Simon de Montfort (c.1208-1265)
Simon de Montfort has only a slight connection with Leicester and yet he is much commemorated within the city. His statue is one of the four to be found on the Clock Tower in the centre of the city and Leicester’s De Montfort Hall is also named in his honour. Additionally there is also a De Montfort Street and a De Montfort Square to be found within the city.
Simon de Montfort was French by birth and he came to England in 1229 where he became a favourite of King Henry III who eventually gave him back family lands which had previously been confiscated. In 1238 Simon de Montfort secretly married the King’s sister, Eleanor. The marriage took place without the consent of England’s great barons, who were enraged when they discovered that the king’s sister had married a foreigner of only modest rank. Simon quickly became a powerful political figure and in 1239 he inherited his Leicester possessions and was appointed Earl of Leicester.
Both the Black and the Grey Friars settled in the town during this time but because of the religious fervour of Simon de Montfort other religions weren’t as welcome. He was responsible for the expelling of Jews from Leicester during this period. Although it is highly probable that he visited Leicester on certain occasions there is no surviving documentary evidence to this effect.
In 1248 he was given responsibility for the government of Gascony, one of the last areas in France that was still part of the English empire. During his time in Gascony Simon de Montfort developed the opinion that the king was in fact a poor leader and that the barons should play a more active role in running the country. Other leading barons shared Montfort's view and demanded that in future the king should not make decisions without consulting his barons. Fearing a civil war that he would lose, the king accepted their demands for reform (the Provisions of Oxford) which effectively put power in the hands of the barons. Fifteen barons, including Simon de Montfort, were selected to become members of this advisory council. However, it was not long before the king was ignoring his advisers and he eventually decided to take on Montfort's army. The two sides met at Lewes in Sussex on 14th May 1264. Montfort won at Lewes, capturing the King and Prince Edward (later Edward I) and he virtually ruled England as a dictator from then on. After losing the support of his barons Simon de Montfort was killed at Evesham in 1265.