Friday, September 28, 2007

An Interview With John Marshal

It's the publication this week of A Place Beyond Courage: The story of William Marshal's father John FitzGilbert, so to mark the event I'm putting this interview with the protagonist on my blog.
I first became interested in John's story while writing The Greatest Knight, about his son, the legendary William Marshal. John himself is something of a legend too, having gone down in history as the callous father who said (to paraphrase) when his son was threatened with death '
Go ahead and hang him, I have the anvils and hammers to get better than him.' That speech set me to wondering about the man behind the words and led me to begin digging for details, as I felt there was far more to this than met the eye. I was right. What I have discovered is a man, who, rather like Richard III has been the victim of the spin of history. I hope that A Place Beyond Courage will help to redress the balance a little and allow him to stand in his own light.
As many of you know, I use psychic input as one of my research threads via the services of Akashic Record Consultant Alison King who has the ability to see back into the past.
(she now has a blog here at
To coincide with the publication of A Place Beyond Courage, Alison and I have conducted an interview with John Marshal. It's set out verbatim so that you can see that we do get some moments of 'white noise' and sometimes go off track. It's not always clear and exact, and we have to pick our way through what we receive.
The extra sections following the interview are taken from much longer pieces obtained during sessions over the past two years and will, I hope give you an impression of John the man, his family, and the life and times in which they lived. There's quite a full selection, so do dib in and out as you please!

Interview with John Marshal: recorded on 27th September 2007

Alison tuned in and I asked the first question, but Alison wasn’t comfortable. We weren’t actually going to a specific incident in John’s life as we usually do, but to John now and Alison felt like a more conventional medium would and that John was actually trying to communicate through her body directly rather than them being separate. She’s not comfortable with this way of working, so said she would set up a room in the ether for John to sit in. Then we tried again.

Alison: That’s better, I’ve made a room for him to sit in. It’s a lovely medieval room. So the question:

Q. When you were royal Marshal to Henry I, what was the most satisfying part of the job?

The most satisfying was obviously when I got it right. When I sorted things out. (Alison says what she is getting is like a full chest – like the chest of a hen with the feathers puffed out) and everything was jogging along, when I knew what I was doing, and I could deal with anything that came up, when I had my finger on every mark. When I knew where the pressure was and I could put my finger on it and deflate it whenever it happened.

Can you give us any examples of that?

I can see a square like a square well or something with a hole going downwards. There’s hands coming up out of the square, being helped up and then a trap door being closed over it. I didn’t see the people actually come out of the square. It was as if they were actually shut in there. This was putting the prisoners away for the night so that there was no more rowdiness and all perfectly under control and no harm would come to them. (John was in charge of keeping noble prisoners under arrest when they failed to pay their debts at the exchequer, but it was a form of house arrest rather than in fetters, so this has a hint of that I think).

Q. And what was the most frustrating thing about being the Marshal?

I am seeing a crown put on someone’s head and it keeps being taken off and put on. And the arms of this person are stretched out and each are holding what look like gold candlesticks but with no candles in, so they’re carved staffs or something. It’s about not knowing who’s in charge. One person tells you to do one thing and someone else tells you to do something else. Sometimes it’s the same person telling you to do different things. Coping with that sort of thing is beyond endurance. Why can’t people just make up their minds and go through with it? It would make life so much simpler.

Q. And of those three kings you served, which one was the most likely to do this sort of thing?

The first one. He was always changing his mind. Vacillating because he was so lively. No sooner had he thought of one thing then he would think of another. He always had ideas coming for improvement and enhancement but never the first enhancement was finished before the next one was on its way and so the financing of it became complicated because if the first one wasn’t completed what was to be done with the rest of the money? It left scope for unscrupulous people. I was forever cleaning out those pustules of deceit. Nevertheless he was a good king and kept his honour to the end. But sometimes that did not assist others around him at keeping theirs.

Here John starts getting agitated. It doesn’t seem to be a line of questioning he’s appreciating. Alison says he’s got up from the chair and he’s pacing the room. I was going to ask how much difference there was being Marshal to the 3 kings, but abandoned that and asked instead what was the most satisfying time in his life?

Alison: I’m being drawn to two places. I’ll go with the second first because it’s bigger. It looks like a window ledge. He’s putting his hand on a stone window ledge. The light is golden. There’s a smell like ripe apples. There’s a key in his hand and the key’s on a chain. The key’s going into a lock. He’s opening the door. There’s golden light on the other side of the door and I can see I’m on a ridge of stone wall. It’s a big stone wall with a line of carving about 3ft up. He’s coming down some steps. He seems to have been in a tower. He’s going out onto the battlements. He feels really warm in the solar plexus area, really satisfied. He has shown me his wife (Sybilla) and a baby, and the walls feel really secure and solid, as if they’ll stand there for many generations, for the future of his children to come. He feels powerful. He knows now the purpose of his energy. It’s to secure this. He’s totally at peace and at one. Everything’s right.

The second incident? This is much earlier. I can see something that might be peas in a pod but it’s golden. You know those rods that people hold as badges of office and they’re very carved and of precious metal – that’s what I’m seeing. There’s a ball on it. He’s saying ‘That’s mine. That’s what I attained through my own efforts. The Marshal’s rod of office then? Yes, and my father’s efforts before me, and his father’s efforts also, not to mention my mother’s, for all go together in establishing the bloodline, the power of which goes beyond the generations. It is an entity in its own right and this I am proud to have been a part of it.

Q. You have left behind a reputation of cunning and skill when it came to building castles. Where did you learn this craft?

It’s not cunning, it’s cleverness. Skill I will own up to, but assisted by others of at least equal skill. It was not my own skill alone but a joint effort with many people. However, I had overall direction and management. The deployment of these things was in the hands of others. But if you ask about the design, then these are things we worked out in collaboration by playing through various scenarios of how we would attack such a stronghold and how it could then be defended. We would play through these scenarios for many days consecutively, thinking of new ways of attack and whatever fresh ideas we could think of. Then that spurred us into reaction and further development of the castle reaches, and refinements of our plans which if they were at all possible we then put into practise and made practical use of in the building. I also wished to view a building which was refined and honourable – of honourable estate and did not dilute the view but rather made it greater and fiercer and brought fire into men’s bellies. That is what I strove to do and in honour I believe I many times succeeded.

