All posts by darren

And all our yesterdays

It couldn’t be put off any longer. On 1 April 1265 Simon and his retinue left Odiham, destination Northampton, meant to be the venue for the tournament canceled in Dunstable in February. The idea was to placate Gilbert de Clare, the earl of Gloucester, but this perennially unhappy young man and partner in government had already retreated to the marches to work out a plan to bring down the man he referred to as the ‘alien’. This called for royalist forces from abroad to land at Pembroke, which Clare was holding, and for his brother Thomas to continue to insinuate his trust and loyalty at court. All this would culminate in the disaster at Evesham four months down the line.

And so on this date 750 years ago, in front of Odiham castle, Simon and Eleanor saw each other for the last time. They couldn’t have known it then, but there’s no reason to suggest they might not have reflected at some point on their lives together up to that point, ever since that January day in 1238 when Henry married them in secret at Westminster. He was 29 then, the promising younger son of a French noble family, probably beardless with a full mane of hair like his father and standing tall in the saddle; she 23, the beautiful widow of William Marshal II, a semi-nun but longing to be a mother. They were two headstrong, high-spirited individuals who were supreme organizers, full of phenomenal energy, and who, importantly, were not afraid to speak their minds or stand up to authority. How could Henry refuse them.Eleanor and Simon Odiham

The final gathering

It was on 19 March 1265 that Simon arrived at Odiham for what would be the last time the Montfort family was all together. Also visiting were his nephews Edward and Henry of Almain, having arrived two days earlier under an armed escort led by Henry de Montfort. Their aunt and hostess Eleanor de Montfort sought to ease tensions by serving up plenty of food, including pike, the most expensive of the freshwater fish. Her daily household expenses increased more than five times to keep the entourage of several hundred people fed, to just over £5, impressive indeed, but still less than the £8 for the royal household. Here’s what that money bought: Nearly 1,000 loaves of bread, 74 gallons of wine, 240 gallons of beer, a variety of fish, including 1,700 herrings, 36 pounds of almonds, and hay for 334 horses.

The front entrance
                                                                              The ruins of Odiham

King “during pleasure”

On this day 750 years ago the mayor of London, Thomas Fitz-Thomas, led the aldermen of that city to St. Paul’s to renew fealty to the king. Nothing untoward there, for a new political era had dawned, but then Fitz-Thomas did something that, in the words of the chronicler, was “wondrous and unheard of in that age”: he qualified his oath to Henry. “My lord, so long as unto us you will be a good lord and King, we will be faithful and duteous unto you.” Be a good king and you shall be king. Otherwise… Fitz-Thomas paid dearly after Evesham for his choice words. Despite giving him a safe conduct to parley the surrender of London, Edward had him imprisoned for the next three years.

The medieval St. Paul's. Let's take this town apart.
                                                                          The medieval St. Paul’s.


On this day 750 years ago, Parliament concluded in Westminster Hall with a ceremony handing the Lord Edward over to his father’s household. This involved reading the declarations of king and heir to abide by the constitutional framework in place, with nine bishops on hand to excommunicate anybody who acted otherwise. As one historian wrote, Simon de Montfort “must have seemed irresistible on that great day.” Of course, it also marked the apex of his career, as the two principals had been coerced into the arrangement and oaths meant nothing to them in any case. 

The coronation of William and Mary some 420 years later, used here to represent that historic occasion
    Represented here by this illustration of the coronation of William and Mary 420 years later

Salute to Eleanor de Montfort

Marking this International Women’s Day with a salute to Eleanor de Montfort, whose vital role in her husband’s government can be seen in her political networking. On 8 March 1265 she was at Odiham and welcoming Robert de Brus as a guest very much against his will. He had been captured at Lewes and was waiting for his son, the father of Edward’s future nemesis Robert the Bruce, to ransom him. He was accompanied to Odiham by Thomas of Astley, who later fell at Evesham.Eleanor de MontfortEleanor de Montfort 2


Three new articles have rounded out the tour so far, including the view that Montfort’s contribution to the development of Parliament was more than just summoning the burgesses in January 1265.  Kathryn Warner’s Edward II site is the most fitting venue to discuss what was behind that unfortunate king asking to hear songs sung about Simon de Montfort. And today we visit Sara Cockerill’s site for Eleanor of Castile to ponder whether Edward’s wife and the rest of the royal family were ever in any danger on account of the ambitions of the Montfort family.

The tour wraps up tomorrow with a visit to In Thirteenth Century England and an interview conducted by Montfortian scholar Kathleen Neal.

Virtual book tour

The virtual tour for With All For All kicks off today at with me explaining why a book on Simon de Montfort, how it was a written, and what background more or less qualifies me to undertake this project.

A prelude was available in the form of an interview with BBC Radio Leicester yesterday, which can be listened to here starting at about 37 minutes into the broadcast.

The tour continues tomorrow at the realm of Henry the Young King, with an interview conducted by caretaker Kasia Ogrodnik.

 WithALLFor ALL cover

The gathering crisis

On this date, 16 February 1265, Simon had to move to avert a crisis over a tournament proposed between his sons Henry, Simon and Guy and the Clare brothers, Gilbert and Thomas, to be held at Dunstable on the grounds seen below as they look today. Parliament was in session at the time, and such a mock battle between these rival groups could easily spill over into nearby London. So furious was Simon with his sons that he warned them he would lock them away in a place where they would have the benefit of neither sun nor moon if they tried a stunt like that again. Gilbert was even more furious because of all the money he had spent organizing the tournament and lashed out at Simon for presuming to run the realm with the highhandedness of a “foreigner”. He left to sulk in Gloucester and begin collusion with Simon’s enemies to bring about his fall.

