William Marshall – loyal knight and crusader

WilliamMarshalAlready a week into 2018 – where on earth did 2017 go? But now that we have arrived at Twelfth Night the time has come to refill the History Jar.  Before I meandered into the halls of England I was waxing lyrical about William Marshall.  It turns out that I have even more reason to be interested inhume than I had first thought.  It turns out that my spouse – “He Who Is Occasionally Obeyed- HWIOO” is a direct descendant of the aforementioned.

However, back to the man in question.  Serving Henry II and his sons was not an easy option. By February 1183 Henry II and  Prince Richard found themselves facing a rebellious army headed up by the rest of the royal brood. The Young King soon found himself in an uncomfortable position and sent for William.  Interestingly Henry II gave Marshall leave to rejoin his rebellious son.

History doesn’t say what William thought of the Young King’s looting of the abbey at La Couronne near Limoges but when the Young King succumbed to dysentery it didn’t take folk long to point at his desecration of the abbey rather than poor hygiene as the cause of the problem.

On the 7th June 1183, at Martel Castle, The Young King realised that he was dying. On the 11th of June he made his confession in public.  William Marshall was one of the knights who heard Prince Henry’s sins described and saw him receive the last rites.  One of the last things he did aside from asking to be buried with his ancestors and for mercy for his household was to give William his cloak and ask him to take it to the Holy Land “and with it pay my debts to God.” Chroniclers writing afterwards described Henry as a bit of a wild playboy.  Gerald of Wales described him as ungrateful.

Whatever the truth, bearing mind that no one was too keen on reminding Henry II of any links they might have had with his rebellious offspring, Marshall now stepped away from his role within the royal household and set off on pilgrimage.  It was probably a very sensible thing to do.  By this time he’d been accused of all kinds of naughtiness with the Young King’s wife and had taken part in two rebellions against Henry II as part of the mesnie (household) of the Young King.  What is more interesting is that Henry II promised to keep Marshall’s job open for him and gave him money for the journey.  Henry had, despite everything, loved his son.

We know that Marshall spent two years in the Holy Land but we don’t know what he got up to because although his biography mentions many exploits in passing it doesn’t go into any detail. Certainly Marshall didn’t arrive at an auspicious time.  The forces of Saladin were victorious across the region nor did it probably help that the man who was in part responsible for his uncle Patrick’s murder was in charge militarily -Guy de Lusignan who would eventually marry Sybilla of Jerusalem and inherit a very troubled kingdom after the death of the boy king Baldwin V. Guy would be taken prisoner within two years by Saladin and Jerusalem would fall triggering the Third Crusade.

By the spring of 1186 Marshal was back in England with a length of silk cloth which would one day become his shroud.  The Young King’s cloak was left in Jerusalem – Marshall’s last service to Henry II’s eldest son complete.  Marshall was ready to resume his service to the Crown and as he came to the brink of his fourth decade it was time to take a wife.

Marshall’s life would continue to be intertwined with the lives of Henry II’s sons.  He would serve them with loyalty and also the boy king Henry III but ultimately in 1219 he would lay down his secular burden, retire to his estates in Caversham. His own loyal knight John of Earley – a man who contributed much to Marshall’s biography – would be sent to collect a simple length of white silk which had lain in store throughout Marshall’s rather eventful life. He revealed that he had taken a vow to join the Knights Templar in the 1180s -so perhaps during his time in the Holy Land.  In return for them burying him as one of their own he gave them the manor of Upleadon.  He’d even arranged for the stitching of a robe of the knights’ order.

Marshall was buried in the church of the Knights’ Templar in London on 20 May 1219.  It would appear that Marshall may have spent only two years in the Holy Land but that part of his heart had been there ever since.

His pilgrimage to the Holy Land was the second pilgrimage that he had made.  His first one had been to Cologne when he had been accused in 1182 of indiscretions with the Young King’s wife.  Marshall had demanded trial by combat to prove his innocence and been refused.  He had taken himself off to Cologne to the shrine of the Three Kings.  The relics had been taken from Milan in 1164 but it was only in the 1190s that an impressive golden shrine was constructed – which seems an appropriate way to end a post the day after Epiphany, the day when the three kings or magi were supposed to have arrived in Bethlehem following “yonder star.”

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Geoffrey of Brittany – “son of perdition.”

Geoffrey2I’ve blogged about John’s brother Geoffrey in a much earlier post.  However, as I’m looking at John I thought it would be useful to reappraise myself of his siblings. Geoffrey Plantagenet was the fourth son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (third surviving son). Henry’s problem was that he had too many sons to provide for when they grew to maturity. Geoffrey’s oldest surviving brother Henry was to have the lands that belonged to Henry – the patrimony- so Anjou, Maine, Normandy and England. Richard, the second surviving son, was to have his mother’s inheritance – Aquitaine. Henry also had plans for Geoffrey.

