Monthly Archives: September 2019

William Marshal – Knight

William Marshal is an incredible figure in English history. He was a dedicated Knight, loyally serving several Kings, and led an army that helped to save England from the French in the First Barons’ War. His story is amazing, even more so because it is true.

Background

William was born in 1146 into a minor, but noble family. Like many young men of the time he joined another household, the de Tancarvilles, at the age of twelve, for training as a knight.

It is not known if William had his sights set upon becoming head of the army at the time. However by serving through the reign of several kings, from Stephen onwards, he rose to that position by the time of King John.

William Marshal excelled at his profession as a Knight. He was a hero who cut through the tournament lists ‘like a hot knife through butter’. His proficiency quickly claimed the attention of other noble families and a marriage to Isabel de Clare brought him into one of the great families of the land, providing land, riches, and also prestige at court. In 1199 he became the Earl of Pembroke.

Thus we find him at the centre of our story in the ‘Wars of the Magna Carta’.

Loyalty

One of the things William Marshal will always be linked to is the Magna Carta. He was loyal to King John even after John’s signing and subsequent repudiation of the charter of rights which led to civil war in 1215. It is most likely William gave his support to the King because he wanted to preserve the State of England rather than believing power should remain with the King.

In 1216 much of England, from the Wash to Bristol, was in the hands of rebel barons. King John and his remaining allies, including William, had the challenge of defeating the rebels and their French allies.

The situation became even more complex when King John, who had been suffering from dysentery, died following a visit to Lincoln. The crown fell to John’s 9 year old son Henry III. How would the youngster manage the kingdom, how would he even survive in times when the life of a king was not guaranteed?

To make matters even harder for the young monarch, his mother, Isabella of Angouleme, left England for France in high dudgeon for not being given a place on her son’s Council of Regents.

William Marshal was one of the key figures to restore the peace. He, along with Hubert de Burgh and Peter des Roches, became the protectors of and key advisors to Henry III.

One of the turning points in the war was the breaking of the Siege of Lincoln. Through the incredible work of Lincoln’s castellan Nicholaa de la Haye and Matilda of Laxton, the stronghold was holding. However, the invading French army was slowly wearing down the defenders. Perfect timing from William Marshal, who at the head of the English relieving army, broke the siege.

Peace

After the end of the First Barons’ War William remained a loyal supporter of Henry III. He also had a role in the reissue of the Magna Carta, signing as one of the Barons to bear witness to the new King signing it.

William’s tomb is in Temple Church, London. The tomb features an effigy of the Knight in life; you can view it in the image above.

Part of William Marshal’s story is re-told in the series, ‘Wars of the Magna Carta’. The novel is available from Amazon in ebook as well as paperback.

The Tomb of King John, Worcester Cathedral

The Tomb of King John, Worcester Cathedral

King John did not live to see the end of the First Barons’ War and the fate of England. He was unfortunate to contract dysentery while at King’s Lynn. His physical state was already weak following long spells on the road, including a trip from Kent to Berwick upon Tweed. Surprisingly John’s last public appearance was in Lincoln where he met Nicholaa de la Haye and Matilda de Caux, an event which you can read about in Wars of the Magna Carta by Austin Hernon. The condition progressively worsened and was ultimately fatal. John died on October 19th, 1216 at Newark Castle, less than 20 miles from Lincoln. His final resting place is in Worcester Cathedral. If you visit, you can look at the tomb of King John.

One of the most incredible things about the tomb is the effigy. In the Medieval period it was customary for effigies to display the subject as if they were in the prime of their life. The idea was it would help people to remember them at their best. What makes John’s unique is that it is very life-like. As a result if you view it you can get a good idea of how the king looked when he passed away. Dating back to 1232, this is also the oldest royal effigy in England.

Opening the tomb

What is equally interesting about John’s tomb is that it has been opened twice over the years. This is a very rare occurrence. The first time was in 1529. The original thought was that a monk’s cowl was covering John’s head. However, the belief now is that it was his coronation cap.

The original tomb did not have the decorative box. This was a later addition from the 16th century. The box resembles those tombs belonging to Prince Arthur and Griffiths ap Ryce.

The second opening was in 1797 to allow an antiquarian study of John’s body. The headline discovery here was that John was 5 feet 6 and a half inches tall. A woven crimson damask was covering the body but sadly the years had deteriorated the embroidery. Also inside the coffin was a sword and parts of its scabbard.

Impressively King John’s coffin was Highley stone from Worcestershire. This is grey medium sandstone which is commonly used to make flagstones.

The picture above is of the tomb of King John. If you want to view it in person you can visit Worcester Cathedral.

If you also want to learn more about the First Barons’ war, pick up a copy of Wars of the Magna Carta today.