Simon V de Montfort, (23 May 1208? – 4 August 1265), was a French-English nobleman, who became Earl of Leicester, owning large estates in England. These Earl of Leicester estates included Hungerford, which he used as an administrative centre for his local business affairs. Simon de Montfort developed Hungerford Park as his personal deer park.
It may well have been during this period (1232-1250) that the "new" model town of Hungerford was laid out.
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His inheritance: Simon's father died in 1218; one son Guy died in 1220, and in 1229 the two surviving brothers (Amaury and Simon) came to an arrangement whereby Simon gave up his rights in France and Amaury gave up his rights in England.
The English estates were those of the Earl of Leicester (Simon de Montfort's paternal grandmother had been Amicia de Beaumont, the senior co-heiress to the Earldom of Leicester and a large estate owned by her father Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester). However, King John (1199-1216) would not allow a French subject to take ownership of such estates in England.
Simon de Montfort came to England in 1229 (aged 21), and found that all his Leicester estates were in the hands of the Earl of Chester. Having relinquished all rights in France (to his brother Amaury), Simon de Montfort successfully petitioned King Henry III (1216-1272) for the English inheritance, which he received the next year, although he did not take full possession of the estates until 1231, and did not inherit the title of 6th Earl of Leicester until February 1239.
Simon marries Eleanor: In January 1238 Simon de Montfort married Eleanor, daughter of King John and sister of King Henry III. Whilst this marriage took place with the king's approval, it was performed secretly and without consulting the great barons, as a marriage of such importance warranted.
The English nobles protested the marriage of the King's sister to a foreigner of modest rank; most notably, Eleanor's brother Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall rose up in revolt when he learned of the marriage. King Henry eventually bought off Richard with 6,000 marks and peace was restored.
Relations between Henry III and Simon de Montfort were cordial at first. Henry supported Simon when he embarked for Rome in March 1238 to seek papal approval for his marriage. When Simon and Eleanor's first son was born in November 1238, he was baptised Henry in honour of his Royal uncle. In February 1239 Simon de Montfort was finally invested with the Earldom of Leicester. He also acted as the King's counsellor and was one of the nine godfathers of Henry's eldest son, Prince Edward, who would later inherit the throne and become Edward I.
Shortly after Prince Edward's birth, however, there was a falling out. Simon owed a great sum of money to Thomas II of Savoy, uncle of Queen Eleanor, and named Henry as security for his repayment. King Henry had evidently not been told of this, and when he discovered that Simon de Montfort had used his name, he was enraged. On 9 August 1239 Henry confronted Simon de Montfort, and threatened to imprison him in the Tower of London. Simon and Eleanor fled to France to escape Henry's wrath.
- Simon de Montfort's Coat of Arms
- Showing the Arms in use
- Simon de Montfort
- Simon de Montfort
On crusades: Having announced his intention to go on crusade two years before, Simon de Montfort raised funds and travelled to the Holy Land, but does not seem to have ever faced combat there. That autumn, he left Syria and joined King Henry's campaign in Poitou. The campaign was a failure.
In 1248, de Montfort again took the cross, with the idea of following Louis IX of France to Egypt. But, at the repeated requests of King Henry and Council, he gave up this project in order to act as Governor in the unsettled and disaffected Duchy of Gascony.
Dispute with King Henry: His dispute with King Henry came about due to Henry's determination to ignore the swelling discontent within the country, caused by a combination of factors, including famine and a sense among the English barons that King Henry was too quick to dispense favour to his Poitevin relatives and Savoyard in-laws.
Simon returns to France: Bitter complaints were excited by the rigour with which de Montfort suppressed the excesses of the Seigneurs and of contending factions in the great communes. Henry yielded to the outcry and instituted a formal inquiry into Simon's administration. Simon was formally acquitted on the charges of oppression, but his accounts were disputed by Henry, and Simon retired in disgust to France in 1252.
Back in England again: The nobles of France offered him the Regency of the kingdom, vacated by the death of Queen Blanche of Castile, but he preferred to make his peace with Henry which he did in the following year (1253).
He helped King Henry in dealing with the disaffection in Gascony; but their reconciliation was a hollow one, and in the Parliament of 1254 , Simon led the opposition in resisting a demand for a subsidy.
In 1256–57, when the discontent of all classes was coming to a head, de Montfort nominally adhered to the Royal cause. He undertook, with Peter of Savoy, the Queen's uncle, the difficult task of extricating the King from the pledges which he had given to the Pope with reference to the Crown of Sicily; and Henry's writs of this date mention de Montfort in friendly terms.
The Provisions of Oxford (1258): However, at the "Mad Parliament" of Oxford (1258 ), Simon de Montfort (along with the Earl of Gloucester) led a group of seven barons who wanted to reassert Magna Carta and force the king to surrender more power to the fifteen-strong baronial council.
