The 5 Longest Reigning Kings & Queens: George III, 2nd Place

By , July 28, 2010 3:12 am

King George III – 59 years, 3 months and 2 days

Some English (and British, after the accession of King James I of England & VI of Scotland in 1603) managed to keep their backsides firmly on the throne for longer than the average birth to death life expectancy of their subjects.

This post is one of a series about the 5 longest reigns – all of which were (or are, in the case of Elizabeth II) over 50 years.

For obvious reasons, they were all young when they came to the throne, but not all were children.

George III when Prince of Wales, aged 13

George III when Prince of Wales, aged 13

For the fifth-longest English reign, see King Edward III in the 14th century, for the fourth-longest reign, see King Henry III in the 13th century, and for the third-longest, see Queen Elizabeth II.

The second-longest reign is that of mad King George III in the 18th century.

King George III reigned from 25 October 1760 until 29th January 1820, a total of 59 years, 3 months and 2 days. From the date he ascended to the throne until 1 January 1801, he was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland.

After 1801 George was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until he died.

He was also Prince Elector of Hanover until October 1814, when he became King of Hanover, and was Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg.

Although the third of the King Georges of the House of Hanover, he was the first to be born in the United Kingdom and to speak English as a first language.

King George III at the time of his coronation.

King George III at the time of his coronation.


Unlike the other two, who spent most of their time in Hanover, he never actually visited the place at all.

King George’s reign was tumultuous. The first British Empire came to an end when the American War of Independence led to the establishment of the United States of America.

On the other hand, in long running battles against France, Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Family and Childhood

The Hanover Kings had distinctly odd families. King George III was the grandson, rather than son, of the preceding monarch King George II.

King George II’s oldest son was Frederick Prince of Wales. George II disliked his eldest son the Prince of Wales and there was very little communication between George II and Frederick.

King George II, George III's grandfather and predecessor

King George II, George III's grandfather and predecessor

King George III’s parents

Prince Frederick Louis was the eldest son of Prince George, later to be King George II, and George’s wife, Queen Caroline, born Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline of Ansbach.

Prince George August and Caroline married in August 1705 and their first child, Prince Frederick, was born in February 1707.

When George I took the British throne in 1714, Prince George and Princess Caroline moved to the United Kingdom, leaving their 7 year old son Frederick behind in Hanover. They did not see him for another 14 years.

A large number of younger children had been born to the couple by the time Frederick arrived in England, and George and Caroline referred to their eldest son as a foundling, and nicknamed him “Griff” or “Griffin”.

In 1736 Prince Frederick married 16 year old Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. The couple had a total of 9 children, the last, a daughter, being born posthumously.

King George III

Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King George II and father of King George III

Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King George II and father of King George III

George William Frederick was born on 4 June 1738 in London at Norfolk House. He was 2 months premature, but grew into a healthy although shy child.

George was, unlike many of the Hanover royal children, well-educated.

He could read and write in both English and German by the age of 8, and also studied astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, French, Latin, history, music, geography, agriculture and constitutional law.

When George’s father died suddenly in 1751, King George II decided to take an interest in his grandchildren for the first time. 3 weeks after Frederick died, George II created Prince George as the Prince of Wales.

Marriage and Family

Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III and mother of King George IV and William IV

Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III and mother of King George IV and William IV

King George II died at the age of 76 on 25 October 1760.

A wife was clearly needed for the new King George III, and on 8 September 1761 the King married Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

At the time of their marriage, George III was 24, and Charlotte was 17.  The couple met for the first time on the day they married.

A fortnight after the wedding, the King and Queen were crowned together at Westminster Abbey.

Despite an extremely arranged marriage, the couple appeared to have been genuinely happy.  George III is not known to have had a  mistress at any time, unlike the vast run of Hanoverian royals who were knee deep in mistresses and illegitimate children.

King George III and Queen Charlotte had 15 children in total.  13 of these children survived to adulthood.

