Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Simon de Montfort and His Good Idea

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Even in the Middle Ages, kings did not give the orders and have everyone just obey. The powerful nobles who provided service to the king — the earls and barons — had their own ideas about what ought to happen. The nobles believed that the king should consult them in the tradition of the Great Council (Magnum Concilium) that had been established by the Norman kings. When the king tried to ignore them and rule through court favorites, which happened often in medieval England, the nobles would rebel.

Simon de Montfort (c. 1208-1265) was the 6th Earl of Leicester. Originally, he had been a favorite of King Henry III, but the two fell out. Simon shifted his position and made common cause with other disaffected nobles. By 1258, de Montfort had become a leader of the nobles who opposed the king. Henry attempted to assert his authority forcibly, the nobles fought back and a civil war called The Second Baron’s War began.

Simon was initially successful against the king. However, he wanted to consolidate his own power base. Unlike the king, who was anointed, Simon was just another noble among many. He needed a political counterweight to the various other barons in order to establish his own power and to attempt to keep his coalition together.

Simon hit upon the idea of bringing the voices of people outside the nobility into governance. Along with the nobles  and bishops who were customary members of a Great Council, de Montfort invited ordinary knights and representatives of important towns to a Parliament. This opened on 20 January 1265. It was the first time that commoners were invited to participate in governance.

Simon had mixed motives and his actions to feather his own nest helped tear his coalition apart. Before the year was out, the son of Henry III — the future Edward I — defeated and killed de Montfort in battle.

After this, it would have been typical for any rebel innovations to have been discarded and forgotten. However, Edward I summoned Parliament in 1295 to fund his plans to invade Scotland. Edward also included representatives from outside the nobility in his summons, but separated them from the nobility. This became the Model Parliament, so called because it was the model for the organization of future Parliaments. The nobles and bishops formed the House of Lords, while the others formed the House of Commons.

Today, the House of Commons is marking its 750th birthday. It is an historic milestone for an institution that is an important part of our Anglo-American political heritage.


UK Parliament

2015: Parliament in the Making


Democracy Day

Simon de Montfort

Memorable Speeches from 750 Years of Parliament



Written by srojak

January 20, 2015 at 2:03 pm

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