Father and son were soon reconciled, mostly because Henry, whatever his other faults, was a devoted family man. Relations between the Lord Edward, as he was called at the time, and his uncle remained amiable, even after the king vengefully ordered Montfort to stand trial for obstructing the peace treaty and defying his orders. Clare, worried that his part in defaming Edward would become known, managed to get the trial delayed. Then an uprising by the Welsh forced Henry to turn to Simon for his military skills and the trial soon was shelved for good. The parliament of October 1260 marked Montfort’s return to government as an ally of Edward, who knighted his sons Henry and Simon. The council even allowed him to appoint Richard’s son Henry of Almain to represent him in his official capacity as steward of England, another move which offended the king. More notably, he reached a compromise with Clare to have the top crown officials replaced with his supporters and Edward’s in return for agreeing to modify local reforms to better suit the interests of magnates like Clare. Even so, one of the first acts of the new justiciar, Montfortian Hugh Despenser, was to hear cases against magnate Peter of Savoy, one of the Seven but now completely in the king’s camp. Henry fumed about these appointments, but his circle of advisers – the queen and her Savoyard relatives – urged him to bide his time. They had a plan in place that would quash the Provisions and make Henry the master of his realm again. The first part called for letting Edward go abroad to joust and carouse with a large retinue that included his Montfort cousins. The removal of these young idealists would give Henry a free hand to purge his council of Clare and Simon, who in any case had gone to France with Eleanor for the probate action she launched against her Lusignan half-brothers. While there, Simon asked Louis to arbitrate between him and Henry, and both kings agreed. As desperate as Henry was to mollify his sister and brother-in-law, his more immediate concern was carrying out the second part of the plan. As stipulated by the Provisions, he summoned parliament to meet in February 1261, only the venue was the Tower of London. Clare, Simon and the other magnates arrived to find armed militia waiting in the wings. “Now, gentlemen,” said the king.
At this point all eyes turned to Rome and Paris. The pope had threatened to excommunicate Henry if he didn’t settle the accounts for Sicily, but it was merely a ploy to get the barons to come out and rescue their monarch from the privations of hell. Henry was similarly rebuffed when he sent his clerks around to individual churches to ask them to stand surety for loans to the king. No longer the master of his own government, nor held in much esteem it would seem, the king could only watch helplessly as the deadline passed. In December 1258 Alexander informed Henry that he couldn’t wait forever and would now seek another candidate for the throne of Sicily. As for Henry’s privations, he magnanimously declared that they had been suspended “with our accustomed kindness.” Holding on to Sicily had been one of the reasons for Henry to achieve a lasting peace with France. He still pressed forward, because he genuinely liked his brother-in-law Louis and felt that by freely giving him Normandy he could extract both security for his other holdings and money to pay for mercenaries to seize back his kingdom. Of course he no longer had much love for his other brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, but saw no reason why he shouldn’t continue as the lead negotiator…until he realized just how wily he and his sister Eleanor could be. Henry was still thousands of marks in arrears to the couple, and while he had made some effort to meet his obligations, they were never a priority as were his debts and gifts to other members of the family. Nor had the king shown any interest in making advantageous matches for the Montfort sons, five in all, as he had done for other members of the nobility. When a clause appeared in the treaty calling for Henry, Richard and Eleanor, the surviving children of John, to renounce all claims to Normandy, Eleanor refused until her brother paid up. Henry was livid, suspecting that Simon had convinced the one king to demand the renunciation simply so he could extort the other. Louis worked out a compromise, but over a year would pass before the treaty was ratified. Henry would never forgive Simon or his sister for their obstructive behavior.
