Thursday, May 14, 2015

A GOOD END: The last days of William Marshal.

The 14th of May marks the anniversary of the death of William Marshal, who departed this world at noon in the year 1219 at his manor of Caversham near Reading, surrounded by friends in the clergy and his grieving family.  It was a sad occasion as all such are, but for William, it was also what was known in the Medieval period as a 'good end.'  He had had time to make his will and dispose of his wealth as he saw fit. He had settled all of his affairs and made his peace with God, and prepared inasmuch as he could for the afterlife.  Unlike many of the men he had served, Henry the Young King, Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and John, he was ending his life in a dignified and peaceful way having lived to a ripe age.

A biographical poem of just under 20,000 lines written in Anglo Norman shortly after his death gives us a moving and full account of the last months of his life.  And if William Marshal was an exemplar of how to live one's life in honour, then his death was a blueprint of how to exit the world.

William Marshal was in his seventy second year or thereabouts, when in the February of 1219 and Regent of England for the underage King Henry III,  he became unwell with illness and pain. For all of his life he had enjoyed robust health, so this was an unsettling portent for him. He may have had a few indicators before this as he validated less acts of government from the November of 1218 onwards.  Arriving on horseback at the tower of London he sent for various doctors to attend him, but they told him there was nothing they could do and he was going to die.  He took the news stoically and broke it to his son and his household - even trying to comfort them despite his pain.  His wife Isabelle was with him at the time and clearly distraught, but determined to give him every support.

William  decided that if he was going to die it would be at his favourite and beautiful manor at Caversham on the Thames near Reading, and not in the city of London 'which was unhealthy and only added to the great pain he was in. His view was that he could more easily put up with his affliction on his own ground: if in the nature of things, death was to be his lot, he preferred to die at home than elsewhere.'
click to enlarge to show the site of Caversham. Nothing of the manor remains
today but there is a stately home on the site now used by the BBC monitoring service.
William and Isabelle were rowed up the Thames to Caversham. Their journey was smooth and untroubled, and he settled in to the home where he was to die.  Once there, he asked those who were governing the country on behalf of the young king Henry III, to come to him so that he could officially hand over the reins. They all gathered at his bedside, including the young king and the papal legate.  William informed the 11 year old Henry III that he could no longer serve him because he was dying and others needed to take over.  There was some squabbling about who should have this role, but William was still strong enough to push through the quarrel and settle the matter to the obedience, if not entire satisfaction of all those present. Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester had to be put in his place,   It was also at this time that William warned the young Henry III that if he were to follow in the footsteps of a certain 'wicked ancestor'  then he wished him a speedy death.  Here, at his own dying, we get the truth about what William Marshal really felt about King John.

The matter attended to and the burden of government relinquished, William turned his thoughts to making his will, providing futures and guidance for his children, and then to spiritual matters. At first, he was going to leave his youngest son Ancel, still a child, to make his own way in the world as a knight errant when he grew up, but he was persuaded by his former squire and now close friend and adviser John of Earley to give Ancel land worth £140 to support himself. This may of course have been a literary device to show how William's men had an influence on him when it came to giving advice. William was also concerned about his youngest daughter Joanna because he had not yet arranged her marriage, but he settled some money and land on her too.

His immediate family affairs sorted, William asked John of Earley to go to Stephen D'Evereux in Netherwent, Wales, and bring him to him the lengths of silk cloth that he had been keeping in store there.  It was a long journey and   John rode hard, "travelling far greater distances each day than is usual' returning with the cloths as fast as he could.
When he presented the cloth, at first people thought it was a little faded, but when it was opened out it was discovered to be "very fine and valuable choice cloth of good workmanship.'  William had had these two pieces for 30 years. He had brought them back from the Holy Land with him and had always intended them to be used for the purpose of draping over his body when he was laid in the ground. They were to be his shroud. At this point he told everyone that he wished to be buried at the Temple church. He told those around him that "When I was away in the holy land, I gave my body to be buried by the Templars at the time of my death, in whatever place I happened to die. That is my wish, that is where I shall be laid to rest.'  He also told them that if the weather was bad, they were to buy lengths of coarse grey cloth (known as burel) with which to cover the silk so that it would not become damaged or dirtied by damp weather. The grey cloth was then to be given in charity. His instructions caused those around him, including his son to "weep pitifully." Seeing the pain he was in, his eldest son gave instructions that his father was to have a constant guard around him. Someone was to be with him always. Relays of three knights would keep vigil at all times. As well as the knights there were other youths and gentlemen to help out - one supposes to take care of William's bodily functions. His son said that he would take the night watch together with John of Earley and Thomas Basset.

