Medieval Quotes Advent Calendar 24th of December

So this is the last one. It’s been fun. I hope these quotes have been enjoyed. I’ve had fun ransacking my books and lots of other sources.

I thought I’d finish with one more William Marshal quote. This is the description an incident during the siege of the castle of Milli in 1197 under Richard I when the almost fifty-three year old Marshal ran up a scaling ladder in full armour.

“At this point many of those involved in the attack began to retreat, for they were much dismayed and in fear. Left behind on one of the ladders was Sir Guy de la Bruyere, a knight from Flanders who did his all, with intense vigour, to perform great deeds. Those defending the town had caught him with their spiked pikes between his chin and his chest, so overpowering him that he could in no way help himself with either hand. The Marshal, fully armed, was on the moat, and he was filled with pity and anger about the plight of that knight, whom he saw in such torment, so, fully armed as he was, he jumped down into the bottom of the ditch and climbed, I assure you, sword in hand up the other side, and kept his footing until he reached the ladder on which the knight was held by those who sought to kill him. He dealt such blows with his sword as to fully repay each of them individually for the harm they had done to the knight. He dealt so many blows right and left with the sword that he held in his right hand that those inside fell back and left him the sole occupant of the battlements. Those men, who had no taste for the games he played, left him in sole charge of the field as they all went on their way. The Marshal did not care who witnessed it. And when the King saw him leap forward to climb the wall and mount an attack, he was very angry and wanted to do likewise, without delay, but the high ranking men present advised against this course and prevented it. Once the Marshal had entered the castle by force, our men were so filled with glee that they all shouted as one man: ‘The castle is taken, let’s help him!’ Those in the castle took fright as out men leapt onto the battlements. This did not appear to be a laughing matter to Sir William de Monceaux, the constable of the castle. He would not stand still anywhere, but ran straight at the Marshal with the intention of doing all within his power to do him harm and injury, but he was unable to do so, the Marshal proving too much for him now that he had freed himself from the others as a result of the blows he had dealt them, blows which had cost him so much effort that he was somewhat out of breath. The constable came at him with his sword. The Marshal dealt such a blow at him that he cut right through his hauberk and piercing his flesh so that all he could do was come to a halt. He fell down quite unconscious, battered and stunned by the blow he received from the Marshal, and he stayed motionless on the ground. The Marshal, now weary, and who had done more than enough, sat on him to hold him firm.”

From History of William Marshal Volume II. pgs 61-63. ISBN: 0905474457

Medieval Quotes Advent Calendar 16th of December

Two shorter quotes for the price of one today. Both about Isabel de Clare and William Marshal

 

1.

William Marshal speaking to his retainers in Ireland about his wife Isabel de Clare who he is leaving nominally in charge of his lands in Ireland, which he holds though marriage to her, while he goes back to serve King John.

“My Lords, here you see the countess whom I have brought into your presence. She is your lady by birth, the daughter of the earl who graciously, in his generosity, enfieffed you all, once he had conquered the land. She stays behind here with you as a pregnant woman. Until such time as God brings me back here, I ask you all to give her unreservedly the protection she deserves by birthright, for she is your lady, as we all know; I have no claim to anything save through her”.

 

History of William Marshal Volume II. pgs 177-179. ISBN: 0905474457

 

2. William Marshal and Isabel de Clare’s wedding in the house of Richard Fitz Reinier

“She was married under a favourable star, that worthy, beautiful lady of good breeding, that courtly lady of high birth. Who bore children whose fortunes were so promoted by the Lord our God in his providence, as we see now and have seen in the past.”

History of William Marshal Volume II. pg 485. ISBN: 0905474457

Medieval Quotes Advent Calendar 15th of December

A short one today, but with a fascinating back story.

It is a rare surviving example of a king demanding knight service from one of his retainers. In this case Henry II asking William Marshal to bring forces. He requested that Marshal come “to [him] fully equipped as soon as may be, with as many knights as [Marshal] can get, to support [Henry II] in [his] war.” It went on to add, “You have ever so often moaned to me that I have bestowed on you a small fee. Know that if you serve me faithfully I will give you in addition Châteauroux with all its lordship and whatever belongs to it.”

David Crouch, The English Aristocracy 1072-1272, A Social Transformation, Yale: Yale University Press, 2011, p. 29.

Châteauroux was a pivotal fortress in the disputed region of Berry, south-east of Tours in France, and was in the hands of the French at the time so Henry II was offering Marshal a castle he would have had to fight to take possession of. In normal circumstances Henry could not have offered it at all, however its lady was the underage Denise of Châteauroux who was probably not more than 15 and who was most likely under Henry’s guardianship at the time. This meant that Henry could offer Châteauroux to Marshal by offering marriage to Denise. This marriage never came about because Henry II died in 1189 and in that year Richard I, Henry’s son and heir, gave Marshal the even wealthier heiress Isabel de Clare.

The document dates to 1188 and it’s remarkable survival is discussed in the excellent article below.

http://deremilitari.org/2014/08/william-marshal-king-henry-ii-and-the-honour-of-chateauroux/

Medieval Quotes Advent Calendar 13th of December

A letter from Henry III to the people of Ireland regarding the institution of the Magna Carta. It was unlikely to have been written by him, as it was still during William Marshal’s regency.

“The King to all archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, knights, free tenants and all our faithful subjects settled throughout Ireland, greetings.

With out hearty commendation of your fidelity in the Lord, which you have ever exhibited to our lord father and to us in these our days are to exhibit our pleasure is, that in token of this your famous and notable fidelity, the liberties granted by our father and by us, of our grace and gift to the realm of England shall in our kingdom of Ireland be enjoyed by you and your heirs forever.

Which liberties distinctly reduced to writing by the general council of all our liege subjects we transmit to you sealed with the seals of our Lord Gualon, legate of the apostolical see and our trusty earl William Marshal, our governor and governor of our kingdom because as yet we have no seal. And the same shall in the proceeds of time and on fuller council  receive the signature of our seal.

Given in Gloucester on the 6th day of February.”

Dr Thomas Leland, History of Ireland from the Invasion of Henry II, London, 1773, p. 203.

 

Pembroke Castle

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Pembroke Castle in South West Wales is one of the most impressive castles on Welsh soil. I hesitate to say Welsh castle, because it wasn’t built by the Welsh. The building of Pembroke Castle was begun by Arnulph de Montgomery in c. 1093 as a key part of the Norman subjugation of this portion of Wales.

This first castle was nothing like the imposing fortress we see today jutting out into the Cleddau Estuary.

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Gerald of Wales, albeit writing in the late 1100s, described Pembroke as originally being “a slender fortress of stakes and turf.” But it was in an immensely strategic position and as such soon became an important fortress.

