One such is William Marshall. Called by some the greatest ever knight, he is one of my direct ancestors and also the direct ancestor of Richard III.
William had an eventful life. He was born in 1146 or 1147 and, as a young boy, he was used as a hostage by King Stephen when William’s father, who was supporting Matilda against Stephen, was besieged by the king in Newbury Castle. William’s father, John, when told that William would be hanged if he didn’t surrender, was reported to have said: “I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!” The King made as if he was going to fire the young William at the castle from a pierrière (a type of trebuchet), but could not bring himself to harm the boy and he survived.
Later, he was sent to Normandy to learn the business of becoming a knight, to be brought up in the household of William de Tancarville, a great magnate and cousin of young William’s mother. He was knighted on campaign in Normandy in 1166 and the next year was taken to his first tournament where he found his true calling. In 1168 he was injured in a skirmish and captured, but one of his captors aided him by smuggling clean bandages (for the wound in his thigh) to him inside a loaf of bread, which may have saved his life. He was ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine, remaining a member of her household for the next two years.
A supporter of Young King Henry, son of Henry II, he travelled with him to Europe where they participated in knightly tournaments. From 1176 to 1182 both Marshall and the Young King gained prestige from winning tournaments. These were dangerous, often deadly, staged battles in which money and prizes could be won by capturing and ransoming opponents, their horses and armour. Marshall became a legendary champion in the lists: while on his deathbed, he claimed he had beaten five hundred knights during his tournament career.
When the Young King died on 11th June 1183, he asked Marshall to fulfill the vow he (the Young King) had made the year before, to go on a crusade to the Holy Land, which William did, returning two years later and vowing to join the Knights Templar on his deathbed.
He rejoined the court of Henry II and aided him when Henry’s son, Richard, rebelled against him. Marshall unhorsed Richard in a skirmish and killed his horse to demonstrate that he could have killed the man. He was said to have been the only one ever to have unhorsed Richard, later to become Richard I, the Lionheart. Richard nevertheless welcomed Marshall to his court, after he became king, knowing his legendary loyalty and military prowess would be useful to him.
Richard fulfilled his father’s promise to Marshall of the hand in marriage and estates of Isabel de Clare and the marriage happened in August 1189, when William was 43 and Isabel just 17. He acquired great wealth and land from the marriage, including the castle of Pembroke, becoming one of the richest men in England. He also became the Earl of Pembroke eventually and the couple had five sons and five daughters.
Marshall was part of the council of regency for Richard while the king was on crusade and later supported King John although there were many fallings out over the years. However, he remained loyal to him despite their differences and was one of the few English earls to remian loyal to John during the first Barons’ War. King John trusted him to ensure the succession of his son, Henry III, and it was Marshall who was responsible for the kings’ funeral and burial at Worcester Cathedral. He was named as protector of the young king Henry III, who was aged nine, and acted as regent for him. He was now about seventy but he still fought for the young king at the head of his army and defeated Prince Louis and the rebel barons at the Battle of Lincoln.
When he realised his health was failing and he was dying in 1219, he called a meeting and appointed the Papal Legate, Pandulf Verraccio, as regent. In fulfillment of his vow, he was invested into the order of the Knights Templar on his deathbed and is buried in the Temple Church in London, where his tomb can still be seen.
Tomb of William Marshall
During his life he served under five kings and lived a rich and full life. He founded Cartmel Priory and there is a memorial to him there:
Through his daughter, Isabel, William is ancestor to both the Bruce and Stewart kings of Scotland. Through his granddaughter Maud de Braose, daughter of his daughter, Eve, William is ancestor to the last Plantagenet kings, Edward IV through Richard III, and all English monarchs from Henry VIII right up to the present day queen. Actually, William is also the ancestor of Richard et al through another, older, daughter, Maud. See the family trees below. I have marked all the descendants of William Marshall with a green dot – you can see that Richard FitzAlan, the father of Lady Alice FitzAlan, was descended from Marshall on both sides.
I wonder whether Richard inherited some of his heroic qualities from his illustrious ancestor – what do you think? And do you notice some other things they had in common?
Pierrière by Jean-noël Lafargue (Jean-no) (Self-photographed) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons
Jousting [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons
Tomb of William Marshall by Richard Gough (Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain. Vol 1.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sign at Pembroke Castle by Andrewrabbott (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons