Tag Archives: William Marshal

William Marshall makes a name for himself

WilliamMarshalWilliam Marshall had his first taste of real battle at Neufchatel in 1166 when he demonstrated his bravery but failed to take any of his opponents for ransom. Once peace was restored to Normandy Marshall, now a knight, found himself without a mesnie or household.

He was permitted to join his cousin the Lord of Tancarville entourage as it travelled to Sainte Jamme for a tournament.  Marshall having had his horse killed from under him at Neufchâtel was in desperate straits.  Ultimately Tancarville permitted him the last horse remaining in his stables.  By the end of the day Marshall was the owner of four destriers or warhorses.

Between 1167-68 Marshall travelled the tournament circuit.  He soon gained a reputation for strength and valour on the field.  This wasn’t always to his advantage. At one tournament Marshall was attacked by five knights- who managed to turn his helm so that until he was finally captured he could not see a thing.  On another occasion a smith was required to remove his helm at the end of the tournament because it was so badly battered.

Tournaments were banned in England so when Marshall returned home in 1168 he was forced to give up what had become a lucrative income for him but by 1170 having been taken into his uncle, Patrick of Salisbury’s mesnie, he’d seen conflict in Poitou, been held captive by the de Lusignans and ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine he was part of the household of Prince Henry, eldest son to Eleanor and King Henry II.  The king had his son crowned in London in 1170 so that for the once and only time in English History there were two officially recognised monarchs in England – King Henry II and the so-called Young King.

Unfortunately the Young King may have had a title but he didn’t receive the income he felt he deserved or the power. Bitter words escalated into rebellion. There followed a “war without love” – that ended with Eleanor a prisoner for having encouraged her sons to rebel against their father.

After that rather unpleasant interlude it was probably with some relief that Marshall found himself drawn back into the world of the tournament from 1176 onwards.  The Young King had been out manoeuvred by his father so the tournament became a way of gaining the respect of his peers and annoying his father who did not approve of tournaments. 1176 was not a shining example of knightly success for Marshall.  He and the Young King had to learn tactics in much the same way that any team learns how to play their opponent to best advantage.  Marshall watched and learned – most notably from Count Philip of Flanders- and before long Team Young-King was going from strength to strength with Marshall as their tournament organiser.

At Anet the tournament spilled over into the town with one of Marshall’s captives hoisting himself out of his saddle onto an overhanging gutter so that although Marshall gained a horse and harness is lost a valuable ransom. At Pleurs, Marshall won the accolade of most valiant knight but this was also the occasion that his helm had been so badly battered that he had to seek a blacksmith in order to escape his own headgear. At Eu he captured ten knights and twelve horses in a single day and at Epernon a thief tried to steal his horse under cover of darkness but was foiled by Marshall’s determined pursuit.

Later Marshall formed a partnership with Roger of Jouy so that they could benefit more fully from the loot available on the tournament field.  Marshall may have gained a reputation for being an honourable man but his early experience at Neufchatel had taught him that a man was only so good as what he owned. They kept a carefully tally of their victories.

By the time that the tournament of Lagny-sur-Marne took place in the autumn of 1179 with 3,000 knightly participants. both William Marshall and the Young King had reputations  as elite warriors.  The Young King is sometimes described as the “father of chivalry” so great was his reputation.

However, the glory years were nearly over.  Men within the Young King’s household had grown jealous of Marshall and they spread the rumour that not only had Marshall grown too big for his boots but that he was carrying out an affair with the Young King’s wife – Queen Margaret.  One of the men  responsible was called Adam Yquebeuf, another was Thomas of Coulonces whilst the third was the Young King’s seneschal.  Marshall’s biographer knew of two other plotters but didn’t name them as their descendants were alive and well in the 1220s when Marshall’s biography was written. During the Christmas festivities of 1182 at Henry II’s court at Rouen, Marshall demanded the right to a trial by combat which was forbidden.  He was once again without a mesnie…until the Young King had need of him once again.

I shall pick up Marshall’s story again in the new year.  Tomorrow will be the start of The History Jar’s advent calendar – no chocolates on offer just people and events linked, somewhat tenuously, by the theme of “Deck the hall.”

3 Comments

Filed under Twelfth Century

John FitzGilbert

king-stephenJohn FitzGilbert is best known as the father of William Marshall. The fitz at this stage in proceedings simply means that John was the son of Gilbert Gifford.  Gifford can be translated as “chubby cheeks” – though I’m not terribly sure how terrifying the name Gilbert Chubby-cheeks actually might be.