Q. Did you ever meet Queen Eleanor?

What I’m seeing here is the back of Queen Eleanor. She’s being carried into the room in a litter. Someone’s helping her out of the litter but she seems very cronky as if she’s an old lady, but I can only see the back. Alison says it doesn’t make sense. I agree. Although I have an afterthought that if Alison can only see the back, then the cronkiness might be due to heavy pregnancy? She was in the midst of her child-bearing season when she came to England. She’d be roughly the same age as John’s wife Sybilla. Try again. A repeat of the question receives a negative, but this is probably not right either, and I would say a moment of ‘white noise’ down to Alison doubting what she saw and everything going pear shaped. Abandon this one…

Alison. John wants to tell her something.

He says You must not take everything you see as the letter of the law. For you will see many things and some will be true and some will not. For truth you must test your heart. Right, thank you.

Q. Can you tell us about Sybilla?

Sybilla was my wife and my own chosen one. She was…(I am seeing a fairy flying scattering stardust.) He is saying ‘What more can I say? She was everything to me and I to her if I am not mistaken. Everything I could have wanted rolled into one. Everything I needed without any delays or obstication. And I loved and adored her with a passion. Anything you can share with us from that life? I am seeing cloth held up so that it hangs down, and at first I thought maybe it was a baby cradled but then I saw it was a person lying down below this cloth thing and there was a crown on their head or a coronet. That song Wake me up Inside came into my head. This is a woman. She’s sat up and then stood up. It doesn’t seem very realistic. I’m trying to do it with my heart, understand it with my heart. I’m doing it wrong. I should be feeling it with my solar plexus and understanding it with my heart. I think he’s getting annoyed with me. I feel as if the ground’s shaking a bit, and everything went light. I think when I got the Eleanor thing wrong my confidence went down a bit and I have to get my confidence back. I also misunderstood his instruction because I was doing it right before, but I needed to add on a bit not to do everything through the heart chakra, which is confusing because it becomes very vague. When he gets agitated, he gets up out of the chair and starts walking about. Right, can you please give us an example of a happy time spent with Sybilla? He says you have those already. So go onto next question.

Q. What were your impressions of Thomas Becket?

Thomas Becket is a fine man. It hoved him to serve himself well and then to serve the king well. It hoved him not to serve his king well first. In this position, a servant of the king, which we all are, we must not overshoot the mark and believe that we are further out than the king. We are still servants and we do his bidding, not the other way round, because then he becomes not a king but a man and that is not the correct way with these things, for if we have merely a man at the helm, we do not have a kingdom

Q. So what about your land dispute with Becket? (John had a dispute with Becket over a piece of land and used the dispute to get himself back into King Henry’s good graces, having been under something of a cloud in the 1160’s)

I do not decry this man. He is an able and gifted man and was doing what it behoved him to do for himself – as I also would have done for myself. These things have a political basis and as such should be treated as political matters. We are professional in our dealings, therefore I would not decry this man. But remember I am a professional. He seems quite pleased with himself about that. I get the impression it’s a good challenge to him, a worthy opponent.

Q. So allied to this can you tell us about the Merlin prophecies concerning King Henry II? (The cult of King Arthur was taking off and it was a popular aristocratic pastime to dabble in mystical prophecies concerning the future – a bit like we do with Nostradamus. John, disgruntled by Henry II having taken away Marlborough from him, was rather rash with these prophecies and went so far as to suggest that they hinted that Henry might not be king for much longer!)

The Merlin prophecies where they exist, exist for the eyes and ears of kings and their descendants, and I trust in their efficacy as one who should trust in the efficacy of the system of kingship, for it to be tried and tested. And if it is found wanting to be pushed aside or left hanging, not used. (a bit ambiguous, but fits in with what is known of John’s reasons for dabbling in the Merlin Prophecies).

Q. Is there anything you would change in hindsight if you had your life again?

He likes that question.

Yes indeed he would. I saw some steps leading up to a chair with carved arms and a wooden back bench and swords being put in at the side of chair, all around the sides. I think there’s a man sitting there with a crown on. And then I saw a table with metal goblets on and plates, overturned. Men in armour stamping around, fighting. Liquid on the floor. I think it’s blood. Now I can see from above, a round building with arches all around. I am seeing a religious procession. Lots of people in a wide procession. And there’s a coffin being carried with an effigy or body. I don’t know what this means. He says it means the end of kingship as it was. The end of honesty for deceit. I would have that time over again and I would do it differently. I would withhold the valour of the moment to maintain the steadiness of the kingdom, in order that we may go forward in greater strength and unity and in peace. For truly what is war but a blunting of the sword? It does not serve captain or captive. It does not serve the dead nor the living. It is a feast of wantonness and wastefulness. This and this alone I would change and bring peace to my country and happiness to my kin.

I then read out an assessment of John from professor Crouch’s biography of William Marshal and asked how much John agreed with it ‘John Marshal was a formidable model for his son: astute, physically powerful, an easy companion in the royal chambers, and a cool warrior in the field. In his days as castellan of Marlborough he was no coarse bandit. He was more of a baron than a robber. He played the great game of politics with talent and perception, rising rather than falling among the factions of the civil war. Giving ground when defiance would have been quixotic, he still ended up on the winning side. So far as his limited resources allowed, he was a generous patron of the church, a benefactor of abbeys and priories, particularly Bradenstoke priory, the Salisbury family foundation and mausoleum in Wiltshire, where he was buried himself.. He shared the aristocratic fascination of his day with the Knights Templar, to whom he devoted his manor of Rockley in Wiltshire….John Marshal was the first great exemplar of lordship in his son’s life and even at the distance of centuries we will see in his strengths and weaknesses how the son drew himself in some aspects from the pattern of his father, a definitive preudhomme, or man of standing in his son’s eyes.

He says ‘I am honoured indeed, all is true, yet I am honoured that you say so. And all from this distance seems perfect because it is long ago and done. At the time it was crude and unfinished and many a makeshift and many changes of heart and intent. Yet all this came to fruition, not entirely by my own power yet by the power of God from whom all good things come, and I wish you well my dear ones.

I ask Alison to thank John for his patience in answering my what might seem foolish questions.

