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Reference group
Montfortians (act. 1258–1265) were the followers of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, during the movement of baronial reform and rebellion that he helped to initiate in 1258 and subsequently came to lead. Most steadfast among them were the family members, friends, and landed neighbours and retainers who formed his inner circle. The higher nobility provided him with a few intermittent allies, but the baronial Montfortians were mainly drawn from a rather lower social level. Beyond these men lay an outer circle of political sympathizers, chiefly country gentry but also embracing the much more varied sorts of men and women who journeyed to the earl's shrine at Evesham after his death in battle there in 1265.

At the centre of Montfort's party stood his family: his wife Eleanor, sister of Henry III, and their five sons, of whom only three, Henry de Montfort, Simon de Montfort, and Guy de Montfort, were of much political importance. Throughout their marriage Eleanor was very close to her husband, both personally and politically. The inadequacy of the dower and maritagium settled on her by her brother the king formed one of the chief points of contention between Montfort and Henry, bringing Eleanor fully onto the political stage, and at her husband's side, in 1258–9, when she refused to renounce her family claims to the lost Angevin lands in France until Henry had satisfied her private financial grievances. Her sons played a more active part in their father's affairs. Henry, the eldest, had pursued the fleeing Lusignans, enemies of reform, to France in 1258, and both he and his brother Simon took part in Montfort's military campaigns in 1263–4. Both, too, profited greatly from their father's victory at Lewes in 1264, gaining lands and movable wealth on a scale that seemed to suggest that the reform movement had become little more than a Montfortian family enterprise. Henry was killed at Evesham. A third son, Guy, was one of Montfort's commanders at Lewes. Another beneficiary of that battle, he also fought at Evesham before eventually escaping to France, where he joined his brother Simon as a refugee. Possessing their father's acquisitiveness but none of his abilities, the brothers did as much to hinder as to help Montfort's cause.

The local men who largely constituted Montfort's affinity contributed more substantially to his fortunes. With few exceptions they were drawn from the Montfortian heartlands in the midlands, and particularly from Warwickshire and Leicestershire. Some were his tenants, chief among them perhaps Sir Thomas of Astley (Warwickshire), Montfort's one-time steward, who died fighting for him at Evesham. But most were no more than neighbours. The three most weighty figures in this group were Hugh Despenser of Loughborough (Leicestershire), an executor of the earl's will in 1259 and baronial justiciar in 1260–61 and 1263–5; Peter de Montfort (no relation), whose Warwickshire manor of Beaudesert lay only a few miles from Montfort's great castle at Kenilworth and who remained his political ally throughout the reforming period; and Nicholas of Seagrave (Leicestershire), another loyal lieutenant during the troubles. This group of close local associates was never large—probably no more than six to eight men at any one time—but the quality of its members outweighed their quantity. They were notable for their standing, their prominence during the reform movement, and their loyalty. Their leading figures, who also included Ralph Basset of Sapcote (Leicestershire) and Arnold (VI) du Bois and Arnold (VII) du Bois, father and son, of Thorpe Arnold, Leicestershire [see under Bois family], were mainly minor barons rather than knights. Peter de Montfort and Hugh Despenser were members of the baronial twelve appointed with the king's twelve to choose the council of fifteen in 1258; Peter was subsequently elected to that council, while in December 1263 he, Basset, Despenser, and Seagrave were among the principal Montfortians who agreed to submit their leader's quarrel to Louis IX's arbitration. Seagrave, Despenser, and Peter de Montfort fought at Evesham, and the last two died there; while Ralph Basset was probably out with his lord on the same campaign. It is a tribute to Montfort's powers of leadership, to his personal charisma, and perhaps to his ideals, that he was able to hold together such a group, itself composed of powerful men, through all the vicissitudes of fortune that marked his course through the reforming years.

