5. William Marshal`s Royal Service

William Marshal’s Royal Service
Last month we learned of William Marshal’s
youthful rise into Royal service. In this article
we will cover how he advanced still further
when he was in his physical prime.
After two years in Queen Eleanor’s retinue he
was transferred to the court of King Henry II’s
heir, Henry, who had been anointed King in
advance. He was referred to as the Young King
– the title of Prince of Wales was not coined
until the 14thC. William was in effect military
tutor to Henry, who was eight years his junior.
He made good use of the contacts his new role
provided. Surprisingly the contemporary
biography of William Marshal makes little
reference to his activities during this period.
Perhaps he disapproved of some of Henry’s
activities, such as looting rich monasteries
when short of funds. Nevertheless William
was close to the young monarch and had to
support him as his feudal lord.
William was brilliantly successful on the
tournament field which gave him a good
income. A kitchen officer kept a tally of his
victories – apparently only one defeat. His rise
in position was exemplified by his eventual
rise to leadership of a team of knights under
his own colours – shades of modern football
stars and teams. Tournaments in those days
were very nearly like actual warfare fought
over a wide area. There is one delightful story
of William being found after a tournament
with his head resting on his armourer’s anvil,
as his helmet had to be beaten back to shape
before it could be removed. War games were
tough in those days. It was in this period that
his chivalry earned him the title given him by
subsequent generations of being the Greatest
Knight in Christendom.
Almost inevitably other members of the
retinue became jealous of his status. They,
probably falsely, accused him of adultery with
the Young King’s wife. Furthermore, the
younger Henry, tired of his lack of power and
responsibility, started actively campaigning
against his father. It must have been an
awkward time for William. He actually left the
Young King’s court for a year or so until he
was welcomed back as his military prowess
was needed.
In 1183, the Young King died of dysentery in
penury – another lesson for William? On his
deathbed he charged William to take his cloak
to the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Seemingly William was deeply moved by the
two years he spent there, but again the
biography has little to say on this period. This
is strange as Jerusalem was threatened by
Saladin, the Muslim leader, and someone of
William’s military and political experience
should have been of great use. All that is
known is that while there he resolved to
eventually become a Knight Templar and that
he purchased cloth for his own deathbed cloak.
On his return in 1186, Henry II took William
back into his military household, recognising
his military skills and his gift of unswerving
loyalty to his feudal lord. William needed,
though, the status of a significant landholding
to hold his own at court. Initially William was
offered the royal Barony of Kendal, complete
with a local heiress, Heloise of Lancaster. This
came to nothing – the biography says that they
remained “good friends”. Seemingly William
thought that he deserved better! He did not
have to wait long. Henry’s son, Richard, tired
of being deprived of power and responsibility,
went into rebellion. Henry needed William’s
support and offered him, firstly, a rich Norman
heiress and then Isabel de Clare, daughter and
heir to the Earl of Pembroke, who had been a
major player in the conquest of Ireland.
In a celebrated incident in the subsequent war,
William was covering the retreat of the ailing
Henry II and met the unarmed Richard ahead
of his troops. William was in full armour and
charged at Richard, who shouted out that it
would be an evil deed to kill him. At the last
moment he dropped the aim of his lance and
killed Richard’s horse, declaring that the devil
could deal with Richard. Not the way to make
friends and particularly as only a few weeks
later Henry died and Richard was King!!
William need not have worried. Richard (The
Lionheart) had big plans for him, recognising
his military skills and his loyalty to his feudal
Lord. Richard needed just such a person to
help look after his Kingdom while he was
away on the Third Crusade (1190-1194) –
Jerusalem had just fallen to Saladin in 1187.
Furthermore, Richard was happy to honour his
father’s promise of the hand of Isabel de Clare
and all her inheritance to William. He, no
doubt, was much relieved and very happy to
accept. So at last (Long) Crendon comes into
our picture for Isabel had inherited the estate
of the Giffard family, our first Norman Lords
of the Manor.
John Hooper