decorative door pillar at the Temple Church
Letters were sent to the Templars. William's will was witnessed and sent to executors including the bishops of Winchester and Salisbury. Aimery de Saint-Maur, master of the Templars in England arrived at Caversham to see William. William announced to his family that it had been some time since he had pledged himself to the Temple, and now he wished to become a monk in the order. He told Geoffrey his almoner to go to the wardrobe and bring a cloak from it. It was a Templar cloak that he had had made more than a year ago and had kept in his possession without telling anyone.
Taking Templar vows meant that he could no longer have any physical contact with women. The Earl, who was generous, gentle and kind towards his wife the Countess, said to her: 'fair lady, kiss me now, for you will never be able to do it again.'  Isabelle was distraught, and both she and William wept as they kissed and said a final farewell to embraces of any kind.

Shortly after William had taken his Templar vows, Aimery de Saint Maur departed back to London, but died there soon after arriving. William was not told of his death in case it aggravated his condition, but the outcome was that he and Aimery would be laid side-by-side in the church, companions in death as they had been in life.

William's own condition deteriorated to the point where he could no longer eat or drink beyond a few mushrooms. His men even tried rubbing  white bread crumbs in his hand but that didn't work. To all intents and purposes William had stopped eating.  Even so it was to be another fortnight before he died. During this time of suffering he had a discussion with one of his men, Henry FitzGerold, The latter was concerned that the Marshal might not be granted a place in heaven because of all the tourney prizes and wealth he had won. The Marshal was having none of this and said that the church shaved people to closely. He had taken the ransoms of 500 knights and kept their arms, horses and all their equipment. He couldn't do anything about it now, and if that was the case then no man could find salvation.

At this time, William's daughters visited him.Everyone else was in the room, including the Marshal's son, William, who was sitting in front of his bed. William said that he wanted to tell them all a surprising thing. John of Earley said he would like to hear it, providing it was not going to wear the Marshal out. William then said that he had a great urge to sing, an urge he had not had in three years. When John said that he should do so and it would be good for him, William told him to be quiet because everyone would think he was a madman, and he refused to sing.  So John said it would be a good idea if William's daughters sang to him, (I like John. I can imagine him thinking of ways round the problem of getting a dying man perhaps slightly querulous with pain to do what he really wants but is holding back).   The daughters rose to the task magnificently, especially Matilda even though she was distraught at her father's condition.  When it came to little Joanna's turn she was shy, and now William, who had loved music all his life, found a spark. He told her not to be bashful when she sang because she would not perform well. "Don't be bashful when you sing, for if you are, you will not perform well and the words will not come across in the right way.' And then he taught her how to sing by doing so himself.  This to me says more than anything how much William loved music, how important it was to him, that he would sing on his deathbed even when in great pain. And he still cared enough to want it to be done right!

William continued to make plans for his funeral in his last days. He instructed his son to stay close to his corpse on the road so that he could distribute alms to the poor, and to give food and drink, clothes and shoes to a hundred of the poor in William's name.

William's friend the Abbot of Notely arrived to give succour to William and tell him that his brethren were praying for him, and William promised the Abbot's order money from his will.  William was still aware enough and lively enough to tell off one of his own clerks. William had had made some garments for his knights to give as gifts. John of Earley asked what he should do with the ones that were upstairs with their fur trimmings because no one had mentioned them. The clerk Philip suggested that they could be sold to deliver William of his sins. William told him to hold his tongue, that he'd had enough of his bad advice, and that his knights would have their robes at Whitsuntide. It was the last time he would ever be able to give them robes, even posthumously, and he wasn't having some upstart clerk tell him what to do. He immediately ordered John of Earley to distribute the robes and if there weren't enough to go around to obtain more from the warehouse in London.

