Since today marks the passing of the great William Marshal, I thought I would do a giveaway of THE GREATEST KNIGHT and THE SCARLET LION. One signed 2 book set for the UK, one for the USA and one for the rest of the world.
Just drop me a line to email@example.com saying which draw you want to be entered into. I'll keep it open for a week and draw at 12pm UK time on Tuesday 21st May.To honour William Marshal, I am also posting the lecture I gave at Cartmel Priory in 2011 to give thanks for his life.
William Marshal at Cartmel Priory
Elizabeth Chadwick Founder's Day Lecture to honour the original patron of the priory. May 15th 2011
Good afternoon everyone. I feel very honoured to have been asked to give this lecture about William Marshal at Cartmel, his own foundation, and perhaps a little nervous too. I hope I can do the great man justice today.
I write historical fiction for a living and began my published career in 1990 with a novel called The Wild Hunt which was a romantic story set in the Welsh Marches in the 11th century. Gradually as my career progressed I moved along the path towards writing biographical fiction.
My first foray into biographical fiction was a novel called Lords of the White Castle which told the story of mediaeval outlaw Fulke FitzWarin, who led a fascinating life in the late 12th and early 13th century and is thought by many to be the first Robin Hood. While researching Fulke and sundry other characters, the name of William Marshal kept cropping up. Indeed you can't write historical fiction set in the 12th and 13th century without coming across him. So the idea began to simmer that perhaps I could write a novel about William Marshal. He'd had laid a very exciting life, and it seemed like a natural progression. I was very surprised that none of the big novelists had already written about him. There were one or two older minor novels about, but nothing else on the radar. I suppose I was a bit like Peter Jackson the director of Lord of the rings. He tells the story of saying to his wife that someone should make a film of the book, and finally came to the realisation that that someone might just have to be him. With William Marshal I kept thinking someone ought to write about him, and then decided well perhaps it might just be me.
I freely admit that at the time I first thought about writing about William, my main criteria was that he'd led a rags to riches detailed life that would transfer very well to the medium of the historical adventure novel. And the novels very nearly didn't get written. When I approached my agent with the idea, historical fiction was just beginning to come out of the doldrums of the 1990's, but it was all women's fiction led by Philippa Gregory with The Other Boleyn girl, and the perception was that I should be writing about women. However, my agent was a good friend of someone who sang in the choir at the
Temple Church in London,
and one evening she went to hear him sing, and began looking at the tombs of the
knights there, of which William Marshal's was one. When she realised I was
going to write about this man whose tomb she had seen, her interest was piqued
and she championed my cause to the publisher. The result was a two book
contract to write about William Marshal's life. Ideally I would have liked
three books but the publisher wasn't prepared to stretch their necks that
far in the climate, but at least I had a contract for my next project.
I settled down to the research and it was at this point that I began to realise this was more than just another temporary project to write the next historical novel, and that I was researching someone really special, an icon in his own time, and someone remembered with deep affection and still as a role model in our own.
William rose from modest beginnings to greatness, and was a man of great political skill and acumen, but with that went compassion and a deep understanding of people. Running alongside all his great qualities and the heroic enormity of the man, was an ordinary life filled with everyday joys and sorrows, laughter, anger, delight in the small things and an awareness that they mattered just as much as the greater horizons.
When William died, his eldest son commissioned a poet to write his father's life story in a series of rhyming couplets 19,215 lines long. In all likelihood it was designed as a commemorative piece to be read out on the anniversary of his death each year, and while it would take far too long these days for me to read the piece to you here and now, I thought it appropriate to share some snippets with you that tell us something about the personality of William the man, his life and times.
Actually William's history has some advice to writers at the very the beginning.
His chronicler says:
A writer with a worthy subject in mind should so arrange matters that,
from the fine start he gives his story, it is brought to a fitting conclusion.
And he adds.
My tale is of the worthiest man who ever lived in our times.
May God, by his grace, give me the ability to handle it in such a way
that all who come to hear it and listen to it attentively shall find their joy and delight in it. To which I can only say Amen.
To put it in context:
We don't know William Marshal's date of birth only that it was probably in 1146 and perhaps in 1147, and that he was born somewhere in Wiltshire Berkshire at one of his father's estates or castles. He may have been born at Marlborough, or Ludgershall, at Winterbourne or Tidworth. He was the second son of his father's second marriage. His father John had put his first wife aside in order to take a second wife and thus seal peace between himself and his neighbour with whom he was at war at the time.
|The Marlborough Downs not far from John Marshal's manor of Rockley|
William's back yard as a child.
When William was about five years old, King Stephen came to besiege little William's father at
surrender. William’s father John, said that in order to do that, he would have
to ask permission of his overlord, the Empress Matilda for whom he was
fighting against the King. Stephen agreed to let him do this, but said that he
would have hostages of him to make sure he kept his word. Newbury
Little William was turned over to the King as surety for his father's honour. When the appointed day arrived for John Marshall to surrender
, he refused.
Instead of sending word to the Empress in the time given to him, he had stuffed the castle to the rafters with men, equipment and supplies. Stephen was angry but probably not
surprised, and he sent word to John Marshal that if such was the case, then William’s life was forfeit and he would
be hanged. Newbury
John gave that now infamous reply.
He said that he did not care
about the child, since he still had
the anvils and hammers
to produce even finer sons
William was duly manhandled to the gallows, but on his way saw the Earl of Arundel holding a very fine javelin and asked to play with it. The King apparently was so struck by William’s charm that he couldn't bring himself to have him hanged. Although William's ordeal wasn't over. He was also threatened with being squashed on a large round shield that was pushed under the castle walls, and being flung from a catapult. Seeing the catapult William said:
‘Gracious me! What a swing!
