William Marshal

William is a tall, dark-eyed handsome man with well and straightly-made limbs and as good a height as any gentleman can have. He holds a code of honour as genuine as those of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

William Marshall
  • This page features the life of William Marshal
  • William was born in England in 1145 and though spending most of his early life in Normandy he has always considered himself English.
  • William's grandfather served as a marshal at the court of Henry I, hence his name - a marshal is a subordinate of the constable who controls the lord's stables and horses.
  • The office is hereditary but since William was the fourth son he succeeded to nothing and had to pay his own way in life by joining the tournament circuit.
  • Endowed with enthusiasm and an extraordinary skill at arms, he made himself the Hero of the Tournaments becoming the greatest soldier of his age - with the sole exception of King Richard.
  • William joined the household of his mother's brother, Patrick of Salisbury, and when King Henry II selected Patrick to escort Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to Poitiers there began William's long allegiance to the royal family - an allegiance that also includes Earl John.
  • Throughout his life William has always been generous, shown loyalty to King and Queen, and conducted himself as A Chivalrous Knight.
  • He is forever true and generous, always keeps his word and is as unshakeably loyal to King Richard as he was to his father King Henry II.
Hero of the Tournaments

In open field without foxing, never in ambush, is where William confronts his enemy. Depending upon his own fighting ability, the quality of his armour, the expertise of his charger, he never relies on the foot-soldier to defend him. And he would never dream of fighting as a foot-soldier, only battling astride his horse like a true champion.

The word fear has never found its way into his vocabulary. When only a boy, his father gave him to King Stephen as a hostage during Stephen's war with Empress Matilda and when the King threatened to hang the boy, William's father merely replied: 'The boy's life matters little to me for I possess the hammer and forge to produce another such - even finer.'

When William wanted to play with the javelin of the knight escorting him to the gallows, swing on the very catapult by which they were going to project his dead body over the walls and asked what game the two armies were playing, King Stephen's heart melted and he treated William as if he was his own son.

With peace restored, William was sent to his uncle in Normandy who held a powerful castle mustering nearly a hundred knights, and it was here, in this world of hunting, horses, cavalcades and manly sports where he learned the art of fighting on horseback. He became a squire and some eight years later his uncle dubbed him a knight by striking his shoulders with a sword. The sword was William's only possession. With his apprenticeship over he now had to feed himself and so he set out to fight in the tournaments.

In his first tourney, William captured four and a half prisoners - he shared the fifth with a companion - and began to astonish everyone with his horsemanship and skill with weaponry. He was joined by Young Henry, eldest son of King Henry, and after two years had raised the English team to the front rank. In the next five years he captured hundreds of knights in tourneys.

After one tournament, the ladies decided to present him with a large pike because he was the knight who had fought most worthily and after much searching they found him kneeling in the blacksmith's shop with his head on the anvil. William had received so many blows to his helmet, twisting it and bending it, that the blacksmith was having to knock it back into shape.

William learned that no knight could survive on his own - what he needed was the patronage of a wealthy household so he returned to England to join the household of his mother's brother, Patrick of Salisbury,

A Chivalrous Knight

On their way to Poitiers, Queen Eleanor's party ran into trouble. Travelling through Normandy, the Lusignans struck from ambush, one of them stabbing Patrick of Salisbury in the back. An enraged William Marshal charged forward like a lion, attacking a dozen of the ambushers at once until a lance pierced his thigh and he fell wounded from his horse. The Lusignans then carried him off as a ransom prize, not bothering to dress his wounds.

When Queen Eleanor learned of William's plight, she ransomed him back, fed him, and gave him money and arms. From then on his allegiance to Queen Eleanor never wavered. When William's enemies accused him of sleeping with Young Henry's wife, daughter of King Louis of France and an admirer of William, he claimed trial by combat to prove his innocence.

He offered to confront the three most valorous champions, one after the other; or alternatively, cut off any finger of his right hand and fight any one of his accusers. When King Henry refused his offer, William set off on a pilgrimage to Cologne to visit the relics of the Three Wise Men in the hope of being washed clean of all suspicion.

Unfortunately Young Henry died of dysentry and on his deathbed bequeathed the cross he had taken as a crusader to William. 'Carry it to the Holy Sepulchre and pay my debt to God,' Henry pleaded, and so William did.

William on CrusadeAfter two years fighting in Syria with Guy of Lusignan, King of Jerusalem,William returned home to join King Henry, who was fighting his two remaining sons Richard and John. It was during a skirmish in Normandy that William had his famous encounter with Richard: hard on the heels of William's rearguard, Richard was suddenly confronted by William, who had turned and charged with lance levelled. Neither wore armour since neither expected a fight, and Richard was at William's mercy.

'By God's legs, do not kill me, Marshal, for I am unarmed,' Richard pleaded.

'No, let the devil kill you, for I won't,' William answered and ran his lance through Richard's horse.

At King Henry's funeral in Fontevraud, the new King Richard told William: 'You are pardoned; I bear you no malice.' And as the new King, Richard sent William back to England to free his mother Queen Eleanor from imprisonment. Since William was still a poor bachelor, he was also granted the hand of Isobel of Clare, heiress to the lordship of Leinster - a quarter of Ireland.

William, now Earl of Pembroke, exempifies a code of chivalry that defends the weak, shows generosity, charity and courtesy to all - especially to gentlewomen. In battles and tournaments William Marshall has demonstated his exceptional skill at arms and has many times proved his loyalty to his lord King Richard, and his lord Earl John, Lord of Ireland.

King Richard Sets Off
Two Kings in Sicily
Siege of Acre
Marriage Arranged
King Richard Weds
Arrival at Acre
Acre Falls
Battle of Arsuf
Retreat from Holy City
King Richard's Crusade


Saladin Defeated at Jaffa
King Richard Captured
Eleanor of Aquitaine
William Marshall
Earl John
Chancellor Longchamps
Double Dealing
Attack on Nottm. Castle

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