While the family were trying to get William to eat something, he told them that he had had a vision. He had seen two men in white, one on his right, one on his left. The feeling was that these were two angels who had arrived to show William the right path.

On the Tuesday before Ascension Day, at midday, William Marshal died. His family had thought him sleeping, but when his son William came to speak to him, he found him in his last moments of life.  John of Earley did his best to revive him with rosewater, but it was plain that William was beyond that. The doors and windows were flung open and the household hastily assembled, everyone rushing to the room including Countess Isabelle.  A cross was placed in William's hands, and he died, surrounded by his family and household on a green spring morning. The first thought is that it is not a good time to die in the heart of a beautiful English spring, but perhaps, really, it is the perfect moment.

 William's body was prepared and mass was sung with him in his own personal chapel at Caversham.  Isabelle was so distraught that she could barely hold herself together during the singing of the mass.
William's body was then taken to rest in Reading Abbey, then to Staines. Along the way the funeral cortege was met by the Earl of Warrene and the Earl of Essex, the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Gloucester and many others.
William was borne to the Temple church where a candlelit vigil was ordered by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton.
Exterior of the Temple Church London

  "The Archbishop ordered the vigil to commence and. as was right, the vigil around the body was accompanied by a magnificent display of candles and a magnificent service, well sung and well read, and there were clerics singing psalms whose efforts were not wasted.'

The following day the funeral was held and Stephen Langton received great praise for his eloquence and the finesse of his words.  William was buried as he had wished in front of the cross beside his friend Aimery de Saint Maur.

  'When the body was on the point of being interred, the archbishop said 'See, my lords, how it is with this life: when each and every one of us comes to his end, there is no sense to be found in us, for we are then nothing but so much earth. Look there, see, the best knight to be found in all the world in our times. And in God's name what will you say then? All of us must come to this, it is an inescapable fact that each of us must die when his day comes. Just look at this exemplar here, ours as well as yours. Let each man say the Lord's Prayer, entreating God to receive this Christian soul into his realms in heaven, to sit in glory alongside his own, for we believe this man to have been a good man."

Today, almost 800 years since William Marshal's death the lines of the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal tell the incredibly moving story of William Marshal's final fight that ended not in defeat but in an embracing humility and acceptance. The subject matter is one man's dying, but I am never depressed when I read it. It may bring me to tears, but I am always exalted and uplifted and determined to live my life in better ways.

Hale William Marshal, but not farewell.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


It's come round to my turn on THE HISTORY GIRLS blog and this month I've blogged about the vice of dice in the 12th and 13th centuries.   The more things change, the more they remain the same!  You can read the piece by clicking on the link below.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Henry II - A birthday anniversary:

Thought to be Henry II. A mural in the chapel of St Radegonde in Chinon dating to the late 12thc
Today, March 5th,  marks the anniversary of the birth of Henry II, one of England's greatest and most charismatic kings.  I'm not exactly a Henry II fan, but at the same time, I acknowledge his talent, his qualities and his drive. Every person has many facets to their character, and who knew in March 1133 what this red-haired newborn infant was going to become.
In LADY OF THE ENGLISH, I wrote several scenes from Henry's childhood and I thought I'd post a few to my blog today in tribute.
Henry as a toddler with his father Geoffrey le Bel:
His expression bright with pride, Geoffrey squatted to be at eye level with his son.  He was used to very small children -  Aelis’s two were in the nursery and there was not so great an age difference, but even so, this was his heir, the future Count of Anjou, and there was something about Henry that sent a pang of uncharacteristic tenderness through Geoffrey.   Matilda had carried him in her womb, but he had set the life spark inside her body and against the odds, some of them stacked by her. He lifted Henry in his arms.  Holding an infant was not a suitable role for a grown man of great estate, but in this instance, it showed the world that here was his acknowledged flesh and blood, destined to rule.
            Henry laughed, showing his pearly milk teeth, and pointed to the design on his father’s blue tunic.  ‘Lion,’ he said loudly. ‘My lion.’
            Geoffrey looked quizzically at Matilda. ‘“My lion”’? Who has been teaching him that?’
            Matilda flushed. ‘I tell him he is my little lion.  He has a wooden one for a toy and a cushion with a big golden one embroidered on it.  One day he will be a king.  Why should he not acknowledge the symbols of kingship?’
            ‘Oh, I agree,’ Geoffrey said, ‘We must foster that in him.  Next to teach him ‘crown’.
            ‘He already knows that one.’  
            ‘Crown,’ Henry said in validation of her remark, and pointed at Geoffrey’s cap with its band of gold braid.  ‘Lion.  Crown. Mama.’
            Geoffrey chuckled and shook his head. ‘Indeed, I can see you have been teaching him well, but I must needs train him further.  I suppose you have not taught him to say ‘Papa’ in any of this.’
            ‘I am sure he will learn swiftly enough,’ she replied, concealing a pang of jealousy, because Geoffrey was so at ease holding their son.
            ‘Papa.’ Henry bounced in Geoffrey’s arms, and stared round with alert, bright eyes.
            Geoffrey laughed. ‘You are right again,’ he said to her.  ‘Usually I would hold being right against you, but not today.’