Henry’s years of misrule were seemingly at an end. The provisions adopted at Oxford were akin to an unwritten constitution that put the king in a straightjacket. No more flagrant favoritism, no more arbitrary taxation, no more foreign fiascos. For knights, tenants and townsfolk, the office of justiciar was revived to root out corrupt sheriffs and bailiffs. The provision indicated by later chroniclers as the root cause of the war was number Five, which decreed that anyone who attempted to subvert the Provisions be declared an enemy of the people. To this end, Henry was asked to swear an oath to abide by them and did so with no resistance. He had, after all, sworn to uphold Magna Carta many times and got away with every violation. After initially refusing, Edward also took the oath, as did his cousin Henry of Almaine, who had vainly sought to avoid it by saying he needed his father Richard’s permission first. The magnates themselves were leery about their own oaths. The earl of Gloucester for one had only wanted something done about the Lusignans. Reform of the realm might well endanger his position as a leading peer. Simon too supposedly wavered. A deeply introspective man, partly as the result of his friendship with Oxford scholar Adam Marsh and other Franciscans, he was troubled by the debts he had incurred, the oppressive demands he made on his tenants in order to meet them, and by Eleanor breaking her vow of celibacy to marry him. Accepting the Provisions might atone for these transgressions, but more importantly, failing to defend them would be mortifying to a man brought up in the aura of crusading virtue. His oath to this new faith, as it were, would have to be total, demanding for starters that his body and soul undergo rigors worthy of a religious conversion. Henceforth he would awake at midnight for prayer, eat frugally, dress only in plain garments, even in the company of the nobility, and abstain from sexual relations.
Simon was one of the commissioners appointed to deal with Alexander in Rome, but the mission, for reasons unknown, never took place. He had spent most of the years of the Sicilian fiasco tending to private affairs, including a growing family. He and Eleanor had seven children in all. After first-born Henry came another Simon, then another Amaury, another Guy, a daughter who died in infancy, another Richard and finally another Eleanor. The need to provide for such a large brood kept the doting parents constantly on the king’s back to make good the money owed them. Henry did make an effort, if only because he recognized the importance of Montfort’s skills as a negotiator, particularly in France, where he was held in high regard. Much of that money was tied to Eleanor’s claims to her first husband’s estate, which shouldn’t have been a problem after Henry married their half-brother William of Valence into the Marshal clan. But William was greedy, nasty and effeminate like the rest of Isabella and Hugh’s children and chose to default rather than pay up. Their quarrels escalated until William openly accused Simon in parliament of being the son of a traitor. ‘I’m no traitor, William,’ he countered. ‘Your father and mine were not cut from the same cloth.’ When William repeated the charge, Simon drew his sword and rushed at him in full view of the assembled magnates. Henry threw himself in front of his brother to save him but the stage had been set. Montfort’s willingness to stand up to the hated Lusignans would single him out as a leader of the burgeoning reform movement.
Modern historians tend to side with Henry in this affair, suggesting he had every reason to believe Alfonso was planning to invade. The king of Castile did in fact impose his terms on Henry, who in addition to providing a royal marriage, promised to join him in a war against the Moors. As with his crusading vow, Henry had no intention of fighting infidels anywhere. He was more concerned with installing Edward peacefully in Gascony before proceeding, with his wife and entourage, to Chartres for his first meeting ever with Louis, who was finally back from his miserable experience overseas. The occasion would be renowned for one of the most unique family reunions in history. Queen Eleanor, her sister Margaret, the queen of France, and their sister Sanchia, Richard’s wife, were joined by their youngest sister, Beatrice, who was the wife of Louis’ brother Charles of Anjou. Four sisters had married two sets of brothers, leading Louis to remark, perhaps innocently enough, that the children of each family would be more like brothers and sisters than cousins.
Before leaving, Henry appointed his wife Eleanor to rule in his stead with Richard serving as her adviser. Their immediate task was to replenish the treasury, drained by the affairs in the south, even if it meant nickel and diming. Eleanor contrived to have the citizens of London make back payment for the queen’s gold, her percentage of the arbitrary fines and import duties the king would levy on the city. Richard was rebuffed when he made an appeal to the Jewish community. The chief rabbi insisted they had no more money to give now that papal merchants had cornered the usury market. Fed up with the royal reaming, he asked permission for his people to leave the kingdom. And just where were they planning to go? Even Louis, that most saintly of monarchs, was openly hostile to them. Neither act of extortion added much to Henry’s coffers, so an Easter parliament was summoned to ask for funds. War with Castile was imminent, the regents announced, and the king needed money and manpower. Some enormous darts were even put on display to show the kinds of weapons he was up against. The magnates were dubious, not least because the queen was making plans at that very moment to travel with Edward to this so-called war zone. But it was de Montfort who exposed the subterfuge. Sent specifically by Henry to report on the king’s success in achieving peace in Gascony, Simon did exactly that, and parliament denied the royals their request.
