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The Greatest Knight and Richard III

I have previously posted about my family history connections with Richard III here and I have since found out more interesting links.

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.

Photo of a Pierrière

Pierrière

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.

Picture of mediaeval jousting

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.

Photo of the tomb of William MarshallTomb 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:

Memorial in Cartmel Priory

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.

Family tree of Richard

Family tree of Richard 2

Richard family tree 3

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?

 

 

Picture credits:

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

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ARTHUR AND ELEANOR-TRAGIC SIBLINGS

A tragic but  often overlooked  story of a prince and princess and a wicked uncle is that of Arthur and Eleanor of Brittany. (Two later boys who may or may not have  been killed seem to elicit much  more sympathy, probably at least in part due to  a certain  play and some maudlin Victorian art!) King John gets a bad rap (“Foul as it is, hell itself is made fouler by the presence of King John,” chronicler Matthew Paris wrote in the 1230s!),  but it is interesting that his ineptitude as a ruler seems to be treated as a far greater crime than some of his misdeeds.

Arthur was the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, younger  brother of Richard Lionheart and  older brother to John Lackland, and his wife the heiress Constance of Brittany. Arthur did not have the best start in life being born posthumously, his father having died shortly before his birth in either an accident at a joust or from a sudden heart attack. Geoffrey was only 27 when he died and was buried in Notre Dame Cathedral  in Paris.

As Geoffrey was older than John, his child was technically in line to the throne of  England and in 1190 Richard I named the three-year-old Arthur as his heir, since he had no sons of his own. This designation  bypassed Richard’s  younger but adult brother, John. Richard  repeated the nomination of Arthur as heir in 1196, at the same time, Arthur’s mother Constance proclaimed her son as duke of Brittany.

Bad luck followed, however—Ranulf de Blondeville, Arthur’s own step-father through his mother’s remarriage,  abducted  his estranged wife Constance,  and King Richard had to advance on Brittany to free both Arthur and his mother. Constance then fled her husband and was granted an annulment.

Later, in 1199, when Richard realised he was dying after being struck by an arrow during the siege at Chalus-Chabrol,  the king  suddenly did a  hasty about-face and changed his nomination for the succession from Arthur to John—he had changed his mind on his deathbed, fearing  that the Duke of Brittany was far too young to rule a country.

John was crowned king, but the French, who preferred Arthur’s claim, rose up to support the young boy of twelve. He marched with an army to Anjou but to little effect.

In 1200, a treaty was signed between King John and Phillip II of France, which finally quashed Arthur’s claims to the throne forever.  Within a short while, the young boy and his supporters were in open rebellion, even besieging Arthur’s own grandmother, the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine, in her castle of Mirebeau.

John arrived at Mirebeau with an army of his own, however, and Arthur was captured and taken to the Castle of Falaise where he was placed in the care of Hubert de Burgh.  It was said that at this time John ordered that Arthur be castrated and blinded. However, de Burgh refused and kept the young prince safe.

A short while later, Arthur was taken from de Burgh’s protection at Falaise and moved on to Rouen castle…and this was where he disappeared in or around April 1203.

The Margam Chronicle states :After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time, at length, in the castle of Rouen, after dinner on the Thursday before Easter, when he was drunk and possessed by the devil, he slew him with his own hand, and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine. It was discovered by a fisherman in his net, and being dragged to the bank and recognised, was taken for secret burial, in fear of the tyrant…

   While some of the above description relating to the murder may be nothing more than monkish exaggeration, it is interesting to note that Maud de Braose,wife of William de Braose, who was working closely with John at the time of Arthur’s disappearance, dared to accuse John to his face of murdering Arthur of Brittany.

    Needless to say, making this open accusation to a man like John did not go well for Maud—or  for her son William. After fleeing to Ireland, where they were eventually captured, they were both imprisoned in a castle, mostly likely Corfe, and starved to death.  Rumours abounded that in a desperate attempt at survival Maud ate her dead son’s cheeks…

Arthur was not the only tragic child of Geoffrey and Constance who suffered at the hands of King John. He had a sister Eleanor who was so beautiful she was known as the Fair Maid of Brittany. Even though she was female and the barons were not particularly supportive of her claim, John feared her closeness to the throne and hence kept her as a prisoner, moving her from castle to castle and displaying her occasionally to prove she was still alive. Her main place of imprisonment seems to have been Corfe; she was in residence there when John starved 22 knights to death when they tried to escape the dungeons.

Although captive, she was not treated particularly badly, having several maids, decent if bland clothes, and was probably able to ride out on occasion although under close supervision.

However, her imprisonment went on for  39 years, long after John’s death and into the reign of his son Henry III, even though she had committed no crime, and had never been tried or sentenced. John had decreed upon his deathbed that she must remain imprisoned for life.

Eventually, however, after her child bearing years were over,  Henry III permitted her  to join a convent and become a nun. When she died, she was first buried in Bristol, but later, in accordance with her own final wishes,  reburied in Amesbury abbey in Wiltshire.

Her final choice of burial site is  interesting. The Abbey Church of St Mary and St Melor has an unusual dedication, seen only in one other place outside Brittany.

St Melor was a young Breton prince, who was first mutilated and then murdered by his uncle. His relics lay on the high altar in Amesbury Abbey, where they had been brought by Dark Age monks.

Choosing to be buried in a church dedicated to this martyred, murdered boy, in proximity to the remains of a saint who had died in circumstances almost identical to those of  her brother, may have been the Fair Maid of Brittany’s last act of defiance.

 

+Today Eleanor’s grave is lost, another victim of the Reformation. However, before the high altar in the church of St Mary and St Melor, geophysics have shown that two grave cuts still exist deep beneath the flagstones.

It is certainly quite possible that one of these belongs to this tragic Plantagenet princess.

P1210882        P1210907

Amesbury Abbey-high altar and corbels.

P1210903

  

  

 

 

 

An interesting comparison

We have posted before about the lives of noblewomen and how they were almost never executed before the “Tudor” era began – including how King Lear, featuring the death of Cordelia, reflected this changed reality.

Here is as near as we can manage to a counter-example from 1003, after the St. Brice’s Day Massacre of the Danes, to 1535, before Anne Boleyn’s end: Maud de Braose, who died from starvation in captivity – a form of passive violence that seemed also to be the fate of Richard II:
http://historytheinterestingbits.com/2015/03/20/maud-de-braose-kings-enemy-victim/

Thankyou to Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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