Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester (1208-1265)

This piece of chain mail would have been familiar to medieval knights such as rebel baron Simon de Montfort. Mail was made from thousands of tiny links riveted together by hand. Because this took time and great skill, only the wealthy could afford a full suit of mail.  Mail is heavy to wear but very flexible. It provides perfect protection against sharp weapons. It does not, however, prevent broken bones and bruising.

Simon de Montfort was the brother-in-law of Henry III and the acknowledged leader of the barons’ cause in the years leading up to the Battle of Lewes. He was born in France.  His nobleman father, who was extremely religious and led the French forces in the Albigensian Crusade, left his French estates to de Montfort’s elder brother. De Montfort went to England where Henry III gave him land that had previously been confiscated from his family. He became prominent at the English court, marrying the king’s sister Eleanor

He soon began to feel the king was a poor leader and that the barons should play a bigger role in running the country. He had a reputation for being sympathetic to ordinary people. In London the people rebelled against Henry and handed over the city to de Montfort.

The battle started before either side was ready. De Montfort was a better commander and started pushing the king’s army downhill, towards the town and Lewes Priory. With the king, his brother and his son taken prisoner, Simon ruled England for the next six months, calling England’s first real Parliament. He was killed at the battle of Evesham and his head and hands cut off and sent to his wife

 Factfile

  • De Montfort was nearly 60 at the time of the Battle of Lewes and had recently broken his leg.
  • He wore a hair shirt under his magnificent outer clothes.
  • Once, when infuriated with Henry III’s hopeless military skills, he told the king he should be locked up and later accused him of being unchristian. Henry never forgot these insults.
  • He made all his soldiers sew a white cross onto their clothes so they could recognise each other during the battle.
  • According to a contemporary account, he spent the night before the battle awake, praying.

Audio: Simon de Montfort, the Battle of Lewes and the Development of Parliament. Part 1. Part 2.