The marshal element of the equation is the family job. Both John and Gilbert before him held the office of marshal in the royal household. This meant that they were responsible for horses, hawks, whores and anything else that the royal household might need – think of the role of marshal as being similar to that of quartermaster. It also entailed keeping order and making sure that all the members of the household (the important ones anyway) had somewhere to sleep as well as transport as the court journeyed on its many progresses.

Gilbert and John had duelled with William de Hastings and Robert de Voiz in a trial by combat for the right to hold the post of marshal in the household of King Henry I . In 1130, when his father died, John paid 40 marks for his job as marshal – indicating that the perks were worth considerably more than the fee. He was about twenty-five years old. He married the daughter of Walter Pipard at about the same time.  Pipard was a minor Wiltshire landowner. John was taking the first steps towards extending his landholding and extending his sphere of influence.

King Henry I died on 1st December 1135 from a surfeit of lamphreys – although of course this was accompanied at the time by the rumour of poisoning. John FitzGilbert continued in his role as marshal for Henry I’s successor King Stephen for the next seven years. This might have caused John some disquiet because, of course, Henry had forced his barons to swear an oath to put his only remaining legitimate child – the Empress Matilda- on the throne. We don’t know how John felt about that and initially his own oath of loyalty was given to Stephen (pictured at the start of the post) who arrived in England ahead of Matilda and took control of the treasury as well as the crown.

 

We know that John went with Stephen to Normandy in 1137 and that John was sufficiently trusted by Stephen to be rewarded with custodianship of Marlbourgh Castle and Ludgershall. John held lands in the Kennet Valley in Wiltshire given to the family after the Conquest  including Hamstead Marshal and Tidworth. For John it meant more power within Wiltshire but it also led to increasing hostility with the earls of Salisbury who felt that Ludgershall belonged to them.

As the civil war between Stephen and Matilda gained momentum John fortified his castles and began to attack those men in his locale who supported Matilda. The chronicle of the Gestia Stephanie describes him as “the root of all evil.” It certainly appears that John was rather good at skirmishing, raiding and generally making a nuisance of himself. As with other warlords he doesn’t always appear to have been too bothered by which side he was attacking. The chronicle notes that he “had no time for the idea of peace.”  He was also known as a cunning opponent as can be demonstrated in the tale of  Robert fitz Hulbert.

Robert fitz Hulbert was a mercenary in the pay of Robert of Gloucester on behalf of the Empress Matilda.  In 1140 fitz Hulbert seems to have decided that the route to fortune lay in supporting neither Stephen nor Matilda. He approached John who had a bit of a reputation for doing his own fair share of looting and suggested that between them they could control John’s area of Wiltshire.  John appears to have invited Robert around to one of his fortified gaffs for a goblet of wine and to discuss the venture.  Robert somehow ended up in one of John’s less comfy dungeons prior to being sold to the earl of Gloucester for five hundred marks…definately cunning.

By 1141 John seems to have felt that the tide had turned away from Stephen. This was probably to do with Stephen’s capture at Lincoln and imprisonment in Bristol but it may also have had to do with the fact that Robert, earl of Gloucester (illegitimate half brother of Matilda) held extensive lands that marched with John’s. John switched sides. It should be pointed out that some barons and knights changed sides more times than they changed their socks – at least John only did it the once!

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle summed up the problem of King Stephen rather neatly:

When King Stephen came to England he held his council at Oxford, and there he took Roger, bishop of Salisbury, and Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, and the chancellor Roger, his nephews, and put them all in prison till they surrendered their castles. When the traitors understood that he was a mild man, and gentle and good, and did not exact the full penalties of the law, they perpetrated every enormity. They had done him homage, and sworn oaths, but they kept no pledge; all of them were perjured and their pledges nullified, for every powerful man built his castles and held them against him and they filled the country full of castles. 

No wonder the nineteen years of civil war came to be known as The Anarchy when Christ and all his apostles slept.

By May 1141 John can be found with Matilda and according to William Marshall’s biography saved the empress from capture that August during the rout of Winchester when Matilda’s siege was lifted by men loyal to Stephen. In truth it was Robert of Gloucester who fought a rear guard action at Winchester but it is undoubtedly true that John was fighting on the empress’s behalf at Wherwell Abbey with William D’Ypres when it was fired and John left for dead in the smouldering rubble. John survived the blaze but lost an eye when melted lead fell from the roof into his face.

