Accused of treason by King Henry, in the Tower of London, Simon has been tortured, his legs crushed. King Louis has rescued him and brought him to France where he is recovering in Paris.
In a week, the chair and its bearers arrived again at the house on the Greve, and Simon attended the king’s private supper. There were no servants present, and two guests only: Louis’ favorite, the young Steward of France, Jean de Joinville, and Guy Folques, the priest who was Louis’ confessor. Folques had a stern and pinched, pale face, a bitter and high-handed manner.
The gentle king chose a harsh confessor as counterbalance to his own mildness. As for Joinville, Simon noted he looked somewhat like himself when he was young, with similar black hair, dark eyes and white skin, but he was smaller, more delicate of build and, where in temperament Simon was serious, Joinville was irrepressible with sly humor.
After seeing Simon seated in a chair plump with cushions, and pouring wine for everyone, a diluted goblet only for himself, Louis, to spare the invalid a lengthy visit that could tax his meager strength, at once opened the issue on his mind.
“We rescued you from England because we know the treaty funds we granted to King Henry, for troops to fight Manfred’s moors in Sicily, were spent instead to raise armed force against his own subjects and their parliament in England.”
“Of course,” Joinville cocked his head to one side and smiled, “we’re glad we stopped King Henry from reducing you to paste.”
Simon glanced at the young Steward warily. Louis, ignoring the remark, leaned against the hearth’s stone mantel, his broad, blond-fringed brow gathered to a frown. “What your reasons were for taking to England, on your own initiative, those first troops raised for Henry, will be matter to be heard at your trial.”
Joinville tittered explosively. Then covered his mouth and tried to appear serious.
“I advise you,” Louis drew Simon’s distracted attention back from the Steward, “write an account of your services to England. And, if you haven’t done so, put your will in writing. I must warn you, the trial may go against you.”
Simon had not taken the prospect of retrial lightly, but this was a harsh cautioning he had not expected. He took a deep drink of his wine. “I’ve committed no treason. I only kept my vows, given to the provisions made at Oxford for the stability of King Henry’s sovereignty.”
“You stole his army,” Joinville snickered.
“Imperium in imperio,” Folques’ rasping voice hissed. “You created a government within the government, and one especially obnoxious in the eyes of our Lord!”
“How is that?” Simon asked the priest, somewhat surprised. “Would you deny a means that thrice yearly brings to the Crown fresh word of the condition of the realm, down to the smallest hamlet?”
“It sounds reasonable to me.” Joinville struck a pose of contemplation until Louis glared at him. The King of France was regretting he had allowed the Steward to be present, though he kept him by his side much of the time.
Glad for any ally, Simon nodded to Joinville. “Louis is a wise and able king, with honest, learned counselors.” He tossed a sugared compliment in Folques’ direction without lifting his gaze from the Steward. “King Henry is surrounded by greedy kin and lacks a stable temperament.”
He held his cup for Louis to refill, then turned to Folques. “Do understand, it was for the king’s support that I committed myself to the Parliament devised by the Provisions. In keeping with my pledge to serve Henry as best as I’m able.”
“If that is not an outright lie, you delude yourself!” Folques retorted, his words more brash than any man of honor would tolerate.
Joinville stared. Simon’s hand upon his metal goblet strained white at the knuckles. Louis tensed and his expression warned his confessor to temporize.
“For what purpose I would not now judge,” Folques said in a milder tone, yet added, “but the principles to which you swore are opposed to the very nature of Our Lord’s Creation.”
“Oooo…” Joinville hooted as if a fatal blow in the argument was struck. He looked on Folques intently.
“Does a team of mice trammel a lion? Does the sparrow, brought to feed the eagle’s young, dictate to the eagle and her clutch?” Folques asked with a malicious smile.
“Ought a king to feed upon his people, as the eagle upon hapless birds?” Simon responded with an iron calm imposed in respect of Folques’ clerical robes. “Is not the king the first servant of his people, as I was taught in this very chamber by a wise and able queen?”
