weary and downcast, with a train of only three squires, mounted on horses almost worn out with the haste of their journey. He went straight to the king with a passionate appeal for money and men to "repress the insolence of rebellious Gascony." His funds, public and private, were exhausted; he could not, he declared, carry on single-handed such a costly struggle. Henry, while despatching two commissioners to inquire into, report upon, and appease the discord" between governor and subjects, gave him three thousand marks; Simon collected what he could from his own estates, hired two hundred soldiers and a few cross-bowmen from the Duke of Brabant, and once more returned to his post. This time all Gascony was up in arms. The chiefs of the malcontents were assembled at Castillon; there Simon besieged them in April; they proposed to submit the quarrel to arbitration; he refused, and took the place. On 25 May they accepted his terms: submission of all matters in dispute to the judgment of a tribunal to consist of the king's two commissioners and four other judges chosen by them. This tribunal seems never to have sat, but one by one the rebel leaders made their peace with the crown; and in November Simon could leave Gascony to the care of his lieutenants, go to England, report that his work was done, and ask the king to accept his resignation and indemnify him for the expenses incurred in his service. Henry, however, refused to pay for the maintenance of the castles, and required Simon to maintain them at his own cost for the rest of his term of office. The queen arranged a compromise; on 4 Jan. 1252 Henry appointed arbiters to determine the amount due to the Earl of Leicester according to the terms of his commission, and on the understanding" that this amount should be paid him, Simon agreed to resume the government.
At that very moment Simon–now at York with the king–received news of a fresh rising in Gascony. He would have set out at once to suppress it, but Henry refused to let him go, saying he had been given to understand that it was caused by the misdoings of the earl himself. Simon instantly demanded to be confronted with his accusers in the king's presence in London. On 6 Jan. Henry despatched two envoys into Gascony, with instructions to the civic communities, the Archbishop of Bordeaux, the Bishop of Bayonne, and the malcontent barons, to present their grievances in person or by deputy at Westminster within a week after Easter. Citizens, prelates, and barons at first declared that they dared not leave the country to the mercy of Simon's constables; in the end, however, they obeyed the royal summons. On 23 March Henry notified to Simon their impending arrival and forbade his return to Gascony mean- while. Simon went nevertheless, gathered troops in France, and set to work "to exterminate his enemies." On reaching Bordeaux, however, he learned that the Gascon deputies were actually on their way to England, and hurried back thither to meet them. The Gascons arrived first; according to one account, Henry felt so doubtful of their truthfulness that he sent another pair of commissioners the same whom he had sent in 1251 to make further inquiries, and they returned with a report that Simon "had treated some people rather inhumanly, but they seemed to have deserved it." By that time, however, the Gascons had got the king's ear; he gave Simon the cold shoulder on his return, and lost no opportunity of slighting him in public, while showing all possible favour to his opponents, and delaying the trial for nearly two months. Simon kept his temper admirably; he knew, indeed, that the English barons were on his side "they would by no means suffer so noble a man, and natural subject of the crown, to be imprisoned as a traitor at the pleasure of these aliens." At last he obtained a day for the public hearing of the case. The Gascons had put their complaints in writing; he answered them in the same way, point by point. He was charged with stirring up factions in the towns by siding unduly with one party for his own interest; ordering arbitrary arrests and punishments, and extorting arbitrary fines and ransoms; refusing trial to prisoners, even when ordered by the king; seizing and destroying castles, lands, and goods without reason and without compensation, or on false pretences, and committing sundry acts of violence, both in person and by -his deputies; interfering with the law and administration of the land, by drawing to his own cognisance as viceroy suits which ought to have been left to the local courts of towns or barons, and overawing the courts in general, all over Gascony; appointing bailiffs, vicars, provosts, &c., on lands which were lawfully exempt from such interference; exacting tallages from lands which of old right owed no such impost; overriding the privileges of certain towns as touching the swearing of fealty to the king or his lieutenant, the amount of military service due to him, and of purveyance due to his bailiffs, &c.; selling the office of bailiff to men who oppressed the people to such a degree that they were driven to leave the country; appointing to posts of authority persons who were, or had been, in treasonable correspondence with France. Some of the individual charges Simon utterly denied; in the majority of cases he acknowledged the