Pembroke was besieged by the Welsh is 1094 and in 1096, but both times it was held by the Normans led by Gerald de Windsor who was the custodian of the castle for Arnulph de Montgomery.  However by 1102 Arnulph had been implicated in a revolt against Henry I and was forced to flee and Pembroke castle and the lands around it were escheated to the crown. By 1105 Gerald de Windsor was custodian again, this time in the name of the crown, and he married the Welsh princess Nest. Nest is one of the most fascinating women of the period and much has been written about her. But in brief she was the daughter of the Welsh Prince Rhys ap Tewdwr, thus an important marriage prize as Rhys’ former kingdom made up much of what was now the lands of Pembroke. Nest was most likely the mistress of Henry I before she married Gerald and probably bore him illegitimate offspring. She was said to have been a great beauty and would have been very young, in her teens, when she was the king’s mistress. She was then married off to Gerald at least partly to lend credence to Gerald’s position as a royal officer and person in charge of Pembroke. She was then abducted, there is debate over whether it was willing or not, from  either Cilgerran Castle or Carew Castle both of which Gerald had begun to build

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Cilgerran Castle

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Carew Castle

She was abducted by Owen son of Cadwgan, another Welsh Prince. Owen came into Nest and Gerald’s chamber and Gerald hid or escaped, depending on which version you read, down the privy shoot and Owen abducted Nest, two of Nest’s children and possibly some castle treasure.  After much unrest Nest was eventually returned to Gerald and Owen ultimately died in rebellion against Gerald. Nest married again after Gerald died in the 1120s and had children from that marriage as well. Nest ended up with some important descendants including Gerald of Wales, who was descended from her and Gerald de Windsor. Gerald of Wales is one of the more prolific writers of the late 1100s and is responsible for works on both the people of Ireland and the people of Wales. He was born at the nearby Manorbier Castle.

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Manorbier Castle

Leaving Nest aside. After Gerald de Windsor died the castle remained in crown hands until the reign of King Stephen. The Earldom of Pembroke was officially created in 1138 and the de Clare family were the beneficiaries of its creation with Gilbert de Clare appointed as the ruler of the territory. There was also a small town growing up around the castle and we know that it had liberties and freedoms from fairly early on because there is a surviving charter from Henry II which discusses them. It reads, in one translation.

“Henry by the Grace of God, King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Count of Anjou to the Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Earls of Justices, Barons and Sheriffs, and to all his faithful people of all England, Wales, Ireland, Normandy, Brittany, Anjou, Poitou, Gascony, and to all his men, whether dwelling on this side or beyond the seas greetings. Know that I have given and granted, and by this my present Charter, have confirmed in my burgesses of Pembroke all their liberties, immunities and free customs as freely and fully as they had them in the time of King Henry, my grandfather.”

Gilbert de Clare died in 1148 and was succeeded by his son Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow. I’ve written more about Strongbow and especially the role he played in the Norman conquest of Ireland earlier and it can be found here.  Strongbow died in 1176 and King Henry II retained all his lands and the wardship of his daughter Isabel de Clare. Isabel became the heir to all of Strongbow’s lands including Pembroke when her brother Gilbert died as a minor in 1185. Isabel married William Marshal at the behest of Richard I in 1189 thus making Marshal one of the most powerful men in the country as Isabel held other lands in England, Ireland and France as well as those in Wales. Marshal wasn’t actually invested with the title of Earl of Pembroke until 1199 when King John came to the throne.  Marshal had the iconic Great Keep at Pembroke Castle built.
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Great Keep Pembroke Castle

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Inside the Great Keep of Pembroke Castle.

The Great Keep was built in c. 1200 in a time when square keeps were much more common. It stands at 75 feet high with walls approximately 20 feet thick at its base.  When William Marshal died the castle was inherited by his son William Marshal II. Marshal had five sons each of whom died childless. So when the last Marshal son, Anselm, died in 1145 all of Marshal’s extensive lands were divided up amongst the descendants of his five daughters. Pembroke Castle went to his daughter Joan’s descendants, she was married to Warine de Munchery. It was their son in law William de Valance who retook some of the surrounding lands that had been lost to the Welsh over the years. De Valance died in 1296 and the Earldom of Pembroke and thus the castle entered into a fairly quiet period. Until the death of Earl John Hastings in 1389 when the castle returned to the hands of the King in this case Richard II. Henry IV declared his son John to be Earl of Pembroke in c.1399 and later the castle bounced back and forth between sides in the War of the Roses. Its greatest claim to fame in this period is that Henry Tudor, later Henry VII was born there in 1456. 

IMG_5427You can see the tower he was most likely born in on the far right of the photo.

The physical buildings that can now be seen in Pembroke are products of various stages of its history. I’m not going discuss all of them, but I will mention a few.

The oldest part is the Norman Hall which was built probably under the rule of Richard Strongbow c. 1150-1170 when the defences would still have been made of timber.

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Norman Hall.

For me the most fascinating part of Pembroke Castle, apart from the Great Keep, was actually not built by any of the castle’s inhabitants. Wogan’s Cavern beneath the Norman Hall is a naturally occurring cavern. There have been tools dating back to the middle stone age found in it along with Roman coins. This suggests that the Cavern has been used for shelter for thousands of years. When the castle was built the cavern was used for storage and the entrance was protected as part of the defensive plan. It is one of the most surprising things I’ve ever seen in a castle. Largely because of its sheer immensity.

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Wogan’s Cavern

Pembroke Castle is very much a stronghold. It has played a part in most important eras of British History and is in and of itself a dramatic and imposing castle. I went there originally because of its connection to William Marshal. But I went back because it is a spectacular castle, a testament to the strength of its builders. It commands the Cleddau Estuary and you can see why it has been so formidable for so many years.

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References.

Pembroke for King and Country: Phil Carradice. ISBN: 09521092

and

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/dec/21/britishidentity.uk

and

Two visits to Pembroke Castle.

All the photos are my own.

Hook Lighthouse

Hook  Lighthouse on the Hook Head Peninsula is one of the oldest working lighthouses in the world. It stands as a testament to the both the danger of the seas around the Hook Head Peninsula and the importance of the travel route that passes its tip.

Hook Head Peninsula is at the tip of South East Ireland and is possibly the origin of the saying ‘by hook or by crook’. Tradition has it that when Cromwell was invading Ireland he said he’d take it by hook or by crook, meaning by Hook Head Peninsula or Crooke in County Waterford. Whether this is true or not is very much debatable, but it is a nice story regardless.

The lighthouse itself was probably originally begun in the early 1200s on the orders of William Marshal. Marshal came to visit the lands in Ireland that came to him by right of his wife Isabel de Clare in 1200-1201. They were caught in a terrible storm crossing the Irish Sea and Marshal vowed to God that if they survived he would found an abbey. The ship didn’t sink and Marshal kept his word. As thanks to God for their survival he founded Tintern Abbey, which also stands on Hook Head Peninsula. It’s known as Tintern of the Vow as well as Tintern Parva, meaning small in Latin. It can be seen below.
tintern parva

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It is a daughter house of Tintern Abbey in wales, which also stood on Marshal land. It can be seen below.

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Hook Head Lighthouse was possibly begun around c. 1210 as a landmark and to guide ships up to Marshal’s newly built port at New Ross. The River Barrow in New Ross can be seen below.

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The light would have been coal fired and quite simple. You can see what it looks like now in the photos below, as well as the view from around the lighthouse. The particular black and white striping is unique to the Hook lighthouse so it can be clearly identified by ships.

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The walls of the lighthouse are between 2-4 m thick and there are currently three main rooms.

The coal storage room from when the light was a fire

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The secondary lighthouse keepers room and the chief light house keeper’s room. When the lighthouse was originally built it was run by monks and this room would probably have been used as a prayer space.

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Above the fireplaces in the chief lighthouse keeper’s room you can see some brown coloured stains. These are the ox blood that was used in the plaster. The heat of fires has brought it to the surface. It is possible that some of the plaster was original. It was made with straw and horsehair and ox blood to tie it together.

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Tradition has it that there was some form of light on this position before Marshal had his constructed. In c. 500-1000 CE St Dubhan founded a monastery in roughly this position and the monks used to light a beacon fire to warn ships.

The first historical record of the light is in the 1240s when the monks from Churchtown were installed as lighthouse keepers. It can be presumed that they continued as such until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. By the 17th century the light was untended, but numerous shipwrecks and complaints led to its restoration in the 1670s with the first glass lens to protect the coal fire.

In the late 1600s the lighthouse came into the possession of the Loftus family and they leased it to the authorities in 1706.

Following repeated complaints the coal fired light was replaced by an oil burning lamp in 1791.

In the 1860s the lighthouse keepers moved out of the tower and into separate dwellings

In 1871 new gas lights were installed, powered by gas which was manufactured in the gas yard. Paraffin oil subsequently became the source of power.

In 1911 a clockwork mechanism was installed so the light became a flashing one rather than a fixed beam. It had to be wound every 25 minutes.

The light became electric in 1972

In 1996 the lighthouse was automated ending 800 years of lighthouse keepers.

The current light is not open to the public, but a slightly earlier version can be seen in the coal store. It is made by Aga.

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Hook lighthouse has a fascinating history and the building itself is truly beautiful. What you can’t quite see in the photos is how tactile the walls of the lighthouse are. It curves in a way the photos just don’t translate.

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I’ve been to Hook Head twice.

Once in horrible weather.

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And once in lovely weather

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But whatever the weather it is a spectacular building, a spectacular setting and as one of the oldest operational  lighthouses in the world a real historical treasure. Not to mention it was probably begun by William Marshal, one of my favourite historical people. If you ever get the chance it is an amazing place to visit.

References: Notes from two site visits, 2012 and 2015 and http://hookheritage.ie/index.php/the-lighthouse/timeline/

The photos are all mine.

Marriage Alliances 1180-1250: Part 4 Isabel de Clare.

One of the most interesting heiresses of the period, not in the least because she was married to William Marshal, was Isabel de Clare. Isabel’s marriage to Marshal typified the incredibly important political role that the marriage of these heiresses played. These marriages were not only used as rewards, they were used to elevate men to real positions of power. In some occasions these men could help to change the face of a country, I would argue that Marshal was one of these and his marriage to Isabel was what gave him the status to have a real political affect.

Isabel herself is a little hard to pin down. In essentials she was the perfect medieval wife possessing of great fortune and very fecund, they had ten children, but she makes her own mark in a variety of interesting ways. While the History of William Marshal can not be taken entirely at face value the sentiment that is expressed throughout the work is that Isabel was actively involved in the rule of domains that were essentially hers.

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The marriage of Marshal and Isabel de Clare as depicted in the modern  Ros tapestry in New Ross in Ireland.

Marshal’s marriage to Isabel de Clare was the most significant elevation in his life. The lands that he gained, the children that he had from the marriage and the qualities of Isabel herself were the building blocks on which Marshal’s status was established. Marriage to Isabel gave Marshal substantial and geographically diverse lands as well as titles and wealth. In comparison, materially, Marshal brought little to the marriage because he was a virtually landless knight who only had one small estate in England and probably the rents of some lands in France. He had amassed considerable wealth however from his prowess on tourney field and he was known and respected by King Richard. Isabel gave Marshal lands in England, Ireland, Wales and what is now France and these lands gave Marshal both wealth and authority.[1]  Marshal’s marriage to Isabel mean that he made an indelible mark on her lands, not the least in Ireland. The affect Marshal had on these Irish lands illustrates just how much political change the marriage of an heiress could generate.

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Ireland under the Normans. You can see Leinster, Marshal’s lands, on the right.

David Carpenter, The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066-1284, London: Penguin Books, 2004, p. xx.

 Isabel’s Irish lands came to her from her father Earl Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow, who had gained them by force, and through her mother Aoife, the daughter and heiress of King Dermot MacMurchada of Leinster who was deposed as king in 1166.[1] Strongbow was a leader in a force spearheaded by English lords who won Leinster back for King Dermot. They were given permission to do so by their king Henry II in a letter recorded by Giraldus Cambrensis c. 1166. This was the beginning of the English occupation in Ireland.[2] The rewards Dermot gave Strongbow in return for his services were recorded in the relatively contemporary poem The Song of Dermot and the Earl: his daughter Aoife in marriage and his kingdom after his death. Dermot died in 1171.[3]

 

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Dermot’s grave in Ferns, Ireland.

Strongbow died in 1176 leaving a son and daughter too young to inherit and so Leinster was in the hands of the Crown until Strongbow’s son came of age. The son, Gilbert, died as a minor in 1185 and thus Isabel de Clare inherited everything. Marshal on marrying Isabel gained lordship of her entire estate.[4] Trouble could be expected from the local Irish population who were not likely to welcome a new overlord. These peoples included the English lords who had been settled there for more than a decade and the original Irish lords. Marshal faced an uphill challenge in controlling and developing Leinster and it was one at which he certainly succeeded

On taking possession of Leinster Marshal sent deputies but did not go himself until c. 1201, and then only for a brief visit. The Irish Annals found in The Chartularies of St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin recorded that Marshal was in Ireland c. 1201.

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All that remains of St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin.