Joinville flapped his slender, white hands in delight.
Simon saw the favorite, though perhaps quite drunk, was on his side. Or maybe he was merely happy to see anyone contend with Folques. As for himself, he had been taking strong drink and valerian all day for his pain. Louis’ wine had soothed him to a state of greater calm than usual, and rather reckless insouciance.
“Thomas has shown…” Folques’ stern voice intoned, as if the name itself should annihilate all opposition.
“Ah, yes, the revered Aquinas,” Simon broke in on the priest. “He would deny souls’ equal value before God, and have every creature chained in endless file like slaves, each bracketed by his immediate superior and inferior. In Heaven, we usefully might be known just by a number.”
“It’s so comforting to be sure that those below me are inferior to me in every way, by the will of God.” Joinville raised his dark, arching brows and looked to Louis.
Simon was wondering if Louis kept this cheery and perceptive puppy by him in the place of a fool, to reduce to absurdity the ponderous convictions of his confessor. In any case the Steward clearly was no fool. Simon had disliked him when they first met, but was beginning to see him as the very balance of piquant good sense that Louis needed.
Gladdened by his wine and this unexpected sport, Simon challenged Folques again. “Where does Jesus ever speak of such a Divine Order? Does He not urge us all to call the Lord ‘father,’ even ‘Abba,’ as a child says, ‘Papah?’”
“Does He?” the Steward asked, his tone thrilled.
Folques crossed himself hastily. “You speak blasphemy! To so reduce the King of Heaven and Earth, the Creator of all that is, to a child’s lispings!”
Louis was standing by the hearth, his face turned from the firelight, his expression lost in shadow. There was a long, silent pause in which Folques looked to the king, expecting him to eject the outrageous blasphemer from their midst, or better, imprison him for heresy. But Louis did nothing.
Simon stretched, cat-like, in the cushioned chair, thoroughly enjoying pricking the royal confessor. He took another swallow of strong wine, and at his leisure launched into the tense silence. “Father Folques, I speak the words our Holy Book tells us Christ spoke. What our Lord Himself uttered can be no blasphemy. So it must be that Aquinas, and those who embrace him…” he took another long sip of his wine, and smiled genially on the livid priest, “…contradict our Lord’s lessons with heresies.”
“The Bible, in the hands of ignorance, is a dangerous tool! See where it’s brought you!” Folques blustered like a bursting pod, scattering a white fluff of saliva.
“The Earl Montfort is not yet judged.” Louis spoke at last into the contretemps.
Simon looked to Louis and said in an earnest, sober tone, “I’ll prove my innocence. If it can be proved to you against the doctrines of this priest.”
Louis shook his head. “I won’t be the judge of your trial, it would offend King Henry. Queen Margaret is to be your judge.”
Simon nodded. Louis was being very politic. And his tactic might be kind, depending upon how great an influence Folques had with Louis’ gentle wife. “Your priest holds views quite different from those your noble mother held,” he ventured.
But Louis at last defended his confessor. “Scholarly studies advance. It’s ever been my effort to advance with them.” It was his warning that Folques was firmly in his trust…
[In the safety of Paris, four young English lordlings try to persuade Simon to return to England where he is in mortal danger from King Henry.]
“All England, excepting a few old forsworn cowards, is ready to rise. Everything is changed! We’re meeting at Oxford to plan our campaign. We beg you to come as our leader!”
Simon studied the faces of the four desperate young lordlings, then he said in a low voice, reluctantly, “I will go. But to do no more than see the nature of this change you claim.”
“The Lord’s guidance be with you,” Warenne rose from the window seat and knelt, kissing the hem of Simon’s red-crossed robe. The others knelt and did the same.
Embarrassed, Simon raised them up. “Make ready for me as you will. I’ll judge for myself what can and what cannot be done.”
That night he told the countess of his decision to return to England one more time.
Eleanor’s face was hard with anger. “It is a madman who, being burnt, puts his hand into the fire again and again.”
