One of the huge benefits of writing historical fiction is all the tangential little research excursions. In my upcoming release, Her Castilian Heart, I needed a location for dire deeds. I knew roughly what I wanted—an abandoned, ruined castle—but in 1289, not all that many medieval castles were abandoned or ruined as they were still very much in use.
I sighed and gave up on some of my expectations on location, concentrating instead on finding something close to Henley in Arden, as that is where my characters are when things start to go very, very wrong.
I googled Henley. I pulled up images from the surroundings, and lo and behold, there was a very ruined castle. Well: more of a grass-covered mound, but still.
“Calm down,” I told myself. “It may have been anything but ruined back then.”
Armed with the name, Beaudesert Castle, I started digging. And my, was I thrilled when I discovered this particular castle had been slighted in the aftermath of the civil war in England that ended with Simon de Montfort’s defeat at Evesham in 1265. I, dear peeps, had my ruined, abandoned castle.
I also had a rather intriguing little fact: Beaudesert Castle belonged to one Peter de Montfort. Was this an unknown relative to the much more famous Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester? He wasn’t. Despite the common name, Peter and Simon weren’t at all related—or if they were, that link was well in the past by the thirteenth century.
So, no blood ties, but Peter’s fate was to be totally interlinked with Simon’s anyway. You see, these two gents shared a vision—or maybe it was more a case of Peter being entranced by Simon’s ideas about how a country should be ruled, with the “people” (i.e. very rich, landed dudes) having a say in how things were handled.
Peter was born in 1205 or so, so he was actually some years older than Simon. His father died when he was only eleven, and he was to spend his formative years in the household of his maternal grandfather, William de Cantilupe. Now, Peter was not a baron, neither was his father. The de Montfort family was a respected large landowner in Warwickshire, originally with tight ties to the Earl of Warwick. But despite not being a baron, Peter was wealthy enough to marry a certain Alice, daughter of Henry Audley, a royalist baron with close ties to Ranulph, Earl of Chester. Thanks to being granted the right to an annual fair and a weekly market, Peter was also rich enough to invest substantial monies in reinforcing the defences of Beaudesert Castle, transforming his relatively modest principal abode into a modern place.
In 1244, Simon de Montfort had established Kenilworth as his English base. With Beaudesert being a mere nine or ten miles away from Kenilworth, the two de Montfort’s were bound to run into each other. I imagine they chuckled a bit about sharing a name, but more than that, the two men quickly discovered an affinity, a common take on most things. When Simon de Montfort was sent to Gascony to sort Henry III’s business, Peter accompanied him, and the ties between them grew even stronger.
At the time, Simon may on occasion have been extremely irritated with his brother-in-law and king, Henry III. Simon’s relationship with Henry was rocky–Henry never quite forgave Simon for having married Henry’s sister in secret—but a rebel he was not. If anything, he was doing his best to charter a course through a rather complicated political situation not of his making. You see, many of Henry’s magnates were frustrated with their king—more specifically with all his greedy relatives. Not only had Henry’s mother through her second marriage birthed nine de Luisignan half-siblings to Henry, siblings he welcomed with open arms and purse to England, he had an equally generous approach to his wife’s, Eleanor of Provence, relatives, the so-called Savoyards. Choice appointments, rich wardships, desired landholdings—quite often they ended up in the hands of the royal relatives.
Whatever his private thoughts about the king’s relatives, Peter returned from Gascony and concentrated on forwarding his own career at court. By now well into his forties, he was respected and trusted, so trusted he was chosen to accompany Prince Edward to Castile in 1254 when the young dashing prince set off to marry his Castilian princess.
When Peter returned to England, tensions between the king’s Poitevin half-brothers and the English magnates were at a boiling point. In 1258, things exploded. The Poitevins were exiled and Peter de Montfort emerges from relative obscurity to be one of the men behind the Provisions of Oxford, an innovative attempt to curtail royal power. The provisions called for a council of fifteen to help rule the kingdom, and Peter was one of those fifteen men—as was Simon de Montfort.
Time passed. Tempers cooled. A few years on, and Henry III was firmly back in charge, revoking the provisions in 1261. Earl Simon left the country. Peter did not, and somehow he ended up back in royal favour, helping defend the Welsh Marches.
But in 1263, Simon came back, calling loudly for the reinstatement of the Provisions of Oxford. Peter did not hesitate: he immediately joined his friend and was to remain loyal to Simon throughout the civil war that exploded in 1264 and ended at Evesham, with Simon de Montfort’s death and the subsequent horrible mutilation of his body.
Peter died with Earl Simon at Evesham. His son also fought but survived. Unfortunately for him, this time the king—or maybe Prince Edward—wanted to make examples of some of the rebels, especially those who clung to Simon de Montfort’s dead cause. Like Peter de Montfort’s retainers at Beaudesert Castle, who seem to have taken a leaf out of the book of very young Henry de Montfort, besieged at Kenilworth, and just refused to give up. Ultimately, the garrison was forced to surrender, and it seems that in retaliation Beaudesert Castle, so recently rebuilt and modernised, was slighted, its defences torn down, its buildings pillaged.
While Peter’s son would, in time, regain most of his land, the fine imposed would cripple him financially, so rebuilding had to wait. In fact, his family never fully recovered from Peter’s decision to embrace Simon de Montfort’s cause as his own.
In the early 14th century, forty years after Evesham, repair work was carried out. In time, Peter’s grandson and great-grandson would sit at the high table of Beaudesert, but in the late 14th century the male line died out, and the castle reverted to the Earl of Warwick. Some time in the 15th century it was finally demolished, leaving behind the mound that can still be seen today.
In Her Castilian Heart, only twenty years or so have passed since Peter de Montfort’s death. I have taken the liberty of depicting Beaudesert as a collection of ruins, assuming that locals would have quarried stone from the torn down walls. In actual fact, I suspect there would have been more buildings left standing—and people living there—but I hope Peter and his descendants forgive me for tweaking things so they fitted my narrative.
I had never heard of Beaudesert Castle before I started researching Her Castilian Heart. I am glad to have stumbled upon this site—and to have made the digital acquaintance of a man who comes across as being a man of integrity and honour. I somehow think my Robert FitzStephan would have liked Peter de Montfort (well, barring the teensy-weensy fact that Robert is King Edward’s man through and through) Me, I have decided that I may include a very young de Montfort descendant in the next instalment of my Castilian Saga!
P.S. For those who want to deep-dive into this particular rabbit hole, Time Team dedicated a whole episode to Beaudesert Castle (Season 9, episode 11)