As  A Five Year Old.
'Mama look - look at me!’
            Matilda turned from talking to the saddler, and watched Henry sit upright in the saddle of a small bay pony.  He struck a pose and lifted his chin.  The September breeze ruffled his red-gold hair and turned his irises the hue of sea-coloured glass. He had begun riding lessons two weeks ago and was enjoying every moment.  For now, the tuition consisted of having one of the grooms lead him round the courtyard at a sedate walk.  A saddle had been especially made to fit his size so that he would not slop about between pommel and cantle. He would not be allowed to take the reins on his own for a while to come, nor would he have the strength and stature, but he was already confident around horses, and was developing balance, knowledge and maturity. 
            ‘Indeed you look very fine,’ she replied proudly. ‘Every inch a king.’
            ‘I want to gallop!’
            ‘And so you shall, but not quite yet.  You have to learn a few more things first and grow a little more.’
            ‘But I’m a big boy now!’
            Her lips twitched at the indignation in his voice.  ‘Indeed, but you need to grow bigger yet.’
            The groom led the pony off at a sedate walk.  ‘Faster,’ Henry cried.  ‘I want to go faster.’ 

Another moment:
Matilda sat down on the bed in her chamber at Carrouges.  Her crown was making her head ache.  It might look a delicate thing, but she been wearing it for most of the day amid formal ceremonies and celebrations; the weight was beginning to tell on her neck and the band was squeezing her temples.  Even so, she had no intention of taking it off, because while she wore it, she was a queen and an Empress and she had authority.
            Fetching his small stool, Henry wandered over to the sideboard and stood on it so that he could look at the two engraved silver cups standing there.  They had been presented to him and his brother by the people of Saumur in exchange for a charter. ‘When can I drink wine out of mine?’ he asked looking round. 
            ‘When you are a man,’ Matilda replied. ‘They are no ordinary drinking cups, but tokens of an agreement between our family and the people of Saumur.’  Her voice held a warning note.  If she knew Henry, he’d be having his dogs drinking out of them or worse.  ‘And you are not to touch William’s either,’ she added as she watched his hand stray towards his youngest brother’s cup.  The reason there were only two, not three, cups was that Geoffrey, her middle son was being raised in the household of her husband’s vassal Goscelin de Rotonard.  It did not do to keep all of one’s eggs in a single basket.  William would go for fostering too when he was older but for now, at not quite two years old, he was still kept close in the women’s chambers. Henry ignored him because he was only a baby and Henry knew he was the heir and the most important.

