|Earl of Pembroke|
Tomb effigy of William Marshal in Temple Church, London
|Spouse(s)||Isabel de Clare|
|Mother||Sybilla of Salisbury|
|Born||1146 or 1147|
|Died||14 May 1219
|Buried||Temple Church, London|
William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke (1146 or 1147 – 14 May 1219), also called William the Marshal (Norman French: Williame le Mareschal), was an Anglo-Norman soldier and statesman. He served five English kings – Henry II, his sons The "Young King" Henry, Richard I, John, and John's son Henry III.
Knighted in 1166, he spent his younger years as a knight errant and a successful tournament competitor; Stephen Langton eulogized him as the "best knight that ever lived." In 1189, he received the title of Earl of Pembroke through marriage during the second creation of the Pembroke Earldom. In 1216, he was appointed protector for the nine-year-old Henry III, and regent of the kingdom.
Before him, his father's family held a hereditary title of Marshal to the king, which by his father's time had become recognized as a chief or master Marshalcy, involving management over other Marshals and functionaries. William became known as 'the Marshal', although by his time much of the function was actually delegated to more specialized representatives (as happened with other functions in the King's household). Because he was an Earl, and also known as the Marshal, the term "Earl Marshal" was commonly used and this later became an established hereditary title in the English Peerage.
William's father, John Marshal, supported King Stephen when he took the throne in 1135, but in about 1139 he changed sides to back the Empress Matilda in the civil war of succession between her and Stephen which led to the collapse of England into "the Anarchy".
When King Stephen besieged Newbury Castle in 1152, according to William's biographer, he used the young William as a hostage to ensure that John kept his promise to surrender the castle. John, however, used the time allotted to reinforce the castle and alert Matilda's forces. When Stephen ordered John to surrender immediately or William would be hanged, John replied that he should go ahead saying, "I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!" Subsequently, there was a bluff made to launch William from a pierrière, a type of trebuchet towards the castle. Fortunately for the child, Stephen could not bring himself to harm young William. William remained a crown hostage for many months, only being released following the peace that resulted from the terms agreed at Winchester on 6 November 1153 that ended the civil war.
As a younger son of a minor nobleman, William had no lands or fortune to inherit, and had to make his own way in life. Around the age of twelve, when his father's career was faltering, he was sent to Normandy to be brought up in the household of William de Tancarville, a great magnate and cousin of young William's mother. Here he began his training as a knight. This would have included basic biblical stories and prayers written in Latin, as well as exposure to French romances, which conferred the basic precepts of chivalry to the budding knight. In addition, while in Tancarville’s household, it is likely that Marshal also learned important and lasting practical lessons concerning the politics of courtly life. According to his thirteenth-century biography, L'Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal, Marshal had enemies at Tancarville’s court who plotted against him — presumably men threatened by his close relationship with the magnate. He was knighted in 1166 on campaign in Upper Normandy, then being invaded from Flanders. His first experience in battle came with mixed reviews. According to L'Histoire, everyone who witnessed the young knight in action agreed that he had acquitted himself well in combat. However, as medieval historian David Crouch explains, “War in the twelfth century was not fought wholly for honour. Profit was there to be made…” On this front, Marshal was not so successful, as he was unable to parlay his combat victories into profit from either ransom or seized booty. As described in L'Histoire, the Earl of Essex, who was expecting the customary tribute from his valorous knight following battle, jokingly remarked: “Oh? But Marshal, what are you saying? You had forty or sixty of them — yet you refuse me so small a thing!” In 1167 he was taken by William de Tancarville to his first tournament where he found his true métier. Quitting the Tancarville household he then served in the household of his mother's brother, Patrick, Earl of Salisbury. In 1168 his uncle was killed in an ambush by Guy de Lusignan. William was injured and captured in the same skirmish. It is known that William received a wound to his thigh and that someone in his captor's household took pity on the young knight. He received a loaf of bread in which were concealed several lengths of clean linen bandages with which he could dress his wounds. This act of kindness by an unknown person perhaps saved Marshal's life as infection setting into the wound could have killed him. After a period of time, he was ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was apparently impressed by tales of his bravery.
