By Katherine Ashe (author of the four-volume series ‘Montfort’.)
The youth was Simon de Montfort, and the name already was famous by 1229. His
father, for whom he was named, was a leader of the Third Crusade. He refused to become entangled with the politics of Constantinople and took his forces on to Palestine, while the rest of his fellow-crusaders covered themselves with shame in the imperial upheavals. For his single-mindedness, Simon de Montfort Pere was looked upon as a hero.
Today he’s looked upon as a ruthless opportunist. In the France to which Simon Pere
and his Normandy knights returned, there was a new religion rising which the papacy
condemned as heretical. Named for the southern French city of Albi, a center of their preaching, the Albigensians were gaining converts from conventional Catholicism by the virtuous lives they lived and the astute reasoning of their market-square preaching. Their religion entailed a forty-day fast and a celebratory meal, followed by another forty day fast. Those who survived this regimen were confirmed as Cathars: Pure Ones.
Pope Innocent III commissioned Dominic Felix de Guzman (Saint Dominic) to found a
preaching order to counter this increasingly popular diversion from standard Christianity.
But when the papal legate Pierre de Castelnau was murdered, the Pope took military
measures. A knight who went on crusade to the Holy Land received forgiveness of his
debts and of his sins; now those highly desirable gifts were offered for a far less costly crusade merely to southern France.
Thousands of northern French knights responded, converging on the south with a holy
license to destroy. They entrapped six thousand Albigensians in the church at Bezier, piled wood around the building and roasted to death every man, woman and child within. Recovering from this bout of blood-lust, the crusaders realized they needed a leader. But no one much wanted the dubious honor of making the murderous roisterers into a proper fighting force. Simon de Montfort eventually accepted the command and, of course, has been blamed for the Bezier horror.
Fighting a lengthy war against the lords of southern France who harbored the
Albigensians, Simon Pere was forced to hire mercenaries at his own expense. He
conquered most of the strategic cities, setting up for himself a dukedom that included Foix, Toulouse and Carcassonne. Then, during his absence from the city, Toulouse managed to rebel. Simon found the outer walls held against him. When he attacked, he was killed by a stone hurled from a mangonel mounted on the wall and operated by a woman. Toulouse still celebrates the event with an image of a lamb skewering a toppled lion with the point of a flagpole. (In a taxi in Toulouse I made a favorable remark about Simon de Montfort. The driver stopped the car, fished in the trunk, found a tire-iron and came at me. I escaped through the car’s farther door.)
Young Simon had been born at Carcassonne sometime between 1209 and 1213 and was far too young to take part in his father’s wars. But the eldest son, Amaury, led his father’s forces – and had devastatingly little success. With money owed their mercenaries and the assets of the family’s holding, Montfort l’Amaury, bankrupted, Amaury had little choice but to cede the family’s conquests to the Crown of France. (The Languedoc region of southern France has an active separatist movement and blames the Montforts for their being incorporated into France at all. Hence my narrow escape from the taxi driver.)
Normal medieval practice usually included providing a virtual hostage to insure the
contact-giver’s commitment to the agreement. The obvious choice available for Amaury
to offer to the Crown of France was his little brother Simon, whose mother was also dead by 1221, and hence unable to object. But such hostages in Paris enjoyed considerable advantages of education in the most scholarly and devout court in Christendom.
There is no record of young Simon’s childhood, but his excellent education, as attested by the letters of his Franciscan friends who were among the foremost scholars of the era, and the great fondness and trust repeatedly placed in him by King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis) and his mother Queen Blanche, who was regent for Louis, suggest that Simon – as I propose in my book – probably served as that hostage and was the little King of France’s childhood companion. Queen Blanche even saw fit to betroth this title-less, virtually landless and penniless orphan to Johanna the Princess of Flanders, another child-hostage at her court, but one with immense wealth and power as her dowry. Johanna eventually wed Thomas the Count of Provence.
Queen Blanche was noted for her network of spies. Was she hoping to place an agent
in Henry’s Court? A man who could inform her of Henry’s plans, and possibly could
influence the young and inept king away from military actions? Was Simon sent to be
that agent, in his brother’s stead? And once he had pledged his solemn and holy oath
of liege to Henry, as was required of him, did he then consider it would be an act of disloyalty to his pledged lord to serve Queen Blanche as her spy? My belief is that something along these lines was the cause of young Simon’s early rift with the French royal family.
That rift was mended in the years to come – though probably not by his being a secret agent for France. In 1252, when the Queen Regent was dying and Louis was on crusade in Palestine, Blanche named Simon Regent of France, a position he held with such success that the English chroniclers claim the French were temptingly considering that he would be a better king than Louis. Simon did not remain in France to seize power for himself, but fled, returning to the service of King Henry and England. And Louis hurriedly returned from Palestine, where he was being offered a sultanate if only he would convert to Islam.
Partial list of Sources:
Bemont, Charles, Simon de Montfort, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1930.
Bemont, Charles, Simon de Montfort, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1930.
Excerpta e Rotulis Finium in Turri Londdinensi Asservatis Henry III, 1216-1272, ed.
C.Roberts, Public Record Office, 1835-36.
Labarge, Margaret Wade, Simon de Montfort, Eyre and Spottiswood, London, 1962.
Page 22 indicates that author’s leaning to my theory of Simon’s childhood at the Court of France.
Luard, H.R., Rolls Series, Vol. III.
Matthew Paris’s English History from 1235 to 1273, translated by the Rev. J. A. Giles, Henry Bohn, London, 1852, is a full English translation of the 13th century Latin Chronica Majora of the monk Matthew Paris of Saint Albans, the principal chronicler of the period. (The Kessinger reprint currently available is not complete.)
Please see my Volume One, Montfort The Early Years 1229 to 1243, for a full
bibliography, and discussion of these points in the Historical Context section of the book.
Montfort The Early Years 1229 to 1243
Montfort The Viceroy 1243 to 1253
Montfort The Revolutionary 1253 to 1260
Montfort The Angel with the Sword 1260 to 1265
About the author: Katherine has spent thirty-four years researching Simon de Montfort and his times, building her work from original documents. Montfort is a speculative history using the novel form to answer the questions of how and why the actual events could have happened. While writing Montfort, Katherine also wrote film, stage and radio-play scripts on such historically diverse subjects as Cesare Borgia and Johnny Mitchell of the 1902 coal miners’ strike. As Katherine says, “It’s all research.”
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