The Greatest Knight That Ever Lived: William Marshal (1146 – May 14, 1219)

Civil war raged throughout England, and the period that would become known as The Anarchy was entering its thirteenth year.  John Marshal, who had once been the staunch ally of King Stephen, had switched allegiance and was now guarding Empress Matilda’s retreat by holding Newbury Castle.  In a ploy to save time, John agreed to surrender the castle to Stephen. He gave the King his five-year-old son William as collateral.  John had never intended to surrender and used the time to fortify the castle.  When Stephen realized that he had been duped, he demanded that John surrender immediately, or watch William be hanged in front of the castle gate.  John replied, “Do your worst. I still have the hammer and the anvil to make more and better sons!”  Stephen could not bring himself to slaughter the young boy.

William was the second of his father’s sons, and as such had no land or title to inherit.  At the age of twelve, he was sent to a wealthy cousin’s estate in Normandy to learn combat skills.  In 1166, at an unsuccessful street skirmish at NeufChatel-en-Bray, he earned his knighthood.  Two years later, in a battle with Guy of Lusignan, William was taken prisoner, and then ransomed by Eleanor of Acquitaine.  Eleanor was impressed with the young knight’s tales of bravery, and she entered her new charge into tournaments.

It was in the tournaments that William found his true calling.  Tournaments in that era were dangerous staged battles that were often fought to the death.  The financial rewards for the victor were substantial.  In his later life William claimed to have won over 500 battles, and to have never lost a contest.  History shows that, although his record was unparalleled, William did occasionally lose, and he did not take losing lightly.

After earning a name for himself on the tournament circuit, William Marshal became a tutor to the son of King Henry II.  The relationship between William and the King’s son was a tumultuous one.  William was  a gifted guide and mentor, but his ambition caused friction between him and his master.  William’s personal motto, “God Aids The Marshall”, was seen by many to be disrespectful to the royal heir. William was at his master’s side when the prince died at Limoges in 1183.  He fulfilled his dead protégé’s crusade vow, going to Jerusalem with the approval of the bereaved King Henry.

When William returned from the Crusades in 1186, the king immediately rewarded him with numerous titles and substantial estates.  His greatest prize, however, would not come until after the king’s death.  Henry’s successor, Richard, gave approval for the 43-year-old William to marry Isabel de Clare, the 17-year-old daughter of Sir Richard Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke.  This marriage made William, who had once been a landless knight from a minor family, into one of the richest and most powerful men in the kingdom.

During the reign of King john, William was one of the few barons to remain loyal to the crown and he was present at the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede on June 15, 1215.  When King John died, William was entrusted to oversee John’s nine-year-old son, Henry III’s, ascension to the throne and the regency.

William’s health eventually failed him, and he died at his estate at Caversham in Oxfordshire at the age of 73.  Shortly after his death, his eldest son commissioned a biography.  This book, entitled L’Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal, solidified William Marshal’s place as one of the most legendary figures in English history.

Adam Lowe Martin (son of)- Allen Lowe Martin-Margaret Persse (daughter of)-Edwin Theophilus Persse (son of)-Dudley Persse-Theophilus Blakeney Persse-Henry Stratford Persse-Col. William Persse-Elizabeth Parsons (daughter of) -William Parsons (son of)—Sir William, 2nd Baronet Parsons- Frances Savage (daughter of)-William Savage (son of)-Sir Arthur Savage-John Savage-Lawrence Savage-Ann Bostock (daughter of)-Elizabeth Dutton-Anne Touchet-James Touchet , 5th Baron Audley (son of)-JohnTuchet, 4th Baron Audley- John Tuchet-Joan Audley (daughter of)-James, 2nd Lord Audley (son of) -Nicholas, 1st Lord Audley-Nicholas of Aldithley-Ela Longespee (daughter of )-William Longespee  (son of)-Ela, Countess of Salisbury (daughter of)-William, 2nd Earl of Salisbury (son of)–Patrick, 1st Earl of Salisbury-Walter of Salisbury (father of )-Sybil of Salisbury (mother of)- William Marshal

Although not an historical documentary by any means, "A Knight's Tale" (2001) did draw on many events in William Marshal's life.