This effectively abolished the absolutist Anglo-Norman monarchy; the council was to deal with the business of government and providing for a thrice-yearly meeting of parliament to monitor their performance.
Henry was forced to accede to the Provisions of Oxford. but he did have some success in dividing the barons and in fostering a reaction. In 1261, Henry revoked his assent to the Provisions, and Simon de Montfort, in despair, left the country again.
The Second Baron's war: In the following years, those supporting Simon de Montfort and those supporting the king, grew more and more polarised. Henry obtained a papal bull in 1262 exempting him from his oath and both sides began to raise armies. The Royalists were led by Prince Edward, Henry's eldest son. Civil war, known as the Second Barons' War, followed. Simon de Montfort returned in 1263, at the invitation of the barons, who were now convinced of the king's hostility to all reform; and raised a rebellion with the avowed object of restoring the form of government which the Provisions had ordained. For a few weeks it seemed as though the royalists were at his mercy, and his forces captured most of south-eastern England; but he made the mistake of accepting Henry's offer to abide by the arbitration of King Louis IX of France.
Dispute ends with Battle of Lewes 1264: At Amiens, in January 1264, the French king decided that the Provisions were unlawful and invalid. Simon de Montfort, who had remained in England to prepare for the ruling, at once resumed the war, and thus exposed himself to accusations of perjury, from which he can only be defended on the hypothesis that he had been led to hope for a genuine compromise.
Though merely supported by the towns and a few of the younger barons, he triumphed at the Battle of Lewes on 14 May 1264. King Henry, along with Prince Edward and Richard of Cornwall, were defeated and taken prisoner by Simon de Montfort's army.
The "de Montfort" Parliament (1265): Simon de Montfort used his victory at the Battle of Lewes to set up the government by which his reputation as a statesman would stand or fall. Henry and Edward continued under house arrest. The short period that followed was the closest England was to come to complete abolition of the monarchy until the Commonwealth period of 1649-1660.
Simon de Montfort sent out representatives to each county and to a select list of boroughs, asking each to send two representatives to parliament. This parliament of 1265 ("De Montfort's Parliament"), was a packed assembly. (This was not the first parliament in England, but what distinguished it was that Simon de Montfort insisted the representatives be elected). It is from him that the modern idea of a democratic representative parliament derives. The list of boroughs which had the right to elect a member grew slowly over the centuries as monarchs gave out more Royal Charters. (The last charter was given to Newark in 1674.)
The weak point in his scheme was the establishment of a triumvirate (consisting of himself, the young Earl of Gloucester, and the Bishop of Chichester) in which his colleagues were obviously figureheads. Many barons who had initially supported him now started to feel that Simon de Montfort's reforms were going too far, and his many enemies turned his triumph into disaster.
The Battle of Evesham (1265): Only fifteen months later Prince Edward escaped captivity (having been freed by his cousin Roger Mortimer) to lead the royalists into battle again and he turned the tables on Simon de Montfort at Kenilworth, capturing more of Montfort's allies. Simon de Montfort himself had crossed the Severn with his army, intending to rendezvous with his son Simon. When he saw the army awaiting him at Evesham, Montfort initially thought it was led by his son. But the army belonged to Prince Edward, flying the Montfort banners he had captured at Kenilworth, and so leading Simon into a trap.
Simon de Montfort died on 4 August 1265 at the battle of Evesham, and was buried at the nearby Evesham Abbey.
Soon after Simon de Montfort returned to England in 1229, he successfully petitioned King Henry III for the return of the Earl of Leicester estates, which was granted in 1231. These English estates were very extensive, and largely based around Leicester and Kenilworth, but they also included the vill of Hungerford, and the fee of Sanden.
In 1232, the King, Henry III, gave letters of protection to the Hospital of St. John the Baptist in Hungerford, and also to the leprous sisters of St. Lawrence's church in Hungerford. These were probably at Simon de Montfort's persuasion.
In January 1238 Simon de Montfort married Eleanor, the sister of King Henry III.
Hungerford seems to have become an administrative centre for Simon's activities and lands in the surrounding area.
Furthermore, in 1247-49 Simon de Montfort developed nearby Balteley Wood into a deer park (which later became Hungerford Park). He removed all common rights of herbage and pannage in Balteley Wood, and there is much evidence that de Montfort took a personal interest in the development of the park. King Henry III himself made gifts of deer to his sister Eleanor for Simon's deer park in 1248 and 1249.
There is much to support the suggestion that the development of the "new" model town of Hungerford coincided with the development of the deer park in Balteley Wood (i.e. c1247-49). It appears that Simon de Montfort pushed both projects forward.
