Simon De Montfort's Legacy

Simon de Montfort was not, of course, consciously founding the House of Commons. He has been seen as a principled leader, driven by a genuine sense that reform was right and just. He had strong religious convictions and close friendships with leading intellectuals of the time, connected with Oxford university, who were greatly concerned with political ideas about good government.

On the other hand, Simon de Montfort was seen by many at the time as an inflexible fanatic, or self-interested opportunist. He was unpopular among the barons, and this may have been part of the reason he struggled to gain support. He came to power by force and used his position to enrich his family and followers, to the point where he alienated his key ally, Gilbert de Clare, the new earl of Gloucester.

Montfort was a populist leader who presented himself as the defender of ‘England for the English’, a popular cause in the country at large, where people had come to see the king’s misgovernment as the result of his reliance on foreign advisors. He also pursued policies against the Jewish money-lenders, cancelling debts to many minor landowners who were suffering from excessive borrowing. This may well have been driven by conscience rather than populism. Many of the intellectual circle with which Montfort was involved were advocating new ideas about Christian piety that involved intolerance towards Jewish communities, and which resulted in the 1270s in the expulsion of all the Jews in England. Despite the principle of it, persecution of the Jewish money-lenders was undoubtedly popular with the social groups on which Montfort based his support, and which were represented in Montfort’s Hilary parliament of 1265.

When Edward became king after Henry III died in 1272, he once again began to call representatives of the counties and towns to parliament. This happened more and more frequently, and these representatives eventually formed the House of Commons in the fourteenth century.

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@Parliament750 is a new twitter account led by the Parliamentary Archives. The feed will run throughout 2015 to commemorate the 750th anniversary of Simon de Montfort's parliament.

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2015: Parliament in the Making is a year-long programme of events, projects and resources recognising 800 years of democratic heritage. Further information can be found via the 2015 portal.

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