It will be a good idea for me to have a swing on it.’
He went right up to the sling,
but the King said: ‘take him away! Take him away!
Anyone who could ever allow
him to die in such agony
would certainly have a very cruel heart;
he comes out with such engaging childish remarks.
William continued to exert his charm on his royal jailer.
The King settled down to the siege.One day he was sitting in his tent,strewn with grasses and flowers in a variety of colours.William looked at the flowers, examining them from top to bottom.Happily and cheerfully he went about gathering the knights growing on the plantain,with its broad pointed leaves.
When he gathered enough to make a good handful,he said the King: ‘My dear Lord,would you like to play knights?’‘Yes.’ He said ‘my little friend.’The child immediately placed some on the King's lap, then he asked:’Who has the first go?’ ‘You, my dear little friend,’ replied the King. So he then took one of the knights,and the King placed his own against it.But it turned out that in the contest the King's knight lost its head which made William overjoyed.’
You can see from this amusing incident, what a little charmer William the child was, and it very much has the ring of truth. Sometimes the Histoire has literary conceits or sections where one has to suspend one's disbelief, but little incidents like this, are, I believe, taken from memory.
William survived to return home and grow up. A few years down the line…
William had grown into a tall boy.
His body was so well fashioned
that, even if he had been created by the sculptors chisel,
his limbs would not have been so handsome. Etc etc. This is a work in praise of William Marshal and the chronicler puts in all the stock in trade descriptions of the ideal mediaeval man. However there are a couple of personal moments here. We are told that
His hair was brown and his face was swarthy. So basically Brown hair and an outdoor complexion. The Chronicler is hasty to add ‘but he was so much like those of a true noble that he could have been Emperor of
In his teens William was sent to train with a family relative William de Tancarville, Chamberlain of Normandy. ‘as is fitting for a nobleman setting off abroad to win an honourable reputation.’
Once in Normandy William got stuck into his training, and there are some lines here that remind me how nothing changes in human nature. As the mother of two sons myself and having seen them go through their teens I can so identify with some of the habits of a rapidly growing adolescent youth.
People thought is a great pity that he stayed up so little at night and yet slept so late,that he ate and drank too much,and those scoundrels would laugh at him behind his back,asking of one another‘this greedy gorger William,in God's name, what good is he doing here?’ And they asked William de Tancarville his Lord ‘just how are you being served by this troublesome fellow, this devil of a glutton, who's always sleeping when he's not eating? The man is a fool who feeds him.’… The Chamberlain was much displeased with such words but he smiled and kept quiet, and then replied with a few well chosen words: ‘You will see, he'll set the world alight yet… You have no idea of the quality of the man I'm keeping.’ Indeed so.
William became a knight at around the age of 21.
At Drincourt, William the Marshal was dubbed a knight, and he willingly accepted the honour accorded to him by God which he had been so long waiting for. The Chamberlain girded on his sword with which he was to deal many a blow. And God bestowed on him such grace that he never went anywhere to perform feats of arms without his exploits being covered in glory.
From the start he was very eager to join in the fray and prove his worth. And when the town of
was attacked by the French and the Chamberlain and his knights came out to
defend it will you wanted to be in the forefront.
The Marshal came up so far as to be able to ride alongside him, and the Chamberlain spoke as follows: 'William get back; don't be so hotheaded, let these knights pass. ' William withdrew a few paces, downcast and ashamed, his face the picture of gloom; he wished he had never been born, since he thought he was indeed a knight. He let three men pass in front of him and he quickly spurred on his horse and he was right in front of those crossing the bridge. Whatever happened, if there was to be a skirmish or battle,if knights were going to be locked in combat, he would make sure he was up there at the front.
He lost his horse in that battle and had to sell one of his cloaks to buy a new one. The Histoire observes that It is well-known that poverty has brought dishonour on many a nobleman and been the ruin of them; such was the case with the Marshal, for he had nothing to give and no source of wealth. He had to sell one of his cloaks, which he had when he was made a Knight for the sum of 22 shillings in cash in Angevin currency.
So William had to deal with the harsh realities of life. It was all too easy to become penniless knight if you did not have the full support of a patron, or if you did not shift for yourself. I think what happened in his early years had a bearing on how good he actually was with money in his later years as a great magnate and Regent of England. He knew how to spend it, but he was no spend thrift and he knew how to make it as well.
His bacon was saved as a youngster when the Chamberlain wanted to attend tournament with all his household and provided horses for the young men. William was last in the queue when it came to dishing out the animals and so found himself with a rum beast that no one else wanted.
‘The horse was brought out, a horse fine and valuable, had it not been for one flaw that was a terrible drawback: the horse was so wild that it could not be tamed. The Marshal mounted it. Not once did he use his elbows; instead he pricked it with his spurs and the horse, flying faster than a hawk, bounded forwards. At the point where it should have been reined in, it turned out that it pulled incredibly hard: never had it had a master able to make it pull less, even if he had had 15 reins to restrain it. The Marshal gave the matter thought and came up with a brilliant scheme: he let out the bridle at least three fingers’ length from the bit and so released the lock of the bit that it went down into its mouth so it had far less to bite on than was usual. For no amount of gold or other riches could he have reined him in any other way. He considered that he had been very clever. The horse was so improved by this new bridle that he could have been ridden around in half an acre of land as if he were the tamest on earth.'
|William's horse Blancart as a herbacious arrangement at Cartmel Priory|
So William showed that he understood horses and that he was a master of adapting to adversity. As the saying goes today. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That appears to be one of Williams guiding principles. Do the best with what you have and turn it to your advantage by thinking outside the box.