Empress Matilda bidding Farwell to Henry, aged 6.
‘You can’t go there, you’re trapped!’ piped a child’s voice.
Matilda turned and fixed her gaze on her eldest son. He was sitting in the window seat, playing a board game of fox and geese with his half-brother Hamelin and his focus was deeply engaged as he concentrated on defeating his opponent. She felt a surge of fierce maternal pride as she watched him. He was fully focussed but not in a narrow way.  He was observing all the peripherals even while he concentrated on the main task, seeing both dangers and advantages. It was a formidable trait in a child just six years old, and what it would be like when nurtured to manhood gave her cause for optimism.  He was tenacious too, because Hamelin was a bright boy, older, and determined not to give ground.  She had to swallow as her throat tightened.  She might never see him again after this morning because who knew what was going to happen if and when she reached England. She had put everything possible in place to support him and her other sons in her absence.  The best women to care for them; the best pages and squires as companions.  Excellent priests and scholars to nurture their education and teach them to walk a true path with God. She could do no more, and still she was anxious.  She was going to miss them so much, especially Henry. She had even considered staying in Normandy and seeing it conquered first, but knew she had to make her challenge in England before it was too late, not just for herself, but for Henry and Henry’s children.  
            Geoffrey entered the chamber and looked round, hands on hips.   He had ridden to Domfront to see her on her way and to take charge of their sons, something Matilda did not want to think about. She could not deny that Geoffrey was a good father, but she had had the greater hand in raising their boys,  and it was a wrench to hand them over to her husband. 
            ‘Everything is ready for you,’ he said, stepping aside to let the servants carry out the box containing the last items.
She waited impatiently while her maids draped a thick cloak around her shoulders, and when the clasp had been fastened, she turned towards the light streaming through the open shutters.  ‘Henry,’ she said. ‘Henry, come here.  It is time for me to go.’
  He left his game and crossed the room to her, following the path of the light, and then stood in front of her, looking up solemnly. His eyes were grey, but flashed with green in their depths like Geoffrey’s.  ‘Attend to your lessons and do as your father tells you,’ she said.  ‘I need you to be big and brave and grown up.’ 
            Henry gave a stout nod. ‘Can I come to England soon too?’
            ‘As soon as you are old enough.  One day you will be king there, and it will be very important for you to know the place and the people.’ She crouched to his level and smoothed his vibrant hair. ‘Look after your brothers.  I will write to you often and you father will tell me of your progress.’  She kissed him on both cheeks and stood up, her pride swelling to almost unbearable proportions because Henry was not crying or making a fuss. Even in the small boy, she could see the king he might one day become – but only if she gave him that chance.

Finally as an eight year old with his father, learning of his mother's success
Henry FitzEmpress, almost eight years old, was testing the paces of his new mount.  The dam’s Spanish breeding had given the little chestnut fire in his feet. Henry loved the feel of the wind streaming past his face, even though it was cold enough to sting his eyes because it gave him a feeling of speed. On a swift horse, he was invincible. 
His father had started taking him hunting, and Henry had also begun his military training, fighting with a shield made to suit his size, and a wooden sword. He loved every minute.  Indeed, the only thing he ever found difficult, was staying still.  It was always a trial when he was in church and expected not to fidget in the presence of God. By contrast, flying on a horse was easy.
His father was waiting in the stable yard to greet him when he returned from his ride, his groom following several paces behind. Henry showed off by drawing rein in a dramatic slide of hooves, and leaped from the saddle almost before the pony had stopped.  He flashed his father a broad smile, exposing gaps at the front where new teeth were growing in.
Geoffrey’s lips twitched. ‘That was fine riding my son.’ He plucked a burr out of Henry’s cloak.
Henry flushed with pleasure.  ‘Yes, sire.’  Much as he was enthralled by the swiftness and grace of Denier, what he really wanted to ride was a destrier like his father.  His new pony was just another point on the road towards that accomplishment.  ‘I could have made him go faster, but Alain wouldn’t let me.’  He scowled over his shoulder at the groom.
‘Alain was wise, you should listen to him,’ Geoffrey said. ‘And to your horse.  Always be bold; never be heedless.’
Henry pursed his lips and said nothing. 
His father folded his arms.  ‘I have been waiting for you because I have received some great news from England, from your mother.  Stephen the usurper has been defeated in battle and captured by your uncle Robert and others of your mother’s kin and allies.  Your mother is to become Queen.’
Henry stared at his father while his stomach gave the same kind of swoop that it had done while he was galloping Denier.  He had not seen his mother in almost a year and a half and memory of her features had blurred at the edges, but she wrote to him often and sent him things from England – a writing tablet with an interlaced design on the ivory cover, and a fine pen knife.  Things she had sewn, which held her scent.  Bells for his harness.  Numerous books.  And always the promise that one day he would be a King because England was his. 
‘Can we go there?’ He was suddenly consumed with eager impatience. Had a ship been present in the courtyard, he would have boarded it there and then. 
‘No, no, no,’ his father laughed. ‘Rein back your horse a little.  It is early days yet.  Your mother will send for you when it is time.’
‘But when will that be?’
‘Soon,’ his father said. ‘But not quite yet.’  He ruffled Henry’s hair. ‘One battle does not a victory make, even when the enemy has been captured.  Once your mother has been crowned, she will send for you.’
Henry frowned and wondered how close ‘soon’ actually was.  When adults said such things, it was usually by way of platitude and it was always a long time.  He did not see why he could not go immediately because he knew he could help and it was his destiny.  
His father said, ‘My first task now your mother has succeeded is to go into Normandy and secure that.  Many barons will want to pay homage to the winning side.’ He looked at Henry. ‘And no, you cannot come there either for the time being.  Your task is to stay safe and learn and become a man.’
Henry grimaced, but knew better than to protest.  As far as he was concerned, he was a man, and years were only numbers. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