I received a sardonic smile then! He says they are not foolish but they are overwrought somewhat in their delivery. Let you have a light touch. Let you make merry. Let us raise a toast together, neither the one higher nor the one lower. Let us be at one when we attain this work and let it be a joint effort equally. I bless you and yours. Alison says ‘I’d like to send our blessings to you then and yours and he says I thank you. I’d like to thank John for the interview which has been very interesting and has taught us much, not just for the information he gave but for a new way of working. It has been a bit of an experiment for us. We haven’t worked this way before’. He says you have, you just don’t recognise it.

Alison asks if he has anything to say.

Only that in the drawing of the latch from the door of history you unleash many strands, different voices, and to weave these together accurately and compellingly, requires great skill - as you have, and I ask you to continue this work to draw together the ages and to create understanding between those ages that all may be one and lessons may be learned in these times and in future times.

I am seeing a seal being put on a document and a signature as well. All is done now. Adieu. Then, Alison says, he left the room and went off to do something else. (which accords with his personality. As far as he’s concerned the book is finished and it’s the end of the project!)

After a long discussion about some of the strangeness of this session, we decided to ask Sybilla a couple of things, but went to her in situ in 1145 to ask them rather than bringing her to the interview room.

Alison asked if it was permitted and she received the response ‘Yes but tread with care because there are sensibilities involved. It’s not just for edification.’

We asked Sybilla what was special for her about John?

Alison: I’m seeing hair being combed. I’m seeing a plait being put in the top hair. It’s being plaited and a clasp thing put in across the plait. Sybilla’s been having her hair done and she’s turned to face us. I can’t actually see her face. I can see light where her face would be. It’s as if she’s saying ‘What do you want?’ I am explaining to her that we have come in order to gain more insight into her marriage with John Marshal for the purpose of promoting a Histoire – a romance that has been written in this century that his fame may live on. She’s says okay, but she’s busy.

So the first question is What made John so special to her?

Everything about him. He’s strong, he’s tall, he’s beautiful. I love his hair, I love his ear, I love his face, I love his neck, his shoulders, his arms. His arms have carried our baby – not for long I grant you but nevertheless… I love his respectfulness, his manners, his ease, and I love him most of all because he is mine. Because we have those intimate times together when we can know and appreciate each other without subterfuge. I can be myself and that is exactly what he wants and that makes me grow and be more of myself, and I love him for that. He allows me the space to be that. I like his strength and I like his ability to protect us and to do his duty.’

So is there an example of a particular high point in their life together?

I am seeing purple. Something that looks like an ear, and a branch going across the ear. Now I am seeing a bow and arrow. The bow is pointing upwards and the string is taut. It’s being released. I’m following it and it’s taking me through the countryside, of the meadow, the hill, between bushes, through hedges. It just seems to be going on and on forever. More fields, sheep, landscape, field after field. And even at the fence there’s a swing bridge and the fence is opening like a gate. I think it’s just to show me the immenseness of the land they had. She’s showing me her tummy pregnant, swollen stomach. She’s showing me her hair being trimmed. She’s still got a plait and it’s been put over her shoulder, and she’s got a baby on the other shoulder. Oh, the baby’s beautiful. She’s just loving that baby. I’m seeing what looks like a toilet seat cover, then it lifted and it just looked like going down a hole. So she’s showing you a toilet?! Yes, she is, and it’s all proper. Clean. She just feels so satisfied. Like someone getting a new house. Everything’s just right. I’m seeing a loom on someone’s knee with frets going down it and wool going across and someone putting the weft through with a ball of wool at the side. Now I’m seeing a curved bow or implement on a staff with wool at the top and bottom and a kind of thread of wool that comes backwards and forwards on this thing. So this is just daily life with John? Yes, having lands as far as you can send an arrow.

So the most difficult time they faced together?

Oh this is painful. She’s very miserable. We’ve lost it all. There’s a pain in her solar plexus. She’s quite hunched. I feel she’s a lot older. All those hopes and dreams. We can’t even afford a proper education for our child. What are we to do? She’s longing for Salisbury again. I’m saying what about John? There’s a smile. She says ‘he’s my stalwart, my saviour. She puts on a really brave face for John and they’ll face the world together. Brave, steadfast – and now at peace. All is well and those times have passed.

Does Sybilla have anything else to say?

Only that he was my hero, not fallen, never fallen. He was always my conquering hero, and I will have him remembered thus. I say to those who doubt, come hither and lead this life I led and espouse the experience, and see if you could have done better. For I say to you he did the utmost that a man could do and he assisted me to do my utmost also in all things. Test yourself against our mettle.

I honour you and bless you in your endeavour.

Now to some scenes from John's life and the lives of those around him

Much of this has not gone into the novel, but it has underpinned my assessment of John's character. I say 'much of this'. There are moments here and there that you will find while reading the story. From my viewpoint (non academic) these pieces definitely have a medieval mindset with reference to such conventions as love, marriage, patronage and duty.

I asked Alison to take a look at John Marshal and his father Gilbert at court in Windsor 1126 when John was about 21.

Alison: I can see people dancing. There are flurries of people circling, making archways, going in and out and underneath. It’s not only a dance but a way of meeting people. It’s a mixture of entertainment and socialisation. John’s watching all the interaction but he’s also involved in the dancing. He’s in the peripheral area of the dancing. He’s very proud of his….I don’t know you’d call them – stockings. They’re blue and tight-fitting. (hose or chausses. These were indeed a fairly tight fitting garment – Medieval equivalent of trousers. Think drainpipe jeans made of wool!). He keeps looking down at them. They’re a lightish blue, but not pastel. He’s wearing a silvery-grey tunic with blue trimmings. If he was a girl he’d be the belle of the ball! All the girls are looking at him and he’s able to give them his very sweet smile and return their looks with that twinkle in his eye. He has the right timing with his glances – not to long, not too short but enough to keep them looking and keep all of his options open. He’s getting more involved in the dancing. He’s good at dancing and quite enjoying it. He can dance with quite a bit of precision.
His father (Gilbert Giffard) is drinking with some of the older men. They all have flagons and are sitting on benches in what looks like an alcove – bit like an inglenook with no fire. The feeling among them is warm and friendly. They’re all in civvies so to speak, not on duty. They’ve got the day off and can relax. There’s a lot of bonhomie. John’s father is a wide man with thick, dark hair, greying at the edges and cut quite short. It’s so thick it stands up a bit. His face – full cheekbones, strong jaw. (Giffard was a common nick-name in the Norman period meaning ‘Chubby cheeks’) He has thick fingers. William Marshal has similar hands to his grandfather, but not as thick. Gilbert is another thinker – a wily man whose strength is more in his thinking ability than other things. His strength to his employer is in his thinking skills. He’s got his eye on his son. Even though he’s busy with his own companions, Gilbert’s still watching him. The reasons he’s watching John is that he’s assessing him, assessing his character and seeing what his motivation is like in a social setting. He wants to be in a position where he can let his son do things for himself and know he’ll be doing it right.

