This edition of OFF THE PAGE opens with a conversation about The Gathering at Keystone College, an annual literary event that takes place on the college campus in La Plume, PA on July 15-18, 2010. To this day the British and the French don't always get along. Starting with the Norman Conquest in the year 1066, overtly and subtly the French exercised an influence on the customs, language and society of the rough-hewn Anglo-Saxons. For example, is there such a thing as a truly English "cuisine" (or even a good old Germanic word for it)? French dominance of Britain wasn't necessarily always a bad thing, except that the Brits never really had an opportunity to return the favor. By the mid 13th century the traffic was heavy between England and France, the people were bound by a common religion and the aristocracy of the two nations recognized family ties. But it was a time of political intrigue, ongoing warfare, corruption that reached into the Church and it's no surprise that we would come to know this as the Dark Ages. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-911302.mp3
One of the pivotal characters of the time was Simon de Montfort, one of the major figures in the history of his era even if an attempt was made to write him out of history. A Frenchman who married the sister of England's King Henry III, he received the title of 6th Earl of Leicester. As a participant in the Crusades he briefly served as mayor of Jerusalem. Later, observing how the King of England was not acting in accord with the stipulations of the Magna Carta, Simon de Montfort arranged for a general election to choose members of a legislative body. He is considered the founder of the British Parliament. His image is among the founders of democracy honored in bas-relief on the wall of the U.S. House of Representatives. But his actions were considered treasonous and although there were those who believed he should be canonized as a saint, after his death in the Battle of Evesham it was declared that his name should not be spoken in public in England, a ruling that stood for 700 years. The historical record of Simon de Montfort is difficult to piece together, but one of the most thorough accounts can be found in a new series of books by Katherine Ashe. At the start of the volume Ms. Ashe explains, "The actual, unquestioned events in the life of Simon de Montfort are so mutually contradictory, and there are such important gaps in the documentary evidence surviving from the thirteenth century that, to explore a plausible sequence of cause and effect, I've taken freedoms beyond those allowed a historian. Montfort is offered under the aegis of fiction."