fact, but gave it a wholly different colour. For some of his arbitrary acts he alleged provocations which, if his allegations were true, went far to justify them; others he asserted to have been not arbitrary at all, but done after due sentence from the local courts of justice; and he further pointed out, with perfect truth, that he had accepted the government not as a mere seneschal, but on the express understanding that he was to be in all things as the king himself, without appeal. His prohibition of the forcible seizure of goods for pledge, and of the maintenance of armed "companies," and his strict punishment of its infringement, he defended on the grounds that the former practice was "the beginning of all strife," that the "companies" were "nothing but packs of thieves," and that both regulations had been duly passed in a parliament at Dax. Against the other charges his defence practically came to this : that no system short of "thorough" was of any avail with these contemptuous cities and lawless robber-nobles, and that the chastisements which he had inflicted on them were less than they deserved. Orally, indeed, he summed it all up in one burst of scorn: "Your testimony against me is worthless, for you are all liars and traitors." Nevertheless, he offered either to settle the matter at once by ordeal of battle between some of the accusers and the witnesses whom he had brought over on his side, or to give security for submitting to its settlement by any method that might be agreed upon either in England or Gascony. The accusers, however, would agree to nothing; "if the king would not believe what they told him, he had only to send them safe home again." So to answer was virtually to throw up their own case, and the unanimous verdict of the council forced the king to declare Simon acquitted. The very next day, however, Henry picked a quarrel with Simon in open council. Simon reproached him for his ingratitude, and urged the fulfilment of the terms on which he had undertaken the Gascon vice-royalty; Henry retorted that he would keep no covenant with a traitor. "That word is a lie," burst out Simon, "and were you not my sovereign, an ill hour would it be for you in which you dared to utter it." Henry would have arrested him, but the magnates all took Simon's part, and separated them after a bitter altercation. A few days later Simon offered the king three alternatives: peace between himself and his accusers to be made at the king's discretion, and the earl then to return to Gascony and hold it for the king according to the terms of that pacification; if peace were refused by the other party, the king to furnish the earl with troops and arms, and the earl to return to Gascony and go on as before, fighting down rebellion and holding the land for the king by force; or the earl to resign his commission as viceroy, provided that the king indemnified him for his expenses and secured his honour from reproach, and the persons and lands of his adherents from the vengeance of the Gascons; and provided also "that the prelates, nobles, and counsellors gave their consent." Henry rejected all three propositions; instead, he proposed to reopen the case in Gascony as soon as he could go thither himself, and meanwhile to prolong the truce which had been arranged there till that period should arrive. The king's parting sarcasm, "Go back to Gascony, thou lover and maker of strife, and reap its reward like thy father before thee," was met by the quiet reply : "Gladly will I go; nor do I think to return till I have made thine enemies thy footstool, ungrateful though thou be." Ten years later Henry asserted that he had ordered Simon to follow him to Windsor, and that Simon had disobeyed the order and gone straight to France without his knowledge; Simon, however, declared that he had set out "from Windsor." Landing at Boulogne on 13 June, he learned that Gaston of Beam, despite the truce, was besieging the citadel of La Reole; he collected troops in France and hurried to the rescue. Meanwhile his accusers had hastened home and gathered forces to meet him; in the first battle he was victorious; soon afterwards he was blockaded in Montauban, and escaped with some difficulty. While revictualling La Reole he was overtaken by two; royal commissioners with letters from the king bidding him respect the truce; he retorted that he could not keep a truce which the other party had broken. The commissioners then handed him another letter whereby he was removed from his office. He answered that the king was acting "wilfully, not in reason," and that the office which had been entrusted to him "by the counsel of the wise men" he would not give up till the seven years were expired; and therewith he went off to besiege another rebel castle. The English parliament in October utterly refused to sanction his deposition; Henry next oifered to buy him out with seven thousand marks down and a promise to pay all his Gascon debts. Simon yielded, made a formal resignation of his office, 29 Sept. 1252, and withdrew into France. There the nobles, "knowing his constancy and strength of character," pressed him to accept the office of seneschal of the kingdom, and with it a foremost place in the council of regency, left headless by the death of the queen-mother. Simon refused; "he would not seem a deserter."
