Simon de Montfort : lay piety and crusading ideology in Thirteenth-Century England
By Kiana M. Scott
Bachelor’s Thesis, Williams College, 2008
Introduction: On May 14, 1264, Simon de Montfort and his army, wearing the white cross of crusaders, rode into battle against Henry III of England. They had been absolved of their sins by the Bishop of Worcester and were ready to die for their beliefs. Montfort had spent the previous night fasting and praying, contemplating God. The magnitude of their actions was enormous; they were about to embark upon a full-scale battle against their consecrated monarch. What followed was one of the great coups of English military history. Montfort captured both King Henry and his son Edward at the Battle of Lewes, in effect becoming the ruler of England. Montfort was not leading a solely political rebellion; he was crusading against a despotic ruler. The crosses his men wore were freighted with well-understood symbolism.
He arranged his forces, and ordered his soldiers to fasten white crosses on their breasts and backs, above their amour, that they might be known by their enemies, and to show that they were fighting for justice.
With the benefit of retrospect, historians traditionally have studied Simon tie Montfort as a founding father of English Parliamentary government. But Montfort’s rebellion against King Henry cannot be explicated in purely political terms. Montfort must be understood in his own dynamic context of thirteenth-century Christian Europe, not twenty-first century English democracy. The knights, nobles, and clergy of England saw Montfort as a deeply pious Chnstian leader engaged in a holy war against a tyrant. Montfort did not fight the Baron’s Rebellion to democratize English politics. Instead, he believed he was fighting a crusade. This thesis seeks to understand Simon de Montfort and his role in the Baron’s Rebellion of 1263-1265 in this thirteenth-century context. By investigating Montfort’s career in tandem with his aristocratic identity, deep Christian piety, and fervent crusading ideology, this thesis argues that Montfort saw himself riot as an early trailblazer of parliamentary government, but rather as a righteous crusade leader who led the Baron’s Rebellion in God’s name.