Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The de Montforts

The name of De Montfort is effectively synonymous with the 2nd Barons' War.

There were actually two families of that name prominent in the conflict, both on the same side. One branch had come over with the Conqueror and were soon given the manor of Beaudesert in Warwickshire. The other branch was headed by Simon de Montfort. They had recently arrived in England - rather ironically one of the main complaints of the party headed by Simon was thhe influence of foreigners on the King.

First, the de Montforts of Beaudesert.

The head of the family was Peter de Montfort. His arms are still used by the local high school as their badge. He was a major player in the 1250s and was apparently involved in various embassies. He could also be claimed to have been the first to hold the office which became the Speaker of Parliament.

He was a leader of the party which opposed much of the King's policy and his seeming dominance by his half-brothers and other foreigners.

He and his son were captured at Northampton and so missed the fighting at Lewes. He was with Simon de Montfort at Evesham, dying in the battle there. His son, Piers, was wounded but survived, regaining his father's lands after the treaty made at Kenilworth.

Beaudesert has now effectively been absorbed by Henley in Arden, a small but pleasant town in Warwickshire near where I live. The parish of Beaudesert still exists and rather oddly the parish churches of Henley and Beaudesert are little more than 100 yards apart. The Beaudesert church still contains much of its Norman structure. (I went there for a wedding once!) It sits at the foot of a fairly long ridge which is now pretty much hidden from view by the town. However, once past the houses you can see it rise abruptly above the surroundings.
This ridge was the site of Beaudesert Castle, long since disappeared. It is, however, possible to see the earthworks which formed part of the defences and may even date back to pre-Roman times.

Here is a photo I took a couple of days ago (this was in July).
What looks like a slight depression is a substantial ditch. You can only see about half of the steps (and the treads of each one are far too high, and I'm not short!) The grass is kept short by rabbits and the main area of the castle is covered by scrub and wild flowers. A nice walk :)

This is a view from the foot of the steps. It's always tricky to get a good impression from a photo, but this gives some impression of the steepness of the bank.

This is a view of what once would have been the park around the castle. The area was once far more heavily wooded. It is quite rolling (and IMHO the best countryside in the world!) The grass looks short but was around two feet deep.

This was a patch of marsh at the foot of the ridge which I though would be useful for modelling. At least, it would be marsh of we weren't having a long dry spell round here.

The Time Team carried out an excavation of the castle which is available on 4oD, though you have to forgive them the references to the prevalence of the longbow in the Barons' Wars. I think they must have mown the whole hill top which wasn't exactly environmentally friendly!

I've added a link to the Gatehouse site, a great resource for castle hunters. It shows the position of a large number of fortifications in England and Wales, and their state of preservation as well as some pictures. I found out that a place where I used to sit around on an escaprment as a teenager was actually the site of the Beauchamp castle just outside Alcester.

The other de Montfort family was headed by Simon. 

He had come to England as a young man to claim his father's English lands - his elder brother received the French inheritance. He soon married the king's sister. Henry later claimed that Simon had seduced her and that the marriage was to prevent scandal. He certainly managed to gain  a great deal of influence at court. His career is covered by a number of websites and various books, so I won't go into detail.

Interestingly, his arms are shown by Matthew Paris as the reverse of these, as are the ones showing his gruesome end at Evesham. I have kept to the ones shown in most of the rolls and the picture of his father linked to below.
The banner is shown in a picture of his father and is said to be borne in honour of the lands at Hinckley. Some of the rolls of arms give these as the de Montfort arms.

A while before Lewes, Simon had been injured in an accident and had needed to travel in some kind of carriage. Various accounts mention this as he cunningly placed this conveyance in view while deploying for Lewes, with his banner displayed next to it. The histories say that the Royalists focussed their attentions here although the only souls contained in the carriage were three Londoners who had opposed his entry into the city. They were held inside the carriage and some accounts say that they were killed by their own side as their entreaties could not be heard.
The actual type of vehicle is debateable. At least one author believed it was suspended between two horses. Another, almost contemporary account, said it was made of iron specifically to hold the Londoners. I decided to scratchbuild a canopy on top of a Magister Militum base and wheels to create a similar effect to the one in the Lutrell Psalter. I think I have overdone shape of the top and it could perhaps do with being longer. It currently looks a bit too much like a Romany caravan!  However, it is pretty similar to this later carriage.
I've found a picture of a carriage which looks very similar to mine. It's in a 19th century book - the pictures aren't originals but are to help painters with getting the right look and are based on earlier source material. It was written by the same man who produced the book I used for my Flemish. The book is available as a full view in Google books here.

Advancing on the carriage are some Legio Heroica peasants. One banner is that of St. Edward, the other is St. Edmund's. Henry had a particular reverence for these English saints, hence his choice of names for his sons. There are some nice pictures of these banners used in decoration at the now lost royal chambers of Westminster. There is a picture of them in 'A Great and Terrible King' - copies were made after the rediscovery in the early 19th century which was just before the palace was damaged by fire.

One of the only 'names' killed on the Barons' side was Simon's standard bearer, Blount. He commanded the guard left around the carriage and banner. I've put him on the same base as Simon, as I liked the heraldry :)

I don't have any pictures, but I've also painted a couple of de Montfort's (with Mirliton figures) to use with my French and Florentines. Two of Simon's sons, Guy and Simon the younger escaped from England after Evesham. They joined Charles of Anjou's invasion. Guy became Charles' Vicar-General in Tuscany and led some forces alongside a Florentine army. He gained the title of Count of Nola. However, their cousin Henry of Almain, son of Edmund of Cornwall and grandson of Henry III, passed into Italy while Edward carried on to the Holy Land. He may have had a mission to repair relations with the de Montforts but it ended in tragedy. While he was praying, the de Montfort brothers stormed into the church and hacked at him even as he clutched the altar. Pleas for mercy were met with the response that their father and brothers had been given no mercy - though it seems that Edward had actaully tried to save Simon the Elder at Evesham. While Henry lay on the church floor dying, the brothers left, but once outside they were reminded of the mutilation meted out on their father, so they returned to do the same. Henry's bones and heart were returned to England

 The two were excommunicated and forced to flee, though there are suggestions that they were not pursued as vigourously as they might have been. Simon soon died, but Guy soon returned to the favour of Charles of Anjou. He continued to work for the king though he was later captured in the war of the Sicilian Vespers and died in an Aragonese prison. For his crime against Henry, Dante placed Guy in the Seventh Circle of Hell, up to his neck in boiling blood: "Within God's bosom he impaled the heart that still drips blood beside the Thames"