Thereafter he found he could make a good living out of winning tournaments, dangerous, often deadly, staged battles in which money and valuable prizes could be won by capturing and ransoming opponents, their horses and armour. His record is legendary: on his deathbed he recalled besting 500 knights during his tourneying career.
Upon his return during the course of 1185[where? ] William rejoined the court of King Henry II, and now served the father as a loyal captain through the many difficulties of his final years. The returns of royal favour were almost immediate. The king gave William the large royal estate of Cartmel in Cumbria, and the keeping of Heloise, the heiress of the northern barony of Lancaster. It may be that the king expected him to take the opportunity to marry her and become a northern baron, but William seems to have had grander ambitions for his marriage. In 1188 faced with an attempt by Philip II to seize the disputed region of Berry, Henry II summoned the Marshal to his side. The letter by which he did this survives, and makes some sarcastic comments about William's complaints that he had not been properly rewarded to date for his service to the king. Henry therefore promised him the marriage and lands of Dionisia, lady of Châteauroux in Berry. In the resulting campaign, the king fell out with his heir Richard, count of Poitou, who consequently allied with Philip II against his father. In 1189, while covering the flight of Henry II from Le Mans to Chinon, William unhorsed the undutiful Richard in a skirmish. William could have killed the prince but killed his horse instead, to make that point clear. He is said to have been the only man ever to unhorse Richard. Nonetheless after Henry's death, Marshal was welcomed at court by his former adversary, now King Richard I, who was wise to include a man whose legendary loyalty and military accomplishments were too useful to ignore, especially in a king who was intending to go on Crusade.
During the old king's last days he had promised the Marshal the hand and estates of Isabel de Clare (c.1172–1220), but had not completed the arrangements. King Richard however, confirmed the offer and so in August 1189, at the age of 43, the Marshal married the 17-year-old daughter of Richard de Clare (Strongbow). Her father had been Earl of Pembroke, and Marshal acquired large estates and claims in England, Wales, Normandy and Ireland. Some estates however were excluded from the deal. Marshal did not obtain Pembroke and the title of earl, which his father-in-law had enjoyed, until 1199, as it had been taken into the king's hand in 1154. However, the marriage transformed the landless knight from a minor family into one of the richest men in the kingdom, a sign of his power and prestige at court. They had five sons and five daughters, and have numerous descendants. William made numerous improvements to his wife's lands, including extensive additions to Pembroke Castle and Chepstow Castle.
William was included in the council of regency which the King appointed on his departure for the Third Crusade in 1190. He took the side of John, the king's brother, when the latter expelled the justiciar, William Longchamp, from the kingdom, but he soon discovered that the interests of John were different from those of Richard. Hence in 1193 he joined with the loyalists in making war upon him. In spring 1194, during the course of the hostilities in England and before King Richard's return, William Marshal's elder brother John Marshal (who was serving as seneschal) was killed while defending Marlborough for the king's brother John. Richard allowed Marshal to succeed his brother in the hereditary marshalship, and his paternal honour of Hamstead Marshall. The Marshal served the king in his wars in Normandy against Philip II. On Richard's death-bed the king designated Marshal as custodian of Rouen and of the royal treasure during the interregnum.
William supported King John when he became king in 1199, arguing against those who maintained the claims of Arthur of Brittany, the teenage son of John's elder brother Geoffrey Plantagenet. William was heavily engaged with the defence of Normandy against the growing pressure of the Capetian armies between 1200 and 1203. He sailed with King John when he abandoned the duchy in December 1203. He and the king had a falling out in the aftermath of the loss of the duchy, when he was sent with the earl of Leicester as ambassadors to negotiate a truce with King Philip II of France in 1204. The Marshal took the opportunity to negotiate the continued possession of his Norman lands.