Gascony had risen more madly than ever as soon as his back was turned, and when Henry arrived there in August 1253 the first thing he did was to call Simon to his aid. Simon at first took no notice; but a second appeal in October brought him back, sick though he was, at the head of his picked band of knights, ready to forgive and help his brother-in-law once again. The result was a gradual subsidence of the revolt; Simon spent Christmas with the king, and at Easter 1254 was back in London, enlightening the English parliament as to the state of things in Gascony and the meaning of the royal demands for money.
On 25 Aug. Henry sent Earl Simon into Scotland, "entrusting him with a secret to reveal to the Scottish king." On 38 May 1255 Simon was coupled with Peter of Savoy on a mission to France for a renewal of the truce, which was obtained in June. On 16 Aug. 1256 he was with the king at Woodstock; and in the same year he was one of four noble laymen whom the king appointed as being "learned and skilful in the laws of the land, and mighty men, whom neither fear nor favour could corrupt" to inquire into a charge against the sheriff of Northampton which had baffled the sagacity of the itinerant judges. In February 1257 Henry proposed to send Simon, with another envoy, to treat for peace with France. Simon seems to have been there when ordered off in June on a further errand, to expedite arrangements with the pope for Edmund's establishment as king of Sicily [see under Richard, Earl of Cornwall]. Of the four envoys originally named for this mission, however, only one went, and that one was not the Earl of Leicester. He remained in France, but met with no success in his negotiations, and returned in February 1258.
Sometime in 1257 hot words had passed between Simon and the king's half-brother, William of Valence. William had encroached on Simon's land; Simon remonstrated before the council; William met the remonstrance by calling him traitor; and the strife would have passed from words to blows had not the king thrown himself between them. The quarrel broke out again in the Hoketide parliament of 1258. William repeated his insult; Simon retorted, "No, no, William! I am neither traitor nor traitor's son; my father was not like yours;" and again Henry had to separate them. Their quarrel was only a part of the great national quarrel which occupied the whole session (9 April-5 May 1258), the quarrel of the English people, who were soon to recognize Simon as their champion against the king and his Poitevin favourites, of whom William was the chief. On 12 April Simon and six other nobles banded themselves together in a sworn league "to help one another, ourselves, and our men against all folk, doing right and obtaining right, as much as we can, without wronging any man, and saving our faith to the king." On 2 May Henry sanctioned the appointment of twenty-four commissioners twelve of his own council and twelve chosen by the barons to draw up a scheme of administrative reform. One of the latter was Simon of Montfort. On 8 May five nobles, of whom Simon was one, were appointed to prolong the truce with France, that the work of reform might proceed without external hindrance. There was a further project, strongly supported if not originated by Simon, for turning the truce into a definite peace, and on 28 May its terms were virtually agreed upon. Simon was still in France on 1 June. He was back on 11 June, when the parliament reassembled, and the commissioners' scheme was elaborated into the "Provisions of Oxford." Besides the redress of a number of administrative grievances, these included the appointment of a permanent council of fifteen, who were, "in fact, not only to act as the king's private council, but to have a constraining power over all his public acts" (Stubbs, ii. 76), and the election by the barons of twenty-four commissioners to treat of the aid demanded by the king. Of both these bodies Simon was a member, as well as of the original committee of twenty-four which was now to undertake the reform of the church. As soon as the ' Provisions' were ratified, Simon, in accordance with a clause requiring all warders of royal castles to surrender them to the king, resigned the custody of Odiham and Kenilworth. "Your castles or your head" was the alternative he offered to William of Valence, who refused to follow his example. Simon headed the deputation of barons who obtained the adhesion of the London citizens to the "Provisions," 22 July. He was also one of those who drew up a letter to the pope giving an account of the proceedings at Oxford, and protesting against the appointment of Aymer of Valence to the see of Winchester. About the same time Henry was overtaken by a thunderstorm one day when in a boat on the Thames. Driven to seek shelter in the house which Simon then occupied, he answered the earl's welcome by declaring that he feared his host "more than all the thunder and lightning in the world." "Fear your enemies, my lord king those who flatter you to your ruin not me, your constant and faithful friend," was the earl's reply. On 25 Aug. he was accredited on a mission to Scotland; on 18 Oct. "Sim' of Muntfort, Eorl of Leirchestr," "witnessed, as one of the king's fifteen sworn redesmen," Henry's English proclamation of the "Provisions." In November the barons chose him, with two bishops and the earl-marshal, to represent England at a conference which was to be held at Cambray between the kings of France and Germany, and in which Henry had been invited to take part. The conference, however, never came to pass.