Henry, being an astute sort of monarch and land-grabber, arranged a marriage between Geoffrey and Constance of Brittany. Constance was, conveniently for Henry, the only child of Conan IV, Duke of Brittany. Her mother Margaret of Huntingdon was William the Lion’s sister. The problem for Conan was that he was also the Earl of Richmond and the Britons were a pretty bolshie lot so needed a firm hand. In short, Conan needed Henry more than Henry needed him. Henry claimed to be Brittany’s overlord and Conan was required to make his vassals see sense. The Bretons disagreed. Henry simply went to war and won in 1169 forcing Conan to abdicate and the Bretons to accept eight-year-old Geoffrey as the new Count by virtue of being Constance’s spouse. They ultimately married in 1181 when she was twenty-one.

Hapless Conan died in 1171. Geoffrey, aged all of eleven-years-old, became not only Count of Brittany but also Earl of Richmond. Henry, naturally, wielded all the power until his son came of age.  The problem was that Henry II was not good at giving up power once it was in his grasp.

This fermented resentment as Young Henry, Richard and Geoffrey grew older. It was all very well having titles but they wanted power as well. In 1173 when Geoffrey had reached the ripe old age of fifteen he rebelled against his father along with his brothers. Ironically it was little brother John who triggered the family row. Henry sought to provide territory for his youngest son and granted John three castles in Young Henry’s territory to demonstrate that John had property to bring to a proposed marriage. Young Henry was furious, refused to yield the castles, demanded to be allowed to rule one of the territories that he would one day inherit and took himself off to the French court where his brothers joined him.  Eleanor attempted to join her sons but was caught and found herself locked up for many years- though she was allowed to come to court for Christmas more often than not.

The following year,1174, Geoffrey and his father were reconciled, only for him to fall out in 1183 with his brother Richard over who should control Aquitaine. The Young King having died. Henry rearranged the family assets moving Richard up the pecking order to receive the patrimony and young John to receive Aquitaine. Presumably Geoffrey was left out of the equation because Brittany was his through marriage – to give Geoffrey any of the other lands would have left John as ‘Lackland’ still.  Richard wasn’t keen on handing over Aquitaine having won over his vassals by an uncompromising mix of determined presence in the duchy and brute force. Geoffrey for reasons best known to himself sided with teen-age John and provided an army to try and take Aquitaine from Richard by force.  The next thing that he knew Richard was invading Brittany rather effectively.   Peace was eventually re-established with a public kiss of peace and Geoffrey briefly found himself in his father’s good books being left in charge of Normandy for a while both that it lasted.  Henry II didn’t let any of his sons step into the Young King’s shoes.  After that Geoffrey allied himself with the King of France against his father and his brother – the Plantagenets were not a model for a happy family at this time.

Geoffrey’s relationship with his father was not a good one but he wasn’t overly popular with anyone else for that matter – Roger of Howden described him as a “son of perdition.” Roger was one of Henry II’s clerks and he was also one of the king’s Justices of the Forest – so not altogether unbiased in his approach. Gerald of Wales commented on Geoffrey’s ‘readiness to deceive others.’ And then proceeded with a rather complete character assassination:

He has more aloes than honey in him; his tongue is smoother than oil; his sweet and persuasive eloquence has enabled him to dissolve the firmest alliances and his powers of language to throw two kingdoms into confusion.”

 

It has been suggested that one of the reasons for Geoffrey’s increasing animosity towards his father and Richard was that Henry II didn’t identify Geoffrey as his heir. The French king, Philip Augustus, made him a senschal of France, encouraged Geoffrey in his discontent – he’d gone to Paris in 1179 to witness Phillip’s coronation and to give homage to the French king.

On 19th August 1186 Geoffrey was in Paris for a tournament – and possibly some heavy duty plotting against his family- when there was a tragic accident and he was trampled to death although some chroniclers also mention a stomach ailment and one chronicler had Geoffrey being struck down by heart failure after daring to conspire against his father.

Geoffrey and Constance had three children. Eleanor who became known as the Fair Maid of Brittany; Matilda who died before the age of five and an heir called Arthur who was born posthumously in 1187. Arthur, being the son of John’s older brother, had a better claim to the throne than John did.  England did not have a salic law so in theory Eleanor also had a strong claim to the throne.  It was for this reason that John held her captive throughout his reign as any marriage would have created a contender to his throne.

https://archive.org/stream/annalsofrogerdeh01hoveuoft/annalsofrogerdeh01hoveuoft_djvu.txt