For my February turn on The History Girls I have reviewed this marvellous book by historians Martha Carlin and David Crouch.  Well worth reading.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY? Perhaps and perhaps not: A reply to Catherine Armstrong's essay on the Marshal Effigies.

Photo Elizabeth Chadwick
Some time ago I read a post on the Castle Wales site by Historian Catherine Armstrong where she laid out her case for the purported Marshal effigies in the Temple Church, London, being of debatable identity and perhaps not the Marshals at all. While I agree with her that precise evidence doesn't exist and the effigies could indeed have been mis-identified because after all, none of them have inscriptions, I do disagree with her assessment of the arms and armour of the effigies. I believe that at least one of them can be circumstantially identified as Gilbert Marshal.
I wrote to Catherine setting out my case for disagreeing with her on the issue of the arms and armour some years ago, and received a thank you note, but nothing more.   I've been intending to write out my refutation argument and put it in the public arena for several years now, and I have finally got around to it.

Here is Catherine's highly detailed article. Catherine Armstrong on the Marshal Effigies  I must emphasise I don't disagree with her on the point that these effigies cannot be identified with absolute conviction and I applaud her diligent research into the life of the effigies before the 21st century. That in itself is a fascinating, wonderful and sometimes horrifying story!

 I do, however, vigorously disagree with her on the issue of the dating of the arms and armour for which I can make a strong case.  I also believe I can make a good case for identifying the effigy of Gilbert Marshal despite lack of written evidence. 

Catherine Armstrong uses engravings of the Marshals by Edward Richardson to state her case. The work was published in 1843. So it's good to look back to a historical context a hundred and seventy years closer to the construction of the effigies, but at the same time we are relying on engravings, and also with the knowledge that Victorian antiquarians were extremely inquisitive but not always on the ball with their historical accuracy. You can read the book here for free. Edward Richardson Temple Church Effigies
Catherine's argument is that the effigy of William Marshal I cannot be him since it is older in the style of armour than the ones purporting to be his sons.

Catherine says of the  effigy below, now thought (erronously or not) to be William Marshal Junior (died 1231)  "The effigy was described by Richardson as wearing a chain mail coif and a hauberk of chain mail to his knees. However he is wearing what appears to be chausses of leather or some reinforced material from his waist to just below his knees.  Lankester describes this covering as possibly gamboised cuisses which were quilted tube-like padded armour worn to protect the thighs, but they are show without covering of full chain mail which would have been the usual practice."
Richardson's effigy engraving of  the effigy now known as
William Marshal's son William II
 The thing is that the without covering of full chain mail was the usual practise in the military styling of the mid thirteenth century.  The leather covering from the knee upwards seems to have arrived in the thirteenth century. It overlapped with the mode of wearing full mail chausses, the latter being in evidence throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. It wasn't a case of one or the other. Military historian David Nicolle in his Medieval Warfare Source book tells us that mail chausses date from the mid 12th century and covered the leg from 'mid thigh to foot.' He tells us that cuisses appeared in the late 13th century (p 138). Mail chausses from foot to thigh were the norm in the 12th and early 13th, not the cuissed style.   Robert Curthose, son of the Conqueror is kitted out in cuisses - dateline mid or late 13th century, so the same period as the purported effigies of William Marshal II and Gilbert Marshal.
Before anyone protests that Robert Curthose died in the early 12th century, let me say this is an effigy created in the 13th century and not at the time of Robert's death, so it's in the style of that later time.

photo credit Nilfanion  Wikipedia
Tomb of Robert Curthose, Gloucester Cathedral. Mid 13thC. Same legs as on the Marshal effigy.

