|Plaque on the site of Montfort's death|
Simon was born in 1160, succeeding his father as Baron de Montfort in 1181. In 1199, while taking part in a tournament, he heard Fulk of Neuilly preaching the 4th Crusade and decided to "take up the Cross" along with his brother, Guy (who had been on the 3rd Crusade already), and Count Theobald de Champagne.
Certain actions of the 4th Crusade were not to his liking, however. For one thing, on behalf of Venice and at the direction of Doge Enrico Dandolo, the Crusade was diverted to attack the city of Zara—a Christian city—on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. Montfort was opposed to this, and the "mismanagement" of the Crusade; he chose to break away from the main Crusading body. In the words of a contemporary chronicler who was with the 4th Crusade:
Then there befell an adventure which weighed heavily upon the host; for one of the great barons of the host, by name Simon of Montfort, had made private covenant with the King of Hungary, who was at enmity with those of the host, and went to him, abandoning the host. With him went Guy of Montfort his brother, [...], and the abbot of Vaux, who was a monk of the order of the Cistercians, and many others. And not long after another great lord of the host, called Enguerrand of Boves, joined the King of Hungary, together with Hugh, Enguerrand's brother, and such of the other people of their country as they could lead away.Geoffrey probably had personal reasons for declaring this a disgrace (some of the mismanagement of the Crusade can be laid squarely at his feet), but Montfort clearly could not countenance a Crusading army attacking Christians. Neither could Pope Innocent III, who excommunicated the attackers' actions.*
These left the host, as you have just heard; and this was a great misfortune to the host, and to such as left it a great disgrace. [Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade, Geoffrey de Villehardouin]
Montfort was a supporter of the new Dominican order, having known its founder Dominic Guzman, and a devout Christian. After returning to Europe, Montfort was instrumental in the Albigensian Crusade in 1209, a war against the Cathars. (The Cathars were considered heretics for some of their unorthodox ideas.) He was a good tactician and a ruthless leader, willing to carry out orders from the Church no matter how harsh, such as when in 1210 he had 140 Cathars burned alive at Château de Minerve, a Cathar stronghold.
For his efforts, King Philip Augustus granted him the lands of Raymond of Toulouse, who was in Aragon. The difficulty was that Toulouse did not want to be handed over to someone else, so Montfort needed to besiege Toulouse in order to take control. After nine months of siege, Montfort was killed by a rock to the head thrown by a type of catapult called a mangonel.
He died on 25 June 1218, 796 years ago today.
*We will look at the 4th Crusade a little more tomorrow.