I know John and his father fought a duel over the Marshalsea. Checking my notes, I see it was against William de Hastings and Robert de Venoiz. De Venoiz’s father had once been a Marshal – Geoffrey the Marshal. Dare one think noses had been put out of joint?

Alison: Puffing and panting in panic or exertion. I’m with the father. It’s a big thing for a man of his age to do. He’s pleased his son is a healthy young man. All the lessons, all the training have been worthwhile. He’s got a helmet on and he’s looking around. There are rows of people watching and a fence in front of them. He’s taking a mouthful of liquid – it’s water – and just spitting it out. John is there. He’s a lot cooler than his father about this. He knows he has to protect his dad and keep his dad behind him. The other people have got a different sort of armour on. It’s burnished and bronzey while John’s and his father’s is that blackened silver colour. (burnished ‘goldy’ coloured armour was known). I’m with John now. He’s sizing up the field and his tactics. He thinks he’ll go for the older man, head him off and finish him quickly because he’s the better fighter, and then he can run round and get the younger man. If the younger man goes for his father, his father’s bulk will be able to hold him off until John can get to him. John acts as if he’s still nonchalantly taking a break, but then he suddenly turns round and with a roar, attacks. The other two are taken by surprise by the swiftness of John’s assault. They think he’s going for the younger man, but he crosses over in front of the older one. He’s using a morning star flail in one hand and a long dagger in the other – he’s going all or nothing for this. If he’s going to protect his father he’s got to fight for two of them. He’s using the morning star and he’s wrapped the chain round the older man’s neck. It’s not a killing blow, but it’s enough to bring him down, choking him and wounding his neck. (Alison makes choking sound) He might not be dead but he’s out of the fight. The younger one has been stopped in his tracks by what John’s done and the sight of the older, better fighter down. It’s what John wanted. Now John gets out his full sized sword and challenges the younger man. The younger man is swallowing after what he’s just seen. He’s a bit reluctant to take on John. He wanted the easier job of John’s dad. He has to face John….and he’s not doing it. He’s put his sword down – yes, he’s put his sword down. John is saying ‘Come on then, you coward, come on. He pokes him with his own sword. The other won’t rise to the challenge. The wounded man is being carried off the battlefield – it looks like a horse schooling field. The young man looks at all of this, seeing the odds. He keeps his sword down. The crowd are a bit disappointed. They’re shouting ‘Go on!’
John is so contemptuous that he turns half a shoulder to the other man and then fully turns his back just to show utter contempt. Then he suddenly whips round and rattles the blade at the other man in threat. This makes the challenger look even more stupid and the crowd starts laughing. John goes up to his father, puts his arm round him and they walk off the field to cheers, their position in the Marshalsea confirmed in public.

I asked about John's marriage contract with Aline. I had asked about this before but in passing. What made him marry her? He was the king’s marshal, could he not have done better?

Alison: He has satisfaction that he has the contract in his hand (it was the right to sell her in marriage to someone of his choosing, or to marry her himself. Basically he became her guardian.) It’s like something to put in his drawer for later. He’s glad he’s got it because he’s been in competition with quite a few others of his generation for it, all looking for suitable wives. The property goes to the male line and there are fewer women about with prospects than there are men seeking them. If he’s going to marry, he wants to marry well – not a liability, but a leg up the ladder. With Aline’s contract in his hands, he now has a failsafe option. It’s not ideal and he still thinks he could do better, but it’s a bird in the hand. Alison fast forwards to other times when he’s looking to upgrade his prospects with a better contract. It’s very difficult. He’s looking and looking but prospective women keep being whipped out from under his nose by other people. It’s like property development, a really speculative game and all the time he’s watching and waiting his chance, but is never quite quick enough. There’s some laughter at his expense because of his reputation at court. ‘Jack with all the ladies, but nee’r a wife. Alison says she gets the impression that some families have actually been put off by his reputation as a stud on the loose. They’re not keen to ally their womenfolk with a man of that reputation. There’s also the possibility that he might have to provide for children of these casual matings should they turn up. (not that he had any, but prospective families weren’t going to take the chance). Also, they question what else John has to offer. No more than other available marriage partners. Why give the nod to John when they could have someone of a purer reputation? A lot of it is about who you know. That’s one of the frustrations about Henry’s court for John. He has no other avenue to better himself. He’s a loyal servant, but still a servant when all’s said and done. He sees no room to gain lands and the opportunity to do so is slipping away along with his youth. He’s getting older and more hardened – slightly bitter even. He needs to get proper heirs. He makes a few last ditch attempts to seek out prospective brides where he hasn’t been before. He’s welcomed socially but not as a marriage partner. This gives him a cold feeling in his stomach. Since his plan has failed he will have to go ahead with the contingency plan and marry Aline. He doesn’t want to settle for a younger, penniless daughter.

Alison on Aline:
Ah, I initially felt that her heart was full, that she was happy. I can see a large circle – might be a round church window. Now I can see hens running across open ground between buildings. She’s feeding the hens. She’s happy. She likes her husband but it’s like a foreign land to her. He’s a big man, very different to what she knows. He treats her like a little girl. He’s by far the boss in the relationship and not willing to share anything of himself properly with her. Because of this, Aline can’t develop easily herself. He won’t give her anything. He sees her as a resource – something that he needs to have around, but he hasn’t connected to her on an emotional level. They don’t have a real relationship. However there’s no rancour and no argument. She sometimes feels a bit miffed with him, but she doesn’t take it far. She’s too young, too naive and doesn’t question it. As far as she knows, it’s just the way all men are. She has no expectation of anything different. But she does love him and he gives her a warm feeling in her heart. She’s willing to do her duty.
John is not good at bringing her out of her shell. Indeed, he has no interest in doing so. He’s always off doing his own thing. She’s happy enough for him to do this, but she’s not good at looking after the household things in his absence. She’s not organised or forceful enough to make other people do their work. She’s very quiet – like a little mouse really.