This guy prefers his cuisses. He dates to 1250

This one's in chausses. Before 1225. British Library.

And here's Thomas Becket being murdered from a manuscript dating to circa 1200. British Library. Mail chausses again on the far left knight.

photo Elizabeth Chadwick
 And then William Longespee earl of Salisbury - died 1226 and the first effigy to be buried in Salisbury Cathedral. We have a dateline for him. He's opted for chausses too a la William Marshal I. No cuisses for him.
Apocalypse. British Library 1270's

Above we have an apocalypse scene from the British library and the knight on the horse is sporting cuisses.  Dateline 1270's.

Westminster Psalter circa 1250
Another knight wearing Cuisses - drawn by Matthew Paris.

Above we have an interesting one dating to 1230, 11 years after the Marshal's death and one year before the death of his eldest son.  Here you can see the transition kite versus the shorter shield and the knight with the transition is wearing a mail glove. Both men are wearing mail chausses without visible cuisses and are a prime example of the ongoing changing interface of military styles taking place in the early to mid 13th century.
Knight from Wells Cathedral circa 1230. Mail chausses, no cuisses
By kind permission of Paul F. Walker, author of The History of Armour 1100-1700.
Cuisses dated to c1300.  An Innocent being massacred from The Ruskin Hours
France. Los Angeles. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Ms. Ludwig IX 3 fol. 85v

The above illustrations state my case.  You can see that cuisses often appear later than mail chausses although there is an overlap nevertheless.  This chap below from the Temple Church - purported early 13th likes to wear his with suspenders!
photo  Elizabeth Chadwick
Onto the next point.
Catherine Armstrong tells us that on the William II effigy the guard on the sword is relatively small and not as wide and visible as on the other effigies.

Yes. That would be because the ends have broken off... - see further down for evidence of it happening to Gilbert's effigy.

Catherine comments that smaller guards appear on the seals of Robert FitzWalter and Richard the Lionheart but swords had long lives and forty years isn't a hill of beans anyway in terms of that particular style.  It's  only a minor point though. The chausses/cuisses question immediately tells us we are probably dealing with mid 13thc,  especially when combined with other details. The shield for example. If you look at the effigy purporting to be William Marshal I, his shield is of an older style that had gone out by the mid 13th. It's a shield in the process of transitioning from the old style kite shield into the smaller triangular shield but not there yet and a massively telling detail.  The William II and Gilbert Marshal effigies both have the new style of smaller shield. Indeed the Gilbert effigy has them in decoration on his baldric strap.  You can see the older transition kite in the 1200 illustration above of Becket's murder.  Add the shield style to the leg fitments and the more raised style of the William Junior and Gilbert effigies and it's as clear as daylight that the William I effigy is older.
photo Carole Blake
Here I am paying my respects to the William I effigy, lying beside his son. Note the length of his transition shield. It comes down to his knee. Check too the Becket drawing above and you'll see it in use. Now look at the William II effigy. His shield only comes to his hip. It's what the transition kite becomes in the mid to late 13th century. Even if William II's shield is a little higher on his shoulder, it's still quite a bit shorter an a different shape to the William I effigy.

Photo Elizabeth Chadwick
Note the new style smaller shields on the strap on Gilbert Marshal's effigy.

Now to the matter of Gilbert Marshal's scallop shell sword. This is one of the identifiers that tell me this is likely to be Gilbert.
Photo Elizabeth Chadwick
This is the sword hilt in question. Looks a bit like a scallop shell doesn't it?
Catherine Armstrong  observes that she has 'found no record that states that Gilbert Marshal made a pilgrimage to St James de Compostella  (scallop shell was a symbol of such a pilgrimage) or that a scallop shell was any part of his coat of arms,  She says it's an unusual design and basically we should be looking for someone other than Gilbert Marshal to be wielding it.