The following account of Simon de Montfort's close involvement with Hungerford was printed in The Lion (the news and information sheet of The Simon de Montfort Society), No.32, March 2003:Simon de Montfort and the Town of Hungerford - by Norman Hidden:
"Slight attention has been paid by Simon de Montfort's early biographers to his manor of Hungerford; there are two small references by C. Bemont, and none at all by M. W. Labarge. As de Montfort and his wife held lands in more than twenty different counties, it may not be altogether surprising that an outlying and relatively undeveloped manor such as Hungerford has secured so little attention. It is perfectly true that de Montfort's two great power bases, Leicester and Kenilworth, lay in the Midlands; but a recent historian, D. A. Carpenter refers to Simon's lesser but nevertheless important bases outside this area "for example at Hungerford in Berkshire".The earliest reference to Hungerford which involves Simon de Montfort relates to the Hospital of St John. We do not know when this was founded, but in 1232 King Henry III issued, from nearby Wallingford, letters of protection to "the house and brethren of the Hospital of St John the Baptist of Hungerford". Whether this protection was obtained through Simon's influence, we do not know.
We do know, however, that Simon at some stage in his life gave the priory half a carucate of land in Sandon which he held of the king in capite. It is typical of his relations with the king in financial matters that he did so without licence, for which a fee was payable. After Simon's death the Hundred Rolls in 1275/6 solemnly record his failure to do so as having been to the king's damage.
There may have been a further grant also; for in 1281 an inspeximus and ratification were issued in respect of the grant made by Simon "late Earl of Leicester" to "the hospital and brethren of St John at Hungerford, for lodging poor, sick, and infirm persons, of the half-virgate of land formerly held of him by William le Broddere in Sandon, with a meadow of his demesne near his 'stank' [=fishpond or lake] on the north side of Hungerford". Dugdale's "Monasticon" states that the priory was endowed with 1 carucate of land, 2 acres of meadow and six cottages, but does not mention whether or not this was the grant of Simon. It is clear, however, that thanks to the benefactions and patronage of Simon, the hospital was enabled to perform its special social functions, viz: to celebrate divine service thrice weekly and to provide relief to the poor inhabitants of the town in time of scarcity.
Just as it is likely that Simon de Montfort may have persuaded the king to issue letters of protection to the hospital or priory of St John, so in the very same year 1232, his may have been the influence which persuaded the king to issue similar letters of protection on behalf of "the leprous sisters" of St Lawrence's church in Hungerford, that is, for the sisters whose duty was to attend to lepers, presumably in the leper house which was already in existence in 1228.
That Simon's influence was active within the bounds of the manor is suggested by a Close Roll of 1237 in which the king gives instructions to the sheriff of Berkshire to take into safe custody (in connection with the death of one Ralph Peterborough) two prisoners, Robert Cook and Agnes of Reading "whom the bailiffs of Simon de Montfort of Hungerford shall free to him". From this it would appear that Simon, who is described as "of Hungerford" had been giving protection to the two prisoners.
This kind of clash between the king and the baron is reflected in a later presentment (in 1248) by the jurors of Kintbury Hundred that "Simon de Montfort and his bailiffs do not allow the king's bailiffs to enter the vill of Hungerford to make distraints for the king's debts as they used to do in the time of his ancestors".
In December of the same year the "serjeant" of Simon's Countess, one Andrew de la Brach, was granted exemption for life from being put on assizes, juries or recognitions and from suit of the king's Hundred of Kintbury. Both in this year and in 1249 the king was most anxious to please his sister, the Countess. In January 1248 he twice gave an instruction that the countess should be provided with a quantity of deer for the stocking of Hungerford Park, and in the next year a further gift was made to Simon also for the specific purpose of his new park.
Having obtained royal consent to make the area of Balteley Wood into a deer park, Simon proceeded rigorously to remove all other existing rights in the woods; these were the common rights of herbage, and pannage held by various parties. That the park was a project dear to Simon's heart may be gleaned from the vigour with which he proceeded to buy out these rights; as well as from the gifts of deer for the park made by King Henry in 1248 and 1249. There is a sense of personal involvement in the creation of this new deer park which is greater than in other routine operations carried out in some minor corner of a great man's estates.
Knowing the Norman love of hunting, the deer park would almost certainly be a magnet which would draw Simon to Hungerford on frequent occasions within his busy life. Hence perhaps the king's directions in 1248 and again in 1259 ordering that large sums of money be paid to Simon at Hungerford.
