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The Montfort Lion

Chartres window of Simon de Montfort’s father
Chartres window of Simon de Montfort’s father

The family of Montfort had as their device a European lion rampant. Unlike the African lion, it has no mane; it’s similar to the American cougar. The Montfort colors were red and white, in the language of heraldry, gules and argent. Younger members of the family “differenced” their heraldry to distinguish themselves. The lion’s raised tail may be forked into two tails , “queue fourche” and the colors vary.

The arms of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, have been confused with those of his father since the 14th century. Earl Simon had a red lion on a white ground, his father, with the same name, had a white lion on red. The Earl’s heraldry is a lion rampant queue fourche, gules on argent.

The red lion on white, of Simon the Earl of Leicester, appears twice in the Chronica Majora: once in the illustration of an eye witness description of Montfort’s death at Evesham and once on a page depicting the arms of most of England’s great lords. 

Monastic chronicles were kept private, even secret, so that there could be no interference with the freedom of the chroniclers. Hence, the Chronica Majora was essentially unavailable until it was acquired by the British Library.

The Chronica is chiefly the work of Brother Matthew Paris of Saint Albans, the most highly regarded of the chroniclers of England in the 13th century. Saint Albans was a principal rest stop on the way to London from either Kenilworth or Leicester. Brother Matthew knew the Earl Montfort well, as attested by numerous personal accounts that could only have been told him by the Earl himself and a letter written to Simon by his nephew John from Germany. (This letter is the source of the term “Golden Horde” to describe the wave of invaders from the Orient, then sweeping eastern Europe.) 

Confusion arises because the only readily visible example of a “Simon de Montfort” arms was the rondel window at Chartres. There is no possibility that the window is intended to commemorate Simon the Earl  as he died excommunicate. And funding for Chartres’ windows was raised when Simon the future earl was still young and his father was enjoying a martyr’s fame in France.

Simon’s father was a hero of crusade in Palestine and leader of the Albigensian Crusade against that “heretical” movement in France. Pope Innocent III offered all the advantages of crusade in Palestine to northern French knights who need only ride south and suppress the “heretics.” The result was an utterly disordered flood of northern knights into the south of France and the burning of 6,000 Albigensians who had taken refuge in the church at Bezier. The slaughter was looked upon as so shameful that no one wanted to accept the responsibility of bringing the invading knights to order. Eventually, Simon de Montfort, the lord of Montfort l’Amaury in Normandy and the earl’s father, took on the leadership. He was accepted by the disorderly knights because of his reputation in Palestine; he had military triumphs for several years until was killed by a stone lobbed by a mangonel from the wall of Toulouse. The Vatican regarded him a martyr, the Church’s militant arm on a par with Saint Dominic who was sent to correct the Albigensians’ errors in theology.  It certainly is the Earl’s father whose image appears in Chartres.

In Ashe’s books it is the red lion on white that is used for the Earl’s heraldry. Nevertheless, it’s the father’s white lion on red that still is chiefly used to depict the arms of Montfort the Earl of Leicester and founder of Parliament.