William went on to gain experience in the tournaments and did very well for himself. However, his time with the Chamberlain was over. De Tancarville had enough knights to fulfil his quota and William was basically made redundant. He returned to
and joined the service of his uncle, Patrick Earl of Salisbury
who was preparing to go to Poitou as its
governor. Once more employed, William headed to the South of France, where,
while in his uncle's entourage he came into contact with Eleanor of Aquitaine,
and went on to save her from ambush when she was attacked by members of the
rebel de Lusignan family. His uncle was killed in front of his eyes by being
speared through the back. Eleanor managed to escape but William was wounded in
the thigh, captured after putting up a tremendous fight and taken for ransom.
At the time of the attack Eleanor's escort had not been wearing their armour.
Later in life William always stayed close to his armour, and would put it
on long before a battle situation arose, and I think it was something that was
impressed on him that day in Poitou when they
were attacked. This is from later in his life as an example:
The King said: ‘Go on, take that Armour off, Marshal. Why are you armed?’
The Marshal replied: ‘If it's so please you, sire, so much will I say, that I am very happy to be armed and my arms don't cramp my style in the slightest. I shall not remove my armour for the rest of this day until I have discovered what burden we shall have to shoulder. An unarmed man cannot last out in a crisis or a grave situation and we don't know what their intentions will be.’
Eleanor was so grateful to William that she paid his ransom and arranged things for him as behoved her, given the quality of the young man: horses, arms, money, she readily gave him. William became the tutor in chivalry to her eldest son, Henry. His father Henry II, had him crowned King in his own lifetime to assure the succession of the throne and William’s star continued to rise as he became established as one of young Henry's senior household Knights.
The King took great pleasure in advancing his son, and he sought outstanding companions for him, the most proven men to be found throughout the realm. At that time the Marshal was summoned, a man most brave and true; he was endowed with all the fine qualities, to the extent that there was nothing lacking in him. The King put him in the company of his son; he promised to do the Marshal much good return his care and instruction. The King ‘he asked and commanded to take care of Henry, for he trusted no man as much as him the Marshal replied: ‘Know this for sure, I shall do all within my power.’
The Histoire tells us that ‘He led such a very fine life that many were jealous of him. He spent his life in tournaments and war and travel through all the lands where knight should think of winning renown in
and in the low countries, through Hainaut and Flanders,
came his high reputation for great exploits.'
William remained in the Young King's household as a career knight for more than a decade and in that time moved from young into full manhood. Young Henry although charming and handsome, was not always an easy master to serve. He wanted the power and the money, but did not particularly want to have to work for it at the mundane jobs, and quarrelled with his father on the matter quite seriously on occasion. One such time, he went to seek succour from the French, and asked William, who was ever loyal despite whatever his feelings might be about the wisdom of rebellious young man – to knight him.
Before the assembled counts and barons, and before other men such high rank, he girded the sword on the King of
and yet he had not one strip of land to his name or anything else, just his
Matters were patched up for a while between father and son and William and his young charge took the life of the tourney with a vengeance. Sometimes William went off jousting of his own accord, and on one such occasion which is often mentioned in the biographies he managed to get his head stuck inside his helmet because of all the blows he'd received in the fight. The people of the tournament had adjudged him the man of the match and came to find him to presented with the prize which happened to be a large pike on a platter as in the fish!
They came to the forge, where they saw him with his head on the anvil. It was no laughing matter, far from it, for the smith with his hammers, wrenches and pincers, was going about the task of tearing off his helmet and cutting through the metal strips, which were quite staved in, smashed and battered. The helmet was so tight around his neck that it was freed with great difficulty. Once the helmet was prized of – and it was pulled off with great difficulty – the knights who had come to forge greeted him graciously. I am sure that back in the day William was delighted to receive the honour of being champion of the tourney, but my imagination furnishes me with a picture of a red-faced William gasping for fresh air and rather sore around the ears, being faced with a crowd of people bearing a large fish on a plate and it makes me smile.
William certainly seems to enjoyed his life on the tourney field and to have been ideally suited to it. The Histoire is so joyous at this point and really gives a feel for the sites sounds and smells of the tourney round. I think it was Professor Crouch who compared it to something of a large Gymkhana! We know the one year between Lent and Whitsuntide William and a companion took 103 knights prisoner. And when one took a knight prisoner on the tourney ground one was entitled to a ransom payment for having done so. It's basically a contact sport for prize-money - would make great television! Allied to his prowess William had a great and mischievous sense of humour and this is one of the reasons I like him so much. This is an example of incident from his tourney days.
The knights rose up from the ranks to meet them, as was fit and proper. They were convinced that they had become better men as a result of the lady's arrival, and so they had, for all those there felt a doubling of strength in mind and body, and their boldness and courage. One of them said: ‘come on, let us dance while we are waiting, we will be less bored.’ So they took one another by the hand. One man asked: ‘who will be kind enough to sing for us?’ The Marshal who had a good voice but who in no way boasted about it, then began to sing a song in a pure sweet tone. He gave much pleasure to those present and they willingly joined in his song. And when he had finished his song, which gave them much pleasure and delight, the young singer, recently made a herald at arms, began to sing a new song. I do not know who was the subject of it, but the refrain contained the words: ‘
come on, give me a trusty steed!’When the Marshal heard it, he stayed there not
a minute longer, but left the dance without saying a word to anyone. A squire
brought him his horse, and he beckoned to the young herald. The Herald saw the
gesture and ran after him as fast as he could. At this point the jousters rode
up, those who were in the front rank of the initial contests. The Marshal, a
man who had no wish to bandy words, road straight at one of them. He had such
faith in his prowess and in his firm and sturdy lance, that he knocked him off
his horse without further ado. Then he had the young herald mount the horse, and he, without uttering a
word, galloped back into the dance, and said to all: ‘Look what a fine horse!
