“So mightily did William Marshal fight…, that never was such a feat seen or heard of from a single knight, finer than the Marshal on that day. The best men praised him mightily.”
from the Chanson de Guillaume de Marechal
Advisor to the Plantagenet Kings, knight extraordinary, and the reputed Flower of Chivalry – William Marshal, from his simple beginnings, grew to tower over his compatriots, both in the corridors of power, and on the battlefield. He was an Anglo-Norman soldier and statesman born in 1147. While serving his uncle, the Earl of Salisbury, he was responsible for saving the life of Henry II’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. His reward for such an heroic deed was to be appointed tutor in chivalry to their son Henry. Over the next 19 years, William would serve the King with distinction, both home and abroad, with his bravery and prowess as a knight recognised throughout Europe. As reward for his unwavering devotion, King Henry II bestowed upon him the gift in marriage of Isabel de Clare, the daughter of Aoife MacMurrough and Strongbow. Marriage to Isabel meant that Marshal claimed the titles of Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster. From simple beginnings, he had become one of Britain’s and Europe’s most powerful noblemen, close in government and war to King Richard, and later one of the barons who ensured that King John signed Magna Carta.
The three stages of William’s life are illustrated in this panel. In the foreground, we see a young William guarding Prince Henry, the first-born son of Henry II. Behind this, William is depicted as a knight, as he made his name as a tournament champion. It is said that William fought in four hundred tournaments and never once tasted defeat. The final image of William is of him at the pinnacle of his power following his marriage to Isabel de Clare.
The top borders show the incident with the barons that had been attempting to attack the queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The queen is shown galloping away and then rewarding William with arms and all the accoutrements a young knight would wish for. It is said that the helmet that he wore in tournament had been so badly damaged that he needed the blacksmith to remove it. A lady of the court about to give him a prize for winning a tournament finds him on his knees in the blacksmith’s house William is shown ensuring that King John signs the Magna Carta. He was one of the barons that organised this momentous moment in English history. After that you see the five sons of Isabel and William and the five daughters accompanied by their husbands who were part of the Norman nobility. In the extreme corner you see the offspring of one of those families, ancestor of George Bush President of America.
The lower borders shows further events in William’s life, often at tournaments. His tomb is to be found at Temple Church in London where his effigy is visible to this day, having survived the bombs of World War ll.