However, sword expert Ewart Oakeshott tells us that it's a common design in the North of England in the mid 13thc and there has actually been a find of one at Cartmel - and who were the patrons of Cartmel Priory? Yep, the Marshals.  It's nothing to do with Compostella.   And note that the sword guard has broken off re the comment on short guards.

Now then.
Here's Gilbert Marshal suffering his fatal accident at a tournament when his reins were cut by his enemies and his foot caught in his stirrup and he was dragged to his death.  Note the sword hilt. Not exactly the same, but a darned good approximation for a chronicler. So we have circumstantial ID that this effigy IS Gilbert Marshal. On this illustration he's wearing full mail on his legs, demonstrating the overlap of armour styles. One size doesn't fit all.

What further nails the identity of this particular effigy as Gilbert Marshal is that the serpent he is trampling, the symbol of evil, is actually chewing on his spur strap. I was told by a guide at the Temple Church that this was a comment on the way he had died. Add in the sword hilt and the style of the armour and circumstantially we have our man. It is highly likely that the effigy of William II was carved by the same hand, so for my money it's very possible that we are looking at the two Marshal brothers William II and Gilbert.

Richardson - Google Books

Richardson's engraving of Gilbert Marshal. As you can see the sword had more of its guard when this was made in the mid 19th century compared to now (see my photo above of the scallop shell hilt). The same has happened to William II's guard.  They're not shorter, they're just broken off.

Spur strap munching serpent.  Photo Elizabeth Chadwick

Catherine Armstrong makes the point that the William Marshal I effigy is wearing mailed gloves which are of a later date than mail mittens.  However, mail mittens continue well into the 14th century. Nicolle opines that gloves are late 13th, but that they were being used in Byzantium much earlier. So it's not beyond the scope of reason that if William adopted crusader designs when remodelling his castles, he also may have returned from the Holy Land with mail gloves too. The illustration of the fighting knights above shows what looks like a mail glove dating to 1230. Or it could just be a stylistic conceit on the tomb and illustration aimed at showing the shape of his hand around the sword grip.

Conclusion:  While it is impossible to say whether these are the effigies of William Marshal and his sons William and Gilbert  it becomes very clear that we can say:
1. The effigy claimed as that of William Marshal I is older than the other two in terms of armour style and of overall effigy type (it's not as raised, it doesn't have the vigour that came in later or the finesse. It has an older style shield and tried and tested mail chausses that had been around for most of the 12th century as opposed to the cuisses which didn't arrive until later).  Historian H.A. Tummers considers that the 'lively martial attitude' of effigies (such as Robert Curthose and the Marshal sons) was a 'limited late development.' i.e. well into the 13thc. So the William I effigy is of the right dateline to have been created circa the time of William Marshal's death.

2. Of the two effigies purported to be the sons, there is at least circumstantial evidence that the one with the scallop shaped sword hilt and the serpent attacking his spur strap is, in fact Gilbert Marshal.

I do hope that Catherine Armstrong will reconsider  her essay in the light of this information.

Thank you
Elizabeth Chadwick.
Close up of the face of 'the effigy known as William Marshal II
Photo Elizabeth Chadwick

Close up of the face of the effigy known as William Marshal. Note the
detail is not as fine as on the son's effigy, suggesting a less developed
sculpting style in keeping with earlier tomb sculptures.
Photo Elizabeth Chadwick

You can see more effigies for comparison on these sites:

Books for further reading:
Medieval Warfare Source Book vol 1 by David Nicolle 1995
The Sword in the Age of Chivalry by Ewart Oakeshott - Boydell revised 1994

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MAGNA CARTA by Dan Jones. My review for The History Girls.

I've just reviewed Dan Jones' book MAGNA CARTA  for The History Girls.  Here's the url.  I thought the book was excellent and would recommend it for anyone's bookshelf. My review of Magna Carta by Dan Jones

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

IF IT'S CHRISTMAS IT'S CHINON: The festive itinerary of Henry II.

I post over at THE HISTORY GIRLS  blog on the 24th of every month.  I thought I'd give you all a link to a blog post I wrote for them last Christmas eve about King Henry II and his whereabouts on every Christmas of his reign. IF IT'S CHRISTMAS IT MUST BE CHINON