They said that he came in a storm and, in thanks to God for his survival on the unforgiving Irish Sea, he founded the abbey of Tintern Parva.[5]

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Tintern Parva on the Hook Head Peninsula in Ireland.

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Depiction of the near disaster on the Irish Sea from the Ros Tapestry.

Marshal returned to Ireland in c. 1207 and faced rebellion, mainly from Meyler Fitz Henry. Fitz Henry was one of the original settlers, a bastard grandson of Henry I and had been appointed Justiciar of Ireland, ruler in the king’s absence, by King John. He was tenant in chief of some small fiefs, most of which he held from Marshal. Fitz Henry and Marshal were in repeated conflict and King John involved himself in Fitz Henry’s favour. Fitz Henry led many battles against Marshal’s lands both when Marshal was in Ireland and when he was not.[6] As can be seen in two charters from King John in 1216 Marshal ultimately managed to prevail and found his way back to John’s favour with Fitz Henry disgraced. The first granted Marshal Fitz Henry’s fees, a form of rent or tax, in Marshal’s own lands. The second said that if Fitz Henry should die or take the habit Marshal was to receive Fitz Henry’s fees in the Justicary’s jurisdiction, which effectively disinherited Fitz Henry’s son.[7]

As well as exercising control Marshal was responsible for developments such as the port town of New Ross. Marshal began New Ross, which still exists today, in c. 1207.[8] Once it was established, Marshal set about making it a viable port town. When he was back in favour with King John, c. 1212, Marshal negotiated to ensure that shipping could continue through Waterford and onto New Ross. Waterford was the main port and the Crown had controlled it since 1171.[9] Marshal needed his own port and New Ross suited well because of its deep harbour, river access to the heart of Leinster and links with nearby lordships.[10]

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 The Barrow river in New Ross.

New Ross is only one of the building and consolidation projects that Marshal undertook in his Irish lands during his lordship. He established other towns and also built a number of castles. He made settlements on the edges of nearby counties, retook land that had been previously lost and established monastic foundations and built a lighthouse which still stands today.

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 Marshal’s lighthouse on the Hook Head Peninsula.

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Ferns Castle which Marshal also built.

Marshal also took over lands that had lacked any kind of central authority because the Crown had run them for many years from a distance.[11] Marshal managed to establish a strong and stable lordship, despite the fact that he was so caught up in English affairs. This administrative skill ensured that he maintained his position as Lord of Leinster, as well as his other lands, and that he was sufficiently influential and experienced to become first the Earl of Pembroke, a title which he came to through right of Isabel, under King John in 1199 and then Regent in 1216.

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Pembroke Castle in Wales.

When Marshal married Isabel de Clare he became one of the most influential barons of his time because the marriage laws meant he became ruler of everything that was hers. When it came to marriage, a woman’s lineage, her family and connections, were as important as her lands. In Marshal’s case through Isabel he gained the physical lands themselves but also the eminence of her background as the daughter of an earl and the granddaughter of a King of Ireland.

Lineage and land were not all that Marshal gained from his marriage because the couple also had ten children, five sons and five daughters, all of who survived to adulthood.[12] All five daughters married influential and high ranking noblemen and only the youngest, Joan Marshal, was unmarried when her father died.[13] This gave Marshal alliances in a variety of noble families, another use for heiresses, and helped to give him the support he needed to stay in power even when he was out of favour with King John. It is due to his eldest son William that his memory survives today in such detail because it was he who commissioned the History. Marshal achieved what eluded many prominent landholders of his time because he had five sons thus having multiple heirs. When Marshal died his authority and legacy seemed safe and his position solidified, which must have made reaching the top of his society seem worthwhile because he had been able to protect all his family and to pass on what he created secure in the knowledge of its survival. Success in this time was intended to be dynastic rather than just personal. Unfortunately this was not to come to pass because, although Marshal never knew it, his sons all died childless and his lands were dispersed.[14]

 

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Chepstow Castle which Marshal gained from marriage to Isabel. He also built significant proportions of it.

Children, lineage and land aside, Isabel as a person and the role she played in the marriage and thus in Marshal’s ascent is much harder to define but just as vital and fortuitous. Isabel came to the marriage probably in her late teens while Marshal was in his early forties. Despite the age difference by all accounts she was an active participant in the marriage and in the governing of the lands. If she had not been it is unlikely that Marshal would have succeeded so well in holding together his disparate domains. She was not only his entrée into the high aristocracy, but her support was important to the retention of his authority. There may have been no legal repercussions if Isabel had not supported Marshal, but the people he ruled were her vassals and would have been more likely to rebel against their new untried lord without Isabel’s support.

Marshal trusted Isabel and her abilities enough to leave her in an administrative position in Ireland c.1207 during the fragile military and political situation, when King John forced him back to England. Before returning to England in c. 1207 the History reports that he said to his men.

My Lords, here you see the countess whom I have brought here by the hand into your presence. She is your lady by birth, the daughter of the earl who graciously, in his generosity, enfieffed you all, once he had conquered the land. She stays behind here with you as a pregnant woman. Until such time as God brings me back here, I ask you all to give her unreservedly the protection she deserves by birthright, for she is your lady, as we well know; I have no claim to anything here save through her.[15]

While it is very unlikely that he spoke these exact words the sentiment is clear. Isabel was Marshal’s key to ruling.

Isabel was a potent symbol to Leinster. She was the daughter of the Princess of Leinster and the granddaughter of its last king, which would have pleased the Irish lords. She was the daughter of Richard Strongbow who had been responsible for establishing many of current English lords, or at the least their fathers, in their lands in Leinster and because she was pregnant she represented the future of the lordship. By leaving her behind Marshal had a reasonable chance that many of his lords would cleave to her and thus his cause, which would leave him free to deal with King John.

Isabel proved a very able defender of Marshal and their lands in Ireland. Almost as soon as Marshal left, she found herself embroiled in war and by 1208 she was besieged in Kilkenny castle and “she had a man let down over the battlements to go and tell John of Earley that it was the very truth that she was besieged in Kilkenny.”[16] John of Earley came and Isabel’s men were victorious. It was also Isabel with whom Meyler Fitz Henry first made peace and it was recorded in History that “he [Fitz Henry] had made peace first with the countess and then with the earl’s men, and … he had given his son Henry as a hostage for his inheritance.”[17] Isabel was very much in command of the defence of her lands even if she could not physically lead men. Isabel was a unifying figure because of her lineage and without her presence in Ireland and her willing participation Marshal could have easily lost Ireland while he was trapped at John’s court.

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 Kilkenny Castle as it is today.