John served Stephen loyally for 4 years, but then defected to the Empress’s cause and stayed there until the end of the war. I wanted to get to the bottom of why he defected. Stephen felt it necessary to come and besiege him at Marlborough. He had given John custody of this strategic castle but was now, in September 1139 trying to take it back.

Alison: Mmmmm. John seems to be enjoying the siege. It’s a military challenge. He’s never had the opportunity before to see how good (or bad!) Stephen is. He’s cool, collected, calculating.

Turning against Stephen was not something he chose. There has been politicking against John amidst the barons of Stephen’s faction. Some barons feels that John is too up himself and is threatening their position in favour. Ah, there’s been some brinkmanship going on. Ambition is rife. Some of Stephen’s faction want everything. They would swallow the world if they could. Because of John’s dignity and ability, he has risen to a position of responsibility in Stephen’s household and his position of responsibility has enlarged his own power. There’s potential for him to own things that they feel are theirs by right and they want him out. Things have been done to get him out – suggestions of disloyalty, and that he’s had spies working for the opposition. Alison gasps. Oh God, they’ve set him up. They’ve pretended he has divulged information to the opposition in order to further his own cause.

John had no option but to go to the other side, otherwise he would have been left out in the cold. He wouldn’t have gone over of his own accord because it wouldn’t have been honourable.

But surely his good friend Robert of Gloucester was the opposition leader?
Alison listens. Everyone has friends on the other side in a war, but you don’t desert for them.

So why did he declare for Stephen when he had sworn for the Empress before Henry I died.
He thought it better for the country as a whole to be with Stephen and went along with the argument about it being an oath to God. Also he rescinded his oath to Matilda before he gave his word to Stephen. He felt that if Matilda ruled the country it would be in a state of statis – detrimental. Everything held in check. He wanted something dynamic and prosperous.

So why did he stay loyal after he swore for Matilda in 1139?

He says it’s like the devil and the deep blue sea. Going back to Stephen would have put him in a dangerous situation. He doubts he’d have survived it. He didn’t like Matilda and her ideas, but at least there was no back biting and he knew where he was with her. It wasn’t a warm relationship though. However he could function as his own person and not be in danger from his own side. No choice really. He estimated the odds and didn’t believe he could win the war of intrigue in Stephen’s court. There were too many people against him.

John was wounded in the face fighting a rearguard action in defence of the Empress Maude. Trapped in a burning church, lead from the roof dripped onto his face. He had to walk home twenty five miles with this injury. I asked about this journey and the moments after.

Alison makes a face. He’s gritting his teeth. Occasionally he’s having to be supported by someone else but then he pushes them off. Arrives home and falls on his bed. Everything’s white on the bed and he is filthy – makes a mess of everything. He feels as if everything is melting inside him, running down. There’s a horrible taste in his mouth. He can’t move the side of his face, it feels all swollen. He can’t see in that eye; everything looks black. He has no strength left. Aline is totally appalled. She’s standing in the doorway biting on her forefinger. Oh God, what do I do now? Fortunately for John there are more practical people about who know what to do. Her women bustle around, seeing to John while Aline just stands there, rooted to the spot, still biting her finger. One of the more kindly women draws her away. ‘Come and sit down, Madam.’ But when they are treating John, he makes noises and Aline has to flee the room. Not because she’s worried for him but because she’s squeamish. It’s not a close marriage. She still seems very much like a little girl in personality. They have two sons. She likes the look of them but she doesn’t get close to them, lets others do the looking after. She would rather go to church and listen to the priest. It makes her feel better. She explains all of her life through the terms of the church and the bible. She doesn’t explain it through her own feelings but relies on religion to explain them for her.

We know from the records that John’s troops were devoted to him and had immense respect and loyalty towards him. They’d fight to the last man. I asked why this was?

Alison: He’s very fair with the men. He doesn’t allow back-biting in his domains. He always pays them. If any money comes in then the first priority is to pay the men in full before anything else comes out. No laxity is permitted with the equipment it’s all kept in good order. No one is allowed to slack on the job and no bad atmosphere is allowed. Everyone must do their job to the utmost. Even the auxiliary people have to theirs well. For example the cooks have to provide good food. He goes to the kitchens and sees to it personally that people do their jobs properly to the last detail. If a cook serves badly prepared food then the cook knows about it. He doesn’t allow any pilfering. He’s not ever so affectionate with the men but in comparison to other employers he looks after his men and their families. It’s not a brilliant deal by modern standards but if something happens to the breadwinner, his dependants are not slung on the heap. They’re given something to survive. Wounded soldiers are helped out. All his retainers and cooks are ex soldiers who can’t fight any longer. The bottom line is that his men have respect for him. They wouldn’t get a better deal anywhere else. There’s no point in leaving him.

I wanted to know about the dispute between John Marshal and Patrick of Salisbury that eventually led to them agreeing a truce and sealing it with the marriage of John and Sybilla. I asked Alison to go to John Marshal after the death of William of Salisbury in 1143, when Patrick would have taken over the Salisbury family reins.

Alison: I can feel John on horseback. He’s carrying a lance. I’m not quite sure if he’s practising or using it for real. He’s riding along with it and speeding up. I can’t see where he’s going with it. Ah, I think it’s for real; he’s got a helmet on. It seems to be stuck, the neck-piece is not moving round properly and he can’t see very well. He’s got to keep his whole body straight and it’s very difficult to do. (we realised afterwards that the helmet wasn’t stuck at all. Where John was having difficulties was that he was one-eyed and therefore had to turn his whole head to bring his right vision to bear on his missing left side. He had to be careful when turning his head because of giving the horse the wrong impression of what he wanted it to do)

He’s got to go for something in front of him and hope for the best. He’s going full speed ahead and hoping he’s frightening enough to the opposition. He takes a person off his horse and this gives him time to adjust. He’s hot. Got to get on now. He’s getting another weapon out – a sword, he’s got a sword. He wants to move ahead and fight three men who are on the periphery of the fighting, but someone is coming in at him from the side. He’s having to manoeuvre the horse around. I’m trying to fast forward but he won’t let me – wants me to stay. There’s a movement to his side. His opponent is fighting hard and John can’t get the killer blow on because his opponent is holding him. It drives John wild and he redoubles his efforts but to no avail. He’s afraid for his horse because the other’s blade is coming very close to its neck. He’s fighting, still fighting. Then someone comes up from behind and hits the other bloke with a mace and puts him down. Phew, and none too soon. John nods a brief thanks to the knight – his second in command. His name’s something like Jason….Jaston, pronounced with soft J. He’s dark haired (I can sense who he is even inside his armour, so know what he looks like) and has brown eyes, very bright and sparky – fine features. A nice lad, a fighter.

