||Wake Robin Press
||March 16, 2011
When King Henry grants his Crown to the Pope to gain the Crown of Sicily for his son Edmund, the lords of England rebel and frame a democratic constitution: The Provisions of Oxford. But it is Simon de Montfort who converts that scribbling on wax tablets into a functioning government of the people's elected representatives -- who hold the king in thrall.
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Simon de Montfort
Simn de Montfort
Happy in his appointment as King Henry's ambassador to France, when Prince Edward commits an atrocity Simon is wrenched from his comfortable life in his friend King Louis's court. Edward has been sent with his teenage friends, including Siimon's sons Henry and Simon, to face certain death in Wales by the swords and arrows of Llewelyn's army.
Bringing an force of mercenaries to Edward's beseiged little castle, Simon rescues the boys. But before he can return to France he becomes entangled in the rising rebellion of the barons of England against King Henry's atrocious misrule.
At Oxford Simon joins with his fellow earls, lords and clergy in composing a document that outlines a Parliament of lords and of elected representatives of the common people.
This Parliament, unlike any other government before -- but the model for all future democracies -- will meet at regular times and appoint a Council that oversees the King's actions, a Justiciar who will regulate the courts of law and a Chancellor, who will keep the royal seal so that only what the Parliament and Council decide will be published as royal proclamation and law.
When the lords abandon their work to pursue the king's brothers whom they fear mean to bring an army against them, only Simon is left to rescue the wax tablets on which the revolutionary Provisions of Oxford are scratched.
By replacing all the King's strategic functionaries with supporters of the Provisions, Simon siezes control of England, and makes the first modern democracy a reality.
At first King Henry must acquiesce. But he never ceases to connive to overturn the new government, though he's sworn to uphold it. And factions among the barons eye Simon's power with perilous jealously.
Chapter One, page 1:
"Taxes on everything we own! Taxes on every penny we gain! Taxes on everything we may ever hope to have! Taxes on what our children might have had! At every turn another tax!" Humphrey de Bohun stood quaking with anger.
"The army swallows money as if it were water!" Richard de Grey shouted.
"We hear reports the war is over. Still it's money for the war!" Hugh DeSpenser protested.
The gabled hall was crowded with angry men,lords in damask robes in bouquet hues and trimmed with fur, clerics in black or white or in Franciscan brown. The stone walls with their murals of the Battle of Antioch in ten colors, now fading, reverberated in the barrage of shouting.
Bishops and abbots at the forefront glowered and grumbled to each other. Amid the sturdy square columns, further back, earls and lordly tenants of the King were at the point of violence.At the doors the royal bailiffs in their red and gold tabards looked nervously about. They were far outnumbered.
In this riveting third volume of Ashe’s historical fiction, Simon de Montfort returns to England where he becomes embroiled in revolution against the king.
The deep but ultimately doomed filial love between Simon and Edward, heir to the throne — and, in Ashe’s telling, Simon’s illegitimate son — is poignantly developed. When the beautiful but vicious Edward orders an acolyte to prove his loyalty by gouging out the eyes of a peasant child, the whole kingdom is appalled. But Simon goes to Edward’s aid, admonishes him and then forgives him.
England is now completely bankrupt, but Henry egregiously sets out on a Grand Progress through France, accompanied by an entourage swagged with gold and ivory. Ashe’s detailing of the procession is not only a forensic paean to foppery but a schadenfreuden build-up to a bonfire of vanities.
Henry feels like a cheap Christmas tree when he is met by King Louis of France dressed in drab penitential robes with a tiny cross as the only embroidery. Despite their sartorial differences, a personal chemistry kindles between the two monarchs, but Simon, caught between a changeling Henry and an insecure Louis, continues to be a nowhere man.
It’s in France that he hears the second prophecy of parliament from an old Dominican monk, that in the New Age “our leaders will be chosen as monks choose their abbots. By election.”
As famine and injustice ravage England and Henry foolishly pledges the Crown to the Pope so that he can have Sicily for his hunchback son Edmund, the barons finally revolt with Simon at the helm. Henry is defanged, the Magna Carta re-fanged and the Provisions of Oxford established.
But unlike the idealistic Simon, the barons don’t want their unlettered tenants to be empowered. The poor still love St. Simon, but the barons now loathe him. He is arrested and sent to the Tower.
As in the last two volumes, Ashe lards her tale with some informed guesswork and some wild speculation. The ghastly torture scene in the Tower with Henry III vomiting at the savagery is perfervid fantasy, but it works because it’s grafted onto a factual skeleton.
An expertly told tale in which the star role is played by democracy, a poisoned chalice to be won only at the cost of treason.
Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 2011
The Midwest Book Review
Peace is often well earned, but never kept for long. "Montfort the Revolutionary 1253 to 1260" follows Simon, Earl of Leicester, who takes his permanent ambassador to France position hoping for a return to normalcy. But as the royal family commits atrocity, Simon must rush into the political fray again to forge something sensible among the monarchy of England once more, turning to the Provisions of Oxford.
"Montfort" is a fine pick for those who enjoy historical thrillers set in the times of royalty.
Katherine Ashe is adept at weaving a tale that brings the reader into the distant past -- realistically. Her story of Simon de Montfort is a rare find. I highly recommend it.
D. Joseph Jacques, author, Chivalry Now
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