At the end of January 1259 Simon was still in France, and his absence was causing great anxiety to the English people, "who did not know what had become of him over sea." He returned for the meeting of parliament in London, 9 Feb. On 16 March he was sent back again, with the Earl of Gloucester and four others, to resume negotiations for peace with France on the basis of a resignation of the English claims on the heritage of the Angevin house. The French king, however, required the Countess of Leicester and her sons to join in her brother's renunciation ; and this she and her husband alike refused without adequate security for at least a certain portion of the many debts for which Henry was answerable to them both. The negotiation therefore failed, and the ambassadors went home, not before Gloucester had flung insulting words at Leicester as the cause of its failure, and Leicester had retorted with a vehemence that almost led to bloodshed. At the close of a second meeting of parliament a quarrel arose between them on higher grounds. Gloucester, who outwardly ranked with Simon as leader of the reforming party, was showing signs of lukewarmness in the cause. Simon upbraided him severely, and at last exclaiming "I care not to live and act with men so fickle and so false," withdrew over sea. There, however, he worked on at the treaty. It was proclaimed in the October meeting of the parliament, where also an amended set of ordinances, the "Provisions of Westminster," was issued. Simon was absent in the body, but present in the spirit. The barons had implored him not to withdraw from their councils, and he had sent them back a solemn assurance that he would keep his word, no matter what came of it (Primat, Rer. Gall. Scriptt. xxiii. 17).
On 4 Dec. 1259 the treaty was ratified in Paris by the two kings in person, Simon and Eleanor making at the same time a complete renunciation of their claims. On 16 Jan. 1260 Henry forbade the parliament to assemble in his absence. This step threatened a violation of the "Provisions," which enacted that parliament should always meet thrice a year at Candlemas (2 Feb.), in June, and October. Simon waited for the king till the eleventh hour, and then, "to save his oath," hurried to England just in time to meet the rest of the royal council in London on Candlemas-day. Hearing from the justiciar that the king was expected in three weeks, they adjourned the parliament from day to day during that time. Henry, however, did not come till 30 April; then he shut Simon out of London, and laid before the council a string of written charges against him. Some were connected with the eternal matter of money which always lay between them–the dowry of Eleanor. Then Henry accused Simon of quitting Paris without tafeing leave of him; coming to the parliament in defiance of his prohibition, and with horses and arms, which was also forbidden; procuring the removal of a member of the council without the king's know- ledge; "drawing people to him and making new alliances," thus disturbing the country and obliging the king to bring over a costly force of mercenaries; threatening that these mercenaries "should be so lodged that no others would ever care to follow them;" bidding the justiciar tell the king that the mercenaries should be shut out of the realm, and undertaking to uphold the justiciar in this defiance; forbidding the justiciar to send money to the king, and declaring that if it were sent the justiciar should be forced to refund it. The more frivolous of these charges Simon passed over with a scornful word "It might be so;" to the rest he answered that he had done and spoken nothing save for the public good and the royal honour, and with the knowledge and in the presence of the whole council. So "by God's grace," as the Dunstable annalist says, the attack ended in failure.