Now the pair of them are off and routing the enemy, coming round the edges, driving them off and capturing what’s left. John is very frustrated because one of the three men who wouldn’t fight him was Patrick of Salisbury.

So what has Patrick been doing to John? He’s been going for soft targets – running away with pigs, smashing up houses, hectoring and bullying the population. ‘Who do you serve? Whom do you owe rent and fealty? I’m the rightful landlord round here and you owe me your rent and fealty. If you haven’t got it, then I’ll have this instead. So he’s been taking things and smashing things up.

Alison had mentioned previously that John's second wife, Sybilla had the knack of making John laugh and lightening his mood so I asked her for a couple of examples. We went to the end of 1144 when they would have been married but without children as yet.

Alison: Laughing, then laughing harder. I can’t see anything yet, but I can feel the mirth. She’s got him in stitches, he’s almost choking. Alison continues to laugh. I get the feeling that Sybilla is being an actress. She’s taking off someone they know and being very witty too. She’s a brilliant mimic. The character is a woman who’s name begins with an ‘F’ sound. Sybilla’s describing by words and actions how ‘F’ behaves when in the company of those of higher rank than herself. ‘Oh my lady, my lady, my lady, Oh my lord, my lord, my lord.’ Her mimicry makes John roar with laughter and especially the way that Sybilla shows ‘F’ turning to talk to people on the same footing or below her rank and how she suddenly changes her manner. It’s a bit like the scenario we have today with Hyacinth Bouquet. Sybilla’s so witty with it, seeing all the little nuances and making up little bits that are nevertheless entirely true to the character – such as. ‘F’ kicks over a slop bucket and says ‘You can clear this up for me John.’ This causes John’s eyebrow to rise. They’re in hysterics together when someone comes into the room and they have to sober up, but if they hadn’t been interrupted John would have liked to have done something else (nuff said!)

Another incident: It involves fruit – might be something like plums. They’re round and orangey in colour. Like small tangerines and soft. (I strongly suspect they would be yellow bullaces, a native type of wild plum from which I have made jam having picked the fruits from a local hedgerow. They are round rather than official plum shape) I can see it in a sort of catapult or a toy siege device. Alison is almost helpless with laughter. Sybilla is catapulting these plums at John and they’re going all over the place. He has either to catch them or dodge them. No! she’s saying. ‘No! I’m protecting myself! It’s a come and get me game. He has to catch her but he’s being distracted by dodging the plums…or not. He’s been got a few times and they’re squishy because it’s the end of the harvest. Plus there’s the other distraction of eating some of them! Ah, now she’s run out of plums and he’s chasing her around the room – and now it’s up with the drawbridge! Alison says ‘should be down with the drawbridge,’ but John says nope, definitely up! There are plums (quite tasty) all over the place, it’s really funny. This time they’re not disturbed. (nuff said again!)

I asked Alison to fast forward a little to John’s relationship with his son William (the future great William Marshal) as he grows from baby to small boy.

Alison laughs. William is as playful as a puppy. He wears John out he’s so indefatigable. William rugby tackles John’s legs, pulls at the hem of his gown. He likes to be turned over and tickled. For John it’s a bit like playing with an animal. He can play fight with William with one hand. William’s always cheerful. That makes him appealing to be played with. There’s no mardiness or whining, so it gives John pleasure to play with him. William’s very affectionate. He will climb on John and give him a kiss, but he won’t settle for a minute, climbing here there and everywhere. He’s always trying to pull out his dad’s sword and weapons, John is saying ‘Wait a minute, wait,’ but before he’s caught up with the last demand, William has run off elsewhere. He does a similar thing to his brothers. He thinks he’s as big and good as his full-blood older brother John. He plays with his half-brothers the way he plays with his dad, but sometimes with more success. He’s funny when he tries their hats on. He’s very biddable. He’ll bring logs for the fire and wants to put them on the fire. He likes poking the fire too, ever so exciting to make big flares.

And how John feels about his older son by Sybilla?

John just takes him for granted. He knows he’s there, knows he’s his son. It’s a steady, straight relationship. He has a strong reliance on him.

His older sons? They’ve got Aline’s blood. He doesn’t quite feel the same about them. There might be some genetic weakness there. Push them too hard and they might fall over. He doesn’t actively dislike them – not exactly a lack of warmth, but they don’t fit the bill. They haven’t got the characers for the particular sort of work they’ll need to do i.e. being secure leaders and lords of the castle. They’re better in supporting roles – administration etc, but they’re not real leaders.

And his daughters. How does he feel towards his female children. Little Sybilla for example.

Alison: Oh, what a darling! Alison says she got a strong emotional feeling. He feels towards his daughter the way he feels about women but obviously in a non sexual way in this case. He likes the company of women, can work with them and can appreciate femininity. He thinks his little daughter’s wonderful – she jumps, she skips, her dress shakes, she’s lovely. She has Sybilla’s hair and eyes. Looks like her mother. She makes him laugh with her funny way of saying things and the way she acts. She’s very much a little girl.

I asked Alison to move on to 1152 when John had to give up William as a hostage to Stephen.

