The early life of Simon de Montfort, French knight, Earl of Leicester, founder of England's Parliament. Companion of Saint Louis, exiled by King Henry III of England, he rose to conquer England, establish elections by the common man, and was hailed as the Angel of the Apocalypse.
The first of four volumes in the Montfort series, Montfort the Early Years 1229 to 1243, opens with Simon's arrival in England. The orphaned son of a celebrated French crusader, he has grown up in the shelter of the court of the child King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis.)
Unprepared for the raucus bachelor court of young King Henry III, in his effort to gain his family's lost title of Earl of Leicester he manages to become the king's best friend -- and falls in love with the king's sister Eleanor, who is a nun.
From Westminster to Rome, to hisown grand castle of Kenilworth, to sudden exile and crusade to Jerusalem, and from there to battefields in France, Simon's career soars to the highest peaks that a man not born a king can reach, then plunges to dead ends and despair, only to be lofted again to unimaginable honors. This chaotic career is history, not fiction.
In the second volume, Montfort The Viceroy 1243 to 1253 Simon learns the skills that later enable him to conquer England.
The third volume, Montfort The Revolutionary 1253 to 1260, traces Simon's conversion from royalist to participant in the framing of The Provisons of Oxford: the constitution for an elected parliament with power over the king. Then he single-handedly establishes the new government as a functioning reality.
In volume four, Montfort The Angel with the Sword 1260 to 1265, Simon, tortured and narrowly rescued by King Louis from death for treason, returns to England to reestablish the Parliament King Henry has suppressed. Hailed as the Angle of the Apocalypse, bringing in a new Millennium,he is finally killed in battle, and the mere speaking of his name is made the hanging crime of treason. But the Parliament he created has become the model for elective government in all parts of our world that claim democracy.
He was tall and slender, at that time in life when the body in a sudden rush to adult height becomes long limbed and angular. His hair was dark, his skin was fair, but his eyes had the stern frown of acute nearsightedness. He stood on the quay at Dover peering for his baggage among the cargo tossed by the ship's crew to the landing. Mist and sheaves of sleety rain swept across the harbor, blending the gray air into the cold, slate-colored sea. It was February of the year 1229.
Historical Novel Society
When reading through the ample “historical context” notes that follow each volume of Katherine Ashe’s utterly remarkable tetralogy of novels based on the life of 13th-century warrior-statesman Simon de Montfort, one thing becomes obvious: she could easily have produced the most authoritative English-language biography of her subject ever written. She is consummately familiar with every detail of Montfort’s life: his scandalous marriage, his troubled relationship with King Henry III, his summoning of the first elected parliament; and yet she’s chosen to present that life in four historical novels rather than in a long, footnoted monograph. Surely she herself gives us the reason when, in one of her notes, she mentions that “actual events can be far more odd than one would write in fiction.” These novels are full of actual events—the research is resoundingly complete—but they brim with life as well, as they follow Simon and his family and his beloved from France to England and back; as Simon becomes first close friend and then suspected enemy of King Henry, who becomes a person who can confirm Simon as Earl of Leicester with one hand and hound him out of the country with the other. These are wonderfully assured novels, on every page of which Ashe’s dramatic sense brings the era to vibrant life in a way no history could. A massive achievement, highly recommended. (soft cover:$12.99, $12.99, $17.99, and $19.99, ebooks: $2.99, $2.99. $2.99 and $3.99)
Ashe presents a jousting first installment of a four-volume fiction on the deeply contentious founder of parliament, Simon de Montfort.
Historical novels allow writers to braid fact with fantasy, and Ashe’s work is a smooth result of this flexible license. This first volume deals with Simon’s meteoric rise, fall and rise again in the intrigue-ridden Plantagenet Court, where he starts out as an unpopular foreigner from France and grows to be the king’s go-to man. Ashe conjures up a fanatically religious but tormented youngster who marries King Henry III’s nun sister, cuckolds the king, is banished from England and joins the Crusades. While his warts, such as the tyrannical violence visited upon Jewish money-lenders, are not elided, Ashe clearly empathizes with her hot-headed knight and plays up his positives, be it his dexterity on the battlefield, his loyalty to Henry (deftly portrayed as a weak, willful sapling on whom Simon refuses to spy for Louis of France) or the manner in which he tries to scour his sexual guilt by lashing himself with a nail. If the novel is thoroughly researched as Ashe’s is—from descriptions of medieval latrines and houseboys called “Garbage” to the decadence of Europe’s emperors—it is all the more thoroughly imagined. The slightly salacious plotting that makes Simon into the queen’s stormy lover and thereby biological father of Edward, heir to the seemingly impotent Henry III, is worthy of Hollywood, but Ashe, a playwright and screenplay writer, presents the affair persuasively, allowing the reader’s inner-romantic to be seduced. A riveting prophecy by Simon’s archbishop-mentor that Simon and his firstborn will die on the same day and by the same hurt, and the veiled announcement by Henry that he wishes Edward to be brought up by Simon “as his own son” so that he can be schooled in the art of warfare, inject a frisson into the narrative that make the second installation worth waiting for.
Ashe's richly imagined details draw the reader into the splendors of 13th century English and French court life. Her meticulously researched portrait tells the story of Montfort's life and times, his loves, his military prowess, and the machinations of his enemies and followers alike.
Clara Pierre, author, Der Gesang des Troubadours
In a tale crammed with romance, deceit, rampant ambition, failures and triumphs galore, readers will get all they hoped for in this deeply researched and well -told historical narrative.
Jane Geniesse, author, Passionate Nomand