Written by Philippa Blakeley.
On 18 November 2020, the De Montfort Student’s Union announced that it was starting a campaign to change the name of De Montfort University, due to the controversial nature of Simon de Montfort.
It is hoped by the DSU, that any name change can be implemented by December 2023.
The campaign was implemented because the DSU believe his name no longer aligns with the values of the university.
Simon de Montfort was born around 1208, however there are no official records of exactly when. He was born into French nobility, to Simon de Montfort and Alix de Montmorency.
Simon de Montfort then came over to Leicester in 1229 to claim the Earldom of Leicester after it was inherited by De Montfort as the male heir from his mother’s side. However, King Henry III waited for De Montfort to prove he had no allegiance to France before formally giving him his title as Earl of Leicester in 1239.
In August 1231, he issued a charter which banned Jews from living in the area of Leicester which was under his control, prior to that there was a large Jewish community. However, afterward his charter, they were forced to move to areas such as Belgrave, Glenfield, Desford and Whetstone – which were under the control of De Montfort’s great-aunt, Margaret de Quincy.
De Montfort did this because he believed they were too economically powerful, as well as them opposing his strict religious views. The Jewish persecutions which were seen in Leicester because of De Montfort, continued throughout his life. By taking part and encouraging violent attacks across England – in Lincoln, Winchester, Canterbury, Derby, Cambridge and Northampton – De Montfort’s anti-Semitism was felt far and wide.
However, Simon de Montfort was also a major contributor to ideas of democracy, as we understand them today – in terms of a parliament.
He held his first parliament in June, 1264, when he invited a knight from each of the four counties of England to discuss the running of England. However, this continued to develop, and in 1265 he invited a group of 23 barons, religious leaders, other churchmen, two knights per county and four freemen to help organise parliament and judicial support for those who were suffering.
Over time, it became clear to other nobility that this was just a method used by Simon de Montfort to expand his power and control, which people became increasingly annoyed with. Similarly, De Montfort’s relationship with the Royal Family, despite him being married to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor, became increasingly fractious.
It was as a result of this growing discontent that on August 4, 1265, De Montfort and his son, Henry were killed after going into battle against Prince Edward.
Why was DMU named after Simon de Montfort initially?
In 1992, after the Further and Higher Education Act was passed, it meant Leicester Polytechnic was now able to change its status into a university.
The directors at the University at the time felt it was important to acknowledge Leicester’s roots, as well as ‘celebrate the first parliamentary system’. At the time various consultations took place with the Jewish community in Leicester, as well as students and staff.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews had no objections to the name change. However, the Leicester Jewish community did not approve – believing it was insensitive and conflicted with the values of the university. These are points which continue to be brought up today when deciding whether to keep De Montfort’s name or not.
However, concerns have understandably risen since the announcement of the name change campaign about the wider impact it may have on alumni and the reputation of the university.
Discussions are continuing to take place between the DSU, students and staff, and will carry on throughout the coming months.
No decisions have been made yet regarding any possible new names.