Historian‘s ‘remarkable’ debut brings tale of revolutionary nobleman to life

Dr Sophie Thérèse Ambler
Dr Sophie Thérèse Ambler

A Lancaster University historian has captured national media attention for her ‘beautifully written’ story of one of history's most misunderstood figures.

This month saw the launch of The Song of Simon de Montfort: England's First Revolutionary and the Death of Chivalry, by Dr Sophie Thérèse Ambler of the Department of History.

Dr Ambler is a Lecturer in Later Medieval British and European History and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. With interests spanning the central and later Middle Ages in Europe and the Holy Land, her two broad areas of research are political ethics and military history.

Her work is part of a major research strength in the Department of History in the field of war and diplomacy across time. Building on this strength, History is launching a new Masters programme this autumn, the MA International and Military History, on which Dr Ambler will be teaching.

This is her second book, following Bishops in the Political Community of England, 1213–1272 (Oxford University Press, 2017). The Song of Simon de Montfortis published by Picador, with publication in the USA following in September with Oxford University Press.

The Song is a history of the nobleman who, between 1258 and 1265, seized power from King Henry III and established a radical regime to govern in his stead. Examining the revolution in the context of crusading culture across Europe and the Middle East, the book shows how Montfort cultivated his reputation as leader and came to amass a vast following, before he and a host of his men were cut down on the battlefield at Evesham in 1265.

Described by Dan Jones as 'a bold and brilliantly written reassessment of one of (British) history's most misunderstood figures ... alive with human detail and acute political judgement', and by Estelle Paranque as 'gripping, detailed and ingenious ... [and] a compelling and thrilling story', The Song has been hailed as 'one of the finest medieval biographies of recent years' by The Times.

Writing in the Literary Review, Nicholas Vincent has hailed it 'an expert's account, for all its pace and enthusiasm ... embracing global as well as socio-historical themes ... [It is] a song more of lament than of triumph. It is a song that Sophie Thérèse Ambler sings supremely well.'

Mary Wellesley, in the Sunday Times, writes, '[this] engaging new biography ... will enthral and horrify in equal measure ... If Ambler details the death of chivalry, she also exposes the dark underbelly of that very culture ... The Song of Simon de Montfort is a well-researched, elegantly written and lively portrait of a problematic figure.'

Saul David, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says, 'This is an astonishingly assured debut by an extremely talented young historian. Exhaustively researched and beautifully written, it traces the remarkable life of a military and political giant of the medieval period who has never been more convincingly portrayed.'

Noel Malcom, in the Sunday Telegraph, writes, 'It’s hard to get into the heads of people who lived 800 years ago. This book goes further than you might think possible, by a clever use of letters, legal documents and chronicles; at times, we really can hear this man speak . . . This is a remarkable book: beautifully presented (with good maps and illustrations), finely written and based on a deep, scholarly knowledge of the sources. It’s rare to find a story and a storyteller so well matched.'

In the Times Literary Supplement, Emma J. Wells writes, 'Riveting . . . a vivid psychological portrait of the charismatic knight through small but enlightening details of character . . . The Song of Simon de Montfort is an engaging foray from a talented historian into one of the most important but least understood eras in English history.'

Research from the book also forms the basis of the cover feature and lead article by Dr Ambler for July’s BBC History Magazine.

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