Simon de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester
Simon IV of Montfort, lord of Montfort-l'Amaury, 5th earl of Leicester (c.1175 – 25 June 1218), also known as Simon de Montfort the elder, was a French nobleman who took part in the Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) and was a prominent leader of the Albigensian Crusade. He died at the siege of Toulouse in 1218.
He was the son of Simon de Montfort (d. 1188), lord of Montfort l'Amaury in France near Paris, and Amicia de Beaumont, daughter of Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester—the Montfort line itself descends from the House of Reginar. He succeeded his father as lord of Montfort in 1181; in 1190 he married Alix de Montmorency, the daughter of Bouchard III de Montmorency. She shared his piety and would accompany him on his campaigns.
In 1199, while taking part in a tournament at Ecry-sur-Aisne, he took the cross in the company of Count Thibaud de Champagne. The crusade soon fell under Venetian control, and was diverted to Zara on the Adriatic Sea. Pope Innocent III had specifically warned the Crusaders not to attack fellow Christians; Simon opposed the attack, but nevertheless, the city was sacked in 1202. Simon did not participate in this action and was one of its most outspoken critics. He and his associates, including Abbot Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay, left the crusade when the decision was taken to divert once more to Constantinople to place Alexius IV Angelus on the throne. Instead, Simon and his followers travelled to the court of King Emeric of Hungary and thence to Akko.
His mother was the eldest daughter of Robert of Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester. After the death of her brother Robert of Beaumont, 4th Earl of Leicester without children in 1204, she inherited half of his estates, and a claim to the Earldom of Leicester. The division of the estates was effected early in 1207, by which the rights to the earldom were assigned to Amicia and Simon. However, King John of England took possession of the lands himself in February 1207, and confiscated its revenues. Later, in 1215, the lands were passed into the hands of Simon's cousin, Ranulph de Meschines, 4th Earl of Chester.
Simon remained on his estates in France before taking the cross once more, this time against heresy. He participated in the initial campaign of the Albigensian Crusade in 1209, and after the fall of Carcassonne, was elected leader of the crusade and viscount of the confiscated territories of the Raymond-Roger Trencavel family.
Simon was rewarded with the territory conquered from Raymond VI of Toulouse, which in theory made him the most important landowner in Occitania. He became notorious and feared for his cruelty. In 1210 he burned 140 Cathars in the village of Minerve who refused to give up their faith. In another widely reported incident, prior to the sack of the village of Lastours, he brought prisoners from the nearby village of Bram and had their eyes gouged out and their ears, noses and lips cut off. One prisoner, left with a single good eye, led them into the village as a warning.
Simon's part in the crusade had the full backing of his liege lord, the King of France, Philip Augustus. But historian Alistaire Horne, in his book Seven Ages of Paris, states that Philippe (sic) "turned a blind eye to Simon de Montfort's brutal crusade...of which he disapproved, but readily accepted the spoils to his exchequer"(36). Following the latter's success in winning Normandy from John Lackland of England, he was approached by Innocent III to lead the crusade but turned this down. He was heavily committed to defend his gains against John and against the emerging alliance among England, the Empire and Flanders.
But, Philip claimed full rights over the lands of the house of St Gilles; some historians believe his dispatch of de Montfort and other northern barons to be, at the very least, an exploratory campaign to reassert the rights of the French Crown in Le Midi. Philip may well also have wanted to appease the papacy after the long dispute over his marriage, which had led to excommunication. He also sought to counter any adventure by John of England, who had marriage and fealty ties also with the Toulouse comtal house. Meanwhile others have assessed Philip's motives to include removing over-mighty subjects from the North, and distracting them in adventure elsewhere, so they could not threaten his increasingly successful restoration of the power of the French crown in the north.
Simon is described as a man of extreme religious orthodoxy, deeply committed to the Dominican order and the suppression of heresy. Dominic Guzman, later Saint Dominic, spent several years during the war in the Midi at Fanjeau, which was Simon's headquarters, especially in the winter months when the crusading forces were depleted. Simon had other key confederates in this enterprise, which many historians view as a naked seizure of southern lands by ambitious men from the north. Many of them had been involved in the notorious Fourth Crusade. One was Guy Vaux de Cernay, head of a Cistercian abbey not more than twenty miles from Simon's patrimony of Montfort Aumary, who accompanied the crusade in the Languedoc and became bishop of Carcassonne. Meanwhile Peter de Vaux de Cernay, the nephew of Guy, wrote an account of the crusade. Historians consider this to be a piece of propaganda to justify the actions of the crusaders; Peter justified their cruelties as doing "the work of God" against depraved heretics. He predictably portrayed outrages committed by the embattled lords of the Midi as the opposite.
Simon was an energetic campaigner, rapidly moving his forces to strike at those who had broken their faith with him - and there were many, as local lords switched sides whenever the moment seemed propitious. The Midi was a warren of small fortified places, as well as home to some highly fortified cities, such as Toulouse, Carcassonne and Narbonne. Simon seems to have shown great personal valour and daring as well as being particularly brutal with those close to him who betrayed him - as for example, Martin Algae, lord of Biron. In 1213 Simon defeated Peter II of Aragon at the Battle of Muret. This completed the defeat of the Albigensians, but Simon carried on the campaign as a war of conquest. He was appointed lord over all the newly acquired territory as Count of Toulouse and Duke of Narbonne (1215). He spent two years in warfare in many parts of Raymond's former territories; he besieged Beaucaire, which had been taken by Raymond VII of Toulouse, from 6 June 1216 to 24 August 1216.
Raymond spent most of this period in the Crown of Aragon, but corresponded with sympathisers in Toulouse. There were rumours in September 1216 that he was on his way to Toulouse. Abandoning the siege of Beaucaire, Simon partially sacked Toulouse, perhaps intended as punishment of the citizens. Raymond returned in October 1217 to take possession of Toulouse. Simon hastened to besiege the city, meanwhile sending his wife, Alix de Montmorency, with bishop Foulques of Toulouse and others, to the French court to plead for support. After maintaining the siege for nine months, Simon was killed on 25 June 1218 while combating a sally by the besieged. His head was smashed by a stone from a mangonel, operated, according to the most detailed source, by the donas e tozas e mulhers ("ladies and girls and women") of Toulouse. He was buried in the Cathedral of Saint-Nazaire at Carcassonne. His body was later moved by one of his sons to be reinterred at Montfort l'Amaury. A tombstone in the South Transept of the Cathedral is inscribed "of Simon de Montfort".
Simon left three sons: his French estates passed to his eldest son, Amaury VI de Montfort, while his younger son, Simon, eventually gained possession of the earldom of Leicester and played a major role in the reign of Henry III of England. He led the barons' rebellion against Henry during the Second Barons' War, and subsequently became de facto ruler of England. During his rule, de Montfort called the first directly elected parliament in medieval Europe. For this reason, de Montfort is regarded today as one of the progenitors of modern parliamentary democracy. Another son, Guy, was married to Petronille, Countess of Bigorre, on 6 November 1216, but died at the siege of Castelnaudary on 20 July 1220. His daughter, Petronilla, became an abbess at the Cistercian nunnery of St. Antoine's. Another daughter, Amicia, founded the nunnery at Montargis and died there in 1252.
- Complete Peerage, vii p. 716
- Maddicott, John Robert (1994). Simon de Montfort. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 5.
- Phillips, Jonathan. The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, 2004. page 137.
- Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise laisse 205.
- Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise laisse 206; Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay, Historia Albigensis 615.
- Sumption, Jonathan. The Albigensian Crusade, 2000
- "Simon de Montfort". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
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