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales, mother of King George III

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales, mother of King George III

1. George IV born 12th August 1762

2. Frederick, Duke of York, born 16th August 1763

3. William IV born 21st August 1765

4. Charlotte, Princess Royal born 29 September 1766

5. Edward, Duke of Kent born 2nd November 1767

6. Princess Augusta Sophia born 8th November 1768

7. Princess Elizabeth born 22nd May 1770

8. Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland born 5th June 1771

9. Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex born 27th January 1773

10. Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge  born 24th February 1774

11. Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester born 25th April 1776

12. Princess Sophia born 3rd November 1777

13. Prince Octavius born 23rd February 1779

14. Prince Alfred born 22nd September 1780

15. Princess Amelia born 7th August 1783

The three youngest daughters of King George III, Princesses Mary, Sophia, and Amelia

The three youngest daughters of King George III, Princesses Mary, Sophia, and Amelia

The two youngest sons died before they were 5 years old, and the other 13 children lived to adulthood.

What those children didn’t do was marry and produce legitimate heirs for the British and Hanover thrones. For more on this see

George III’s lack of Heirs: 15 Children, but no Grandchildren….. and  A Funeral & Four Weddings: Princess Charlotte & Succession Crisis

King George and Queen Charlotte were the first of the royal family to live in Buckingham House, which later became known as Buckingham Palace.

It was originally intended as a private retreat for the King and Queen, and was known as the Queen’s House.

St James’ Palace remained the official and ceremonial royal palace in London.  14 of the couple’s 15 children were born at Buckingham House.

Queen Charlotte was possessive of her children, in particular her daughters, and kept them close by her side and refused to allow them to marry until they were in their 30s or 40s.  None of the King and Queen’s daughters had children.


King George III’s Reign

King George III in 1762

King George III in 1762

It is unnecessary to write much of a summary of the most important political events of George III’s reign.  Suffice it to say, that his reign saw the end of the first British Empire, when the American War of Independence began in April 1775.

King George III’s reign had, as the Declaration of Independence put it, “abdicated government here, plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

After Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at the siege of Yorktown in 1781, King George III drafted an abdication notice, although he never acted upon it.  The King accepted, finally, the defeat in North America and authorised peace negotiations.

The treaties of Paris were ratified in 1783 and the United States of America became an independent country recognised throughout the world.

King George III told John Adams, American Minister to Britain in 1785 that:

I was the last to consent to the separation, but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I will be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power.

King George’s reign also saw the Napoleonic Wars, culminating in the Duke of Wellington’s famous victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 (which he described as “a damn close run thing”).

What King George III was like

King George IV at his coronation in 1821

King George IV at his coronation in 1821

George III was extremely interested in agriculture and science.

During his reign the agricultural revolution really kicked off, allowing the release of a huge number of previously agriculture workers to become the workforce for the industrial revolution, in which Britain led the world.

He was nicknamed by pamphleteers and caricaturists as, “Farmer George” but the nickname later became an affectionate one, especially as his sons ran up huge debts and failed to do anything very useful.  By comparison, George III’s interests in agriculture and science came to be seen as positively virtuous.

George collected large numbers of scientific instruments, which can now be seen at the Science Museum in London, and funded the largest ever telescope built at that time, which was 40 feet.

The Madness of King George

By 1788, King George III was suffering from the first spell of mental illness, which later took over his life.  It is now thought likely that the illness from which he suffered was Porphyria, a genetic illness.

King William IV, also known as the "Sailor King"

King William IV, also known as the "Sailor King"

In 1788, he began to suffer a particularly acute episode of the illness.  At the end of the summer in 1788 he went to Cheltenham Spa.  Although only 100 miles from London, this was the furthest King George III had ever ventured in his life.

By November George had become seriously ill, speaking for hours without pausing for more than breaths, foaming at the mouth, and becoming increasingly unwell.

Arguments between parliamentarians were underway and the Regency Bill was introduced in parliament in February 1789 authorising Prince George, the Prince of Wales, to act as Prince Regent whilst his father was incapacitated.

However, before the Bill could be passed into an Act of Parliament George III recovered.

King George  suffered another serious episode of mental illness in 1804, which lasted for approximately 9 months.

In 1810, King George III was almost blind, from severe cataracts, and also suffered from bad rheumatism which left him in constant pain.  The death of his youngest daughter, Princess Amelia, triggered another severe episode of mental illness.

King George III in old age

King George III in old age

The Regency Act 1811 was passed, and Prince George, Prince of Wales (the future George IV) acted as Regent for the rest of George III’s reign.

