The Wheel of Fortune

On this date of 02 February in 1239, Henry III invested Simon de Montfort with the title of Earl of Leicester at a ceremony in the Great Hall of Winchester. This was nine years after Simon stepped ashore in England for the first time. He had come in 1230 specifically to ask for the earldom, which had been inherited by his English grandmother Amicia, the widow of French noble Simon de Montfort (II). Their son was another Simon de Montfort (III), who directed the Albigensian Crusade until his death in 1218. (No, he did not give the infamous order “Kill them all, God will know his own.” Likely nobody did.). By then the earldom was in the custody of this Simon’s cousin, Ranulf, the earl of Chester. The oldest son of Simon III was Amaury. He had no chance to claim the earldom of Leicester because he was a leading noble of France. But his younger brother Simon (IV) thought he might give it a go. He got Ranulf to relinquish custody (for £200), Amaury to relinquish his claim (for £500), and he impressed Henry as man who could get things done. Simon was allowed to take possession of Leicester, but Henry was very particular about his earls and would sometimes make rightful claimants wait years before belting them. Simon’s claim was tenuous at best and there were lots of grumblings at court about “damn foreigners”. Everything changed when Henry’s widowed sister Eleanor and Simon got married in 1238. Henry recognized that Montfort needed a title more befitting the husband of a princess, and so made him the Earl of Leicester at last. But there was still all that money Simon owed to acquire the earldom, with interest on it accumulating every day. In secret, he named the king, now his brother-in-law, as security for it. In August 1239, just six months after the investiture, Henry found out about it, flew into a rage, and ordered Simon to take his sorry ass back to France. Thus ends part one of their story.

The Round Table at Winchester, perhaps patterned on Henry’s Wheel of Fortune

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