Defending her lands was not Isabel’s only involvement because she was also engaged in their creation and improvement. Marshal took the fact that his only claim to the lands was through Isabel very seriously because he made many developments in Leinster with charters that had Isabel’s ‘counsel and consent’ recorded on them.[18] According to Cóilín Ó Drisceoil there is a tradition that Isabel had been heavily involved with making the decision to locate the foundation of the town of New Ross on the Wexford bank of the Barrow River. This was not necessarily the most practical bank on which to build a town, as it was steep and required the building of one of the longest bridges in medieval Ireland. It was perfect however from a political point of view because Wexford was the centre of the former Kingdom of Leinster.[19] The earliest written mention of the tradition of Isabel’s involvement in New Ross’s foundation was in the 1607 work Britannia by William Camden.[20] Isabel understood the political imperatives in building a new city and made sure that they were carried out correctly. She also helped to ensure that Marshal remained lord of all their other lands as well because unlike other noble wives she commonly travelled with him throughout their domains and was involved in their governance. She was the symbol by which Marshal governed as well as an active participant.

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 St Mary’s Abbey which Marshal and Isabel built in New Ross.

Marshal and Isabel’s match seems to have become one of love. This was exemplified by the way Isabel behaved during and after Marshal’s prolonged death. Marshal first began to fall ill around the end of January 1219 and it took him until midday on May 14th 1219 to actually die.[21] A very moving picture of Isabel just after his death was painted in History “whilst mass was being sung it was observed that the countess could not walk without danger of coming to grief, for her heart, body, her head and limbs had suffered from her exertions, her weeping and her vigils.”[22] This was a final testament to a woman who had stood strongly by Marshal throughout much of his life and his protracted death and had continued to love him. Isabel died only a year later and was buried at Tintern Abbey in Wales.

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The Temple Church in London where Marshal was burried and his effergy.

tinturn abbey

Tintern Abbey in Wales where Isabel was burried, no trace of her burial remains.

Marshal was given Isabel as a reward and as a way of binding a skilled warrior and an admired man to the new King Richard I in 1189. The authority bestowed on him by this land and the wealth he acquired through marriage meant that he had the ability to make an indelible mark on England. When King John died in 1216 he left a country in turmoil with many of the country’s barons in rebellion. The then approximately 70 year old Marshal was made Regent for the nine year old Henry III and under his direction the country was brought back from the brink and Henry III’s kingship saved. The situation was dire enough to prompt Marshal to declare, according to the History, when he assumed the Regency that “if all the world deserted the young boy, except me, do you know what I would do? I would carry him on my shoulders and walk with him thus,” “ and never let him down from island to island, from land to land.” [23] Marshal was the head of the government who defeated the rebellious barons and the French Prince Louis, later Louis VIII, who was the barons’ candidate for the throne of England.[24] Marrying wards to loyal followers as rewards was a long held practice and one that continued. Much of the time it had little overall effect, however on occasion it elevated a man such as Marshal to a prominent position in society which enabled them to have a far-reaching consequences on the political situation, often in multiple countries.

This will for the moment be the end of my series of noble marriages. I may come back to it at a later date.

All the photos, obviously baring the map at the beginning, are mine.

 

[1] Catherine A. Armstrong, William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, Kenneshaw: Seneschal Press, 2006, pp. 60-61.

[2] Giraldus Cambrensis, The Conquest of Ireland, (trans.) Thomas Forster, Cambridge: Parenthesis Publications, 2001, p. 13.

[3] Anonymous, The Song of Dermot and the Earl, (ed.) & (trans.) Goddard Henry Orpen, Oxford: the Clarendon Press, 1892, pp. 19-27.

[4] Armstrong, Earl of Pembroke, p. 77.

[5] John T. Gilbert, (ed.) Chartularies of St Mary’s Abbey Dublin with The Register of its House at Dunbrody and Annals of Ireland, Volume II, London: Longman and Co, 1884, pp. 307-308.

[6] Sidney Painter, William Marshal: Knight Errant, Baron and Regent of England, Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1933 pp. 145-146.

[7] H.S Sweetman, (ed.) Calendar of Documents, Relating to Ireland, 1171-1251, London: Longman and Co, 1875, p. 106.

[8] Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, “Pons Novus, villa Willielmi Marescalli: New Ross, a town of William Marshal” in John Bradley & Cóilín Ó Drisceoil, (eds) William Marshal and Ireland, Dublin: Four Courts Press, pp. 8-9. A note about this particular text. I am unsure what is happening with the publication of this text. I was very kindly sent advanced chapters and given clear permission to use them for reference in my thesis. I feel that as the sections of this post in which I am using this information are almost verbatim from my thesis that this permission should extend to this post. I am endeavouring to discover what has happened to the publication of this book, but it seems as if it may have actually fallen through, I’m not sure. I still think the information is worth including though.

[9] Sweetman, (ed.) Ireland, p. 99.

[10] Ó Drisceoil, “New Ross” in Bradley & Ó Drisceoil, (eds) William Marshal and Ireland, pp. 10-11.

[11] Adrian Empy, “The Evolution of the Demesne in the Lordship of Leinster: the Fortunes of War or Forward Planning?” in Bradley & Ó Drisceoil, (eds) William Marshal and Ireland, pp. 36-38.

[12] T.L Jarman, William Marshal: First Earl of Pembroke, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1930, p. 99.

[13] Anonymous, History of William Marshal, (ed.) AJ. Holden, (trans.) S. Gregory & (notes.) David Crouch, Volume II, London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 2002. pp. 410-411.

[14] Matthew of Westminster, The Flowers of History: Especially as they Relate to the Affairs of Britain from the Beginning of the World to the year 1307, (ed.) & (trans.) C.A. Yonge, Volume II, London: AMS Press, 1968 , pp. 257-258.

[15] History, Volume II, pp. 177-179.

[16] History, Volume II, p. 193.

[17] History, Volume II, p. 195.

[18] Ó Drisceoil, “New Ross” in Bradley & Ó Drisceoil, (eds) William Marshal and Ireland, pp.11-12.

[19] Ó Drisceoil, “New Ross” in Bradley & Ó Drisceoil, (eds) William Marshal and Ireland, pp. 9-11.

[20] William Camden, Britannia, (trans.) Phillemon Holland, at http://www.philological.bham.ac.uk/cambrit/irelandeng1.html#ireland1, accessed 05/12/14.

[21] David Crouch, William Marshal, Knighthood, War and Chivalry, 2nd ed, London: Pearson Education, 2002, pp. 138-140.

[22] History, Volume II, p. 453.

[23] History, Volume II, p. 287.

[24]D.A Carpenter, The Minority of Henry III, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990, pp. 17-64.

The marriage alliances of noble women 1180-1250: Part One

eofa

The photo is of the effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the greatest heiresses of the time. She will be featured in greater detail in later posts.