It had been Henry’s intention to come to Gascony and show that it could be ruled with peace and understanding. When he arrived in 1253, he found he had a war on his hands and that some of his subjects, again led by the queen’s relations, had switched their allegiance to the king of neighboring Castile. He not only had to resort to the same harsh tactics employed by de Montfort but even asked his brother-in-law to come and lend his military expertise. Simon grudgingly went, motivated by loyalty and his spiritual adviser, Robert Grosseteste, who reminded him not to forget all the benefits he had received from Henry. The king’s treachery was not forgotten, however, and de Montfort made him pay dearly in compensation. In the end, Henry’s campaign proved to be his only successful adventure abroad. He won over the Gascons to his son’s overlordship and got Alfonso, the king of Castile, to give up rival claims to the region by having Edward marry his half-sister, the third Eleanor in this story.
True to character, Henry’s break with Simon was abrupt and unseemly. He waited for the occasion of the queen’s churching – her offer of thanks for a safe childbirth – to lash out at the earl of Leicester, accusing him of owing another of his wife’s uncles a huge sum of money and offering him, the king, as security. Henry was so caught up in his anger that even charged his brother-in-law, in front of the assembled guests, with having seduced his sister, and that was the only reason why he consented to their secret wedding. Stunned and humiliated, Simon and Eleanor left forthwith, but Henry wasn’t through. He quickly had them turned out of their lodgings, then went a step further and ordered them locked up in the Tower of London. Fortunately the cooler head of Richard intervened and the unhappy couple was allowed to leave the country and settle in France.
It was into this atmosphere of ill-will and hostility that Simon strode on another cold January day two years later at Henry’s behest. The king led Montfort into his private chapel and the arms of his sister Eleanor, who had evidently fallen in love with the handsome, dynamic nobleman despite her vow of chastity. Simon had been prepared to marry an older widow to advance his fortunes, now the king was offering him the chance to become his brother-in-law, and Eleanor a normal family life. Naturally it was all done in secret because of the indignation that was sure to follow. As expected, the magnates were furious that Henry had married his sister a second time around to a commoner, again without bothering to consult them. Even Richard had been left in the dark, but was quickly placated with a substantial subsidy for the crusade he was about to embark on. Other magnates like Roger Bigod, another future reformer who had already clashed with Simon over the claim to the honorary title of Steward, were left to growl about this alien upstart. Convincing the church was an altogether more delicate problem. Eleanor had freely given herself to Christ; redeeming her vow would not come cheaply. With money from Henry and a tenant who claimed Montfort had applied extortion (earning him a stern rebuke from Grosseteste), Simon stuffed his saddle full of gold and headed off to Rome to seek approval.
The youngest of John’s children, Eleanor (1215 – 1275) had all the beauty of her mother Isabella of Angoulême. Only 16 at the time of her husband’s death, she would have made a splendid catch for any number of monarchs in Europe. But Eleanor was headstrong and emotional, and not only insisted on taking the veil but doing so in front of the archbishop of Canterbury. Thereafter, she retired to a little court of her own, supported by a dower income from her late husband’s estate, arranged by her guardian brother Henry in such a bungled manner that it would be the source of political recriminations for years to come.
The Leicester holdings, it turned out, generated little income to cover the debts Simon had incurred to recover them. Ever the mercenary, he cast his eyes on two rich widows on the continent and nearly snared the second one before the French court stepped in and sent him packing back to England. He was nevertheless making a name for himself at Henry’s court, where the outbreak of a power struggle coincided with his arrival. The king had supplanted his native council with aliens, creating widespread discontent and a minor rebellion by the influential Marshal clan of Pembroke. Henry had tried to win over the Marshals by marrying his 10-year-old sister Eleanor to 35-year-old William, the head of the clan. The marriage was contracted despite grumblings from the magnates. They were opposed to matches between royals and commoners on principle and princesses always made excellent bargaining chips in diplomacy. Eleanor had no more come of age when her husband died unexpectedly. Distraught, she took a vow of chastity, an impulsive act she would regret after meeting the handsome young Frenchman at court.