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Parliament's birthday


Evesham, where Montfort and the bachelor knights died defending parliament. Are we too cynical to appreciate their sacrifice?

The kind of man who will fight a battle with a broken leg, and win it, Simon de Montfort made a daring break with history and with Henry III. He called for the first elected English parliament.

Montfort's move was a political calculation. It was also a defence of honest sheriffs and the right to have a voice in how the government spent the people's money, which Henry III had promised. When Henry III broke his pledge, Montfort, the bachelor knights, and three thousand Londoners confronted him at Lewes, and captured him on May 14th 1264.

In December 1264 Montfort asked shires and towns to send two elected representatives to a parliament. For the first time, men across England voted in parliamentary elections. (In the counties they had to meet a 40-shilling property qualification. In the towns there were different voting requirements.)

On January 20th 1265, representatives of the shires and towns joined archbishops, bishops, earls and knights in Westminster. They confirmed and upheld the reforms. More specifically they told Henry they wouldn't pay for his foreign wars.

Henry's son, Prince Edward, fought back and killed Montfort and many bachelor knights in battle at Evesham on August 4th 1265. But the idea of parliament survived. Ten years later, in 1275, Edward I, the killer of Montfort, was forced to confirm the role of Parliament.

The son of a Frenchman, the grandson of an Englishwoman, Montfort has received some negative reviews, but not from the bachelor knights who fought with him to defend reform. Montfort's last recorded words: "They have our bodies. God has our souls."

Could we elect a Parliament today worthy of their sacrifice?

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