This is the first in a series I am intending to write on marriage alliances . I am looking specifically at the 12th and 13th century and focusing on England. Part One will be an overall look at marriage alliances and what they meant to the society and how they shaped the political future of 12th and 13th century England. I will then move on to look at individual noble women, both heiresses and daughters of the nobility.

To begin with it is worth noting that 1180-1250 was a time of codification of secular and ecclesiastical law, both of which impact strongly on the marriage customs of the time. In a secular sense the law was primarily concerned with inheritance and transmission of property. The primary focus of ecclesiastical law, canon law, was remarriage and consent.

Consent is an interesting aspect of medieval marriage as free consent was something that the Church was adamant about. In some cases in ecclesiastical courts a marriage could be overturned if free consent had not been given.[1] This is not to say that all marriages of heiresses were undertaken with free consent because there were varying degrees of pressure placed on the women for their ‘free’ consent to be given. The age of consent under cannon law for boys was 14 and for girls 12 so it would have been incredibly difficult for a child to defy their family.[2] Even if a woman was older and politically powerful they were often given very little choice in their marriage and making a stand could be almost impossible.

When I say women I am using the term liberally as many of the heiresses and noble daughters were little more than girls. Some were even infants when they were sent off to the family they were to be married into. Though this was more common in royal marriages. I will discuss some of these women in later posts

There were really two types of noble women involved in marriage alliances. Noble daughters who brought an alliance and a dowry to the marriage and heiresses who brought sometimes significant property and titles.

I will begin with a brief discussion of the more common marriage alliance. That is the alliance between two families primarily for economic gain, sometimes achieved through a contract.

Marriage contracts could be very complex and quite often the actual couple involved was irrelevant. Such was the case in the contract between Humphrey, Earl of Warwick and Sir Ralph Thosney in 1236. This particular contract was between the fathers and not the children to be married. The children themselves were “Roger, eldest and first born of Sir Ralph of Thosney” and “Alice” the daughter of Humphrey.[3] The contract stated, “Earl Humphrey has given in free marriage 40 pounds worth of land in the village of Newenton, in Wiltshire, to Roger, eldest and first born son of Sir Ralph of Thosney, with Alice his daughter.”[4] The gift of the daughter was more an afterthought to the economic transaction. Here a daughter was being used as political currency in an agreement between two nobles who both wanted something from the other. It is true that Ralph’s son Roger also seemed to have little input into the marriage, but it was Alice who was being gifted to Roger and not the other way around.

In the case of this contract Alice herself was irrelevant. A later clause said, “if said Alice shall die before the contracting of marriage, the younger daughter of the said Earl Humphrey born in legitimate marriage shall succeed in place of the aforesaid Alice in marriage together with the aforesaid land.”[5] This contract had no connection with emotion because it was entirely mercenary and economic. Earl Humphrey also received land because Sir Ralph gave his son and heir “40 pounds worth of land in Carleton and Helland in Cornwell to endow the said Alice.”[6] The remainder of the précis of the contract, which is all that is available, went into great detail about exactly what would happen if either party died and who would get what of the land.[7]

These marriage alliances could also be primarily political in focus as well as economic. An example from a little earlier in the period was the marriage of Matilda the eldest daughter of William Marshal Earl of Pembroke and Hugh the eldest son of Roger Bigot Earl of Norfolk. Matilda married Hugh c. 1206 when she would have been about 13.[8] This marriage joined two of the most prominent noble families of the time. History of William Marshal, which was a biography of Earl William commissioned by his son and written in the vernacular and in verse in the 1220s, made the situation clear. It described the marriage as

“Marshal spoke with earl Robert Bigot a man who was never very slow in doing what was to his advantage and honour when it was appropriate for him to do so. He asked graciously, being the wise man that he was, to arrange a handsome marriage between his own daughter and his son Hugh. The boy was worthy, mild-mannered and noble hearted, and the young lady, for her part was a very young thing and both noble and beautiful. The marriage was a most suitable one and pleased both families involved.”[9]

There were obvious similarities between this alliance and the contract that has been previously discussed. The emphasis in this case was on the alliance between the two families rather than the economic advantages. Hugh and Matilda had three sons and one daughter and they also all married into noble families forming new alliances. Hugh died in 1225 and Matilda remarried William of Warrenne Earl of Surrey. [10] I will discuss Matilda in more detail in a later post.

Wards and heiresses, not just noble daughters, also played a crucial role in changing the face of English politics. They perhaps more than any other marital situation were used as political and dynastic currency. A ward was an underage heiress whose father was not alive so her marriage and property were in the hands of her father’s lord. Wards and heiresses were the prizes on the marriage market because they brought more substantial land and titles with them than would be received if a man married a noble daughter who was not an heiress. The marriage laws meant that whatever the heiress held became the property of her husband upon their marriage.

A woman being a ward was a relatively common situation because men often married when they were older so they died while their children were still young. The processes of wardship were often complicated and there were substantial amounts of writing on the legal procedures. Bracton said “sometimes the chief lord is entitled only to the wardship of the land that belongs to his fee and not to the wardship of the heir or his marriage.”[11] As can be seen here Bracton is talking about male wards as both underage males and females could be wards. There were all sorts of conditions and complications but the basic premise behind the wardships was that underage wards could not perform their obligations and therefore they needed a guardian to undertake them.[12] The process of wardships was that when a father died with an underage heir, be they male of female, their guardianship could go to their father’s lord and only in some cases to their mother. It was not automatic that their father’s lord gained hold of everything. As Bracton alluded to above the guardianship of the land, the marriage and ward themselves could go to entirely different people. In some cases even the lands could have multiple lords if they were geographically under different jurisdictions. The basic three way split that occurred most commonly was one guardian for the lands, one guardian for the right of marriage of the ward and one guardian for the ward themselves. When a mother was allowed to be part of the process it was usually as guardian of the physical ward themselves.[13] A ward could be literally bought and sold as political currency. A guardian could sell the right to choose the marriage of the ward, the right to govern the lands of the ward and they could also in some cases marry the ward themselves.[14]

The issue of marriage of female wards was a difficult one because consent became a real problem. There were several cases where a guardian forced his ward to marry into his family so he could retain the land. One such guardian was Adam de Hopeton. He was the guardian of Constance de Skelmanthorpe and he abducted her from her contracted marriage to a John de Rotherfield and forced her to marry his infant son William specifically so he could keep control of her lands. He was her guardian and refused to recognise her marriage to John de Rotherfield and threatened physical force to make her agree to marry his son William. Once of legal majority she disavowed her marriage to William, remarried and successfully took de Hopeton to court to regain control of her lands. Not all cases of a guardian taking control of a ward’s land by forced marriage ended so well for the ward.[15]

A guardian could not only be grossly unfair to a ward in relation to their marriage, but also in the way he dealt with their property. Ranulf de Glanville was a legal writer and a powerful man very early in the time period. He said that a lord who had control of a ward’s lands must look after them with “moderation” and cause no loss to the heir.[16] Unfortunately this did not always happen as evidenced by the many court cases involving a guardian who had misused the land and entitlements. [17]

As Bracton said a female ward could not be married off without her consent but as discussed earlier there was differing degrees of consent.[18] Marrying a favourite retainer or a landless son, illegitimate or not, to a ward was one of the easiest ways for a lord to reward or establish these people. It occurred from the lower levels of the nobility all the way to the king himself on numerous occasions. For example in the late 1100’s Richard de Clare Earl of Hereford gave his ward Belesent, daughter and heiress of Roger son of Odo, to Hugh the brother of Master Robert de Kent in marriage “in return for his service.”[19] Marriage to wards could be used as a reward to a loyal follower.

