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Parliament's birthday - January 20th

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Evesham, where Montfort and the bachelor knights died defending the idea of an elected Parliament.

The kind of man who will fight a battle with a broken leg, and win it, Simon de Montfort made a daring break with most of recorded history when he and his allies called for the first elected parliament. The lead-up to this event was quarrelsome and bloody.

Henry III promised reforms to a wide swathe of the English people. When he reneged, Simon de Montfort, the bachelor knights, and three thousand Londoners confronted him at Lewes, and captured him on May 14th 1264.

In December 1264, Montfort asked shires and towns to send two elected representatives to a parliament. For the first time, men across England voted in parliamentary elections. (In the counties they had to meet a 40-shilling property qualification. In the towns there were different voting requirements.)

On January 20th 1265, representatives of the shires and towns joined archbishops, bishops, earls and knights in Westminster. They confirmed and upheld the reforms, and told Henry they wouldn't pay for his foreign wars.

Henry's son, Prince Edward, fought back. He killed Montfort and many bachelor knights in battle at Evesham on August 4th 1265.

The son of a Frenchman, the grandson of an Englishwoman, Montfort has received some negative reviews, but not from the bachelor knights who fought with him to defend reform. Montfort's last words: "They have our bodies. God has our souls."

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The surviving bachelor knights held out against prince and king at Kenilworth Castle. Their sacrifice was remembered when, ten years later, in 1275, Edward I, the killer of Montfort, was forced to confirm the role of an elected Parliament.

Could we elect a Parliament today worthy of their sacrifice?

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