By November 1811, King George III had become permanently insane.  He lived at Windsor Castle, secluded from the public and the world, for the next 9 years.

His illness was so severe that he was unaware that he became King of Hanover in 1814, or that Napolean was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, and was similarly unaware that his wife died in 1818.

He was completely blind, almost completely deaf, and suffered severe mobility problems.  He died in January 1820 at Windsor Castle.

King George III was followed on the throne by two of his sons, King George IV and King William IV, and both of whom who died without legitimate children.

The throne was then inherited in 1837 by King George III’s granddaughter, Queen Victoria, the child of George III’s fourth son, Edward Duke of Kent.

William the Marshal: 1st Earl of Pembroke & Regent of England

By , July 6, 2010 10:55 pm

William Marshal 1146 – 14th May 1219

William Marshal unhorsing an opponent in a joust, from Matthew Paris' "History"

William Marshal unhorsing an opponent in a joust, from Matthew Paris' "History"

This is the second article about William Marshal, covering his years of service to King Richard I, King John, and King Henry III, and his two periods as Regent / co-Regent of England.

It also considers William’s marriage to the great heiress, Isabel de Clare, and their children.

The first article details his rise  from the obscurity of being a 4th son of a minor knight through being renowned across Europe as a tournament fighter (and winner) to his service to Henry the Young King and then King Henry II.  William the Marshal: The Greatest Knight.

William Marshal and King Richard I

Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart (Richard Coeur de Lion) was crowned Duke of Aquitaine on the 20th July 1189, and King of England in Westminster Abbey on 3rd September 1189.

Although William the Marshal had been supporting King Henry II, Richard’s father, throughout their wars in 1188 and 1189, Richard

King Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart, or Richard Coeur de Lion

King Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart, or Richard Coeur de Lion

valued William’s loyalty to his father, and William immediately swore an oath of loyalty to Richard and was set high in Richard’s household and esteem.

After William Marshal had shot off to England to release Richard I’s mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, from her 16 year imprisonment, King Richard fulfilled his father, Henry II’s, offer of the marriage and estates of Isabel de Clare.

King Richard the Lionheart on Crusade

King Richard I had always been interested in going on a crusade. As Count of Poitou, he had taken the cross 2 years earlier. He prepared extensively to leave for the Holy Land on the 3rd crusade.

Later in 1189, King Richard left England on his way to the 3rd crusade, and appointed a Regency Council to govern the kingdom in his absence. He named 6 people as members of the Regency Council while he was absent, include William the Marshal.

Pembroke Castle, mostly built by William Marshal, as 1st Earl of Pembroke

Pembroke Castle, mostly built by William Marshal, as 1st Earl of Pembroke

The leader of the regency council was William Longchamp, who bought the office of Chancellor of England for £3,000, and was also appointed as Bishop of Ely.

Longchamp also became a papal legate in England. Longchamp appeared to be keen to draw in revenue, marginalised other officials appointed by King Richard I, and brought in fellow Normans to fill offices.

In 1190, Richard Longchamp fell out with King Richard I’s younger brother, Prince John.

As a consequence of this Longchamp besieged Lincoln Castle because the Castellan would not surrender the castle and be replaced by Longchamp’s man. The Castellan had sworn allegiance to Prince John, so John then besieged and took 2 castles himself.

Striguil Castle, now known as Chepstow Castle, build by William Marshal

Striguil Castle, now known as Chepstow Castle, build by William Marshal

William the Marshal supported Prince John in his struggle with Longchamp. Longchamp was eventually stripped of many of his offices and tried to flee from Dover disguised as a woman.

During the hostilities between the Council of Regency on the one hand and Prince John in the other, William Marshal fought against Prince John. William’s older brother, John Marshal, died defending Marlborough Castle on behalf of Prince John.

Richard granted the Marshalsea to William, and also the paternal lands of Hampstead Marshal.

When King Richard I was captured by the Duke of Austria on return from his third crusade, Prince John joined forces with King Philip of France, trying to prolong Richard’s imprisonment. William Marshal refused to support John in this, as he had given his oath to King Richard who was still king.
William Marshal was a prime mover in raising the necessary funds for the vast ransom that had to be paid to the Duke of Austria for Richard’s release.


