Post-classical history

Simon de Montfort, the Statesman

IT WAS APPARENT at once that a firm hand had grasped the tiller of state. Peace was proclaimed throughout the kingdom, and men on both sides were bidden sternly to return home and resume their lawful occupations. Arrangements were made for the exchange of prisoners. Steps were initiated to compensate those who had sustained losses in the struggle.

The King accompanied Simon de Montfort to London and took up his lodgings at St. Paul’s, where an eye could be kept on him much easier than at Westminster or Windsor. The castellans who had been most active on the royal side were replaced by baronial leaders. Some of the old sheriffs and wardens were retained, but those who were unacceptable to the new order were replaced.

Across the Channel there was much activity. Henry’s defeat at Lewes had been a staggering blow to the Queen and her party, which included the archbishop, Peter of Savoy, and John Mansel, but they rallied and began to recruit mercenaries and hire ships with feverish speed. The young noblemen who had escaped from the battlefield had crossed the water by this time. They threw themselves into the work with great energy in an effort, perhaps, to compensate for the panic in which they had abandoned Edward at Lewes. Although the French King had expressed, with some reluctance, his willingness to assist in an arbitration, there was no surety that he would not come to the aid of his distressed brother-in-law and throw the weight of France behind an invasion. Such a move would have the blessing and support of the Vatican.

Never a believer in half measures, Simon prepared to meet the threat by recruiting the man power of England on a wider basis than had ever before been attempted. A national levy of men and money was proclaimed and “Down with the alien!” became the slogan. Watchers were maintained along the coast from the far North to Cornwall. The inland counties were called upon to provide men in accordance with their population, and a large army was gathered at Barham Downs. The King, acting partly under pressure, partly because of a genuine fear for his hostage son, wrote letters to Queen Eleanor, urging her to cease all hostile preparations.

Cardinal Guy Fulcodi, the legate who had never set foot on English soil, sent messengers to notify the new government that he now proposed to visit the country and exercise his powers in bringing about a proper peace. Knowing full well the kind of peace the legate would consider proper, Simon saw to it that the messengers were intercepted as soon as they landed at Dover. Their papers were taken away from them and they were sent back on the next boat, carrying notification to the cardinal that he must insist on the disbanding of the army of invasion and that, moreover, he must see to it that none of the money Louis of France was paying to Henry for the maintenance of knights on crusade be diverted to the war chest of Queen Eleanor. The cardinal responded with a furiously hostile letter in which he declared that “the earth marvels and the heavens are stupefied by the ingratitude of England.” He declared the powers of the Pope to be unlimited and made it very clear that he would be content with nothing short of the full restoration of Henry’s powers and the banning of the Provisions of Oxford.

In the meantime a session of Parliament was held at which a council of nine was appointed to guide the King in all his official acts, of whom there would always be three at his side. The intention seems to have been that any three of the nine would serve as the close advisers of the ruler, but in practice the select trio became Simon de Montfort, Gilbert of Gloucester, and Stephen Birkstead, the Bishop of Chichester. Of the three men who thus assumed the actual control of the kingdom, the Earl of Gloucester was too young and unstable to have much hand in things and the bishop was content to serve in an advisory capacity. Simon de Montfort became, therefore, the real ruler. It is likely that he maintained the fiction of divided responsibility, but he it was who made the decisions. He acted promptly when quick moves were necessary and notified his colleagues later of what he had done. He had no title. Some men called him the Protector; in a few instances he was cited as count justiciar. He came very close to being a dictator.

He made mistakes, but in the main he used his dictatorial powers with vision, courage, and dispatch. The soldier became the statesman; the general who had led his men up the face of the escarpment at Lewes did not hesitate to act with equal boldness in the government of the country and in his dealings with the hostile outside world. After making what seemed a reasonable effort to find a basis of arbitration in which the King of France and the papal legate would have a part, he refused to yield beyond that point, having no intention of allowing another Mise of Amiens declared. The diplomatic ball was held in play for some considerable time, long enough to put such a strain on the purse of Queen Eleanor that the unpaid mercenaries drifted away and the waiting ships had to be dispersed. The clouds cleared over the Channel; the threat of another invasion dissolved into the mists.

When Cardinal Guy, who was sometimes called the Fat, came out unequivocably against the victorious barons, he was met by a decision of action which he most certainly had not anticipated. The bishops of London, Worcester, and Winchester had carried Simon’s final terms for arbitration to Boulogne. Guy sent them back with orders to promulgate the papal sentences against Simon and his chief associates. The bishops were met at Dover, their luggage was searched (without any objection on the part of the churchmen), and the bulls were torn to pieces and scattered at sea. The legate retaliated by excommunicating Simon de Montfort, with bell, book, and candle, at Hesdin on October 21.

