B. c.1208, s. of Simon de Montfort III; cr. earl of Leicester, 11 Apr. 1239; m. Eleanor, da. of John and wid. of William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, 7 Jan. 1238; issue: Henry, Simon, Guy, Amauri, Richard, Eleanor; d. 4 Aug. 1265; bur. Evesham abbey.
De Montfort was French by birth and upbringing. On his father's death in 1218, Simon agreed with his brother Amauri that he would pursue the family claims in England, leaving the French lands to Amauri. He arrived in England in 1230 to beg the young king to grant him the earldom of Leicester, established a position at court, fought with Henry in the Aquitaine campaign of 1230, married the king's sister in 1238, and was recognized as earl of Leicester in 1239. But complications arose out of his appointment in 1248 as governor for seven years of the threatened province of Gascony. De Montfort ruled by strong methods, which he insisted were necessary against rebels and traitors, but his adversaries appealed for justice to the king, and in 1252 de Montfort was forced to defend his actions at a public trial. Though he escaped condemnation, his power was curtailed.
At the Parliament of 1258, a group of magnates demanded financial reform and the expulsion of foreign favourites, and de Montfort soon acquired a leading role in the baronial party. In 1263 it was agreed to submit the points at issue to the arbitration of Louis IX of France, but when, in the mise of Amiens, he found totally in favour of the king (save for the traditional liberties of the realm), the baronage took up arms. At Lewes, on 14 May 1264, de Montfort's supporters were triumphant, capturing the king, his brother Richard, and his son Edward. For a year, de Montfort was the effective ruler of England, and the king was taken around in his entourage. In January 1265 de Montfort summoned the famous Parliament in which the counties were represented by two knights and certain boroughs by two burgesses. London gave him powerful support. But in May 1265 prince Edward escaped and raised a formidable army; at Evesham in August, de Montfort, expecting reinforcements from his son Simon, was confronted by a vastly superior royalist force, and cut down.
De Montfort has always been a controversial figure. He was acquisitive, self-seeking, hot-tempered, and combative, but he was also deeply religious, punctilious in his observances, a close friend of the great cleric Robert Grosseteste, and wearer of a hair shirt. Within weeks of his burial, miracles were reported at his tomb. He was neither a constitutional statesman nor an unprincipled ruffian but a man who, like Cromwell, climbed to greatness, step by step, a natural leader of men.
Madicott, J. R., Simon de Montfort (1994).
Subjects: British History.