These women were used to cement alliances to form political affinities, for economic gain and to reward followers. This is just the background to the complex effects of the marriage alliances of noble women in this period. In following posts I will look at specific instances and specific women. I will also discuss how royal alliances changed the face of countries and how kings used wards and heiresses to not only reward their loyal followers but to give their illegitimate children a place in life.

Later posts will also have more photos.

 

[1] “Earl of Warwick and Ralph Thosney (1236)”, in Helmholz, “Marriage Contracts in Medieval England”, in Reynolds & White Jr., (eds) To Have and to Hold, pp. 277-278.

[2] “Earl of Warwick and Ralph Thosney (1236)”, in Helmholz, “Marriage Contracts in Medieval England”, in Reynolds & White Jr., (eds) To Have and to Hold, p. 278.

[3] “Earl of Warwick and Ralph Thosney (1236)”, in Helmholz, “Marriage Contracts in Medieval England”, in Reynolds & White Jr., (eds) To Have and to Hold, pp. 277-278.

[4] “Marriage Contract between Humphrey, Earl of Warwick and Ralph Thosney (1236)”, in R.H Helmholz, “Marriage Contracts in Medieval England”, in Phillip L. Reynolds & John White Jr. (eds) To Have and to Hold, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 277.

[5] “Earl of Warwick and Ralph Thosney (1236)”, in Helmholz, “Marriage Contracts in Medieval England”, in Reynolds & White Jr., (eds.) To Have and to Hold, p. 277.

[6] Nöel James Menuge, Medieval English Wardship in Romance and Law, Cambridge: D.S Brewer, 2001, pp. 84-85.

[7] Jeremy Goldberg, “The right to choose: women, consent and marriage in late medieval England”, in History Today, Vol. 59, (2008), pp. 16-21, pp. 16-18.

[8] Catherine Armstrong, William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, Kennesaw, Seneschal Press, 2006, pp. 288-289.

[9] Anonymous, History of William Marshal, (ed.) AJ. Holden, (trans.) S. Gregory & (notes.) David Crouch, Volume II, London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 2002, pp. 166-169.

[10] Armstrong, Earl of Pembroke, pp. 288-289.

11] , On the Laws and Customs of England, (trans.) & (rev.) Samuel E. Thorne, Volume II, London: Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 250.

[12] Menuge, Wardships, p. 1

[13] Sue Sheridan Walker, “Widow And Ward: The Feudal Law of Child Custody in Medieval England” in Feminist Studies, Vol. 3, (1976), pp. 104-116, pp. 104-105.

[14] Sue Sheridan Walker, “Free Consent and Marriage of Feudal Wards in Medieval England”, Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 8 (1982), pp. 123-134, pp. 123-124.

[15] Menuge, Wardships, pp. 87-91.

[16] Ranulf de Glanville, Glanville, (trans.) John Beames, Volume I, Washington: John Byrne & Co, 1900, pp. 138-139.

[17] Menuge, Wardships, p. 2.

[18] Bracton, Laws and Customs, Volume II, p. 255.

[19] “Grant of marriage of Belesent, daughter and heiress of Roger son of Odo, by her lord, Richard de Clare, earl of Hereford, 1173-1190”, in Jennifer Ward, (ed.) & trans. Women of the English Nobility and Gentry 1066-1500, New York: Manchester University Press, 1995, pp. 24-25.

A Good Death

For the male nobility in the 12th and 13th centuries there was a right way to die. I am not talking about death on the battlefield, though that was acceptable too. I am talking about what was done when you knew you were dying. The best way to explain the differences is to examine the deaths of three important medieval figures. Henry the Young King who died in 1183, Henry II who died in 1189 and William Marshal who died in 1219. henry yk charter This is a charter from Henry the Young King from page 29 Stenton, FM. Facsimiles of Early Charters from Northamptonshire Collections. London: J.W Ruddock and sons. 1930. Henry the Young King was the second son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. His elder brother William died in infancy though so the Young King was the heir to England, Anjou and Normandy. To read more about the life of the Young King see this excellent blog http://henrytheyoungking.blogspot.com.au. Suffice for now to say that he was crowned in his father’s lifetime, a common practice on the continent but a new practice for England, but was given very little real power. Henry II did not share power easily.

Henry the Young King was seen by his father as a spendthrift and was actually in rebellion against him when he died. The Young King had run out of money for the rebellion and he and his mercenaries had sacked the church of St Mary de Roche Andemar, stripped the tomb of Saint Andemar and carried away all the church’s treasures. When he became sick so soon after it was seen by some as divine retribution. The Young King however wiped all his earthly transgressions clean in his rather spectacular deathbed acts of repentance. Once it became clear that he was dying of a fever and a ‘flux of the bowels’ he repented of his sins and did it in a way that would now be seen as theatrical. Firstly he received absolution of his sins from a bishop and had his knight William Marshal agree to take his cloak, sewn with the crusader cross, to Jerusalem and fulfil his crusader’s vow. Secondly he put aside his fine garments and had himself laid on haircloth and had his men place a noose around his neck. He said “By this cord do I deliver myself, an unworthy, culpable, and guilty sinner, unto you, the ministers of God, beseeching that our Lord Jesus Christ, who remitted his sins to the thief when confessing upon the cross, will, through your prayers and His ineffable mercy, have compassion upon my most wretched soul.” Thirdly he had his men draw him from his bed by the cord and lay him on a bed strewn with ashes. Finally he commanded that two large stones were to be placed under his head and feet. With the mortification of the flesh complete to signify his repentance he died.[1] He was only 28.