There was a corresponding vigor and decision in every move the Protector made during these first months. He realized the gravity of the situation and the strength of the forces working against him, and he did not hesitate to inject the audacity of the soldier into the decisions of the chancery. He maintained a semblance of order and official sanction. All communications were issued in the name of King Henry and with the royal signature. The King seems to have accepted the role and to have fallen into line with this pretense of solidarity.

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There was still a sharp division among the nobility. In the West the young men released on Edward’s insistence after the rout of Lewes confirmed his shrewdness by coming out openly against the provisional government. Most of the great barons of the North stood aloof, refusing to acknowledge the summons to join in restoring peace.

There were divisions also in the Church, but the royal faction, in spite of the papal position, was small and inactive. The heads of the Church were on the baronial side almost to a man. Simon’s strongest supporters had been the bishops of Worcester, Chichester, London, Lincoln, Salisbury, Winchester, and Coventry. They had not only stood by him through thick and thin, but they now protested jointly to Rome against any measures of deprivation and the anathemas pronounced by the angry cardinal across the Channel. In the second Parliament called by Simon one hundred and twenty churchmen took part as against twenty-three representatives of the nobility. The parish priests, who lived close to the people and shared in some degree at least their beliefs and aspirations, were as strongly for the baronial cause as the Franciscans, who, remembering the robust guidance of Grosseteste, preached the new order up and down the land. The students of Oxford raised the strident voice of youth on the same side.

There can be no doubt that the common man was for Earl Simon. There had been too many kings in the land, and the news of the victory of Lewes had been wildly acclaimed. The heavy losses sustained by the London levies were a blood pledge to the cause. This was a day of political songs, and the towns rang with loud refrains of victory. “Now England breathes again,” proclaimed The Song of Lewes, a long paean of triumph penned in Latin by a Franciscan whose identity has not been established. The English people, went on this political epic, had been despised like dogs, but now they could lift up their heads. The Song contained a lengthy defense of the popular cause, leading to the conclusion that “law rules the royal dignity, for law is right and rules the world … It is one thing to rule, which is the duty of a king, another to destroy by resisting the law.… Read this, ye English,” proclaimed the triumphant author, “concerning Lewes’ fight under the protection whereof ye live defended. Because if victory had yielded to those who are now vanquished, the remembrance of the English would have been vanquished and become worthless.”

But the acclaim of the people, while gratifying, was not as important as it might seem. The vociferous townsman who emptied a mug of ale in a London tavern to “Sir Simon the Righteous” might have no more than a penny or two by way of property and would not count in the financial levy which was being made. The student who left his seat in the straw at the feet of his master in Oxford to shout himself hoarse in the streets was probably too young to bear a pike. What counted was the support of the men who owned the land, the proud barons. Most of them had been against the bad government and wastefulness of the King, but now they found it went against the grain to see one of their own number in a position to dictate to them.

Simon realized that a final and public understanding must be reached with Henry and the heir to the throne. Accordingly a meeting was held at Canterbury on August 12 which the King and Prince Edward attended. A document was drawn up confirming the terms agreed to on the night of the battle of Lewes and making them mandatory as long as Henry lived and for a short period after Edward’s accession. To this was added a summary of the steps which had been taken since the battle, including an ordinance forbidding the employment of aliens by the Crown. Finally it was provided that no man was to be punished or molested for the part he had played in the civil war. This agreement, called the Peace of Canterbury, was signed by Henry and Edward.

The Peace of Canterbury was enacted while the country was still strongly held by the victorious party. The terms, although sharp and conclusive, were not, therefore, excessive. Simon had done no more than secure confirmation of the basic concessions for which the barons had taken up arms.

He had hoped, no doubt, that it would be possible after Canterbury to settle down to a more orderly administration and that peace would return to the country. In this he was disappointed. The great landowners of the North refused to have any part in these moves toward pacification. The young Marchers in the West continued to flaunt their defiance. The air was filled with rumors and alarms. It was widely believed that the Queen had managed to enter the country in disguise, bringing assurances of support from Louis of France; that Prince Edward had escaped from captivity and had joined the insurgents in the West; that the Pope would lay England under an interdict again; that the Seven Knights, a term used to designate the western barons because they had planted seven flags on the walls of Bristol, were creating a large army and were now ready to sweep down the line of the Thames with fire and sword. Peace was not possible in a land which listened daily to stories such as these.

