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Simon de Montfort and parliamentary democracy

by by Gordon Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 3/4


To tell the story of Simon de Montfort and relate this to modern democracy.

Preparation and materials


  1. Ask if anyone knows what the Magna Carta is and why it is important for us today. Draw out that it was a document agreed by King John and the powerful barons of England in 1215. It set out fundamental human rights, including trial by jury, and established for the first time that the king had to obey the law of the land. Some of the clauses in the Magna Carta are still in force today.

  2. Say that you are going to fast-forward from 1215 to 1263, when King John’s son Henry III was on the throne.

    Show the ‘Stories from Parliament: Simon de Montfort‘ film or tell the story in your own words, including the following facts.

    – Henry wanted to win back land that he’d lost in France, so he taxed the people more and more heavily.
    – He even took hostages and starved some to death to get his way.
    – The barons were powerful landowners. They staged a revolt and elected a French nobleman who had married King Henry’s sister as their leader.
    – He was Simon de Montfort who, with his wife Lady Eleanor and the other barons, raised a great army.
    – The king’s troops were defeated and the king was captured at the battle of Lewes.
    – In order to keep the king in line in future and give the people a voice in government for the first time, Simon de Montfort set up a parliament with representatives from every corner of the country.

  3. Point out that Simon de Montfort was not like a modern democratic leader. He was instrumental in persecuting the Jews of England and his parliament included only a small number of men – no women – but it was a step towards democratic rule.

  4. Reflect on the twists and turns of the historical journey to democracy, underlining how the freedoms we enjoy today were brought about by promises that were broken, battles fought and warlord barons looking after their land and money. Through this messy process, an idea of government by the people for the people began to emerge and take hold.

    We sometimes take this way of living for granted, but it has been bought at great human cost over the years. Young or old, it is our democracy – and yours to shape in the future.

Time for reflection

Do you value democracy?

Can you imagine living in a country where the rulers are not held to account for their actions? Where protest is stifled and unfair rules are enforced?

Our democracy isn’t perfect, we’re still on a journey, so how can it be improved and what part can you play in the next steps forward?

Publication date: September 2014   (Vol.16 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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