The Liber miraculorum of Simon de Montfort: Contested sanctity and contesting authority in late thirteenth-century England
By John E. St.Lawrence
PhD Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 2005
Abstract: Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, led a parliamentary reform movement and rebelled against Henry III of England beginning in 1258. After the earl was killed at the battle of Evesham, August 4, 1265, he became the center of a saint’s cult that persisted into the next century despite both royal and papal prohibition. A collection of miracle stories attributed to him, called a Liber miraculorum, shows how the continuing rebellion’s supporters managed covertly to transmit stories about the new St. Simon to the keepers of his shrine. This information also reveals who these supporters were, why they turned to an illicit saint for help, and how the priorities of this covert cult often distort the appearance of these figures in Simon de Montfort’s Liber miraculorum.
The first two chapters of my dissertation locate Simon de Montfort in a long line of saintly royal opponents, dominated by bishops, stretching back to Thomas Becket. As with the earl’s contemporary, Louis IX of France, de Montfort’s role as a prominent crusader contributed both to his political reforms in life and his aura of sanctity after death, despite his status as a layman. The third and fourth chapters analyze the Liber miraculorum using quantitative and prosopographical methods, as well as methods previously used in the history of medieval business to uncover networks of intermediaries. This permits a reconstruction of the process of writing the miracle text, the role of oral interactions, and the ways in which these processes adapted to changing circumstances.
In the last two chapters, contemporary legal records are used to identify figures in the miracle text and show that, since Simon’s sainthood was a product of political upheaval, shifts within his own political faction weakened his cult. A decline in rebel support, which was often independent of official suppression, marked the decline of Simon’s cult, despite some renewed interest in the 1270s and in the fourteenth century. Moreover, the decline in the cult registered differently among clerical and lay adherents who appear in the Liber miraculorum, as the laymen among the rebels made a separate peace with the king.