The Marshal gave it to me.’ Many were greatly surprised by this, as they were
under the impression that the Marshall
was still at the dance, and they spoke much of it. Marshall
While William was in service to the young King, some jealous enemies at court accused him of having an affair with the young King's wife Marguerite. William staunchly denied this, but nevertheless he was banished from court. I don't think for a minute he did have an affair with the young King's wife. The result of the discovery of such a liaison, would not just have brought shame upon the Marshal, but would have cost him his life. It was treason. Given William’s life compass which was always one of honour, duty and truth, I personally don't think he would have done this. As it was just the accusation almost cost him his career and he was ousted from court. He took the opportunity to go to
and visits the shrine of the three Kings there. He was offered employment by
various magnates throughout Europe, but
declined. He only had one Lord, the young King. As it happened young Henry and
his father fell out again for various detailed political reasons and William
was recalled to serve his master.
This was not a particularly happy time in Williams life. He was now well into his 30s, and perhaps approaching a crossroads. The behaviour that was appropriate to a younger man, now no longer sat so lightly on his shoulders. His young Lord, had taken to robbing churches and shrines to gain money for his war, including the shrine of our lady of Rocamadour, and although it does not say so in the Histoire, I gain the impression that William was very unhappy with such a state of affairs. Indeed when he founded the Priory at Cartmel, he had a curse written into the foundation charter that was to fall upon anyone who did anything to the detriment of the priory. Although many priories and abbeys have this type of clause written into their foundation charters, I do wonder if William was thinking of Rocamadour when he had this one put in.
Shortly after the young King had robbed the shrine, he fell ill with dysentery and it became obvious that he was going to die. William was with him on his deathbed and the young King had a particular request to make of him.
And when it came to the reading of his will, he said this: ‘Marshal, you have ever been loyal to me, a staunch supporter in good faith. I leave you my cross so that on my behalf you can take it to the holy sepulchre and with it pay my debts to God.’ The Marshal replied: ‘sire, I give you my most grateful thanks! Since that is your provision in your will and you have chosen me for this task, I shall certainly do it, for that man is no loyal friend who is found wanting in help in a great moment of need.’
I think this visit to the Holy Land was the moment at the crossroads he had been travelling towards. I think he went there in some sort of spiritual crisis and whatever happened, he came home not exactly a different man, but one who had grown in all areas of his life. The Histoire tells us very little about his time, although there are some pertinent points made and one very important one that comes later in his life. All it tells us of his time there is this.
So he went away and stayed two years, without returning during that time. In Palestine he showed himself to be so generous, he performed so many feats of bravery and valour, so many fine deeds that no man before had performed so many, even if he had lived there for seven years.
When he left that land, he went to seek leave of King Guy, all the men in the King's household, and of the Templars and Hospitalers, who loved the Marshal very dearly because of his many fine qualities and were very displeased about his returning home. We also know from later on in the tale that he obtained his own burial shrouds while abroad, and showed them to no one. He also vowed his body to the Templars at his death.
Once home, he took up service with Henry II again, who was pleased to see him and gave him lands here in Cumbria, and the wardship of Heloise, heir of William of Lancaster, Lord of Kendal.
The lady of Lancaster, a lady of great elegance, together with her land, he gave to the
Marshall, and the
did her high honour and kept her from dishonour for a long time, as his dear
friend, but he never married her. Marshall
|Close up of William's effigy, his hand around his sword hilt|
William could indeed have married her and made his life in this area as a baron, certainly with the same standing as his father, but he preferred not to. However he did come to spend time in
Cumbria on his
return from the holy land, perhaps to recuperate from all the travelling, and to
settle himself spiritually.
He seems to have enjoyed travel in different places, and
certainly a new experience for him. It was while here that he began his plans to
found a Priory on the land that King Henry had given him, although building did
not start until after his marriage to Isabelle de Clare.
In 1186, William left
to go to Henry II who had need of him in Normandy,
and it's here that he was promised an even greater heiress and Heloise of
The King promised the
in return for
his service, the hand of the maiden of Striguil, a worthy, beautiful girl. Isabelle de Clare, was heiress to lands in Marshall Normandy, in Berkshire, the Welsh borders, Wales and Leinster in Ireland. She was just about of
marriageable age, a blond beauty and immensely wealthy. Not that it was certain William was going to
claim his prize, because Henry was on the back foot. He was fighting both the
King of France and his son Richard the Lionheart who was in rebellion against
him. It was a vicious, bitter campaign, that saw the burning of Le Mans, Henry's
birthplace. Henry himself, sick and distraught, fled the town as Richard
entered through the gates. Riding rearguard, William sought to defend his
ailing Lord, and showed what he was made of, when it turned out that those
pursuing were led by none other than Richard the Lionheart
Like the prudent and wise man he was, he took up his shield and his lance, and spurred straight on to meet the advancing count Richard. When the count saw him coming, he shouted out at the top of his voice: ‘God’s legs,
Do not kill me, that would be a wicked thing to do, since you find me here
completely unarmed.’ The Marshal replied: ‘Indeed I won't. Let the devil kill
you! I shall not be the one to do it.’ This said, he struck the count's
horse a blow with his lance, and the
horse died instantly; it's never took another step forward. It died, and the
count fell to the ground. It was a fine below, which came at an opportune
moment for those riding ahead. Marshal
Henry was seriously ill, and died soon after. His body was born to the Abbey of Fontevraud by his household Knights, and while they were hold vigil there, Richard came to view his father's body, and talk to the men who were with him. The last time he had seen William, had been at the other end of a lance, and the Histoire gives us this conversation between them at the church.
