January 04, 2017

"The best knight who ever lived."

I'm not quite sure when I acquired Georges Duby's William Marshal:  The Flower of Chivalry, but this slender volume (168 pages) delivers.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, aka Williame le Mareschal was the son of a minor Anglo-Norman noble.  He started with nothing but his name and some military training, but made good with martial prowess and a hard-won acquired facility for statecraft.

Mostly martial prowess
A few career highlights:
  • 1147 - Born, give or a take a year or two - not important enough for a firm record to be made.
  • 1166 - Knighted while on campaign in Upper Normandy, fights well.  
  • 1168 - Wounded in an ambush of his uncle's party by Guy de Lusignan.  Ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had heard of his bravery.  Gets into the tournament business, discovers he's really good at it.  Financial problems solved.  [Good BBC documentary on this here.]
  • 1182 - Joins the court of Henry II, displays loyalty and courage, receives Cartmel as a reward.
  • 1183 - In exile for fooling around with Henry's wife?
  • 1189 - While covering the retreat of Henry II from LeMans, he unhorses the King's disloyal son Richard - the only man to ever do so.  Rather than kill the treacherous lad, William kills his horse instead.  This turns out to be a wise move because...
  • 1190 - Following the death of Henry II, newly-crowned King Richard the Lionheart welcomes William Marshal to his court.  In gratitude for his service, Richard honors his father's commitment and gives the 43 year-old knight the hand of 17 year-old Isabel de Clare, who (no kidding) has huge tracts of land.
  • 1190 - Named to Regency Council while Richard goes out on the Third Crusade.  Initially sides with King John in the ensuing civil war.
  • 1193 - Switches sides to the Loyalists.  His brother is killed during the conflict, so William inherits the Marshalship, with Richard's approval.
  • 1199 - Supports coronation of King John following death of Richard.
  • 1200-03 - Heavily engaged in defense of Normandy vs. Capetian armies.
  • 1204 - Sent to negotiate peace with Philip II, William works out a deal to keep his Norman holdings as well.
  • 1207-1208 - King John, displeased at William's kowtowing to Philip II, humiliates him at court and has various of his Irish possessions invaded and burned.
  • 1210 - "He was once again in conflict with King John in his war with the Braose and Lacy families...but managed to survive." - Wikipedia
  • 1213 - Taken back in favor by King John.
  • 1216 - Named to King's Council following death of King John, and made Protector of nine year-old Henry III.  Louis of France invades to claim the throne for himself.  Marshal campaigns to win baronial support for Henry.
  • 1217 - Aged 70, William charges at the head of the King's army at the Battle of Lincoln, and kills the enemy commander.  This ends the rebellion, the invasion, and Louis' claim to the throne.  There's apparently a good (2013) book on all this:  Blood Cries Afar: The Forgotten Invasion of England 1216, which (click click click) is on its way to me now.
  • 1219 - On his deathbed, asked by clergy to repent his sins he says:  
The churchmen work against us; they shave us too close.  I have captured in my lifetime at least five hundred knights whose arms, horses, and caparisons I have taken for my own.  If the Kingdom of God is denied me for this reason, I can do nothing about it.  Would you have me yield it all up again?  For God I can do no more than offer him myself, repenting of all the sins I have committed.
  • 1219 - Dies, aged 72.
[When Henry II died] the legions of poor men were waiting at the bridge of Chinon, sure of one thing:  they would eat.  And there was nothing in the King's house, not even a crust of bread.  [William Marshal] asked if there were any monies: no trace of such a thing.  And on the bridge, they could hear the poor men's anger swelling, shouting against the scandal, and threatening to destroy everything.  The poor had reason to protest.  Shame to the dead king who did not feed his people. 
On May 14, 1219, William Marshal fed the poor better than a king.  It was a king who would speak his eulogy, a fact that gave his relatives no little pride... [King Philip II  said]:  "William Marshal was, in my judgment, the most loyal man and true I have ever known, in any country I ever been."
  • 1220 (?) - Son commissions biography, manuscript now at the Morgan Library.


Blogger VMM said...

Maybe I lent it to you. I'll see if my I still have my copy.

January 5, 2017 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger VMM said...

For me, the most memorable thing in that book was when he's faced with a chivalric situational ethics problem when he runs into a merchant's wife who's stolen her husband's money and run off with a monk to live in Paris on usury. (Solution: take their money and throw a party.)

January 5, 2017 at 7:54 AM  
Blogger The Other Front said...

Probably yours - I don't remember buying it. There's a bookmark from Borders on Post Street.

The other book you gave me to read in the 90s was Watchmen. I never did, but #1 son just did and pronounces it "amazing".

January 5, 2017 at 10:33 PM  

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