12 May 2016

The Medieval Man and the Post-Truth Elections

As the election cycle gets crazier, I’ve been thinking a lot about Simon de Montford.

Simon de Montford memorial at Haymarket
Clock Tower, Leicester
Hasn’t everyone?

Simon, Earl of Leicester (yes, the English city that recently won the UK Premier League championship), was a charismatic malcontent who almost became king—and who inspired Alain, my romantic hero/spy from Art of Love

Born in 1208, Simon was the third of four sons and couldn’t expect an inheritance. The medieval world could be as harsh to younger sons as it was to women, and he knew he would have to make his own success.

And he did.

The death of two brothers and an agreement with the third brought him to England on the thin hope he could win back the Leicester lands, which had been given to Ranulf of Chester (a fascinating character in his own right).

He made friends with the king, always a good move, but was not what anyone would call a suck-up. He married the king’s widowed sister in secret (probably with the king’s grudging permission after he had already seduced her), identified early with reform movements (the Provisions of Oxford) that increased baronial power at the king’s expense, and eventually led an armed rebellion against Henry III.

Although he is called the father of the House of Commons, Simon may or may not have been the populist history proclaimed him. He believed royal power needed to be checked—and sometimes opposed—by he and his peers but that’s not the same as giving political voice to serfs and merchants (and isn’t that the heart of this coming election? The need for us “peasants” to have more of a voice in national decisions.)

The hero of ART OF LOVE precedes Simon by almost a century, but carries many of his ideals. Also a younger son (fourth of four), Alain is determined to chart his own path to power and security through service to the king. At the same time, he says gender and birth order—not God—makes a king, a treasonous and heretical notion in the 12th century.

But the first step to limiting a king’s power is to challenge the notion of divine right. And again, isn’t the first step to limiting the power of our government the challenge to the idea that they know best?