Monday, January 07, 2013

Today's Research snippet. William Marshal's stolen horse

Today's research snippet. Taken from the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal. William has his horse stolen and exacts punishment on the thief. Some interesting details of social life on the tourney circuit.

The high-ranking men who had gone to the tournament were lodged throughout the town. It is the custom that in the evening they go and visit one another at their lodgings; this is a fine custom, and their conduct is courteous and polite when they seek to talk together, get to know one another and acquaint one another with the affairs which each has in hand. The Marshal. who was polite and behaved reasonably and did not put on airs, rode to the lodgings of Count Theobald on a tall and valuable horse, but he had not taken with him anyone to take care of it. He noticed at young lad standing with the rabble of onlookers and gave him his horse to look after. The Marshall dismounted and the young lad mounted. When the Marshall went inside, he was received with great joy by many...
While William was busy inside drinking and socialising...a scoundrel of a man, a man in the habit of stealing and who had seen the Marshal when he was dismounting, approached the lad now sitting on the horse. He grasped the hair round his forehead, pulled him down, and dealt him such a savage blow that he cried out at the top of his voice: "Help! Marshal, Marshal! this man here is taking your horse from me." 
When the Marshal heard this, I can tell you that he was not in the least amused. Indeed, without taking his leave, he leapt to his feet; he had no wish to wait for any man and he arrived at the spot where he had left the horse. The thief was riding at full gallop away down the street, but you could not see a thing for it was very dark at night. However, the horse made a huge clatter on the hard paving stones. The Marshal was very quick and set off to follow the road, but on his own, for it was impossible to see a thing. The scoundrel turned aside, into another street, because the road stones were very hard. In the shadow of a cart full of branches, standing in front of an oven, the thief hid to prepare for an eventual escape. Since the horse was now standing still, and the Marshal could no longer hear the noise, he did not know where to go nor what to do. As he walked on, thinking on these matters, the horse started stamping its foot, although very gently. The Marshal made in its direction. Without making much noise, but gently and quietly, he went up to the horse, which whinnied.the scoundrel bent down and made to slip off the saddle, but the Marshal dealt him a blow with a piece of wood so violently across the eyebrows that never after that did he blink that eye again, for it flew right out of his head. A just reward fitting the crime committed!
'Have mercy, my Lord!' he said, 'I am dead!'
'It was not I who took it upon myself to use force against you this day,' was the Marshal's instant reply, 'You did it all by yourself.'
The count and those who were indoors with him ran after the Marshall, each vying with the other, none holding back, but they were unable to catch up with him until he had captured the scoundrel. They had great esteem for his speed, his agility, and had high praise for his prowess. They ordered the thief to be taken and led away to the gallows to be hanged.
'Upon my soul!' said the Marshal, 'I will never allow my horse to be a reason for hanging him; he's suffered enough already, having his eyebrow smashed in and losing an eye. No further harm will come to him from me.'

Today's photo:  In the spirit of all things Marshal, here are the tomb effigies of William Marshal and his eldest son at the Temple Church in  stained glass morning light. 


Gordon Napier said...

An eye for a horse...

By the way, I was in Temple Church when they were installing those railings around the effigies? Aren't they awful? I suppose if they stop tourists tripping over the figures, like the woman in 'The Da Vinci Code.' Old pictures show more ornate railings around the figures, which I imagine would have been melted down during the Second World War...

Kelly said...

Thank you for sharing this episode from William Marshal's life. Did you translate that passage yourself, or is there an English version of the Histoire available that I've missed? (There seems to be one edited by Crouch, et al, but I can't find it for sale anywhere.)

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Interesting information Gordon. When I first began visiting William Marshal, there weren't any railings, but yes, the Da Vinic Code suddenly made The Temple Church very busy!

Kelly - it's from the Crouch et al translation. I think you may be able to obtain a copy from the Anglo Norman Text Society. I bought mine a few years ago when they were first published - vols 1 & 2, but I think you might be able to get hold of at least one of the volumes if contact ANTS.

Kelly said...

Thank you! I'll follow up on that lead.

Rob Roy said...

The Anglo Norman Text Society publications are at

There are three volumes at £57.50 each (incl shipping).

I understand they were probably expensive to translate, and have a limited market, but that's a lot of money for the average person. I wish a main-stream publisher would pick them up and make them available to the thousands of Marshal descendants.

Better still... put them on Kindle!