Skip to content
IUScholarWorks Journals
22.01.10 Aurell et al. (eds.), Simon de Montfort

22.01.10 Aurell et al. (eds.), Simon de Montfort

This is a bi-lingual collaborative volume, six chapters in French, six in English, plus an English introduction by Greg Lippiatt. It arose from a conference in Poitiers held in 2018, and is for the most part a marvellous example of how a focussed set of conference proceedings can be greater than the sum of the individual contributions. (It is also personally cheering to see cross-channel scholarly collaboration in action, in these post-Brexit times.) The figure under discussion is principally not the Simon de Montfort who rebelled against Henry III of England, but his father, the leader of the first stages of the Albigensian Crusade. One of the great strengths of the volume is that, collectively, it pays equal attention to Simon in the English realm and Simon in his southern conquests--his blurred shift, or duality, between being “Earl of Leicester” and becoming “Count of Béziers, Carcassonne and Toulouse” (the latter titles awarded in the course of the crusade, until his death in battle, when besieging Toulouse). The latter part of the book does then turn more to the experiences of the younger Simon, both in France--briefly attempting to govern Gascony in the mid thirteenth century--and of course in England, in his conflict with Henry III.

After a brief introduction by Lippiatt, Jean-Louis Biget provides a lapidary account of the progress of the crusade under the older Simon de Montfort’s leadership, bringing out in particular the structural reasons as to why its success was always somewhat faltering, namely the overall lack of manpower to garrison and maintain the possession of towns and cities once they had initially surrendered (whether taken by force, or persuaded to accede without a major fight). Many crusaders came only for their notional forty days of service, returning north once they had achieved that symbolic commitment; and, unsurprisingly, the southern French nobility and, as importantly, the often independently powerful southern French cities, were not enthusiastic about a permanent rearrangement of lordship and law implied by crusader possession. De Montfort himself, Biget emphasizes, never had sufficient power or the ability to attract indigenous southerners en masse to the cause. Lippiatt (who has written a monograph on de Montfort) [1] then looks at one of the key interventions made in the south, beyond the capture of lands: de Montfort’s imposition of the statutes of Pamiers in 1218. The specifics of these can be looked at from various perspectives: as “moral” reforms, as a “colonialist” imposition of northern European legal norms onto a Mediterranean culture, and in broad parallel with other major charters of “rights” including Magna Carta itself. Lippiatt expertly unpacks the contexts and implications of the statutes, and emphasizes in conclusion their underlying foundation in a notion of Christian morality. “Good government had always been tied to morality, but by the end of the twelfth century, this connection was increasingly articulated in ways that penetrated deeper and deeper into lay behaviour” (67). This is undoubtedly the case with de Montfort’s efforts, though one might in fact contrast that dynamic somewhat further with the contemporaneous statutes and customs being articulated in the towns and cities of southern France in the same period, where the image of “Roman law” in most places displaced a more explicitly “moralized” framework.

Martín Alvira then draws our attention to the dynamics across the Pyrenees, in a chapter addressing de Montfort and Peter II of Aragon. This takes a largely chronological approach, closely tracking the relations between the pair from their probable first meeting--August 1209, during the siege of Carcassonne--through to the Aragonese king’s intervention on the southern side in the crusade, leading to Peter’s death at the battle of Muret. The picture is dense and nuanced: we are reminded, among other things, that a few years earlier, Simon and Peter had agreed that their children would marry, Alvira convincingly arguing that Peter’s motivation probably had been an attempt to stabilize the lands of southern France at a point when Almohad powers to the south were pushing back against Christian incursion. That the leader of Christian forces against Muslims at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) could, in the following year, himself fall in battle to “crusader” forces reminds us, as does the chapter throughout, how very not straightforward the conflict in the south was, despite its apparent initial frame as “loyal, orthodox Christians” versus “disobedient heretics.” In the following chapter, Damian Smith picks up what was in effect the next stage of the Aragonese story: James I had been given into the care of Simon de Montfort by Peter, his father, in 1211. He did not appear to resent the fact that his father had fallen in battle fighting Simon; and Smith makes the case that in some respects, being initially under de Montfort’s influence was in fact useful for the “orphan king.” In the immediate aftermath of Peter’s death, the Aragonese nobility were united in their desire for vengeance, and focussed on regaining the young orphaned king. De Montfort’s death in battle cut short what might otherwise have become a more politically perilous conflict, but had nonetheless kept the Aragonese united at a point when things might otherwise have splintered politically. James thus benefited in the long run.