Simon was one of the tenants-in-chief summoned to meet the king at Chester on 8 Sept. for an expedition into Wales. One chronicler says that, as ' the wisest and stoutest warrior in England,' he was put in command of the host (Flores Histor. ii. 454) ; but this statement seems to have arisen out of a confusion between Simon and Peter. He was, however, absent from the wedding of the king's daughter Beatrice on 13 Oct., when he appointed his wife's nephew, Henry of Cornwall [q. v.], to act as seneschal in his stead. On 14 March 1261 he and Eleanor were in London, and joined with the king in submitting the money matters in dispute between them to the arbitration of the king and queen of France. On 18 July Simon, with five other barons, appealed to St. Louis for help in coming to terms with Henry. A month later Henry proclaimed his intention of appointing his own ministers, recalling his foreign favourites, and governing once more as he pleased. Simon, in conjunction with Gloucester and a few other barons who remained faithful to the "Provisions," answered the royal challenge by summoning three knights from every shire south of Trent to meet them at St. Albans on 21 Sept., ' to treat of the common affairs of the realm.' Henry issued a countersummons, bidding the knights come not to St. Albans, but to Windsor, where he purposed to hold, on the same day, a meeting with the barons to treat for peace. Before the day came Gloucester had "apostatized," and Simon, thinking the cause lost, had again withdrawn over sea, declaring he would rather die in exile than live in faithlessness. In his despair he talked of going to the Holy Land, but he only went to France ; and in December his consent was asked to a new scheme of arbitration between the barons and the king. His reply is unknown; but when asked to join in ratifying the agreement drawn up by the arbitrators at Whitsuntide 1262 he refused, and it fell through in consequence. Later in the year king and earl met at the French court, and Henry took occasion to mix up with the money question, on which alone Queen Margaret had to arbitrate, a variety of complaints about Simon's "ingratitude," and a recapitulation of the charges as to his proceedings in Gascony and in England, on which he had been tried and acquitted in 1252 and 1260. Simon briefly repeated his former defence, and nothing came of the affair.
In December Henry went home; Simon followed at the end of April (1263). Gloucester was dead, and the barons had secretly recalled their true leader. At the Whitsuntide parliament, having vainly petitioned for a new confirmation of the charters, they denounced the king as false to his oath, and proclaimed war upon all violators of the "Provisions." Simon was at once recognised as their captain, and took the command of a force which marched upon Hereford, and soon mastered the foreign interlopers in the west. At midsummer the Londoners were called upon, by a writ sealed with Simon's seal, to choose a side in the struggle. They chose that of the earl. About the same time the scholars whom Henry had recently expelled from Oxford were brought back under Simon's protection. On 16 June Henry had given the earl a safe-conduct for the purpose of negotiation ; on 29-30 June Simon was at Beading, whence the king of the Romans invited him to a conference at Lodden Bridge ; but he declined it, and went on to Guildford and thence to Dover. In July the king accepted his terms, and on the 15th Simon and the barons entered London. Simon went straight to the king and made him ratify his concessions, and the first step in their fulfilment, the appointment of a new treasurer, was taken "in Earl Simon's presence" at Westminster on 19 July.
On 26 Sept. king and earl met at Boulogne, by the invitation and in the presence of St. Louis. Once again the old charges were flung in Simon's face ; once again he answered them, to the French king's entire satisfaction. He was home again for the meeting of parliament on 13 Oct. It broke up in confusion, the king's party flew to arms, and Simon, lodging at Southwark with a very small train, would have been surrounded and captured had not the Londoners rushed out to rescue him. Four wealthy citizens who had been in the plot with the king were punished by imprisonment and by a fine, of which Simon applied the proceeds to strengthen the defences of the city. Fearing a similar trap, he disregarded the royal summons to another parliament at Reading. On 13 Dec. he joined with the other barons in an agreement to refer to the arbitration of St. Louis "all contentions and discords" between themselves and their sovereign re- specting the "Provisions" and swore to abide by the French king's decision. That decision the Mise of Amiens was given on 23 Jan. 1264. It quashed the "Provisions" altogether, and restored to the king the privileges which he claimed; but it reserved "the rights which the English people had acquired" before the passing of the "Provisions" That reservation saved everything. It justified the