As the year drew on, and John survived his injuries, it became clear that the feud with the earl of Salisbury had to be ended. John’s marriage to his first wife, Aline Pipard, was annulled. It was done in such a way that the two sons of this first marriage remained legitimate and there was no stain on Aline’s honour. She went on to marry Stephen de Gai who was the earl of Salisbury’s uncle. John then married the earl of Salisbury’s sister Sibylla in 1144. Not only did this bring peace between the two families (if for no one else in the area) but it meant that John elevated his social status once more and as the Empress Matilda’s position strengthened John’s name can be found on assorted charters of the period.  John and Patrick of Salisbury seemed to have buried their differences given that the chroniclers of the period paint a picture of Wiltshire under the brother-in-laws’ heels.  John took land that didn’t belong to him, not only from the laity but also the clergy (which probably accounts for the tone of the chronicles which were written by ecclesiastical types.)  When King Stephen died on October 25 1154 Matilda’s eldest son Henry Fitzempress became king. John was rewarded well for his loyalty.

John is probably most famous, or possibly infamous, for the way in which during the siege of Newbury, another of John’s castles, (Historians and archeologists argue that the besieged castle was more likely to be at Hamstead Marshal rather than Newbury) that he handed over hostages including his five year old son William in order to buy time. King Stephen thought it was so that the garrison could prepare to exit stage left. However, as soon as the Reading road was cleared of besieging forces John took the opportunity to resupply the castle. When Stephen’s men threatened young William Marshall with hanging in response to John’s perfidy he retorted that he had the hammers and anvils to make more sons. Young William was the fourth of his sons and there were two younger ones after him named Ancel and Henry. It was only through King Stephen’s kindness and the charming personality of young William that the child survived the experience.

 

John died sometime between 1164 and 1165. His eldest son from his first marriage, named Gilbert after his grandfather died soon afterwards both of them having outlived John’s second son Walter. Thus it was the eldest son of the second marriage named John after his father who inherited John’s  lands and job as marshal. When he died without legitimate male heirs the title and the lands passed to William Marshall who was by that time earl of Pembroke.

For those of you like a spot of historical fiction – Elizabeth Chadwick’s book published in 2007 entitled  A Place Beyond Courage is about John FitzGilbert’s life from the end of King Henry I’s reign until the end of The Anarchy.  Elizabeth Chadwick also has a blog, click on the link to find her non-fiction post about John http://livingthehistoryelizabethchadwick.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/biography-of-john-marshal.html

Asbridge, Thomas. (2015) The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones. London: Simon and Schuster

Painter, Sidney. (1982) William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron, and Regent of England. Toronto: University of Toronto

 

2 Comments

Filed under Twelfth Century

Medieval mêlée or tournament

WilliamMarshalPopular imagination paints tournaments as knightly types in plate armour on horses galloping at one another armed with lances trying to unseat their opponent. Hollywood offers up a dish of  fluttering banners, pageantry, ladies wearing hennins (pointy princess hats) and much fanfare.

History, as you might well expect, is somewhat different. For a start tournaments were a continental activity.  They didn’t happen in England until the reign of Henry II and even then he banned them again as they encouraged unrest. For the Church tournaments were “detestable military sports.” And lets face it the Church had a point. Tournaments were battles without the casualties – or at least not so many casualties (Marshall’s own son Gilbert died during a tournament.) Under those circumstances it is perhaps telling that William Marshall’s biographer only mentions ladies “inspiring” the competitors on one occasion.  The image showing William Marshall also shows the fact that the knights of the twelfth century wore mail rather than plate.

 

Essentially knights such as William Marshall fought as though they were on the battle field.  The main difference was that they did not intend to kill one another, though obviously that happened on occasion.  What they wanted to do was capture as many of their opponents as possible so that they could claim their horse and armour not to mention ransoming the knight. A man could alter the state of his finances quite dramatically on the tournament field – William Marshall being a very good example.

