Banking too much on the royal goodwill

On this date of 2 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 to ask for the earldom, which had been inherited by his English grandmother Amicia. By then Leicester was in the custody of Ranulf, the earl of Chester and cousin of Simon’s father. Simon had an older brother Amaury, but he had no chance to claim the earldom because he was the constable of France. It wouldn’t do for Amaury to be attending the councils of state of two countries at war with each other. Simon got Amaury and Ranulf to relinquish their claims for hefty sums and he impressed the king of England as a man who got things done. Simon was given Leicester and rose fast in Henry’s favour. In 1238, Henry risked rebellion by allowing Simon and his widow sister Eleanor to marry despite her vow of celibacy. Recognizing that Simon needed a title befitting the husband of a princess, he at last girded him the earl of Leicester. Six months later it was all over. Henry discovered that Simon had run up massive debts, more than £2,000, and named him, his brother-in-law the king, as security for them. Furious at such impudence, Henry ordered his arrest and imprisonment in the Tower of London. Powerful friends intervened, but Simon and Eleanor realized they had banked on the royal goodwill once too often. They fled to France, and in such haste that they left their infant son behind.

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