There was some basis of truth in the last-mentioned rumor. When Edward was removed from Dover to Wallingford for safer keeping, the Seven Knights made a bold attempt to set him free. A considerable force under Sir Warren de Basingbourne, who had been Edward’s favorite companion in the field, made a surprise attack on that strong citadel. They carried the outer wall and were pressing forward with such spirit that the defenders sent out word that, if they persisted, the prince would be delivered to them but “bound hand and foot and shot from a mangonel.” To make certain that his friends appreciated the danger in which he stood, Edward appeared on the inner wall and shouted to them that he was sure his captors meant what they said. Sir Warren desisted from the attack at this, and the knights returned reluctantly to their base in the West. To prevent any further attempts at rescue, the prince was taken from Wallingford to Kenilworth, where his uncle Richard had been detained since his capture at Lewes. The midlands about Kenilworth were solidly baronial in sentiment.

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At Kenilworth the Countess Eleanor was presiding over a household which resembled a royal court in size and importance. Her signature appears on many state documents as witness, and so it is apparent that much of the business of the realm was being transacted there. This meant a constant influx of visitors, officials from Westminster with bags packed with papers, bishops and barons and envoys from other countries with long trains of horsemen. Simon arrived at intervals and never with less than one hundred and fifty lances behind him. This would present his princess wife with serious problems. One hundred and fifty men to feed and find accommodation for without advance notice! Somehow it would be done. The loaves and the salt fishes, the haunches of beef and the gallons of flattish beer would be found, and at night straw and rushes would be spread around all hearths in which there had been fire, and the unexpected guests would use their cloaks as pillows, snoring the night away in as much comfort as they might have expected.

The earl was in the habit of discussing the situation with his wife. This is certain because she acted with decision and a sure knowledge of the situation when the final crisis arose. They would get their heads together and he would pour out his troubles. Anxiously they would discuss the continued recalcitrance of the Marchers. Should they be ignored in the hope of a gradual subsidence, or should the peace be disturbed by an armed excursion against them? What designs were hatching in the brain of that proud and selfish young man, Gilbert the Red? How long could the young lion, Edward, be kept caged?

There was so much correspondence handled at Kenilworth that three carriers were used to insure a quick exchange of mail. The household Roll, to which earlier reference has been made, gives the names of the trio, all good Saxon names, Dignon, Gobithesty, and Truebody. Good Saxon names, in fact, predominated at this great castle of the earl’s, Haude and Jacke in the bathhouse, Hicke the tailor, Dobbe the shepherd.

It has not been unusual for royal ladies, even the most realistic and shrewd, to believe that time would have to stand still for them. Although Eleanor had been a very great beauty indeed, she seems to have been under no such illusion. She was now in her forty-eighth year, and although still a handsome woman, without a doubt, she was no longer the madcap charmer who had wedded Simon of Leicester under such romantic circumstances. It is not known if she used dyes or other beauty aids, but the testimony of the Roll makes it clear that Adam Marsh would no longer have found it necessary to chide her for extravagance in dress had he been alive. She spent little on her own wardrobe during this, the most important year of her life. The items for dress materials concern the one daughter of the house, a charming girl of twelve, named Eleanor after her mother, but known to everyone as the Demoiselle.

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It would be a pleasant task to provide clothes in the thirteenth century for a child of budding beauty. The flowing draperies of feminine attire were graceful in the extreme, and in the matter of materials it was a period of great extravagance. This was the day of the first importation of silks and satins and velours from the East; silks interwoven with gold thread and brocaded in flower designs; the six-threaded samite; a magnificent thing from the land of the Syrians called baudekin, which was a combination of silk and gold thread and which glowed as though the rays of the copper sun had been caught and imprisoned in it; transparent silks called sarcenet and fine cloth known as brunette. Rich materials such as sendal were used for linings. Furs were employed to trim the robes of the great, miniver and ermine and vair.

The girdles which bound the flowing robes of the nobility at the waist were set with precious stones. Often they consisted of solid gold links.

The chief chance that ladies had for originality in dress was in the coverings they devised for their necks. They began to go to somewhat foolish extremes with wimples and peplums. The wimple became large enough to muffle the neck up to the chin, being worn with fillets over the forehead. Mantles of Honor, made of gaily colored cloth, were worn over the shoulders. Sometimes these mantles were very gay indeed, with blue groundwork and scarlet borders and with a profusion of white scallops.

As was to be expected, the train had become an important part of feminine attire. They were so long at court that boy pages had to be in attendance to carry them. Priests saw vanity and worldliness in the use of elaborate trains and preached bitterly against them. The ladies, however, went right on having them cut long in spite of pulpit wrath. A belief grew up that invisible demons rode on the trailing skirts of great ladies and, in tacit acceptance of this, the wearers fell into the habit of stopping at intervals and giving their skirts a vigorous shake to dislodge any grinning imps which might be clinging to them. They did not take the story too seriously because, imps or no imps, they went right on wearing trains.

