Moonday’s Heroic Hunk in History: William the Marshal

William Marshal was the greatest, most honorable of the Christian knights in of all Europe. Throughout his long life, he served four English kings with honor, never breaking his oath of fealty. Much of his story survives through L’ Historie de Guillaume le Marechal, a poem commissioned by his oldest son that chronicles his long life of service.

William Marshal in Combat

As the second son of John the Marshal, a knight of Norman ancestry, and Sibyl, a sister of Patrick, Earl of Salisbury, William would not inherit his father’s titles and would be expected to make his own way in life either in the Church or as a knight. Imagine the young William in tears as he bids farewell to his mother and sisters to be trained in Normandy.

Effigy Closeup in Templar Church

After he was knighted in 1167, William became a knight errant, defeating more than 500 opponents in tournaments across Europe. He took up service under Prince Henry, the heir of King Henry and Queen Eleanor. Devastated by Prince Henry’s early death, William took up the Crusaders’ Cross and fought courageously beside the Knights Templar.

On his return to England, William gave his oath of fealty to Henry II and his heirs, for the fiefs granted him. William was friend and comrade-in-arms to King Richard Lion Heart-the only knight to unhorse him in the joust, Henry’s heir, who gave him the young heiress Isabel de Clare, as his wife. With his marriage at 43 years old, William became one of the most powerful barons in Europe but was a good lord, husband and father. He remained loyal to the cruel King John Lackland, even though the faithless monarch confiscated his lands and took his two sons hostage.

The Marshall Effigy

Despite John’s perfidy, it was to William that the dying King entrusted his son. William was chosen unanimously by a council of barons to serve as Regent for the nine-year-old, Henry III. WIlliam planned the strategy and led the attack to rid England of the French King Philip II while in his seventies. As Regent, he was known for his even-handedness and compromise. He reissued the Magna Carta to secure the barons’ loyalty to the young King.

In 1219 at the age of seventy-three, William Marshal realized he was dying. He returned home, took the mantle of the Knights Templar and died surrounded by his family and loyal friends. His beloved wife died the following year. The Marshal was buried as a simple Knight of the Temple, in the Temple Church in London where his effigy is a major tourist attraction to this day.

Although people of today might not understand the culture that governed him, William the Marshal was the epitome of European knighthood. Next week, the Heroic Hunk will be a man whose path was quite different from the Marshal’s. Rita VF

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4 Responses

  1. Excellent condensation of a life that needs to be expanded upon! And the fact he was a Knight Templar–that historical group surrounded by their own power and mystery–is the icing on the cake for me.

    A constant man in an inconsistent time–rare indeed. Beautifully done, Rita!

    • The Marshall was also supposed to have a great marriage.
      Any information on that? Looking forward to the next Heroic Hunk.

      • Right, Allison. The Marshal was supposed to have been a good husband and father. His wife who was 17 to his 43 when they married him, only survived him by a year. Unfortuanately, all of his four sons succeeded him but died young and childless. His only descendents were from a daughter. Sad. RitaVF

  2. Enjoyed it as usual

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