Alison: John feels boxed in. There is no way forward. He can’t go anywhere. There’s no way to go. He knows he’s got to wait for them to make their demands. It’s not his position to send terms to them. Some men on horseback are coming to him. Very smartly dressed. The demands on him have come in written form. He’s handed a letter. He wants to take it away to read but no. Read it now, he is told.
He is to give up something beginning with Ch – for one year. A holding. Some flocks are to be given up and some women to go with the flocks to do the weaving of the wool.
Also a manor and the income from it. He is pledged not to raise arms against Stephen and your surety for all will be on the life of your son. John is sure that they are going to demand his eldest son, but it’s not, it’s William they want, and it’s very strange for John.
He’d been prepared for them to take his eldest, but it’s a kind of concession that they’re taking the youngest one. Since the younger is the lesser, it’s a form of amelioration on the side of the king. John had come to terms with giving up his eldest son so it’s a shock when they ask for William. He will miss him and his playfulness. John is really sad about this but he can’t show his dismay to a bunch of soldiers, so he says ‘Thank Stephen for his mercy. All will be done in due time.’
‘You haven’t got time. You do it now.’
That’s when John sees William with the blue ribbons at his wrists that Sybilla has tied there. John is proud of his son. He knew he would show mettle when the time came. William’s holding his face very straight. A true Marshal. John knows his son will ride with his back straight. But he doesn’t want to look at him riding away. He looks at the men taking him. When he goes back into the castle something is missing. The real sense of joy has gone. John is going to miss him….but that’s life, and this is what he has had to do – no choice. He has a lot of planning to do. Organising those weavers is going to cause problems.

I wanted to see the 5 or 6 yr William as a hostage from William’s viewpoint, being as I’ve seen Sybilla’s and John’s.

Alison: I’m seeing a target with a sword thrust through the middle and William is trying to tug it out with might and main. She laughs. He’s even putting his feet on the target and tugging and pulling. Finally he succeeds but the sword’s bigger than he is. The young men who have been training (squires and junior knights) are laughing at his antics so hard that they’re holding their stomachs. But then they realise they have to go and get the sword off him before he damages himself or someone else with it. That’s not so funny…or easy, because William doesn’t want to give it up and they have to get quite brutal with him to make him let go. Finally they have to knock him down on the ground and they give each other looks. ‘Phew, more than we expected of a small boy. What’s going to happen when he gets to be a bigger boy or perhaps becomes our boss in the fullness of time?’ However, having trampled him in the dust they feel sorry for him and pick him up, brush him down, carry him on their shoulders and give him a drink of beer. William is happy and pleased with himself because of it.

Then it’s time to go in to his mother so that the knights can carry on their evening in a male way. Back in the domestic quarters, William is different – a meek and mild small child doing domestic things. It’s like from one extreme to the other. He’s soft and compliant, but the sparky humour’s still there. And his mother is just stroking his hair and they’re sitting in front of the fire. His older brother’s doing things in the corner – active, playing with things. Any other children around? There’s a baby, and a little girl I think. Definitely a baby. There’s a man playing music on something that looks like a mandolin (would be a lute I think) and they’re all singing. The man has ribbons tied to the end of it and hanging down. There are candles above them and a candelarbra. It’s all very nice.

William’s going to bed. Sybilla pulls the covers over him, kisses him. He can still hear the music.

Suddenly he’s being woken up. Someone’s shaking him. ‘Wake up, wake up!’

He sits bolt upright because he wants to be like a soldier chosen for a special mission. His mother’s there but someone else is explaining what’s required. Not his dad. It’s the chaplain. William feels very important and looks at his brother as if to say ‘I’m the important one here.’ John junior has had to get himself up, and is all bleary eyed. William is deciding what to pack. His weapons. His toy sword and shield. He asks his mum if he can take his kitten with him, but she says no, that she will take care of the kitten. William says the kitten will be grown up when he comes back, and his mother says he can have another one. William says goodbye to his kitten. Alison starts filling up. Very moving. William swallows hard and toughs it out. He’s going to be a man.

He feels superior to his brother who hasn’t been chosen for this special mission but pushes down the feeling and tries to be magnanimous and manly. He goes to John and embraces him. Then he goes to his mother and says that he will be her champion. She says ‘Indeed you will my little one,’ and goes to her coffer and takes out some blue ribbons. She ties these to his wrists so they dangle down. When she packs his clothes, she packs extra fabric. He’ll need it because he grows quickly and she doesn’t want him to look a fright. There’s no excuse if he’s got cloth for new clothes. She feels so sad that she won’t be the one sewing them. She touches his hair too, knowing that she won’t be able to touch it again for a long time. He holds her hand and kisses it. He’s putting on an air of strength for her so he hopes she won’t be so sad.
He sees the horses are ready. This is exciting, truly exciting. He salutes his father and tries to mount his horse on his own, but still needs a boost up. It’s not his usual horse, it’s slightly fatter. Why’s it not his usual horse? The King has sent it for him. As he rides away with all the men around him, he is very conscious of the jangle of all the harness and the weapons. He loves that. It’s very exciting for him to be in the middle of this troop of soldiers. He’s never been allowed to do this before. He feels like a real man and uses all he’s learned from his riding lessons to make the best fist of it he can. The horse is fat and will need to go on a diet. He turns round and sees his parents, although he sees his mother more vividly than his father. They wave to him and off he goes.
He arrives at a wooden castle – wooden outer wall. He’s surprised because he thinks it’s not as good as his own house and wouldn’t expect a king to live like this. He’s even more surprised when he’s given a tent to sleep in. Never mind, make the best of it. Like royalty he goes into the tent and asks for water to be brought for washing. This makes the men laugh at his way, but they indulge him. It’s better than having a whingeing screaming child on their hands. It makes it easier for the men that he’s diverting and amenable.
Once settled in, he’s always out and about in the camp, asking questions about weapons, looking at them, making comparisons of craftsmanship, and every type of weapon comes under his scrutiny. William keeps asking when he’s going to be allowed to see the king, but it’s not an urgent priority and he’s just told ‘later’ whenever he asks. A young lad has been assigned to take care of him – a nice youth, placid and with a sense of humour. He’s of rural origins but not a country bumpkin. He gets on well with William. In fact, although William’s not aware of it, the King has seen him around the camp (can hardly be missed!) and had reports about him from the men. Stephen’s also seen him do things. For instance William loves performing horse races with the younger squires. He’s always challenging them and it’s very funny to see. In fact he’s become something of a celebrity because of this.

In 1156, John sold his manor of Nettlecombe to another baron. A charter was issued to which John’s sons, including William, were witnesses. I asked to see William at the occasion as I wanted to see the dynamic between father and son. William would be about 9.
We had a funny moment here. I wanted to see the occasion in the viewpoints of both father and son. I was going to take William’s first and Alison said that John wasn’t happy about such an order of batting. He was the senior member and should go first! Alison also said that she likes the character of John and that it’s a very strong one. If he wants to say something, he’ll do so and no one will stop him!

