London History Bulletin – January 20

Parliament was “born” on this day, January 20th, 1265. This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

It’s impossibly complicated so I’ll make it simple. He was French. He was a Crusader. He wore a hair shirt. He was the King’s brother-in-law. His wife, the king’s sister, was the widow of the greatest knight that ever lived.

He fell out with his brother-in-law, the king. Which King, you ask. Henry III. Fell out over – well, readies. Money. Money and land. Which were much the same thing.

A lot of people – very important, very powerful people – were unhappy with Henry III. Our man – let’s get him named now – Simon de Montfort effectively headed up a civil war against the King. Simon de Montfort took the King prisoner. But the royalist forces weren’t spent. They were regrouping and gathering strength. Simon de Montfort needed help. So he summoned to London, to Westminster Hall, two knights from every shire and two burgesses from every free town. They met, at Westminster Hall, on January 20th, 1265. And that assembly marked the birth of the Mother of Parliaments. The idea – the purpose of the assembly – was to rein in, but a check on the crown and its forces. Simon de Montfort was effectively the man, that year. He was effectively the ruler of England. Henry III was feeble and ageing – and in any case was in Simon de Montfort’s custody. So he wasn’t much of a threat. But his towering son was. Simon de Montfort had made the mistake of letting the future Edward I escape. And he was a formidable foe. Indeed, de Montfort and his forces and the future Edward I and his forces fought a battle at Evesham later that year. The king’s son won the battle. Simon de Montfort was killed. His body was publicly disembowelled and his head stuck on a spike outside the Tower of London. 

Anything else? Yes, a whimsical guiding thought. It would have been fun to have guided our Old Westminster Walk today. Get them to Westminster Hall and say to them, “it was exactly 758 years ago today that the Mother of Parliaments was born, right there, in the building you’re looking at. And just to make a bit of mischief, top that up with “and 384 years later – or, if you prefer 374 years ago, today, King Charles I was charged with high treason in that same building, the building you’re looking at. That was on this day, January 20th, 1649.

And finally, that business of Simon de Montfort marrying the widow of the greatest knight that ever lived – that knight was Sir William Marshal, Earl Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke. He’s buried in Temple Church. He became a Knight Templar on his deathbed. There’s a very stone effigy of him on the floor of Temple church, above his burial place. I’ve known about that effigy – pointed it out – for years. But I had no idea who he was. And now, many years later, he’s come sharply into focus. The greatest knight who ever lived. The husband of the sister of King Henry III. The sister whose second husband, the French nobleman whom she married after William Marshal’s death, would be the begetter of the mother of parliaments. What a showstopper line, that is. That may be the best missing piece of all to the London puzzle. Well, my personal London puzzle. This city, the well never runs dry. A London education never ends.

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin for January 20th. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. 

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for. 

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. See ya tomorrow.

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