In September 2012 the English Democrats, tired of waiting for Parliament to the People of England their democratic right of Self Determination, called for a Parliament for England to be held in September 2013
On 21st September 2013 the English Democrats held that Parliament, the first for England since 1707.
I was Speaker of that Parliament and chose to make my opening remarks about Simon de Montfort for two reasons:
Simon is correctly identified as the originator of parliamentary government and there are a number of inaccuracies about his history. What follows is the talk I prepared.
Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester. 1208 – 1265
Our parliament meets today in the shadow of Simon de Montfort,.
His grandmother was the eldest daughter of the English nobleman Robert de Beaumont, 3rd Earl of Leicester. On Robert’s death in 1204 his mother inherited the lands and a claim to the Earldom but these were confiscated by King John in 1207. His great-aunt was the countess of Winchester. His father, Simon de Montfort, was the French lord of Montfort l’Amaury, now a suburb of Paris.
When his father died Simon agreed, in 1229, to let his elder brother have all the land in France whilst he would take all the titles and lands – those that King john had given to someone else – in England. Now freed of all commitments to the French King Simon was able to give his full attention to his English heritage.
The King on the throne of England was Henry III and it was to him Simon turned to get back his inheritance. It took him 10 years and he had to marry secretly Eleanor of England, daughter of King John and sister to the King, in 1238 – an act that would ordinarily have led to his execution.
To begin with Simon was a keen supporter of King Henry but gradually became disaffected by the King’s bad governance of England. Following an argument with the King Simon retired to France. Here the French nobles offered him the Regency of France – a position that would give him immense power and wealth but for the second time in his life Simon chose England and returned to make his peace with King Henry in 1253.
In the Parliament of 1254 called by the King, and the first where the freemen of the shires elected the knights attending that Parliament, de Montfort led the opposition to the King’s demand for a subsidy.
The parliament of 1258 saw Simon, with the Earl of Gloucester, lead the opposition that reestablished article 61 of the Magna Carta. This article made the King subject to the law and a committee of Barons was set up to police this. So, for the second time, establishing the fact that the sovereignty of the monarch was not absolute, nor indivisible, nor inalienable. In 1258 the committee consisted of 15 barons one of which was Simon. The parliament also allowed the King to call up to three parliaments a year to judge whether the committee of Barons had acted legally – so establishing the tripartite balance of power that we saw in the US constitution some 500 years later.
The King revoked his assent in 1261 and Simon left England. In 1263 he returned to England for the third time as the head of a revolt. In 1264 at the battle of Lewes he captured the King and in 1265 called his parliament.
Simon’s parliament did not introduce elected representatives, that was done by King Henry III in 1254. Its importance lies in the fact that it was the first Parliament called by someone other than the King and is the precedent for this parliament.
Simon paid a high price for his commitment to England and the cause of democracy. In the subsequent war both Simon and his eldest son were killed at the battle of Evesham and his body mutilated by Prince Edward’s army.
Simon is rightly venerated as an Englishman and one of the fathers of modern democracy. It is therefore disappointing to read that Chris Bryant MP, Shadow Home Office Minister incorrectly said in a speech to the IPPR :
“The very idea of inviting commoners to parliament came not from an Englishman 650 years ago, but from Simon de Montfort, who was French.”
Wrong on both counts. Perhaps we should leave the last word to Napoleon Bonaparte who described Simon as “one of the greatest of Englishmen”.
Note: The English Democrats Manifesto makes no mention of race or ethnicity. Englishness is defined there as a cultural identity. In other words Englishness does not depend on the colour of our skin or the blood that flows in our veins but depends solely on what is in our hearts and in our minds. Simon was by birth as English as I am and he showed over 35 years that England was in his heart and mind, eventually paying for that with his life.
Given this, were not the comments of Chris Bryant, quoted above, inherently racist, with a strong anti-English bias?