The Young King’s death is one of those ‘what if’ moments in history, if he’d survived Richard the Lionheart may never have been king. This was a ‘good death’ because he had completely been freed from his sins, he had correctly repented, he’d died with his faithful men around him and he done it all in a manner befitting a king.

henry and eleanor henry close The photos are of the effigies of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II in Fontevraud Abbey and a close up of the effigy of Henry II. Henry II’s death was very different to his son’s. Henry was one of the most interesting and important kings of this period. He was King of England, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Lord of Ireland. He also held Aquitaine by right of his wife and he held Brittany, though he had invested his son Geoffrey as its Duke. When he died his two remaining sons, Richard and John, were in rebellion against him and he did not die well.

History of William Marshal goes into detail.  “Death simply burst his heart with her own hands. Death’s discipline was a cruel one. A stream of clotted blood burst forth from his nose and mouth.”[2] It then goes on to say that “nobody had anything to cover his body, so he lay there, so poor and deprived of everything, without a stitch of linen or wool on him.[3] History continues that “all those who were standing around him and who were supposed to watch over his body, when they saw the King was dead, each and everyone appropriated for himself those possessions of the King they were meant to guard.[4] Roger of Hoveden confirms Henry’s sordid death saying “After his death, having plundered him of all his riches, all forsook him; so true it is that just as flies seek honey, wolves the carcass, and ants corn, this crew followed not the man, but his spoils.” [5] His loyal men were forced to clothe him in borrowed robes, as there was nothing else left. He was 56. King Henry died messily, without due ceremony and had his possessions stolen. This complied with none of the ideas of honour, or loyalty or generosity that were meant to be part of any noble death, especially a royal one. The next two photos are of the effigy of William Marshal which can be found in the Temple Church in London.IMG_3421IMG_3419

Our final death is that of William Marshal. Marshal was at the deathbeds of both Henry the Young King and Henry II. Marshal succeeded in life where both of them fell. He survived to die of old age. Marshal was approximately seventy-two when he died, which was very old for the medieval period, and he stage managed his final days. We have an extraordinarily detailed account of his deathbed due to the fact that his son had a biographical poem, History of William Marshal, commissioned. History of William Marshal devotes 1285 lines to Marshal’s death, from the first mention that Marshal is dying, until the end of the services after his death.[6] It is one of the most moving and detailed points of the narrative. Both the men responsible for History, the one who commissioned it, William Marshal the younger and the one who contributed his recollections, John of Earley, were at Marshal’s deathbed so there is no reason to doubt its authenticity especially when the level of detail is considered. Marshal’s death was conducted from his mansion in Caversham, where he went to wait out his final illness saying he “preferred to die at home than elsewhere.”[7] Marshal was Regent for the very young Henry III when he realised he was dying. So his first act was to very carefully handover Henry III and the realm into appropriate care.[8]
Marshal died surrounded by his family and his loyal men. The best example of the latter was John of Earley. It was Earley that Marshal sent to collect the cloths he had bought in Jerusalem over thirty years before, that he had “brought back with [him] from the Holy land, to be used for the purpose which they [would] now serve; [his] intention [had] always been that they [would] be draped over [his] body when [he was] laid in the earth.”[9]  We know his wife Isabel was there with his daughters because when he had a desire to sing, but didn’t want to for fear of being called a madman, his knights suggested that his daughters and his wife might sing for him. The daughters came and sang but Isabel was too overcome with grief. [10] He also made sure to die with humility, joining the order of the Templars just before his death. He was made a Templar and Aimery de Saint-Maur, head of the Temple declared, “Marshal, listen to me: it pleases me that you surrender to God and set aside your worldly goods so as not to be separated from Him and his faithful servant. I can tell you that in life as in death you have known higher honour in this world than ever any other knight had, both in respect of your valour, it is true, and your wisdom and loyalty.”[11]

So in becoming a Templar Marshal ended his life in humility and honour in just about the most eye-catching way possible. In dedicating himself to the Templars he was marking himself as pious, dedicated and humble. He was making sure that his image after death was the correct one of humility and piety. His wife Isabel was also present when he took the vows of a Templar. We know this because one of the vows of a Templar is chastity, so moments before he took the vow he said to Isabel  “Fair Lady kiss me now, for you will never be able to do again.’ She stepped forward and kissed him, and both of them wept.” [12]

Marshal was also overtly generous in his final days, firstly in saying to his son “give a portion of my wealth to all the poor you can see [in London] who have come to receive alms; make sure the distribution is such that it may be spoken of before God. And there is another thing I want to remind you of: give food and drink to one hundred of the poor, along with garments to clothe them and shoes.”[13] It is interesting to note though that he was overtly generous, he wanted make sure that his generosity was seen. Possibly because it was an attribute that was expected of a man in his position and it is how he wanted to be remembered. He also gave money in his will to a number of religious foundations. He provided for his knights too. One of his clerks wanted to sell off the robes that had been put aside for the knights’ Whitsuntide gift, but Marshal said “Hold your tongue, you wretch” “It will be Whitsuntide very soon, when my knights should indeed have their new robes for I shan’t be able to give them robes again.”[14] He went on to tell John of Earley to distribute the robes, “and, should any man fail to get his share, send immediately to London and see to it that you get more splendid ones, so nobody can complain.”[15]

When Marshal actually died he had done everything he was supposed to. He had taken leave of his family, he had said how he wished his possessions to be distributed, he had expressed piety and charity and God had absolved him of his sins. The Abbot of Notley performed the “ceremony of absolution”.[16] Also the papal legate had given him remission of all his sins for taking up the Regency in the first place.[17] Marshal’s death was, apart from dying in the holy land on crusade, probably the best way a medieval noble man could go. He died well: humble, pious and just a little bit theatrical. These three deaths represent very different ways of dying. Medieval dying need not be a reflection on a life. In death you could redeem yourself, but while dying badly held some shame it did not negate a good life.

 

[1] Roger of Hoveden, The Annals of Roger of Hoveden Volume II, pp. 26-27. [2] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, pp. 397-461. [3] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, pp. 429-431. [4] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 399. [5] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, pp. 401-409. [6] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 413. [7] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 433 [8] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, pp. 438-439. [9] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 439. [10] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 423. [11] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 451. [12] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, pp. 420-421. [13] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol II, p. 279. [14] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol I, p. 463. [15] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol I, p.463 [16] Holden & Crouch, (eds) History Vol I, pp. 463-464. [17] Roger of Hoveden, The Annals of Roger of Hoveden Volume II, p. 111. Roger of Hoveden. The Annals of Roger of Hoveden Comprising the History of England and Other Countries of Europe from A.D 732 to A.D 1201. (trans.) Henry T. Riley, Volumes I & II. London: H.G Bohn. 1853. Anonymous. History of William Marshal. (ed.) AJ. Holden. (trans.) S. Gregory & (notes.) David Crouch, Volumes I, II & III. London: Anglo-Norman Text Society. 2002.