The same characteristics do something to explain Montfort's links with the churchmen who formed an equally remarkable body among his supporters. The roots of this connection lay in Montfort's early friendships with Robert Grosseteste, the zealous and reforming bishop of Lincoln who had died in 1253, and with Adam Marsh, the leading scholar among the Oxford Franciscans. Marsh died in 1259, but the connection was perpetuated through the reforming period by Montfort's close friendship with Walter de Cantilupe, bishop of Worcester, another member of the Grosseteste–Marsh circle. Marsh and Cantilupe stood closer than any others to Montfort's religious values and inner life. Marsh was one of the two chief executors of his will, along with another Montfortian churchman, Richard of Gravesend, bishop of Lincoln, while Cantilupe was a member of the council of fifteen and subsequently one of Montfort's most assiduous allies, confessing his troops before Lewes and Evesham and dying broken-hearted after the earl's last battle.

As the reform movement developed, this core group of ecclesiastical Montfortians, depleted by the death of Marsh, was enlarged by a number of other episcopal recruits. By the summer of 1263 the Montfortian bishops were beginning to emerge as a distinct detachment among the earl's supporters. They included Henry of Sandwich, bishop of London, and one of the Montfortian council of nine appointed after Lewes; John Gervase, bishop of Winchester, a negotiator for the barons during the papal legate's attempted entry into England in 1264; and Stephen Bersted, bishop of Chichester, one of the triumvirate effectively appointed to govern the kingdom in June 1264. Associated with this group was Thomas de Cantilupe, nephew of Walter, who was chancellor of Oxford University from about 1261 to 1263, chief of the four baronial envoys who appeared before Louis IX at Amiens in 1264, a member of the post-Lewes council of nine, and a future saint. One foreign prelate had a place in the same company: Eudes Rigaud, the Franciscan archbishop of Rouen, friend of Adam Marsh, Montfort's occasional host during his visits to Normandy, and a voice for the defence at his trial in 1260. To judge by the 102 heads of religious houses and orders summoned to the Montfortian parliament of January 1265, monastic supporters may have been still more numerous, if less influential, than these bishops and other secular churchmen.

The Montfortian bishops and their associates had certain characteristics in common. Most were university masters, often Oxford-trained, learned, high-minded, and thoroughly committed to the church's pastoral mission. Their strong Montfortian allegiance was partly a reaction to Henry III's misgovernment of the church, which was one of the causes of the reform movement: his misguided diversion of its resources to the conquest of Sicily, his fiscal exploitation of vacant bishoprics, and his subservience to the papacy, which had allowed the intrusion of alien clerks into so many English benefices. But it was also a response to Montfort's own idealism and to the desire for justice and equity in matters of secular government with which it seemed to be infused. They saw Montfort as a regenerate layman dedicated, through his adherence to the provisions of Oxford, to reforms that had a spiritual as well as a political rationale and made a strong appeal to conscience and duty.

By comparison with the support that he received from the church, Montfort's following among the lay aristocracy was both more patchy and less ardent. Though he was at one with most of the higher nobility in initiating reform in 1258, he lost their collective support as he began to emerge as the reformers' leader. Among his allies the earls came and went. Humphrey (IV) de Bohun, second earl of Hereford, for example, a friend of Montfort before 1258, an enemy of the Lusignans, and a member of the council of fifteen, nevertheless fought for the king at Lewes in 1264. Roger (III) Bigod, fourth earl of Norfolk, Richard de Clare, sixth earl of Gloucester, and John de Warenne, sixth earl of Surrey, followed similarly erratic courses, sometimes Montfortian in their sympathies, but more frequently, and in the end, royalist.