barons in setting aside the award; for ' it was easy for Simon to prove that the arbitrary power it gave to the crown was as contrary to the Charter as to the Provisions themselves ' (Green, Hist. Engl. People, i. 297-8). Before the Mise was agreed upon he had said : "Though all should forsake me I will stand firm, with my four sons, in the just cause to which my faith is pledged; nor will I fear to risk the fortune of war." But he was not forsaken; the whole English people was with him now. A broken leg, caused by a fall from his horse, had prevented him from attending the Mise of Amiens. He now despatched his eldest son to the western border, where he had secured the alliance of Llywelyn of Wales; he himself, as soon as he could move, went to se- cure London, and thence marched northward to relieve Northampton, where his second son was besieged by the king; but on hearing of its capture (5 April) he turned southward again, and in Holy Week laid siege to Rochester. On Henry's approach he again withdrew to London (26 April). He was, in fact, recalled by tidings of a plot for the betrayal of the city to Edward. After taking measures for its security he again set forth on the track of the royalists. On 12 May he encamped at Fletching, Sussex; the king was ten miles off at Lewes. One last appeal to Henry, signed by Simon and his young colleague, the new Earl of Gloucester, was answered by a formal defiance of "Simon of Montfort, Gilbert of Clare, and their fellows." On 14 May the decisive battle took place, and Simon's anxious night of thought and prayer, his stirring appeal to his followers, his daring and skilful plan of attack, were rewarded by the total defeat of the royalists and the capture of the king himself. A convention drawn up that night, and known as the Mise of Lewes, "furnished the basis of the new constitution which Simon proposed to create, and forms the link between it and the earlier one devised in 1258" (Stubbs, ii. 90). That new constitution, set up at the midsummer parliament, empowered the Earls of Leicester and Gloucester and the Bishop of Chichester to elect a council of nine, by whose advice the king was tot govern, while the three electors were to remain as a court of appeal in case of disagreement among the nine, and were themselves to be removable at the will of the parliament. From that moment Simon was virtually governor of king and kingdom. His exceptional importance, and the exceptional danger to which it exposed him, were marked by his solitary exemption from a decree forbidding all persons to wear arms (16 July), and by a warning written to the barons by "a faithful Englishman," to bethink them of another leader in case he should die. Dangers indeed were thickening round him. In September he and his partisans were excommunicated by a papal legate. In November the lawless doings of the royalists on the Welsh border forced him to march against them. Llywelyn's help enabled him to subdue them for the moment, but Gloucester protected them, the great lords of the north were hostile, and ' it was the weakness of his party among the baronage at this great crisis which drove Earl Simon to a constitutional change of mighty issue in our history ' (Green, i. 300). By writs issued in the king's name on 14 and 24 Dec. he summoned to a parliament in London on 30 Jan. 1265, not only 120 churchmen, twenty-three lay barons, and two knights from every shire, but also two citizens from every borough in England. The only recorded event of the session was a quarrel between the Earls of Leicester and Gloucester. Gilbert accused Simon of illegally keeping foreign garrisons in the castles of which he had custody. The question was dropped for a while, but on Shrove Tuesday (17 Feb.) Simon forcibly prevented a tournament between his sons and Gloucester at Dunstable, and on 11 April he had to do the like again at Northampton. Gloucester here-upon joined the marcher lords, who were still in revolt, and openly welcomed back some of the foreign exiles. Simon, with the king in his train, followed him to Hereford, where another reconciliation was patched up on 12 May; but on the 28th Gloucester was joined by Edward, and hostilities began at once. While the new allies secured the eastern side of the Severn valley, Simon hurried into Glamorgan, made in the king's name a treaty with Llywelyn (19 June), marched to Monmouth (28 June), and thence to Newport, intending to cross over to Bristol; but his transports were intercepted, and he was forced to return to Hereford. On Sunday, 2 Aug., he set out again, crossed the Severn, and late on the Monday night, or early on Tuesday morning, reached Evesham, where he hoped that his son would meet him. His godson, Edward, met him instead, with a force so overwhelming that Simon at once exclaimed, "Let us commend our souls to God, for our bodies are theirs." At the close of a three hours massacre "for battle none it was," as a chronicler says–he fell, almost the last of his little band, crying "God's grace!" as he passed away.
