Already 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.”