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de Montfort, Simon

Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, led a dispute by the Barons against King Henry III in the 13th Century. The Barons were angry at the cost of some of the King's schemes, such as the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey and a proposed campaign to make one of his younger sons King of Sicily. Simon de Montfort, who was actually the King's brother-in-law, led the dispute. Civil war broke out in 1264. De Montfort sought to widen his support by summoning a Parliament to which he invited Knights of the shires and Burgesses as well as the Barons. This was the first time the "commons" had been represented at a Parliament. The innovation of summoning the commons to attend Parliaments was repeated in later years and soon became standard. Thus it is ultimately from Simon de Montfort that we have developed the idea of a representative Parliament. Simon de Montfort was eventually killed by Henrys son, Prince Edward, at the Battle of Evesham in 1265.

In October 1258 the King accepted the Provisions of Oxford, but he had no intention of living by them. The barons that had written them had differing ideas of how far they should be taken. Simon de Montfort took them to their most extreme.
    -de Montfort, Simon (Explore Parliament)
Here's how good Sharon Kay Penman is. I'm such a fan that I buy every used copy of her historical epics that I see and then give them to friends. So back when I was in law school, I went to Spring Training in Arizona with a classmate and a college buddy and his wife. As luck would have it, that was the year the players went on strike and the exhibition games were canceled. Suffice it to say, we had plenty of down time on our vacation. Anyway, I'd brought Falls the Shadow and watched in amusement over the course of the week as my traveling companions took turns stealing it from one another, sneaking off to read it, and then trying to hide the book so they could claim it later. No one would even consider reading something else, they were all too caught up in this tale of "the greatest soldier in Christendom," Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, and his noble but doomed efforts to get Henry III to live up to the Oxford Provisions to the Magna Carta.

Given his role as one of the fathers of Anglospheric representative democracy, it's shocking that we don't learn more about Simon de Montfort. despite a lifelong interest in history and even majoring in the subject in college, the first time I recall so much as seeing his name was in The History of the English-Speaking Peoples, where Winston Churchill wrote that " Montfort had lighted a fire never to be quenched in English history." But in those pre-Internet, pre-Amazon, etc. days i couldn't find out much more about this supposed spark. Fortunately, Ms Penman's novel appeared just a couple years later and she took the ball and ran with it.

Ms Penman's Simon is a proud and willful man, which often gets him in trouble, but also romantic, idealistic and deeply religious, which forces him to try and vindicate the things he believes in--to marry for love (not just ambition), to treat commoners and even Jews with Christian charity and dignity, and to stand up to kings, popes, and fellow nobles when they're in the wrong. As the Mayor of London explains at one point:
Leicester might deny my son a highborn bride, but he would not deny him justice. You asked why he would care about the fate of a fishmonger, a tanner? Because even the lowest wretch is deserving of God's mercy, the protection of the King's laws. He believes that, you see. I've never known another lord who did, but Simon de Montfort truly does. I'll not deny that self-interest colors his views; what of it? Only a saint is deaf to that voice. But the Earl has a heartfelt vision of the way the world should be. I like his vision, Master de Gisors, I like it well. So do the citizens of London.
So, of course, do we--so well that we based America on the self-evident truth that: "All Men are Created equal."

What makes this novel so remarkable is that the author manages to blend these vital ideas with exciting action scenes, convoluted political maneuvering, and the compelling romance of Simon and Eleanor (the King's sister). It's exceedingly rare to find a novelist who can handle all four of these aspects well, but Ms Penman does so and is, furthermore, noted for her voluminous research and historical accuracy. The story has the natural arc of a tragedy, following Simon's rise to power, his victories over Henry, and finally his defeat at the hands of Prince Edward, but our knowledge that Simon's vision will prevail in the long run assuages some of the pain of his failure. If, on the one hand, Ms Penman's characters sometimes seem a tad too modern in their views, they also serve to remind us just how old are the ideals that our parliamentarianism still seeks to vindicate. There is some sense in which the English had arrived at the End of History even here in the 13th Century, though we're obviously still playing out the long coda. At any rate, we'd rank this one in the top 10 of Historical Novels and, given both the entertainment value and the ideas at play, a spot on the Top 100 of the 20th Century.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Sharon Penman (2 books reviewed)
Historical Fiction
Sharon Penman Links:

    -Sharon Penman (Encyclopedia Britannica)
    -Sharon Kay Penman (Wikipedia)
    -Sharon Kay Penman (The Chelsea Forum)
    -Sharon Kay Penman (Richard III Society)
    -Random House | Authors | Sharon Kay Penman
    -ESSAY: The Penman Chronicles Sharon Kay Penman, July 2006)
    -ARCHIVES: "sharon kay penman" (Find Articles) -OBIT: Sharon Kay Penman, Whose Novels Plumbed Britain’s Past, Dies at 75: The author of best-selling books set in medieval England and Wales, she insisted that historical fiction had an obligation to the facts. (NY Times, 1/31/21)
    -INTERVIEW: Author Interview: Sharon Kay Penman (Wendy Zollo, Trivium Publishing)
    -INTERVIEW: Potholes and dragons on the road to the past (WHITNEY SPOTTS, 4/06/05, City Pulse)
    -INTERVIEW: Time Bandits: A stolen manuscript almost waylaid Sharon Kay Penman's career (Interview By Jessica Turner, CityBeat)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEWS: with Sharon Kay Penman (Eye on Books)
    -INTERVIEW: Loaded Questions: "Here Be Dragons" Author, Sharon Kay Penman (Loaded Shelf)
    -PROFILE: Enter the world of Penman and get HOOKED... (Silverfox Productions)
    -PROFILE: UPT library staffer advises novelist (Peter Hart, University of Pittsburgh Times)
    -BOOK LIST: Elizabeth Chadwick's top 10 historical novels: 7. Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman (Elizabeth Chadwick, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman (1982) (Mary L. Newton, Trivium Publishing)
    -REVIEW: of Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman (1985) (Kristen Voskuil)
    -REVIEW: of When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman (1995) (Crisis)
    -REVIEW: of Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman (2002) (Alma A. Hromic, SF Site)
    -REVIEW: of Time and Chance (Sharan Newman,Anglican Theological Review)
    -REVIEW: of Time and Chance (Jenny Ivor, Rambles)
    -REVIEW: of The Queen's Man by Sharon Kay Penman (FS, Mystery Guide)
    -REVIEW: of Cruel as the Grave by Sharon Kay Penman (JP, Mystery Guide)
    -REVIEW: of Cruel as the Grave (Parker O'Connor, The Mystery Reader)
    -REVIEW: of Prince of Darkness by Sharon Kay Penman (Cat Eldridge, Green Man Review)
    -REVIEW: of the Justin de Quincy mysteries (Maria Nutick, Green Man Review)
    -PODCAST: Simon de Montfort and England’s First Revolution (BBC History Extra, 9/26/20)

Book-related and General Links:

    -The Simon de Montfort Society
    -Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester (1208  August 4, 1265) (Wikipedia)
    -Simon de Montfort (Spartacus)
    -Matthew of Westminster: Simon de Montfort's Rebellion 1265: >From The Flowers of History, collected by Matthew of Westminster (Medieval Sourcebook)
    -Simon de Montfort (Catholic Encyclopedia)
    -Simon de Monfort (This Sceptered Isle, BBC)
    -de Montfort, Simon (Explore Parliament)
    -Simon de Montfort (Channel 4)
    -Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester (1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -Provisions Of Oxford (1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ESSAY: Simon de Montfort and the Barons' War (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ESSAY: Simon de Montfort and the Baronial Crisis of 1258-65 (Nanci Lamb Roider, Trivium Publishing)
    -ESSAY: Simon de Montfort and his Followers, June 1263 (Susan Stewart, English Historical Review)
    -Henry III and rebellion (J.P.Sommerville)
    Llywelyn ein Llyw Olaf: The last leader of a united and independent Wales. (BBC Wales)
    -ESSAY: King Edward Hammer of the Scots (Paul Bennett, The Penny Farthing)
    -REVIEW: of Simon de Montfort by J.R. Maddicott (Nigel Saul, History Today)
    -ESSAY: The seed of democracy: Canada inherited its parliamentary tradition from England (Canada and the World Backgrounder, Sep 1997)
    -REVIEW: of The Bigod Earls of Norfolk in the Thirteenth Century by Marc Morris (Caroline Burt, Institute of Historical Research)