A second salient feature of the documents is the light they throw not only on Simon's energy in pushing through these various agreements so rapidly, but also on his readiness to achieve his ends by paying what seems to have been a generous price in each case. As far as one can tell, the terms of each of the exchanges should have satisfied those whose rights of common had been extinguished. In his initial concept, in the vigour and energy he displayed in carrying it through, and in his readiness to pay fair, indeed probably generous, compensation to those affected, Simon is seen in such a local matter, as very much the equivalent of a modern day tycoon. This combination of qualities may help to understand the strong and lasting memory which he left impressed on the minds of ordinary men.
The development of a new town may have begun prior to the development of Balteley Wood into Hungerford Park, but both projects may have been pushed forward by Simon de Montfort. There are two small links which could perhaps support such a theory. It has been noted that in the two tithings of Hungerford and Sandon Fee, Hungerford Park always was included within the town tithing, whereas all other places beyond the town boundaries fell into Sandon Fee, as one might have expected the Park to have done. Clearly some residual tie remained binding these two otherwise apparently disparate places into one unit. The ancient association of the Park with the name of the town (rather than with Balteley) may also be significant.
An even greater link between the new town and Simon's park is revealed by the report of a lawsuit in 1573 when the vicar of Hungerford deposed that a missing charter of Simon de Montfort granted certain rights of herbage and pannage in the woods of Balteley to the townsmen of Hungerford. The burgesses of Hungerford were horrified to discover that certain charters and evidences which had been kept in the town chest were missing.
A suit was brought by the townsmen against two suspects and in the course of it the vicar, Edward Brouker, deposed that among the items missing from the chest was a "copy of a deed in parchment containing a grant made by Simon de Montfort of herbage and pannage". The loss of these and other charters meant that the townsmen when challenged were unable to prove their ancient rights and privileges.
Brouker reveals himself in his Register to be a simple but direct and honest man, and a competent Latinist. It is highly improbable that he would wittingly testify on oath that there was a charter which said so and so when it did not. His evidence provides a clear indication that there was 'something' which Simon had done to the town's benefit and which the townsmen had had some connection with his park at Balteley. The tie between Park and town was undoubtedly established during the lordship of Simon de Montfort and if he looked with favour on them both it may have been because he was well aware of their respective significance in establishing the importance of his manor of Hungerford.
In addition to the valuable right of herbage and pannage (that is, the pasturing of sheep and the feeding of swine upon acorns in the wood) which the townsmen of Hungerford are thus said to have received from Simon de Montfort, they were stated to have been beneficiaries of rights to grazing in the lush water meadow of Woodmarsh. Such advantages could not fail to give the township the great boost which we know characterised its development in the 13th century.
References to Hungerford in the Patent Rolls and Close Rolls of this period are further indications of the town's growing importance. In 1253 the king's arrangements for payment of 600 marks due to Simon, require payment of 100 marks each by Sheriffs of Wiltshire and Berkshire and it is stipulated that these should be paid at Hungerford. In like manner in 1259 a similar order is made to the two sheriffs to pay 100 marks to Simon annually in Hungerford.
Simon and his wife had other estates in Berkshire, notably at Ilsley, Newbury, Shrivenham, Speenhamland, Woodspeen and Wantage; and in Wiltshire at Compton and Wexcumb (in the Kinwardston Hundred). Hungerford would have been a suitable control centre for these estates, just as its Park would have provided a recreational outlet for its lord. As we have already seen, a de Montfort 'serjeant' or collector of rents was in residence in the Kintbury Hundred. His name 'de la Brach' may possibly derive from that portion of Hungerford known as 'the Breach' and as bailiff he may have occupied a portion of the manor house, keeping the remainder of the residence available for visits by his master or mistress.
It should be noted, too, that the importance of the town under de Montfort's lordship may have been one reason that, during this period, several of the king's patent rolls and close rolls were dated from Hungerford. It seems clear that Hungerford may have provided an appropriate stopping place for the king's commissariat on his itineraries.
The growth of the town, both in size and in importance, which took place during Simon's lordship is remarkable. Although later local tradition ascribed the grant of their burghal status to John of Gaunt, de Montfort's energetic and determined lordship, together with vicar Brouker's evidence concerning the town's charters makes clear that the town's first great benefactor was not John of Gaunt, who continued rather than innovated the town's burghal rights, but Simon de Montfort.
[Note: A charter of 16 May 1265 grants the estate of Hungerford and other lands by Simon de Montfort to Prince Edward (the later Edward I). Unfortunately, the original patent roll (C66/83,m. 16) gives no more information than the calendar. Dr Hannes Kleineke MA, PhD, who helped research medieval documents prior to the publication of Hungerford - A History, 2000) added: "I have however ascertained details of the grant from other sources. At the time, both King Henry and Prince Edward were in de Montfort's hands, following defeat of the King's party at the Battle of Lewes. The Prince was very much the party losing out in this land transaction, for in exchange for de Montfort's southern estates, he effectively had to surrender most of the county of Chester."]