Marriage of William Marshal and Isabel de Clare

The Great Hall at Striguil Castle, now known as Chepstow Castle

The Great Hall at Striguil Castle, now known as Chepstow Castle

Upon the marriage in August 1189, William Marshal went from being a landless knight to being one of the wealthiest and most powerful barons in England, Wales and Ireland.

He also became by right of his wife, Isabel, Earl of Striguil and Overlord of Leinster. He did not inherit the earldom of Pembroke until King John’s reign.

At the time of the arranged marriage, William was 43 years old, and Isabel was 17.

The marriage appears to have been happy, and Isabel travelled extensively with her husband.

The couple had 10 children who survived to adulthood, 5 sons and 5 daughters.

Oddly, each of their 5 sons inherited the Earldom in turn, William, Richard, Gilbert, Walter, and Ancel / Anselm became the Earls of Pembroke in turn. Each of the 5 sons died without a legitimate heir.

The 5 daughters, Maud / Matilda / Mahelt, Isabel, Sibyl, Joan and Eva, all married and had many descendents.

Both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, 2 of the wives of King Henry VIII, were descended from William Marshal and Isabel de Clare, as is the current royal family.

Death of King Richard I

King John

King John

King Richard I died in April 1199 as a result of an arrow injury sustained when he was besieging a castle. At the time of Richard’s death, he had no legitimate heirs.

The choice for the next king lay between his next brother Geoffrey’s son, Arthur, Duke of Brittany, and his youngest brother, Prince John.

When Richard died, William Marshal was in Normandy, and was a principal supporter of the right of King John to inherit the throne.

At a time when a king or a duke led his forces and his personality in person were extremely important for the exercise of power, many English and Norman barons preferred an adult over a 12 year old boy.

Arthur of Brittany was also closely associated with the French throne, and many of the English and Norman barons disliked the influence King Philip had over Arthur and Brittany.

On King Richard I’s deathbed he designated William Marshal as the custodian of Rouen and of the Royal Treasury.

William Marshal and King John

Tomb effigies of William Marshal and his sons in Temple Church, London

Tomb effigies of William Marshal and his sons in Temple Church, London

As King John took his throne, in 1199, there were major offensives by the French King, Philip, against the Duchy of Normandy and the Duchy of Aquitaine.

William Marshal was in Normandy for most of the time between 1200 and 1203, taking charge of the king’s army.  He was on King John’s ship when John abandoned the Duchy in December 1203.

However, John and William Marshal fell out when William paid homage to King Philip of France for his lands in Normandy.

King John had the ability to fall out with almost everyone, especially the barons and leading earls.

In 1207, King John made moves against many of the major Irish barons.

John’s Irish Justiciar invaded William Marshal and Isabel de Clare’s Irish lands, burning his town of New Ross, and trying to assault his castles.

William Marshal remained estranged from John’s Court until he was summoned back in 1213.

King Henry III

King Henry III

During the First Baron’s War, which ended with the signature of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in June 1215, William Marshal was one of the very few English barons who remained loyal to King John.

When King John died in November 1216, William the Marshal was named by John as Head of the King’s Counsel, and protector of John’s eldest son, the 9 year old King Henry III.

By the time John died, the grip on the English throne was precarious.  The son and heir of King Philip of France, Prince Louis, had invaded at the invitation of the rebel barons and had been offered the throne.

Much of the barons’ support for the French claim fell away when King John died, but war continued for a couple of years afterwards.


William the Marshal and King Henry III

13th century depiction of the Battle of Lincoln in 1217

13th century depiction of the Battle of Lincoln in 1217

William Marshal was, by the time he was named as the King’s Protector in 1216, about 70 years old.

William was, nevertheless, not only the King’s Protector but was leader of the King’s Armed Forces.

There was a major battle in May 1217, at Lincoln.  Prince Louis had taken and held the city of Lincoln, but the castle remained in the hands of the King’s men.

William the Marshal led an army to Lincoln, and attacked the north gate of Lincoln while the rest of his force attacked other gates.

William was not directing from a distance, but at the head of the armed knights who battled into the City of Lincoln on horseback.