Nick Vincent’s chapter brings the focus to England, carefully unpicking the knotty details of Simon de Montfort’s claims over the title of Earl of Leicester, the lands to which he was (or believed he was) entitled, whether and when he actually first came to England, and his troubled relationship with other lords and with King John. Two very important points emerge from the detail: that we should probably see a large part of Simon’s motivation for joining the crusade as arising from his political disappointments in England, where lands he believed were rightly his were assigned elsewhere; and, that the image (and after his death, memory)of the hero of the crusade was notably present to the lords still in England, in their struggles with John. The Dunstable annalist, Vincent tells us, reported rumours that baronial conspirators had, in 1212, agreed to elect Simon as a replacement king of England. The themes of landholding, title, and noble imagery are key to the following chapter, in which Laurent Macé carefully tracks the development of different seals used by de Montfort, and places them within a wider analysis of representational schema in the same period. It is another contribution of considerable, careful scholarship.

We are then taken through the later stages of the crusade, after Simon de Montfort’s death, in a chapter in which Dan Power reminds us of how relatively little attention has been paid to this, principally because the main southern French narrative sources run out soon after 1218. One turns then to northern chronicles and a variety of documentary sources, via which Power not only reminds us of some of the run of events, but as importantly notes the way in which, within a few decades of its conclusion, memories of events within the crusade were beginning significantly to diverge between the northern and southern nobility. He is able also to reconstruct something of the wide geographical spread of places from which northern participants came, in these later stages, and flags up the important albeit very short-lived “Order of the Faith of Jesus Christ” which emerged under Amaury de Montfort’s aegis, as an attempt to hang on to the military manpower of crusaders for longer than their allotted 40-day stint. Also focussed on Amaury de Montfort is Lindy Grant, in the following chapter, which tracks the continued relations between the Montforts and the Capetian court (a topic on which her excellent recent biography of Blanche of Castile is tremendously illuminating). [2] A key question is how it was that the younger Simon de Montfort (the one who eventually rebelled against Henry III of England) could come to be called “suspect at the court of France” and “alienus” by a chronicler such as Aubry of Trois-Fointaines. Having traced the earlier history of the family, Grant then focusses on Amaury and his strategies with regard to royal courts, which, as she demonstrates, depended in no small part on the women in his family and marriage alliances.

Furthering these explorations of son lignage (of the subtitle to the volume), in the next chapter Sophie Ambler focuses on the younger Simon de Monfort (subject of her own monograph) [3] and the “Montfortian Family Memory.” She argues, persuasively, that the younger Simon was very conscious both of the crusader image of his father and its wider meaning, and of particular leadership traits exercised by the older Simon, most notably his fierce determination to keep to an oath no matter what. This was to have consequences in later thirteenth-century England, as the younger Simon and other barons came into major conflict with the English king. Whilst Ambler surveys the whole life of the younger Simon, Amicie Pélissié du Rausas then focuses on his experiences attempting to run Plantagenet Gascony between 1248 and 1252. The region was, of course, politically troubled, and the chapter works to remind us of the broad contours of this, as well as of Simon’s experiences in particular. Pélissié du Rausas makes us aware in particular of a rich seam of material, namely the complaints by various Gascons (individual lords, one major archbishop, and various towns) voiced against Montfort in a royal enquiry from 1252, and his responses.

The penultimate chapter, by Rodolphe Billaud, addresses a particular aspect of the younger Simon’s struggles with Henry III, namely the occupation of the county of Chester in 1264 and 1265: in January 1265 Simon’s eldest son, Henry de Montfort, arrived in Chester to receive an oath of loyalty from the town’s citizens, on behalf of his father. Billaud makes us aware of the various complexities here: whether the county was to be understood simply as that or as an “honour” (like the “honour of Wallingford” or the “honour of Richmond”), namely a feudal holding that had, in theory at least, various jurisdictional privileges associated with it. It was strategically important to de Montfort; but at the same time, was also one of the places from which a royalist counter-reaction to the barons began to build. Finally, Catalina Girbea looks closely at the heraldic symbols associated with the Montfort family, both those they embraced, and those which were negatively associated with them in certain texts produced after the Barons’ revolt. The symbols are expertly linked to wider cultural associations they may have held via contemporary literary texts.

The volume ends with a short conclusion from Martin Aurell, framed in part in terms of the wider current politics of historical (and particularly medievalist) study in France, but turning then to some broader reflections on de Montfort within the contours of lordly power in the high middle ages, and of lay religiosity in the period following the Gregorian reforms. Each contribution is of a very high standard, and whilst ultimately I was not entirely convinced that the experiences of both older and younger Simons were mutually illuminating, both are undoubtedly deserving of such close attention, for the light that they throw on the wider dynamics of power and lordly culture in the thirteenth century.



1. Gregory Lippiatt, Simon V of Montfort and Baronial Government, 1195-1218 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

2. Lindy Grant, Blanche of Castile, Queen of France (New Haven: Yale, 2016).

3. Sophie Ambler, The Song of Simon de Montfort: The Life and Death of a Medieval Revolutionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).