 

Powerful barons and rulers such as Henry II’s eldest son, also called Henry, would send a team of knights to demonstrate their prowess on the tournament circuit. The tourneyers may have gained a place in a noble household based on their ability on the tournament field and young knights wishing to make a name for themselves would try to gain employment in such households as war horses were expensive items. William Marshall famously tagged along to a tournament once he had been dismissed from the household of his distant cousin William de Tancaville who allowed William to become part of his team but only on the proviso that William took the last available horse. Marshall went on to cement his reputation and to become Henry, the Young King’s “tournament manager.”  When the Young King fell out with Marshall (because trouble makers said that Marshall was getting too big for his boots and hinted rather heavily of an affair between Marshall and the Young King’s wife) Marshall was inundated by offers of employment from enthusiastic tournament “sponsors” who wanted a star on their team in much the same way that modern football owners want a big name either as a manager or a player.

 

Knights without a team to attach themselves to were called “bachelor” knights and in the days leading up to the tournament there would be a series of paired events so that individual knights could demonstrate their skills and talents. Knights belonging to a mesnie or household would also partake in these events, especially if they had not yet made their reputations.

 

The tournament field was set up with lists around its edges. Lists were where the audience stood as well as each knights squires. The rules of the mêlée allowed a knight up to three lances.

 

Essentially the knights formed teams. The first part of the tournament involved the teams of knights parading onto the field side by side. This might be followed by some of the pairs of knights jousting with one another – think of it as the “warm up.”

 

A herald would blow a bugle to indicate that round one of the mêlée was about to begin a cheval. This part of the mêlée involved mounted knights with lances charging at one another. Once the lances broke or knights were unhorsed the mêlée continued  a pied with round two of the tournament on foot with swords and maces. Obviously not all knights were unhorsed at the same time so the mêlée could be somewhat chaotic.

The best tournament knights didn’t necessarily dive straight in but held back and waited until the keener elements of the event had tired themselves out and then swept in and took plenty of prisoners. This technique was developed by Philip of Flanders.

The event was followed with wine, women and song – not to mention prizes.

In 1292 a Statute of Arms improved on the rules to allow a fallen knight to be assisted to his feet by his squire and to legislate for weapons with safety features e.g. no points.

The image at the start of this post depicts William Marshall and can by found in Matthew Paris’s History Major. Paris, a Benedictine monk, living in St Albans wrote a history of the world ending with his death in 1259.  Its chronicling of King John, the Barons’ War and the invasion of Prince Louis is of key importance to our understanding of the period – and its beautifully illustrated.

4 Comments

Filed under Twelfth Century

Hamelin de Warenne

DSCN6677Hamelin was an illegitimate son of Geoffrey of Anjou born in approximately 1129, so half-brother of Henry II.  He was married by order of the king to Isabella de Warenne, in her own right Countess of Surrey.  She was the only surviving child of the third earl who’d died whilst he was on crusade.  He first husband was the fourth earl.  It just so happened that Isabelle’s husband was King Stephen’s son William of  Blois – a real strategy to bring all that lovely land and loot into the family orbit.  William must have been quite happy with the arrangement because he didn’t bat an eyelid when his father disinherits shim and made Henry Fitzempress, the son of his cousin Matilda, the heir to the throne and in so doing brought the years of anarchy and civil war to a conclusion.  William who was several years younger than Isabel served Henry II until his death in 1159.

Henry II cast his eyes over all of Isabel’s considerable charms (that’ll be all those Yorkshire estates) and decided that they ought to be kept in the family.  Enter Hamelin. After the marriage, in 1164, he was recognized as Earl of Warenne – or the fifth Earl of Surrey. Hamelin, unusually, took the name of his wealthy bride.  Hamelin remained loyal throughout his life to his brother even though ultimately he did not agree with the end that befell Thomas Becket especially as he came to believe in the archbishop’s saintliness. He was supposed to have been cured of an eye problem by the cleric.  He went with his niece Joan to Sicily when she married its king and his nephew, Richard the Lionheart, recognised his uncle’s trustworthiness when he became co-regent with William Longchamp whilst Richard was away on crusade and then found himself having to count the gold in order to ransom his nephew from the clutches of his enemies.

The de Warenne’s held lands across Yorkshire and it was Hamelin who built Conisborough Castle near Doncaster around about 1180.

 

His eldest son, William went on to marry William Marshal’s daughter Matilda who was at that time the widow of Hugh Bigod. One of Hamelin and Isabella’s daughter apparently got a little too close for comfort to her royal cousin Prince John, who had a reputation for liking the ladies, and bore him a child.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Kings of England, The Plantagenets, Twelfth Century