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Simon de Montfort – Anti-Semitic?

Montfort University in Leicester is one of the foremost universities in England, named for Simon de Montfort for his creation of modern democracy. Never the less, a group of students have lobbied to change the name on the grounds that Simon hated Jews. They base this accusation on the fact that they lodged complaint against Montfort in the court of King Henry III, accusing him of driving them out of the city of Leicester.

While Simon was resident in Leicester and was recipient of the honour’s meager rents, he held no title, hence had no actual power. The riot that occurred and forced the Jews to leave their residence under the city’s ancient Roman arches was due to the high interest rate on loans that many of the families in Leicester owed the Jews.

Simon himself had just discovered the meaning of compound interest on a loan he had taken from the Jews and had refused to pay more than the small sum of interest beyond the amount of the loan. High interest rates became a permanent issue with Simon. His refusal to pay an exorbitant interest to the Bishop of Soisson in 1238 resulted in his excommunication.

As for Simon and the Jews, in 1264, when a London mob sacked the Jewery, Simon, en route to rescue his son who was captured by King Henry’s forces, turned his army back to rescue the Jews. Because of the danger posed by the London mob, he had to remain with his army in London until it was necessary to resume his war in the defense of Parliment’s existence.

Moving to meet the royalist forces, he took the mob with him to Rochester. There, the Londoners destroying the city’s water gate entered Rochester, stealing, committing rape and murder. On entering the city and seeing the chaos, Simon ordered his army to cease their attach on the Royalists and arrest every Londoner they found committing a crime. The next day, all day, he had all of his London prisoners beheaded.

When he moved on to battle at Lewes, he placed the remaining Londoners directly in front of the small castle where Prince Edward and his mercenaries were lodged. When battle began at dawn, Edward, seeing the Londoners, whom he hated, chased them for miles and slaughtered every one, thus ending the people who had attacked the Jews in London. Later when Simon was Earl of Leicester, he barred the Jews from the city at the demand of the people of Leicester.