In the eyes of the king's party Simon was a "traitor." Setting that charge aside, the only faults of which he could be accused were ambition, avarice, pride, and a fierce and overbearing temper. Ambitious he undoubtedly was, especially in his youth. His perpetual wranglings with the king over money matters seem at times to indicate a grasping disposition; but Henry's slipperiness in such matters was incalculable; Simon's expenditure in the royal service must have been enormous; and, moreover, a considerable part of the claims which he pressed so persistently were not his own claims, but those of his wife, Henry's sister, whom he had married without any dowry at all, whose dowry on her first marriage Henry had never reclaimed for her from the Marshals, and who was anything but a thrifty housekeeper. The heavy expenses of Simon's visit to Rome in 1238 were defrayed by forced contributions from the tenants of the honour of Leicester, claimed apparently as arrears of dues unpaid since his recognition as their lord; but on his return, moved by a remonstrance from his friend Robert Grosseteste [see Grosseteste, Robert, bishop of Lincoln], he made restitution to them all. His will, made on 1 Jan. 1259, begins with an anxious injunction that his debts shall be paid, and that all claims made against him shall be satisfied without question and without delay; "where there is any doubt let it not rest on my side, cost what it may, so that I be free of it, for I would not remain in debt or under suspicion of debt to any one." He was certainly often in debt during his lifetime; probably the earl was as bad a manager as the countess; but it was not on self-indulgence that he spent; he was noted for his temperance, sobriety, and simplicity of life. His private life was in fact that of a saint; his closest friends were the holiest men of the day Grosseteste, Walter Cantelupe [q.v.], Adam Marsh [see Adam de Marisco]; and Adam, at least, lectured him about his temper with a frankness which shows that his pride was of the kind that does not turn away from deserved rebuke. Though his wife was nearly as fiery as himself, he, at least, seems to have found her "good woman through all." They were seldom long apart without necessity; he appointed her sole executrix of his testamentary dispositions, and bade his sons be guided by her counsels; he left her in command of Kenilworth during his last campaign; and she spent her nine years of widowhood at Montargis, in a convent founded by his sister. For their children see Montfort, Almeric, Eleanor, Guy, Henry, and Simon the younger.
Piety and culture were the characteristics of Simon's home. He knew all the morning and night offices of the church by heart, and went through them almost as regularly as a priest, spending more of the night in devotion than in sleep. He was a fair Latin scholar, a lover of books, a pleasant and cheerful talker. Chroniclers and poets called him "the flower of all chivalry." Like his father, he was counted the finest soldier of his generation. At the siege of Rochester in 1264 it was remarked that he "showed the English the right way to assault a town, a matter about which they were at that time wholly ignorant;" while at Lewes his plan of attack was "laid with a care and foresight, and executed with a combination of resource and decision, which would be sufficient, even if we knew nothing more of his military prowess, to support his reputation as the first general of his day" (Prothero, p. 273). As a statesman he has been in modern times not so much overrated as misunderstood. He was not the inventor of the representative system, nor the creator of the House of Commons. We have no means of ascertaining how much or how little of the complicated executive machinery set up by the "Provisions of Oxford" was of his devising, nor do we know how far he himself was conscious that he had "created a new force in English policies" when he issued the writ "that first summoned the merchant and the trader to sit beside the knight of the shire, the baron and the bishop, in the parliament of the realm" (Green, i. 301). What Englishmen of his own day saw in him was not so much a reformer of government as a champion of righteousness, not so much a statesman as a hero. "While other men wavered and faltered and fell away, the en- thusiastic love of the people clung to the grave, stern soldier, who stood like a pillar, unshaken by promise or threat or fear of death, by the oath he had sworn." The excommunication issued against him in 1264 avowedly rested on political grounds alone; one chronicler indeed says that in 1268 Clement IV absolved the dead earl and all his adherents, declaring that the sentence against them had been won on false pretences from his predecessor (Cont. Gerv. Cant. ii. 247), but this can hardly be, for in 1275 