Blows' Downs, Dunstable
                                                                       Blows’ Downs, Dunstable

Valentine’s Day

On this day in 1265, Henry III and his son Lord Edward stood in the chapter house of Westminster Abbey, which near the floor bears the appropriate inscription ‘As the rose is the flower of flowers’, and swore to abide by all the charters of good government, namely Magna Carta and the Provisions of Oxford as embodied in the current constitution. It was a momentous step, the first time the king is promising to rule in accordance with established laws and institutions without getting anything in return, and he was passing on the precedent directly to the heir to the throne. Of course, both were more or less captive at the time and neither had shown any inclination in the past to show that their word was worth much. In those days you could swear to god all you wanted so long as as the pope was in your pocket.

Chapter house at Westminster Abbey
Chapter house at Westminster Abbey

Upcoming virtual book tour

WithALLFor ALL cover
The schedule for the upcoming virtual book tour

23/02/14 – Launch with Peter at Medievalists featuring a video spot with the author explaining why a book about Montfort and how it came to be written.

24/02/14 – Author interview with Kasia, the keeper of Lesser Realm and everything you want to know about Henry the Young King.

25/02/14 – John Paul Davis, the author of The Gothic King: A Biography of Henry III, will post a guest article about how the Montfortian struggle was viewed by the chronicler ‘The Templar of Tyre’.

 26/02/14 – Rebecca’s The History Vault will post a guest article explaining how Montfort’s contribution to the development of Parliament was more than just summoning the burgesses in 1265.

 27/02/14 – Kathryn Warner, the author of Edward II: The Unconventional King, will post a guest article comparing Simon de Montfort and Thomas of Lancaster, together with a free copy giveaway

 28/02/14 – Sara Cockerill, the author of Eleanor of Castile: The Shadow Queen, will post a guest article on whether there might have ever been a King Simon.

 01/03/14 – Montfortian scholar Kathleen Neal at Thirteenth Century England will finish off the tour with a few questions for the author.

Injudicious judgement

On the 23rd of January 1264, Louis IX made one of the most incredible blunders in the history of political arbitration when he ruled, in his Mise of Amiens, that his fellow monarch Henry III was not bound by the Provisions of Oxford. He had been asked by the royalists and Montfortians to reestablish peace in the realm, but his decision all but guaranteed war. While it may not seem surprising that one absolutist came out on the side of another absolutist, Louis had approved the Provisions only the previous September, when Henry appealed to him for help after Montfort first swept into power. His subsequent reversal has been attributed to lobbying by the papacy, which had already twice absolved Henry of his oath to observe the Provisions. Louis in fact tried to hide behind the pope in the only defence he gave for his ruling, but he was completely exposed in addressing the Montfortian argument that the Provisions were part of the evolution of good government going back to Magna Carta. Since the charter of liberties was by that time unassailable, he simply chose to ignore the link. The king of France declared that the English could have their Magna Carta, but not their Provisions. And that was that. Now, he implored, can’t we all just get along?

Louis IX , the errant peacemaker
                                        Louis IX , the errant peacemaker

The House will come to order

On this day, the 20th of January 1265, a national assembly convened in Westminster like none other before it. Only thirty years earlier, when the word parliament came into use to describe these great councils of state, Henry III invited the leading barons and clergymen to meet in order to ask them for money. His refusal to give them anything in return led to reform, war, and the transformation of Parliament into an institution of government beyond his control. The king unintentionally contributed to this process in 1254 when he first invited the knights of the shires, his way, so he thought, of getting around the obstinate magnates. The knights were there again for this occasion, and joining them for the first time were the burgesses, the representatives of the towns. These two classes, together with the clergy, wholly outnumbered the barons, maybe by as many as ten to one, and it was to these middling clerics, lords and merchants that Simon de Montfort, the de facto prime minister, addressed the agenda. But the nobility was far from finished, and their intrigues, and a new understanding with the perennially insecure and dissatisfied earl of Gloucester, would make this groundbreaking assembly the last of its kind for some time to come.

Westminster Hall
                                                                             Westminster Hall

Royal wedding and firestorm

On 7 January 1238 Henry III gave his youngest sister Eleanor in marriage to Simon de Montfort. Rarely has a royal wedding created a firestorm as this one did, and rightly so. The twenty-three-year old Eleanor had taken a vow of celibacy after her first husband William Marshal II died nearly seven years earlier. If she was going to break that vow to marry anyone, it should be to create a useful foreign alliance, as what happened to her two older sisters (both of whom died early, lonely deaths). Instead Henry gives her to a thirty-year-old foreign upstart at court, a man who had already been rebuffed by two other highly-stationed if much older widows. Simon was clearly looking to marry well, while Eleanor, it was reported, desired to be a mother. Henry would later accuse Montfort of seducing his sister and so had forced his hand. Indeed, the ceremony was performed in secret, in the king’s private chapel, because he knew he would catch hell once the match became known, and that’s exactly what he got. It was seen as the most blatant example yet of the king squandering the wealth of the realm on aliens. A lot of money was needed to smooth things over, but the fury never really went away and nothing is more telling of Henry’s nature than his holding a grudge against people who cause him problems.


2014 comes to an end

The year, not the website, for things really start to heat up in 1265 as Simon tries to consolidate his position, culminating in his downfall by the end of summer. It will be an eventful year, with my biography of Simon set for release in February. For now, leaving you here with the warmest of wishes for the New Year and this picturesque view of Kenilworth in wintertime.Kenilworth wintertime