‘Marshal, fair Sir, the other day you intended to kill me, and you would have, without a doubt, if I hadn't deflected your lance with my arm. That would have been a bad day.’
He replied to the count ‘My Lord, it was never my intention to kill you, never did I put my effort into that: I am still strong enough to direct my lance when armed and even more so on that occasion, when I was unarmed; if I had wanted, I could have driven it straight through your body, just as I did with that horse of yours. And I do not consider it a wicked thing for me to have killed it, nor am I sorry for doing so.’
He replied to the count ‘My Lord, it was never my intention to kill you, never did I put my effort into that: I am still strong enough to direct my lance when armed and even more so on that occasion, when I was unarmed; if I had wanted, I could have driven it straight through your body, just as I did with that horse of yours. And I do not consider it a wicked thing for me to have killed it, nor am I sorry for doing so.’
Richard did not bear William a grudge for this. To the contrary he valued his steadfastness and loyalty and to that end, granted him permission to take Isabelle de Clare to wife. William went immediately to
London. Isabelle was
being kept in the because she was
such a great prize. William knew that although Richard was King, the situation wass volatile and he made haste to marry Isabelle straightaway. It was a
political match. As far as we know they had never met before. He was in his
early 40s; she was 18 at the oldest. What they thought on first seeing each
other is not recorded, but they seem to have made a strong and
affectionate marriage that lasted for 30 years. William set the tone of their
marriage from the beginning. It was
celebrated in Tower
of London London
at the house of his good friend Richard FitzReinier, who offered to provide
what was necessary: William said that
"Now that he had her in his possession he had no wish to lose her, so he said that he would go to her lands and marry her there. Hearing this, Richard FitzReinier, his host, who loved him very dearly said ‘Upon my soul my Lord! You will not. You shall not marry her anywhere else but here, and in this house your wedding will be so well arranged that you will lack nothing of what a worthy man needs for his use.’ The Marshal replied: ‘I have made no provision for such a thing.’
‘But I have and very well too,’ said his host, ‘and nothing will be wanting. Thanks to God I have so much of my own that there will be no need of anything of yours.’ That said, there was no further delay: she was married under a favourable star, that worthy, beautiful lady of good breeding, that courtly lady of high birth, whose children and whose fortunes were so promoted by the Lord our God in his providence, as we see now and have seen in the past. Once that fine, splendid wedding ceremony had taken place, in a manner that was fitting, I know that the Marshall took the lady to stay with Sir Engelram D’Abernon at Stoke, a peaceful spot, well appointed and a delight to the eye.
Knowing that he was going to be very busy in the future, William nevertheless took the time out to have a honeymoon in a secluded spot and get to know his wife. At this point in his life, he also took a moment to think of his proposed foundation at Cartmel, and sent a colony of Augustinian monks from the mother house at Bradenstoke Priory, to be the founder colony at Cartmel. The first prior of Cartmel was called Daniel and had charge from around 1194 until 1204.
|Chepstow Castle, entrance to the inner section|
William and Isabelle were blessed with children almost straightaway. Their first son William was born probably in April 1190 possibly at Longeville in
Richard, their second child arrived probably about 18 months later, and this
set the pattern. William and Isabelle would have 10 children- five boys and
five girls because William believed in balance after all. William and Richard came
first, then their daughter Mahelt or Matilda, then Gilbert, then Walter, then
Isabelle, Sybilla and Eve, followed by Ancel and Joanna. By the time Joanna was
born William was around 64 and Isabelle into her 40s. None of the boys were to
have children, but all the girls had sons and daughters whose descendants are
scattered round the world, some of them properly here listening today.
Williams spent the reign of King Richard bringing up his growing family, serving Richard in a military capacity, and also helps to rule the country during Richard’s absence on Crusade. He spent most of his time in
Normandy, with short occasional returns to England. When
Richard died from an arrow wound sustained at a siege in the Limousin,
William was in Rouen
and one of the first to receive the news. In fact he was on his way to bed but
put his boots back on’ and went to consult with Hubert Walter the
Archbishop of Canterbury about what to do. The men had a long discussion about
whether they should back John to be King, or offer the throne to his teenage
nephew Prince Arthur. In the end William Marshal persuaded the Archbishop that
they should sign up for John because because
the son is indisputably closer in the line inheritance and the nephew is, and
it is right that that should be made clear.’ The Archbishop agreed but with
caveats. He said you will never come to
regret anything you did as much as what you're doing now.’ To which William replied ‘thanks for the warning! Nonetheless my advice is that it should be so.’
In hindsight perhaps William did wish that he hadn’t argued for John, but be that as it may, John was offered the crown, and for his aid in the matter, William was awarded the Earldom of Pembroke and custody of the Castle there.
