The Long Reach of the Montforts - A Guest Blog by Darren Baker
Darren Baker is the author of the newly released biography, With All For All - The Life of Simon de Montfort.
One of the more curious accounts of the English civil war of the 1260s comes from ‘The Templar of Tyre’, an anonymous section of the wider history known as Gestes des Chiprois. Although dealing principally with the crusader states through much of the thirteenth century, the author himself was not a member of the Templar Order. The title is a modern usage that reflects his service to the master of the Templars and, before that, to the wife of the lord of Tyre, John de Montfort. In all likelihood it was while working in the household of this Montfort family that the Templar got his information about the events leading up to and after Evesham.
John de Montfort was the son of Philip, whose father Guy was a brother of Simon de Montfort’s father. When Simon arrived in the Holy Land on crusade in 1240, Philip was already there. He had been born there sometime after 1204 when Guy, following the Fourth Crusade, married into the family of the local nobility. Philip’s connections and relations put him in a good position to promote his newly arrived cousin, the brother-in-law of the king of England and Holy Roman Emperor, to be the governor of the region in a bid to unite the warring Christian factions. Nothing came of the attempt and Simon soon returned to England, but Philip’s star rose until he was eventually made Lord of Tyre. Even though he was unable to stop the advancement of the Muslim Baibars, the sultan wasn’t taking any chances and had him assassinated in 1270 as he prayed in church, in a scene described by the Templar. He was succeeded by John, who ruled Tyre until his death in 1283.
Philip had a son from a previous marriage and life in France, who was also named Philip. Simon evidently knew and trusted him, for in 1259 he made him his deputy for Bigorre, a little county near the Pyrenees that came to him through his older brother, another Guy who, like their father Simon and uncle Guy, also died during the Albigensian Crusade. This Philip later became Charles of Anjou’s right-hand man as he went about conquering Sicily in 1265, the same year that saw Simon’s downfall and death at Evesham and the imprisonment of his fourth son, another Guy de Montfort. This Guy escaped the following year and had joined up with his second cousin Philip by the time of Charles’ victory at Alba in 1268. Two years later, when Charles talked his brother Louis IX of France into making Tunis the first stop of his latest crusade, ostensibly as part of Charles’ plan to create a Mediterranean Empire, Philip went along and died in the epidemic that also claimed Louis and other members of the French royal family. Charles, of course, survived.
Guy de Montfort wasn’t there. Impressed by his skills, Charles had sent him to Tuscany to take command as his vicar-general. In 1271 Charles went to Viterbo, just north of Rome, in an attempt to break the deadlock over electing a new pope. Presumably he summoned Guy to meet him there. He arrived on 12 March with a large train of knights and discovered that Charles’ entourage included his English cousin Henry of Almain. The next day Guy found Henry in a church and slew him at the altar before dragging his body out onto the square and mutilating it in mock retribution for the disgraceful act preformed on his father’s body at Evesham. Guy was stripped of his lands and honours, did some time under house arrest, but was back fighting under Charles until he was captured near Sicily in 1287. He died in prison in 1291, twenty years after the murder and right around the time the Templar fled Acre as the Saracens conquered the remaining Christian strongholds in the Holy Land. He went to Cyprus and began his chronicle, the first known copy of which appeared in 1343.
The Templar’s account of the English civil war starts in 1265 by introducing Simon de Montfort as the earl of Gloucester. Mistakes like these abound, the result of the Templar recalling years later what he had overheard as events in the west were filtered into the household where he worked in Tyre. He does not mention that Simon was a relative of John’s, only that he was an ‘important man’ married to the sister of the king of England. His claim that Simon was reluctant to get involved in the reform movement, until forced to by Henry, of all people, seems to be his take on Montfort’s initial refusal to take the oath to abide by the Provisions of Oxford. It provides an opening for the Templar to cite Simon’s well-known determination afterwards to keep his oath at all costs, and to force the king to do likewise.
While Simon is described as a ‘worthy knight, bold and courageous’, the Templar claims he allowed himself to be taken in by Edward’s ruse with the banners and that led to his defeat. Edward’s escape is also treated with legendary status, suggesting that the Templar learned of these events from Edward’s men after they arrived in the Holy Land on crusade in 1271. Clearly these stories were put into circulation in the hope of bolstering the image of the man who had come to chop heads. Indeed, Edward would escape an assassination attempt as Philip de Montfort had not only the year before.
Henry, as usual, comes off the worst of the three. There’s no indication of his many endearing qualities, just a king who favoured foreigners, went back on his word, and got himself captured. The Templar makes him sound like his father John when he says the king ‘rounded up the rebels’ upon his release and had some of them killed, the others he let starve to death. Supposedly this took place in Salisbury, but why there nobody knows.
By far the strangest episode related by the Templar deals with the murder of Henry of Almain. In his version of events, Simon is not killed at Evesham, only captured, and Edward asks Almain, his cousin like Guy’s, what he should do with him. Almain advises him to chop his head off, otherwise there will be no peace or an end to the conflict. To avoid the shame of killing him after he was captured, it should be made to look as if Simon fell in battle. So Edward waits until nightfall, chops Simon’s head off, and has his body flung onto the battlefield. Apparently the whole point here is to rationalise the killing of Henry of Almain. Perhaps the Templar did not know that he was in France at the time of Evesham, albeit contracting a marriage to the daughter of Simon’s mortal enemy, and that Guy killed him because he was the most convenient target yet available for the family’s vengeance. It is nevertheless interesting that Edward, despite whose counsel it was, should again be portrayed as sneaky. It would seem his well-deserved reputation for deviousness followed him wherever he went.
The Templar ends by describing Guy’s connections in Italy and how the pope absolved him of his deed. He mentions again that the two men were cousins, thus reiterating the intensely personal nature of the civil war. That was probably his intention all along in providing a narrative that he himself had to know was outlandish in some parts, like his statement that Henry of Almain was on his way to be crowned emperor of the Germans when Guy struck. Here was clearly an important saga unfolding in a part of the world only a handful of them might ever see, so it wasn’t necessarily important how it all happened, just that it happened at all.
However his account came to be embellished certainly takes nothing away from the Templar as an historian, particularly his eyewitness reports of the end of the crusader states. There may be, moreover, some place for his work yet in researching the years of the Montfortian struggle. Peter Edbury, whose translation of ‘The Templar of Tyre’ is used here, suggests it might be worthwhile in determining whether any of his erroneous claims turn up elsewhere. One has, at least, where the Templar says it was Simon, and not his son Henry de Montfort, who was out riding with Edward when he escaped. This same mistake was made by none other than Robert of Gloucester, whose particulars of the battle of Evesham are the ones most often cited today.
For more on Darren, you can visit his website www.simon2014.com. Amazon customers can find his book in the UK Here US customers please click Here