So, over to John first


I can see water – a moat? I’m at a height and don’t know if I’m floating above or on a hill. I saw someone on horseback. I get the feeling it’s not just about signing a contract. It’s a show thing as well and people are done up to the nines; they’ve brought their best to the event. John is thinking that William had better keep himself in order. He should be seen and not heard. He’d better not fall off his horse or do anything silly like that. John has put him in charge of his older brothers. William’s a bit of a scamp, a clown, a joker. It’s like training a young puppy. You have to persevere to get what you want.
The door is opening and they’re going in. They’re not signing the charter, but attending a feast first. There’s a lot of politicking going on beforehand.

I asked about John’s older sons from his first marriage – now just about adult.

Alison: They’re good young men. Behave themselves, do their job. They’re not yet in their full prime but they know what to do. Reliable, trustworthy. John’s a bit worried about the older one who has an eye for the girls. (wonder who he got that from?). When John is in a cortege, he doesn’t have to look behind to check on them. He knows they’ll be doing the right thing.
William is big-eyed. He thinks it’s all quite exciting and wonderful. Alison begins to laugh. He gets to eat some things he’s never tried before. Alison laughs harder. He’s small enough to be able to go and pinch things off other tables when the one he’s on runs out of the things he likes. The knights indulge him and even offer him alcoholic drink, which his father disapproves of them doing. John thinks William is being a bit of a monkey and sends one of his older sons to fetch him and make him sit down and behave himself.
There is singing too and William goes and joins the musicians. Here Alison smiles and goes all gooey. Oh, the little darling. He’s giving them a song with his little boy’s voice. It’s very beautiful. He’s puffed out his chest and stands like a singer. John can’t complain about that. He gets a lot of compliments from others about his son and his singing and William is given another little cake, so he (William) is pleased about that too.
It’s not exactly John’s idea though, of what a little boy should be doing. He should be sitting down, behaving himself and learning, NOT being the centre of attention himself.
But you have to give it to John. I can see that he’s in charge. He intends to bring up his sons properly with a correct sense of duty. He’s not cross with William, in fact he’s amused and slightly embarrassed, but he doesn’t show it on his face. (Without such early structure in his life, William’s traits might have developed in a less positive way. Words in brackets said afterwards by Alison on reflection)
John’s lightest moments are with Sybilla. That’s when he’s at his most cheerful. He likes the company of women (physically rather than intellectually) and he likes the company of his wife who doesn’t judge him harshly. With Sybilla it goes much deeper than the physical. She’s got male qualities that appeal to him – a sense of detail, duty and honour and he knows he can rely on her. He can talk to her on the strategic level and be comfortable and domestic at the same time, so it’s a good combination.

I hope you've enjoyed these moments from my Akashic Record researches. They are part of a much greater body of work and by necessity I've selected just a few snapshot moments. I don't rely on them alone, but blend them with other strands of historical research and where possible I corroborate the material with the primary sources or through people working in the field of Medieval history. Whatever one may think or believe, wherever it comes from, it's a fabulous resource - and one for which I have the utmost respect.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ruined Reputations!

I've been away on a research break/family holiday in Norfolk, hence the delay in posting.
This is me at Wymondham (pronounced Windham) Abbey near where we were staying.
Wymondham itself was once owned by the Bigod family, although the Abbey was originally built by an Albini in 1107 to house a community of Benedictine monks and the Abbey was at first a dependant Priory of St Albans Abbey.
The ruins of the earlier Abbey are attached to the 15thC church which is still in use and well worth a visit for anyone interested in exploring churches. There are some particularly fine carvings in the roof and a wonderful gilded reredos behind the high altar.

Roof of Wymondham Abbey Church

So, you may be asking. Why the title of this post? Well, It's all down to English Heritage's audio guide for Framlingham Castle. The staff were lovely and could not have been more helpful. Indeed, I was given a telephone contact and offered help with whatever I needed re getting the setting right. However, English Heritage itself has an audio guide that you use like a mobile phone to take you on a tour round the castle. Listening away as I walked along the walls, I was astonished to hear the narrator tell me that my Roger Bigod (II) had inherited the rebellion gene from his father and (the tone insinuated) was a thoroughly bad egg who filled his castle with all manner of thugs and neer do wells. Eh? That's not the Roger Bigod my research of the past year has revealed. 'My' Roger Bigod did everything possible to stay within the letter of the law and not to rebel. Indeed, he WAS a lawyer himself and was trusted by King Henry II, King Richard and King John, to sit on the bench at Westminster and hear cases and to go on the judicial circuit - called an Eyre - round the counties of England, hearing and judging cases. As a young man he fought on the royalist side against insurgents, including his own father at the battle of Fornham St Geneveive near Bury St. Edmunds. He served in the royal army regularly and was a valued, trusted royal servant. His one slip from grace was rebelling at the time of Magna Carta - but so did nearly everyone else and against a morally defunct king and the abuses of royal power. English Heritage has put their own spin on Roger's character for the tourists and cast him in the mould of 'big, bad, robber barron', when he was anything but. Perhaps they ought to hunt out a thesis in the British Library by Susan Atkin (University of Reading) The Bigod Family: An investigation into their Lands and Activities 1066 - 1306. It certainly comes closer to the truth than the audio guide.
Framlingham Castle is a lovely place to visit though and well worth it if you're in the region. Roger's father, the dreaded Hugh - who does deserve his dark reputation to some extent - was fined a large sum of money for his rebellion. Framlingham was taken from him and razed to the ground. The demolition crew's expenses still exist on the Pipe roll. When Roger had the Earldom confirmed to him in November 1189, he was also granted permission to rebuild Framlingham - and it is his endeavour - or the endeavour of the masons, builders and carpenters he employed, that make up the bulk of the castle's fabric today.

The interior of Framlingham, showing the remnants of the hall that my hero Roger Bigod and his wife Ida would have lived in for almost the first 20 years of their marriage. Note the Norman chimmneys (pale grey) with the darker Tudor extensions on the top. The chapel adjoining the hall is the section with arched window in the middle to the right of the chimmneys.

Entrance to Framlingham Castle, completed around 1213.