John's reign proved to be a tricky one. John had inherited political difficulties from Richard, the work of Richard doing, but the result of general political pull and push throughout
and it has to be said that John's personality did nothing to mitigate
circumstances. The King's pride and
arrogance increased; they so blurred his vision that he could not see reason
indeed, I know for a fact that as a result he lost the affection of the barons
of the land before he crossed to England. He did not have an easy
character. His biographer WL Warren says of him that he had the mind of a great
King and inclinations of petty tyrant, and as a form of shorthand that
statement says it all. He was suspicious of everyone including William. Another
suspicion was exacerbated during the fight where John was To lose Normandy. Seeing the French overrunning Normandy, knowing that his own lands were under threat, William made a pact with
the King of France and did him homage for the Norman lands. John not
surprisingly took exception to this. William claimed that John had given him
permission to give his oath to the French king for his Norman castles. One
suspects at that point in his life William was sailing slightly close to the
wind. John decided to take one of William sons hostage as
security for William’s good behaviour. The
eldest son who was most dear to the .
The latter surrendered him readily to the King, being as he was a man who would
have nothing to do with evil-doing or ever thought of such. The saying goes
that a man who bandages his finger when it is whole will find it so again when
he chooses to take the bandage off. Marshal
William further blotted his copybook by seeking permission to go to
and sort out his land there. John had interests in Ireland and didn't want William
meddling. However, he gave his word that William could go, but then asks for
William second son as a hostage too. Isabel was very lost to let her second son
go into John's custody, but William was willing to hand him over because that
was the only way he was going to get to Ireland without being adjudged a rebel,
and that could be even more dangerous for his family. So William handed over
Richard too. At the same time he arranged a marriage for his eldest daughter
Mahelt with Hugh Bigod, eldest son of Roger Bigod earl of Norfolk.
This kept Mahelt safe in England
under the protection of a powerful family, owners of almost half of East Anglia. The marriage was a most suitable one and
pleased both families involved,’ The Histoire tells us.
William duly sailed to
Ireland with his family all but his
hostage sons and his newly married daughter. Once there he set about organising
his lands, and founding a town on the River Barrow that today is known as New
Ross. The family stayed there for the next five years at least and
William’s last two children were to be born in Leinster.
King John was furious to learn that William had gone to Ireland against his wishes. He had
been hoping that the demand for the second son would keep William in England. He summoned William back to England
to answer to him, along with the Justiciar of Ireland, one Meilier Fitzhenry who was William's enemy.
Indeed Meilier had instructions that the moment he and William sailed from Ireland, his men were to start making war on William's interests there. The
Histoire says of a meeting held before William departed:
'They greatly feared the King’s sending for him was a trick and that he was acting more with a view to harming him than for his good. This view was expressed in the presence of the Countess, who had every fear as regards the King's word. The Marshal knew very well and was very aware that the King had not sent for him for his good and he had no doubt once he had left the land there would be strife and war.'
William made contingency plans, but when his men suggested that he himself should take hostages against the behaviour of men whom he was uncertain, William refused and very strongly. He said: 'Enough of that! I would not wish just now even for the price of 100 marks in silver that they came to know for certain that you had said such a thing, for it would be recorded to our eternal shame. Instead I shall send for them to come to me and I shall tell them to uphold the peace and integrity of my land. This then perhaps is a leftover from William himself being taken hostage, and what he felt inside about having to give his sons away to John. He had given his boys as hostage because that was all he could do, but he would not take other men’s sons.
William duly went to
England and had a difficult time at
there, because King John proceeded to give him the cold shoulder and treat him
with suspicion and contempt. He told him a concocted lie about
William’s best men having been defeated and killed in battle and Isabelle (who
was pregnant at this time) being left alone and without help. William
was very surprised at the news because at the time the weather was bad and no
ships were sailing between England
to bring such details to the court. However he said: ‘I can tell you in truth
that the death of those knights is a loss. There is nobody here, be here full
wise, who does not know, in a word, that they were your own worthy men, and for
that reason this business is an even
This put John in his place, and later the news arrived that William's men had actually prevailed over the aggressors, although the town of New Ross had been burned to the ground.
John's anger with William lowered to a simmer and he allowed him to return to Ireland, where William set about putting things to right and dealing with men who had ridden against him. It was not all over in a day, and John had not finished with William or with
The King came there himself to deal with rebels, and take a grip on
the country and show his authority. William played the game cannily and did all
that the King asked. Around him he saw other barons falling because of the King's displeasure, most spectacularly, William de Braose. There is not time to
go into the whole de Braose situation, but he too had been asked for hostages.
In his case, his wife had refused to give up her sons, saying she would not
give them into the presence of a King who had murdered his own nephew. This was a reference to Prince Arthur who have
mysteriously vanished while in John's custody Rouen. Few knew what had happened to him –
although de Braose may well have been one of them, and so might William who was de Braose’s
friend. It's something we will never know.
|door column at the Temple Church|
William did manage through diplomacy and sound political decisions to weather the King's displeasure, and settled down with his family in
However, John summoned him back to England because
the political situation was dire. The Pope had excommunicated John over a
long-running dispute concerning who should be Archbishop of Canterbury. In some
ways it was reminiscent of the Becket crisis of his father's reign, in that the
King wanted one thing and the church wanted the other. The barons had taken
John's excommunication is a general sign to rise up agaisnt him - they
had a lot to be discontented about, including the marrying of heiresses to John's
favourites, the bad behaviour of his mercenaries, the fact that he was selling
justice for a fee to name just a few. William was put in a predicament because
once he swore his loyalty, he kept it, but he too had fallen victim to royal caprice and tyranny. When summoned he came, but the Histoire shows us the
balance of the man.