It was among the middling and lesser baronage, rather than the earls, that Montfort found his strongest body of lay supporters: one that came together and emerged fully only with its leader's return to England in 1263, and can be identified through the lists of those who appealed for Louis IX's arbitration in 1263, fought at Northampton and Lewes in 1264, were summoned to the Montfortian parliament of 1265, and fought again at Evesham. As the chronicler Thomas Wykes noted, most of these baronial Montfortians were young men. Of the seven whom he names in 1263—Henry of Hastings, John fitz John, John de Vescy, Geoffrey de Lucy, Robert de Vieuxpont, and William de Munchensi, in addition to Nicholas of Seagrave—at least five were under thirty. Particularly conspicuous were the Montfortian sons of the earls active in 1258. Gilbert de Clare, seventh earl of Gloucester, who had succeeded his father in 1262, came over to Montfort in 1264, jointly commanded a division of his army at Lewes, and was one of the triumvirate established in power after the battle. Humphrey (V) de Bohun, son of the earl of Hereford, was one of the baronial sponsors of Louis IX's arbitration, a member of the council of nine in 1264, and a combatant at Evesham, dying in captivity after the battle. Robert de Vere, fifth earl of Oxford, son of a royalist father whose title he inherited in 1264, was knighted by Montfort before Lewes and remained a faithful member of the subsequent Montfortian regime.

This baronial party had a marked regional bias, most of its members holding their lands in central and eastern England, with a few outliers in the far north. Typical in status and Montfortian progression were men like the Yorkshire knight John de Deyville, who led resistance to the king in Cumberland as well as in his native county, and later held out in the Isle of Ely and London, and Sir Adam of Newmarket, landholder in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, one of the four baronial representatives at Amiens in 1264, the king's captive after the battle of Northampton, and a prisoner again after Evesham. If the loyalties of many of these men reflected in part the radical attractiveness of Montfort's principles to the idealistic young, their regional distribution may perhaps be put down to Montfort's own landed influence (he was a substantial landholder in Northumberland) and the lack of alternative leadership in the midlands and the east after the earlier demise of such great earldoms as those of Chester and Lincoln. But this body of baronial supporters was never very large—only twenty-three magnates were summoned to the parliament of January 1265—and it was weakened further after the excessive promotion of Montfort's sons in the spring of 1265 had alienated some of its leading members, notably the young Gilbert de Clare, who now defected from the earl, taking with him some previously loyal supporters like the Gloucestershire baron John Giffard. Committed though most Montfortian barons were to the cause of their leader, as the long list of those dying or taken captive at Evesham shows, they lacked both the numbers and the political weight to defend that cause effectively.

Beyond the ranks of the Montfortians who can be named and numbered there lay a larger and more amorphous body of supporters in the country. Its foremost members were perhaps the knights and leading freemen of provincial society, for whose benefit many of the key local reforms of 1258–9 embodied in the provisions of Westminster had been carried through. Montfort's vigorous defence of the provisions during his period in power, as well as his summoning of the knights to his two parliaments of 1264 and 1265, was an appeal for the support of these men, of whom Adam Gurdun, a minor landowner in Hampshire who became a staunch upholder of the earl's cause, both before and after the battle of Evesham, provides a good example. Yet he seems never to have had the allegiance of the majority, and after the disorders of 1263 and the ensuing civil war the numbers of Montfortians among them may have declined further. The summoning of burgesses to the parliament of 1265 suggests similar if more latent support for him in the towns. This support was conspicuous in London, where the populares sided with Montfort in 1263 and the radical mayor Thomas Fitzthomas was active in the parliament of 1264. At a still lower social level there is some evidence for peasant support for reform in general, if not for Montfort in particular. To the earl's shrine at Evesham from 1265 onwards came a cross-section of English society: among others, Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, one other erstwhile follower, Sir Simon of Pattishall, three abbots, two nuns, a village constable, a tailor, a carpenter, and a fisherman. Never a tightly defined group, the Montfortians were visible in their broadest social range only after their hero's death.

J. R. Maddicott


J. R. Maddicott, Simon de Montfort (1994) · M. Howell, Eleanor of Provence: queenship in thirteenth-century England (1998) · F. M. Powicke, King Henry III and the Lord Edward: the community of the realm in the thirteenth century, 2 vols. (1947) · D. A. Carpenter, The struggle for mastery: Britain, 1066–1284 (2003)