“I’ve hoped to do something of true worth,” he said gently.
Two months later, at the end of April the town of Oxford was alive with preparations for what seemed a very large convening of Dominicans. But the inns’ stable yards were not filled with the mules and jennets of clerics. In the stalls stood destriers.
Black-cloaked, hooded, faceless figures were in the streets in multitude, gathering in groups, talking animatedly, moving with the self-conscious stealth of conspirators. Students and shopkeepers welcomed the strange monks. There was an air of excitement, of a welling tide brimming a seawall about to burst.
Southward, on the coast, beneath the castle of the honour of Warenne at Pevensey harbor, a ship came in at nightfall and was met by a small band of heavily armed, black-hooded men.
The Earl of Leicester stepped ashore. Wrapped in an enveloping black, hooded cloak, with little sign of his limp he strode across the quay to where the armed guard held a powerful and swift horse for him. His son Guy followed, also hooded in black.
“Heaven keep you, father,” the man holding the horse murmured as he offered the stirrup.
The earl pressed his son Simon’s hand. “May the Lord guide us all,” he said low. He mounted and looked among the other cowled figures waiting in the dark. “Is my son Henry here?”
“Yes, father,” the familiar, gentle voice of his eldest son answered from beneath a hood. “And John de Warenne, John Giffard and Roger Clifford.”
Simon acknowledged his escort, then they all turned their mounts and took the road north, spurring the fresh coursers to a gallop.
The night was spellbound. Word of Leicester’s coming had been whispered across the land. Everywhere along his route faces peered from cottage windows. Field gates barring short-cut paths were opened by hurrying, dim figures. A ferry barge lay ready. Changes of mounts were made quickly and several times. Lights burned in the churches. Prayers were whispered.
The songs of the great Earl were sung. During the long passage from the coast, the faith the common folk had spun round the name of Simon de Montfort enwrapped the man himself. The leader who would vanquish the oppressor had returned at last. He was moving through the country and the country rose to new, heightened, dangerous spirit as he passed. The Angel of the New Era, bidden by the common man to reap, was now amongst his people.
When dawn broke, the riders rested, hidden from daylight at a farm near Guildford. They went on as darkness closed, blackcloaked figures hurtling through the night.
Just after dawn of the second day of travel, the earl and his guard reached the Dominican refectory at Oxford. It was here, in this selfsame hall that the Provisions and Parliament had been born. Here that Simon had rescued the fruit of the lords’ and clerics’ work, inscribed only on erasable wax tablets. Led by the Earl Richard de Clare, all the lords, with the single exception of Simon, had abandoned everything for unwise pursuit of the Lusignan, and had found poisoning and death as they besieged the king’s half-brothers at Winchester.
It was here, working alone but for a few clerics, in the devastating absence of the lords, that Simon had the Provisions transcribed, published and sent to every shire. The Provisions required representatives to be elected by the common folk and sent to meet with the lords and newly chosen Councilors in a parliament with powers to control the king.
It was the first time such a government was seen on earth, and it was Simon, Earl of Leicester, who made it a reality.
And he protected the infant government, seizing and provisioning the king’s castles and England’s ports to resist the foreign armies Henry tried to bring. Repeatedly armies were raised to defeat the Provisions and, facing the Earl’s precautions, were forced to disband. Only when Simon resigned and left England, disgusted at the refusal of the barons to extend their new won rights to commoners, did King Henry find the means to destroy the new government, and then only by diverting the army Louis gave him to fight Saracens in Sicily. Even that last time, Simon did what he could to divert the threat and warn the Parliament: for which he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and tortured, and had withstood trial for treason.
For Simon, Oxford and the cause of the Provisions reeked of past achievements betrayed and abandoned: yet still its hooks were embedded in his soul.
On this early morning the Dominican refectory was filled with black-cloaked men who had been waiting through the night. They spoke to one another in hushed, expectant tones, the tension far too palpable for any to have slept.