He was sorely grieved by the outrages committed by both sides, once he had been informed of them: he had no wish for them, nor did he agree to them. The Histoire also says when the King ran out of resources, very few of the men stayed with him who were there for his money; they went on their way with their booty in hand. However, the Marshal at least, a man of loyal and noble heart, stayed with him in hard and difficult circumstances; he never left him, he never changed that steadfast heart of his, serving him in good faith as his Lord and King… What ever the King had done to him, he never abandoned him for anyone. That absolute loyalty and honour was one of the the underpinning characteristics of William Marshal's personality.
Williams eldest son had joined the rebels. What William thought of this, we don't know. Unless it was a deliberate political move, it must have caused some ructions in the family. The Histoire is silent on the matter. What we do know is that the barons involved in working out the details of Magna Carta, and designated as sureties to see that its terms were carried out, included William Marshall senior and junior, their relatives by marriage William Earl of Salisbury, and Roger and Hugh Bigod, the latter of whom was married toWilliam Marshal's daughter Mahelt. William was honour bound to take John’s part in these negotiations, but through family ties he had a foot in each camp.
John died in October 1216, leaving a country in turmoil. There was Civil War, the French had invaded and had control of
were threatening Dover,
and had taken several other important towns. John's eldest son was only nine
years old, war had brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy, and there
were deep divisions between people would want to be friends and allies. The
barons who had stayed loyal to John,
including William brought his son the nine-year-old Henry to Gloucester
Abbey. The high-ranking men there
carried him between them to the Abbey, where the gift of succession was passed
on through the anointing and the coronation.’
Then the matter of who was going to rule the country had to be discussed. There were only two men in the running; William Marshal, and Rannulf Earl of
The latter was known to be a bit prickly, and not everyone was willing to
follow him even though he had the ability to lead. In the end the vote went
William who was by now around 70 years old. Having had the job of running the
country that is, being Regent put upon his shoulders, William retired to his
chamber and the enormity hit him.
He called his closest advisers, and then leant against one of the walls. It will not take long to list the members of the council: the three who were with him the previous night, were now with him at these talks. He said to them ‘give me your help and advice, for by the faith I owe you, I have embarked upon the open sea, where no man, where ever he sails or where ever he sounds the depths, can find bottom of sure, and from which it is a miracle if he reaches port and a safe haven. But may God if it please him, sustain me! I have been entrusted with this task, which is already close to coming to grief, as you know and sense. And the child has no wealth, which is very damaging and a source of grief to me, and I myself am an old man.’ Then his heart became full to overflowing and his eyes began to fill with tears. Tears streamed down his face, and those present there, who loved him and were entirely devoted to him, began to weep out of pity for him. And he, after looking up, said: ‘Have you no more to say than this?’
As it was his former Squire and now fellow baron and companion Jean D’Earley comforted him, and did the equivalent of giving him a stiff drink and encouragement. And William shook himself , squared his shoulders, and went to get on with the task of governing
and putting things right. By various
hand to mouth methods, including breaking up the Kings treasure what was left
of it, he managed to keep control the troops and maintain the economic
functioning of the country. He got people talking to each other even though
many barons did not change sides quite yet, but he had opened up avenues of debate
and issue pardons and truces. He would fight if he had to, but diplomacy came
He then had a stroke of luck. The French army had split up, and one division had gone up to
to try and take the Castle from its doughty Castellan, one Nicola De
la Haye. William seized the moment, and swept his army up to Lincoln to take on the French. By this time
William's son William Jr had returned to the fold, as had the Earl of Salisbury. It
seems that with John's death, the matter of rebellion was finished for
them. William wanted the enemy to think
that his army was larger than it was and be intimidated, so one of the things
he did was to have all the noncombatants in the baggage train brandish spears and shields on high, so that as they approached they looked to be
massive numbers. The French troops chose
to stay behind Lincoln's walls and not come out
and fight, so William had his trebuchets batter down a sealed up doorway in the
town walls, and brought his army into Lincoln
itself. His life has come full circle. As a young knight he had fought his
first battle in the streets of Drincourt. Now an old man, his final big
engagement was to be in the streets of Lincoln.
He was so eager to enter the fray that he forgot to put his helmet on, and had
to go back for it. Once it was on his head the Histoire says ‘he appeared more handsome than all the rest.
As swiftly as if he were a bird, a sparrowhawk or an eagle,he pricked the
horse with his spurs.’ Once again the cry of ‘God is with the
Marshal!’ was heard on the battlefield.
The French were utterly defeated at the Battle of Lincoln. William’s own cousin the Count of Perche was leading them and was killed when a sword pierced his brain through the eye- slit of his helm.
The final victory was a sea battle in which William took no part save to watch from the shore at Sandwich, as the French supplies, that would have bolstered the other half of the French army at
Dover, were either seized or destroyed by
English ships. Francis Drake’s glorious moment, was actually pre-empted by the
Battle of Sandwich. Many ships full of riches were captured, and great lords
taken for ransom. William used some of the booty to build a hospital dedicated
to St Bartholomew.
Prince Louis who was leading the French troops and who at one time had hoped to be King of England, now sued for peace. Negotiations were opened, and he agreed to leave
although he had to be paid to go away. Some barons protested at this, but William deemed it a necessary sweetener to diplomacy, and with the French gone,
putting the country to rights would go much more smoothly.
William continued with the task of being Regent for another couple of years, and although there were still choppy seas to be negotiated, at least the ship was no longer in danger of sinking. However the effort involved had taken its toll on William. Two years from the feast of St Michael, when Louis left the land, and it was no longer than the following Candlemas when the Marshal began to be plagued by an illness and pain which resulted in his death.’
