The Song of Simon de Montfort
Sophie Therese Ambler
‘Alive with human detail and acute political judgement, this book marks the arrival of a formidably gifted historian.’ – Dan Jones, author of The Plantagenets and The Templars
It was around half-past eight in the morning, with summer rainclouds weighing heavy in the sky, that Simon de Montfort decided to die. It was 4 August 1265 and he was about to face the royal army in the final battle of a quarrel that had raged between them for years. Outnumbered, outmanoeuvred and certain to lose, Simon chose to fight, knowing that he could not possibly win the day.
The Song of Simon de Montfort is the story of this extraordinary man: heir to a great warrior, devoted husband and father, fearless crusader knight and charismatic leader. It is the story of a man whose passion for good governance was so fierce that, in 1258, frustrated by the King’s refusal to take the advice of his nobles and the increasing injustice meted out to his subjects, he marched on Henry III’s hall at Westminster and seized the reins of power.
Montfort established a council to rule in the King’s name, overturning the social order in a way that would not be seen again until the rule of Oliver Cromwell in the seventeenth century. Having defeated the King at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, Montfort and his revolutionary council ruled England for some fifteen months, until the enmity between the two sides exploded on that August day in 1265. When the fighting was over, Montfort and a host of his followers had been cut down on the battlefield, in an outpouring of noble blood that marked the end of chivalry in England as it had existed since the Norman Conquest.
Drawing on an abundance of sources that allow us to trace Montfort’s actions and personality in a depth not possible for earlier periods in medieval history, Sophie Therese Ambler tells his story with a clarity that reveals all of the excitement, chaos and human tragedy of England’s first revolution.
For such a pivotal figure in English history, Simon de Montfort's remarkable story is one that has been sadly neglected by mainstream history books. Ambler's riveting volume redresses the balance brilliantly, recounting the electrifying build-up to the nation's first revolutionary movement and the emergence of a nascent Parliament with page-turning skill. -- Dan Jones * Waterstones Top History Books of 2019 * Gripping, detailed, and ingenious, The Song of Simon de Montfort is a compelling and thrilling story of England's very first revolution. With her beautiful prose, Sophie Ambler successfully crosses the gap between narrative and academic history and brings Simon de Montfort vividly to life -- Dr Estelle Paranque, author of Elizabeth I of England Through Valois Eyes Sophie Therese Ambler is a dazzlingly talented historian and in her debut biography offers a bold and brilliantly written reassessment of one of (British) history's most misunderstood figures - the reformer, rebel and scourge of the Plantagenets, Simon de Montfort. Alive with human detail and acute political judgement, this book marks the arrival of a formidably gifted historian. -- Dan Jones A dramatic story, told here with clarity and insight * History Revealed * Riveting . . . a vivid psychological portrait of the charismatic knight through small but enlightening details of character . . . The Song of Simon de Montfort is an engaging foray from a talented historian into one of the most important but least understood eras in English history. -- Emma J. Wells * TLS * Amid the valley of dry bones, Ambler breathes life into sources that might otherwise seem arid or dull. Her narrative is expertly paced. Whenever the story threatens to sag or falter, she skips over the drier deserts of fact, moving us from the routine to the remarkable . . . From Evesham to the killing fields of the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses, Simon de Montfort's chief legacy was slaughter and woe. This is, therefore, a song more of lament than of triumph. It is a song that Sophie Therese Ambler sings supremely well. -- Nicholas Vincent * Literary Review * Sophie Therese Ambler's engaging new biography will enthral and horrify in equal measure ... The Song of Simon de Montfort is a well-researched, elegantly written and lively portrait of a problematic figure. Sunday Times * Sunday Times * It's hard to get into the heads of people who lived 800 years ago. This book goes further than you might think possible, by a clever use of letters, legal documents and chronicles; at times, we really can hear this man speak . . . This is a remarkable book: beautifully presented (with good maps and illustrations), finely written and based on a deep, scholarly knowledge of the sources. It's rare to find a story and a storyteller so well matched. -- Noel Malcolm * Sunday Telegraph * This is an astonishingly assured debut by an extremely talented young historian. Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, it traces the remarkable life of a military and political giant of the medieval period who has never been more convincingly portrayed -- Saul David * Daily Telegraph * One of the finest medieval biographies of recent years. -- Gareth Russell * The Times *
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