we find Edward I trying to prevent Simon's son, Almeric, from getting the excommunication revoked at Rome (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. p. 396). It had, however, never been published in England, and was never recognised there. The tomb which covered the shockingly mutilated corpse in the abbey church of Evesham at once became a shrine where miracles were wrought. The Franciscans, in whose schemes of religious revival Simon had shared heart and soul, drew up in his honour immediately after his death an office in which he was invoked as the "guardian of the English people." In popular song the martyr of Evesham was coupled with the martyr of Canterbury. The tomb and the church which contained it have perished; but under a window in the north aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey there still remains a monument to Simon of Montfort: his shield of arms, sculptured there when he stood high in the favour of Henry III, and left untouched after his fall. The cause which seemed to have fallen with him gained in fact more from his death than from his life. In October 1267 "a series of demands, strangely neglected by historians, but constituting a solemn assertion of English liberty" (J. R. Green, Archceol. Journ. xxi. 297), were embodied in the Ban of Kenilworth, to which Henry and Edward gave their assent. In November 1269 king and parliament passed the statute of Marlborough, "where the very spirit of the great earl and of freedom is alive again" (ib. p. 277). Nor was the final acceptance of Simon's greatest constitutional innovation long delayed; "in the parliament of 1295 that of 1265 found itself at last reproduced" (Green, Hist . Engl. People, i. 356). "The victor of Evesham was the true pupil of the vanquished; the statesmanship of De Montfort is interwoven, warp and woof, into the government of Edward I" (Shirley, Quarterly Review, cxix. 57).[Matthew Paris's Chronica Majora, vols. iii–v., and Historia Anglorum, vols. ii. iii.; Annales Monastici, vols. i–iv.; Robert of Gloucester, vol. ii.; John of Oxenedes; Royal Letters, vols. i. ii.; Letters of Adam Marsh (Monumenta Franciscana, vol. i.) and of Robert Grosseteste (all in Rolls Ser.); Chronicles of Melrose and of Lanercost (Bannatyne Club); Rishanger's Chronicle, ed. Halliwell, Political Songs, ed. Wright, and Chronica Majorum Londoniarum, published with Liber de Antiquis Legibus (Camden Soc.); documents in Patent and Close Rolls of John and Henry III; Rymer's Fœdera, vol. i. pt. i.; Nichols's Hist. of Leicester, vol. i.; Manners and Household Expenses in XIII Cent., ed. Botfield and Turner (Roxburghe Club); Layettes du Trésor des Chartes, vols. ii. and iii., ed. Teulet and Laborde. A short account of Simon which occurs in the so-called Chronicle of the Templar of Tyre (Gestes des Chiprois, ed. G. Raynaud, Soc. de l'Orient Latin, série historique, v. 172–176) is interesting as the work of a writer who had once been page to the wife of John de Montfort, lord of Tyre, whose father (Philip) was first cousin to the earl, and is also curious as showing how fully and, on the whole, how accurately the main principles and features of the struggle in England were known and appreciated in so distant a land. Simon's first modern biographer was the Rev. Sambrook Russell, who contributed a fair sketch of his life to Nichols's History of Leicester. Dr. Pauli's work on Simon of Montfort, Creator of the House of Commons, may be best consulted in the English translation by Miss Una M. Goodwin, the text having been so revised as to be virtually a new edition. As its title implies, it deals with Simon almost exclusively from the point of view of English constitutional history. Mr. G. W. Prothero's Simon de Montfort is a more elaborate study of the earl's character and career as a whole; but no complete biography of him was possible till the store of documents bearing upon his government in Gascony, his diplomatic relations with France, and his personal relations with Henry III, which are preserved in the national archives of France and among the Additional MSS. in the British Museum, were unearthed, some by MM. Balasque and Dulaurens (Etudes sur Bayonne, vol. ii., appendices), more by M. Charles Bémont, whose Simon de Montfort has virtually superseded all the earlier lives. M. Bémont has also dealt with the Gascon affair in Revue Historique, iv. 241–77. For Simon's place among English statesmen see Bishop Stubbs's Constitutional History, vol. ii. ch. xiv., and the remarkable contemporary Song of Lewes, edited by T. Wright among the Political Songs (Camden Soc.), and separately by Mr. C. L. Kingsford in 1891. See also Blaauw's Barons' War, ed. Mr. C. H. Pearson; art. by Dr. Shirley in Quarterly Review, cxix. 26–57; Stubbs's Early Plantagenets; and J. R. Green's Hist. of the English People.]