The tailor, in fact, was a very important person in the household of a prominent nobleman. The ladies condescended to take his opinion on all matters pertaining to their appearance, and even the men, who liked to strut in garments of white damask and handsome tabards, consulted the man with the needle. A popular ballad of the day was called the Song of the Tailors and began, “Gods ye certainly are.”

It was a pleasure decidedly for Eleanor de Montfort to dress her slender daughter in the finest garments which the gods of the basting threads could devise, particularly when affairs of state brought Llewelyn of Wales to Kenilworth and his eyes followed the Demoiselle to the exclusion of everyone else.

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With the exception of Richard, who was still in his teens, the Montfort sons were now out in the world and deeply involved in the political situation: Henry, Simon, Guy, Amauri, a handsome lot, tall and dark and strong. Their mother was intensely proud of them, and it is not strange that her chief concern had ceased to be her own adornment and had become political so she could share the interests of her husband and sons.

Eleanor endeavored to make life as agreeable as possible for the gloomy and depressed nephew who came to Kenilworth after the failure of the daring enterprise of the Seven Knights. Edward had always been fond of her, and he seems to have responded in some degree to her efforts in his behalf. It must at times, nevertheless, have been a silent trio who sat at the head table in the Great Hall; a hall so great, in fact, that it had two immense fireplaces and five tall windows. The King of the Romans, now called Richard the Trichard by impudent men in London, sat in the center because of his imperial rank, a much-worried monarch who realized that his imprisonment was adding every day to the insecurity of his position in Germany. On his right sat the heir to the throne, his head filled with schemes for escape and plans for the day when he would strive to reverse the decision of Lewes. On his left was the countess, who alone of the Montfort family could sit with them, being the daughter of a king. She sought to play the part of hostess, but on occasion it must have been apparent that her eyes also contained a speculative gleam. It was generally believed that she expected someday to sit beside Simon at Westminster. At times thunderclouds hovered over the far from festive board and a sense of the strain penetrated even to the trestle tables at the far end of the long hall where humble men sat beneath the salt.

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It has already been said that Earl Simon made mistakes during the year that he controlled the affairs of the country. They had nothing to do with state matters but were entirely personal. There was his desire to let his sons share his authority. Henry was made governor of Dover and was given the custody of Prince Edward after the tatter’s brief sojourn at Kenilworih, an arrangement which irked the prince exceedingly. Simon, the second son, was put in command of the forces of Surrey and Sussex. Earl Simon took into his own hands all the western possessions of the prince, Bristol, Chester, and in the North, Newcastle, to hold until permanent peace had been achieved. His closest adherents were given charge of other royal castles, Corfe, Bamburgh, Nottingham. This may have seemed advisable to the man on whose shoulders rested the responsibility of maintaining peace, but to the proud nobles who had played their part in the struggle and who felt themselves being excluded it seemed more a determination to advance his own family and consolidate his personal power.

The one who felt most bitterly about this was the Earl of Gloucester. This brave and mercurial young man had in him a belief in the rightness of the cause but also, by way of inheritance from his less admirable father, a pride which took fire easily and a strain of hauteur which made a secondary role intolerable to him. He had played no more than a supporting part at Lewes, and since then he had felt himself being relegated more and more to the background. This preyed on his proud spirit. It was becoming a matter of time only until he would change sides as his father had done.

It is likely that Simon de Montfort would have held his temperamental lieutenant in line if he had taken pains to placate him, to bolster his pride. That he did not do so is not entirely to his discredit. He had his hands full with matters much more pressing and important than the coddling of a demanding young man of limited capacity. He was guiding the ship of state through one of the most tumultuous periods of English history. There was not only the threat of invasion to meet and the sharp hostility of the Pope, but the need to restore order in a land torn by hate and fear. The injured feelings of a sulky young nobleman seemed, perhaps, to the harried leader a minor problem. But minor it was not. The failure to keep the Earl of Gloucester at his right hand was the most disastrous of major mistakes.

Simon took decisive action in the West, following the attack of the Seven Knights on Wallingford. He moved against them in sufficient force to capture their key castles of Hereford, Ludlow, and Hay. Roger Mortimer, who was looked upon as the leader of the western insurgents, was forced to meet Simon at Montgomery and make peace on behalf of the others. They were to surrender all the royal castles they held and leave the country for a year and a day, going to Ireland if they so desired. In addition they were to give up at once the prisoners they had taken in the royalist victory at Northampton and leave hostages for their own good behavior.

This was strong medicine, calculated to bind their hands for the whole of the crucial period. If the country could be rid of them for a year and a day, the new government would have time in which to establish a basis of peace. The young men swore to obey the terms laid down, and Edward’s consent was also obtained.

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