MEMBERS of the Evesham Simon de Montfort Society have sprung to the defence of the Earl of Leicester, formally rebuked by his adopted city for anti-Semitism.

Leicester City Council formally agreed last week to renounce "the sentiments and prejudices" contained in a land charter de Montfort wrote in 1231, 34 years before his death in the Battle of Evesham.

"No Jew or Jewess in my time, or in the time of any of my heirs to the end of the world shall inhabit or remain, or obtain a residence in Leicester," he wrote.

Ross Willmott, leader of Leicester City Council, said renouncing the charter re-emphasised Leicester's high tolerance to all cultures, particularly in advance of National Holocaust Day.

Iris Pinkstone, chairman of the Evesham Simon de Montfort Society, said: "The indictment that Simon was anti-Semitic is a blot on his character - it is no secret.

"It is of interest however that Leicester City Council had no more pressing need than to revoke an obsolete charter, 800 years old.

"It could be a vote catcher - as indeed was Simon's persecution of the Jews in Leicester in 1231.

"This was an act which would have pleased many, especially those in debt to Jewish moneylenders.

"Medieval Christianity was particularly anti-Semitic and persecutions were carried out in France and other countries.


"Shakespeare depicts this in The Merchant of Venice. Simon's act then was considered an act of patronage from the ruler to his people, a vote winner and if not condemned by the Christian Church it was certainly condoned."

Mrs Pinkstone added: "I view it as well nigh impossible to project ourselves back into a period when anti-Semitism was widely practised.

"Simon was young, poor, a stranger in England, seeking to make his way in the world and he came from a family of crusaders, and so likewise was he.

"People acted in history in ways unacceptable to us today, and that includes anti-Semitic activities.

"The action is a blot on his character but to consider him as a 'thoroughly despicable character' is unjust when considered in the context of his whole life and death." The recent discovery of the 13th century manuscript, she added, showed Simon as a man of honour and courage.

De Montfort's greater actions began with the Provisions of Oxford 1258 which set out a scheme for the wholesale reform of the English polity by placing Royal Government under organised control for the first time.

"Thus Simon was instrumental in creating the beginnings of a more responsible form of government, of which, incidentally, Leicester City Council is a beneficiary," Mrs Pinkstone said.

l THE Buildings of Evesham Abbey is the title of a talk at an open meeting of Evesham Simon de Montfort Society, on February 1, at the Friends Meeting House, Cowl Street, Evesham, at 7.30pm.

Entry is £1 (members) and £1.50 (non-members).