Before commencing negotiations with King Philip, William had been generously permitted to do homage to the King of France by King John so he might keep his possessions in Normandy; land which must have been of sentimental value due to the time spent there in his youth and adolescence. However, once official negotiations began, Philip demanded that such homage be paid exclusively to him, which King John had not consented to. When William paid homage to King Philip, John took offence and there was a major row at court which led to cool relations between the two men. This became outright hostility in 1207 when John began to move against several major Irish magnates, including William. Though he left for Leinster in 1207 William was recalled and humiliated at court in the autumn of 1208, while John's justiciar in Ireland Meilyr fitz Henry invaded his lands, burning the town of New Ross.
Meilyr's defeat by Countess Isabel led to her husband's return to Leinster. He was once again in conflict with King John in his war with the Braose and Lacy families in 1210, but managed to survive. He stayed in Ireland until 1213, during which time he had Carlow Castle erected and restructured his honour of Leinster. Taken back into favour in 1212, he was summoned in 1213 to return to the English court. Despite their differences, William remained loyal throughout the hostilities between John and his barons which culminated on 15 June 1215 at Runnymede with the sealing of Magna Carta. William was one of the few English earls to remain loyal to the king through the First Barons' War. It was William whom King John trusted on his deathbed to make sure John's nine-year-old son Henry would get the throne. It was William who took responsibility for the king's funeral and burial at Worcester Cathedral.
On 11 November 1216 at Gloucester, upon the death of King John, William Marshal was named by the king's council (the chief barons who had remained loyal to King John in the First Barons' War) to serve as protector of the nine-year-old King Henry III, and regent of the kingdom. In spite of his advanced age (around 70) he prosecuted the war against Prince Louis and the rebel barons with remarkable energy. In the battle of Lincoln he charged and fought at the head of the young King's army, leading them to victory. He was preparing to besiege Louis in London when the war was terminated by the naval victory of Hubert de Burgh in the straits of Dover. 
William was criticised for the generosity of the terms he accorded to Louis and the rebels in September 1217; but his desire for an expeditious settlement was dictated by sound statesmanship. Self-restraint and compromise were the keynote of Marshal's policy, hoping to secure peace and stability for his young liege. Both before and after the peace of 1217 he reissued Magna Carta, in which he is a signatory as one of the witnessing barons.
Marshal's health finally failed him early in 1219. In March 1219 he realised that he was dying, so he summoned his eldest son, also William, and his household knights, and left the Tower of London for his estate at Caversham in Berkshire, near Reading, where he called a meeting of the barons, Henry III, the Papal legate Pandulf Verraccio, the royal justiciar (Hubert de Burgh), and Peter des Roches (Bishop of Winchester and the young King's guardian). William rejected the Bishop's claim to the regency and entrusted the regency to the care of the papal legate; he apparently did not trust the Bishop or any of the other magnates that he had gathered to this meeting. Fulfilling the vow he had made while on crusade, he was invested into the order of the Knights Templar on his deathbed. He died on 14 May 1219 at Caversham, and was buried in the Temple Church in London, where his tomb can still be seen.
During the civil wars in Ireland, William had taken two manors that the Bishop of Ferns claimed but could not get back. Some years after William's death, that bishop is said to have laid a curse on the family that William's sons would have no children, and the great Marshal estates would be scattered. Each of William's sons did become earl of Pembroke and marshal of England, and each died without legitimate issue. William's vast holdings were then divided among the husbands of his five daughters. The title of "Marshal" went to the husband of the oldest daughter, Hugh Bigod, 3rd Earl of Norfolk, and later passed to the Mowbray dukes of Norfolk and then to the Howard dukes of Norfolk, becoming "Earl Marshal" along the way. The title of "Earl of Pembroke" passed to William of Valence, the husband of Joan Marshal's daughter, Joan de Munchensi; he became the first of the de Valence line of earls of Pembroke.
Through his daughter Isabel, William is ancestor to both the Bruce and Stewart kings of Scots. Through his granddaughter Maud de Braose, William is ancestor to the last Plantagenet kings, Edward IV through Richard III, and all English monarchs from Henry VIII and afterward.
|Peerage of England|
|Earl of Pembroke