He had physicians come to tend him in
but there was nothing they could do and he decided to go home to his favourite
manner at Caversham near Reading
to die. 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. So he was put in a boat and rowed upriver to
Caversham. Once there he set about making his will and putting his estate in
order. He made plans to hand over the country to some of the other people he
had been working with, and he sent for the young King Henry, now 11 years old.
When the boy was brought before him, he said ‘I can tell you in truth that I have served you faithfully and to the best of my ability in safeguarding your land, when it was a difficult task to do so, and I would serve you, if I could, if it please God that I had the capacity to do so, but there is no man can plainly see that it does not please him that I should be in this world any longer.’ He also spoke to the boy, warning him against behaving like his father King John. Sire, I beg the Lord our God that, if I ever did anything to please him, but in the end he grant you to grow up to be a worthy man. And if it were the case that you followed in the footsteps of some wicked ancestor, and that your wish was to be like him, then I pray to God the son of Mary, that he does not give you long to live and that you die before it comes to that.’ So despite having served John and his son in full loyalty and to the end of his tether, Williams feelings on the matter come through strongly here.
The matter of the country sorted, Williams turned to his own concerns. He sent his good friend and companion Jean D’Earley on a mission. Bring me the two lengths of silk cloth which I gave Stephen to look after; Jean duly went and fetched the cloths and brought them back to William’s bedside.
'Here are your length silk, my Lord, which I was instructed to bring to you.’
When he heard this, he took them, and he said that to Henry Fitzgerald ‘Henry, look at this fine cloth here!
‘Indeed my Lord, but I can tell you that I find them a little faded, unless my eyesight is blurred.’
The Earl replied ‘Unfold them, so that we might be in a better position to judge.’ And, once the lengths of cloth had been unfolded, they looked very fine and valuable, choice cloths good workmanship. He called for his son and his knights to come before him, and once they had all appeared he said :‘ My Lords! I had these lengths of cloth for 30 years; I had them brought back with me when I returned from the holy land, to be used for the purpose which they will now serve; my intention has always been that they will be draped over my body when I am laid in the earth; that was the destination I had in mind for them.’
‘My Lord,’ said his son’there is one thing we are wondering about which is a closed book to us we cannot tell it what place you wish to be laid to rest.’
‘My dear son.’ He said’I shall tell you, with out a word of a lie: 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.’
And that is what happened and why William's body lies in the
in London not
here at Cartmel or in the main house at Bradenstoke. William continued to give
detailed orders about what he wanted to happen after he had died. His illness
was such that he had time to organise this and make his farewells. As well as
having kept his burial shrouds for 30 years, he had been planning more recently
for the matter of the end of his life. He had had a Templar cloak made in secret
and stored in his wardrobe and now he had it brought out for all to see,
because he intended now to take the vows of a Templer knight.
He had that cloak made for him a year before, keeping it in his possession without anyone else knowing its existence. 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.’ She stepped forward and kissed him, and both of them wept. The good folk present there also wept out of affection and compassion.’
Even amidst the moments of terrible grief and preparing to leave the world, there were still moments of joy and comfort. One day towards the very end of his illness William declared to Jean D’Earley that he had a sudden desire to sing, but that he would feel foolish doing so. Henry Fitzgerald who was also with him suggested that he send his daughters to sing to comfort him and William agreed. The girls arrived, and William perked up a bit.
‘Matilda, you be the first to sing,’ he said. She had no wish to do so, for her life at the time was a bitter cup, but she had no wish to disobey her father's command. She started to sing, since she wished to please her father, and she sang exceedingly well, giving a verse of the song in a sweet clear voice.
’Joanna you sing as best you can!’ She sang one verse from a rotrouenge, but timidly.
‘Don’t be bashful when you sing,’ said the Earl, ‘for if you are, you will not perform well and the words will not come across in the right way.’ So the
taught her how to sing the words.
Once the song was finished, he said to them ‘My daughters go in the name of
Christ, for God protects all who believe in him; I pray to him to grant you his protection.’ As
was fitting they took their leave: Marshall
Another incident involved the supernatural. William was being attended by Jean D’Earley and said to him. ‘Can you see what I can see?’
‘My Lord, I don't know what we're looking at.’
‘Upon my soul, there are two men in white here, one of them here by me on my right and the other on my left; I never saw more handsome anywhere.’
‘My Lord, the company of Angels has come to you, and if it please God, will come again to be by your side. God has sent his company to you to lead you along the right path.’
The Earl then said:’blessed be the Lord our God, who has given and imparted his grace to me here.’
I believe that indeed the company of Angels had come to him rather than it being caused by the flickers of the dying mind.
William died at Caversham on a May morning with the windows open and his grieving family around his bed this very week 792 years ago, and as evidenced here in this gathering he is still remembered and honoured at Cartmel, the Priory he founded on his return from
The Histoire finishes: here ends the story of the Earl's life, and may God grant that his soul rest in eternal glory in the company of his angels! Amen
But the story doesn't end there, because William’s memory has lived on down the centuries. His name has become a byword for honour and chivalry, for loyalty, for decency and compassion. He was a great man in his time, and he remains a great one even now, perhaps even more so because there are so many more people in the world than there were in his day, and in reading about him, they can reach out and be inspired by his values. In writing my own novels about his life, I hope I have done him justice.
The Histoire reaches out across the centuries to the author in me and says. ‘Nobody seeking to make a living from writing should put in his book anything which is not strictly necessary or which is extraneous to the matter in hand.’
I hope none of this has been extraneous. I wanted to share and celebrate with you the life of the founder of Cartmel Priory, and I hope I have given you William Marshal. The Greatest Knight, and the finest man.’
|Me paying my respects at the Temple Church|