4 August 1265: Simon de Montfort is killed at the battle of Evesham

The former de facto ruler of England and father of parliamentary democracy meets a grisly end


By the summer of 1265, Simon de Montfort’s luck was running out. Only a few months earlier, the French-born Earl of Leicester had effectively been ruler of England. Indeed, by calling his Great Parliament at the beginning of the year, de Montfort had unwittingly secured his reputation as one of the founders of parliamentary democracy, which would have astonished contemporaries who knew his greed, ruthlessness and brutality.

As battle was joined on 4 August, however, de Montfort knew the end was near. Many of his baronial allies had defected to his adversary, Henry III, while his son Simon’s troops were besieged at Kenilworth. Trapped in a corner of the river Avon, near Evesham, de Montfort was now facing a much larger army led by Henry’s son, the future Edward I. When his Welsh allies deserted, it was all over. The royal army closed in on de Montfort’s remaining forces with terrible savagery.

The first major casualty was de Montfort’s son Henry. When the earl heard the news, he supposedly remarked: “Then it is time to die.” Cornered at last by Edward’s men, he was stabbed in the neck by a lance, at which he reportedly, but rather implausibly, said: “Thank God.”

As de Montfort fell to the ground, his enemies closed in, mutilating his dying body. His hands were cut off and sent as gifts to his leading opponents. As for
his severed head, decorated with his butchered testicles, it was claimed by royalist commander Roger Mortimer, who had struck the fatal blow. Mortimer duly sent it to his wife Maud as a present. Sadly, history does not record what she made of such a generous gift. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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