In the tall rafters, where the lords’ flags, in those momentous days of 1258, had hung in vivid close-packed files, the first pale yellow sunbeams were stretching through an emptiness dotted with bright motes of dust, as if this morning were no different from any other but for the mass of murmuring black hoods below.
There was a clattering of hooves on the paving outside. All speaking in the refectory ceased. The air itself seemed held in a long, tense pause. The spell began to spin.
Black-hooded men entered, making their way among the black figures who parted to let them pass then closed again, engulfing them, black hoods among black, indistinguishable save by the dust of their travel.
As the new arrivals moved through, several in their path pulled back their hoods and bared their faces: Richard de Gray, the Provisions’ castellan of Dover; Gilbert de Clare; Hugh Despensar; the Earls Robert de Vere of Oxford and John de Lacey of Lincoln; Nicholas Seagrave Simon’s own steward-general with his son and liege knights of Leicester, men Simon had led to Palestine so many years ago.
No one spoke a word.
As the travelers entered, a door at the front of the room, leading to the abbot’s chambers, opened. Through it poured a stream of mitered bishops in their sacred robes. Ten bishops: of Worcester, London, Lincoln, Bath, Coventry, Chichester, Salisbury, Chester, Exeter and Durham. They ranged in a half circle at the fore. The dusty figures made their way to them and the foremost figure knelt.
The Bishop of London, drawing the kneeling man’s hood back, placed his hand upon the head of tousled black, gray-streaked hair.
“May the Grace of God be upon you, Simon Montfort, Earl of Leicester. And may He who has shaped the heavens and the earth fill you with strength.” The bishop made the sign of the Cross in blessing.
Simon arose, then turned and faced the assembly. Letting his black cloak fall from his shoulders, he stood before them in the white robe of a crusader, the red cross blazoned on his chest. “I come to you,” his voice resounded down the utter silence of the hall, “as you see… signed with the Holy Cross for battle in the Holy Land.”
There was a sound, a tumult in the hall, cries erupted like a cataract breaking its impounding and shaking the earth as it gushed. On and on the shouting rose, higher and louder, the walls and the arched ceiling ringing till the noise was deafening. And it did not subside.
At the force he saw before him, Simon stood astounded. He shut his eyes and the rushing din flooded over him. He breathed it. It raised him like a roaring incoming tide, buoying him in its swell. He brought his hands up.
Miraculously, the room fell quiet at his gesture, a vast, living force, calmed or roused at his voice and touch. He scanned the mass of black dotted with faces turned toward him, faces featureless to his nearsighted eyes, yet whose very breath was held and stilled, waiting for him to speak.
His voice caught in his throat, hardly above a whisper at first. “I’ve seen the bad faith of the English, and I’ve turned my back on it to fight and die in Palestine.”
Had he been audible there would have been bellowing protest. Only now his voice grew, filled the room, as if fed on the straining, listening expectation of the multitude.
“But I’ll as willingly die fighting bad Christians here! For the freedom of the Holy Church… and England!”
He spread out his hands, as before him the black sea flecked with faces sent forth a roar, a cheer, sustained, reaching like the blast of a joyful chord from a massive pipe organ played by his touch and magnified.
He raised his hands for silence again, and received it. “Let us swear to the Provisions! And swear, as we did here five years ago, to count all those who will not keep them, as our mortal enemies!”
The words resounded in that room where they first were offered by the Earl de Clare. They were met by a ringing, echo-doubling cheer. The text was known to all, the response only was needed. Simon raised his right hand high in pledge. “Upon the head of God I do so swear!”
At his gesture, a single massive voice of the crowd replied, reverberating downward through the floor into the very earth, and upward through the rafters and high gables to the sky. “Upon the Head of God we do so swear!”
In his grip Simon felt a force, a power such as he had never known. Had Ambrose and the friars spoken truly? Was this indeed what the Lord meant him to do? Here was a tool stronger than any he had ever thought to touch. He had no notion of how far it reached beyond the refectory’s walls, beyond Oxford, to England’s very borders and shores. But he did not doubt that he knew how to use it.