The British Museum's copy of the Magna Carta signed in 1215 by King John

The British Museum's copy of the Magna Carta signed in 1215 by King John

The Battle of Lincoln essentially ended the attempt by Prince Louis to claim the throne of England, and shortly thereafter in a peace negotiated by William Marshal, Prince Louis and his remaining mercenaries and supporters left England.

William was an admirer of the Magna Carta and the liberties set out therein.

In early 1217 and again in late 1217 he reissued the Magna Carta, signed by King John two years earlier, and signed it as one of the witnessing barons.

For more about King Henry III’s long reign, see  The 5 Longest Reigning Kings & Queens – Henry III, Fourth Place

Final Years , Death and Burial

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke: effigy in Temple Church, London

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke: effigy in Temple Church, London

William Marshal began to fail in February 1219, and a month later left the Tower of London, resigning the Protectorship at his estate in Caversham in Oxfordshire.

A meeting was held – the main barons, King Henry III, the papal legate, Pandulf Masca, the Royal Justiciar, de Burgh, and the Bishop of Winchester all attended.

The papal legate was named as William Marshal’s replacement as Regent of England.

William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke: effigy in Temple Church, London

William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke: effigy in Temple Church, London

In early May 1219, William renounced his marriage vows and became a Templar Knight, apparently fulfilling a promise he had made when he made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem after the death of Henry the young king.

On 14 May 1219 he died at Caversham, in Oxfordshire, and was buried in Temple Church, London, as a Templar Knight.

William’s effigy, and those of his 3 of his sons who were also buried in Temple Church, can be seen to this day.

Tomb effigy of Gilbert Marshal, son of William Marshal, in Temple Church, London

Tomb effigy of Gilbert Marshal, son of William Marshal, in Temple Church, London

William was succeeded by his son, also called William, who became the 2nd Earl of Pembroke.

Although Isabel de Clare was 25 years younger than her husband, she outlived him by only a year, dying in 1220.


William the Marshal: The Greatest Knight

By , July 3, 2010 10:44 am

William Marshal 1146 – 14th May 1219

William Marshal unhorsing an opponent in a joust, from Matthew Paris' "History"

William Marshal unhorsing an opponent in a joust, from Matthew Paris' "History"

William the Marshal’s life is astonishing, and shows him as one of the towering giants of Medieval England.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, rose from the obscurity of being a 4th son of a minor knight, to serving Kings and Queens of England and the Duchies of Anjou, Normandy, Maine &  Aquitaine, and was then Regent of England.

He was known across Christendom as “the Marshal”, and even went to Jerusalem as a pilgrim.

William’s loyalty and commitment were legendary, and enabled him to serve successive Kings who loathed and fought each other (despite the fact that those Kings were father / son or brothers).

Knights jousting, from René d'Anjou's "Livre des tournois"

Knights jousting, from René d'Anjou's "Livre des tournois"

William was a powerhouse of military skill and strength, winning prizes and acclaim throughout Europe.

He also won a reputation as being a loyal, chivalrous and honourable knight, who made his name on the tournament circuit, and was still leading an army at the age of 70, when his forces won the Battle of Lincoln on behalf of Henry III.

William married one of the greatest available heiresses, Isabel de Clare, who was 17 years old to his 43, and yet appears to have had a happy marriage, fathering many children.

This is the first of two articles about William. This one looks at his family, childhood, early exploits, and service under Henry the Young King and King Henry II.

The second looks at William’s services to King Richard I and King John, his role as governor of England, and as  the Regent who ruled while King Henry III was a child, and can be found by clicking on this link:

William the Marshal: 1st Earl of Pembroke & Regent of England

Family and Childhood

The Empress Matilda, also known as the Lady of the English

The Empress Matilda, also known as the Lady of the English

Born During the Anarchy

William was born half-way through the time called “The Nineteen Year Winter”, a bitter civil war which started in 1135 when King Henry I died without a male heir.

The following 19 years saw a battle between King Stephen, Henry I’s nephew, and Empress Matilda, Henry’s daughter, which ended only when Stephen died in 1154 and was succeeded by King Henry II, Matilda’s eldest son, and Henry’s Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

For more about this Civil War, see this article: Empress Matilda v King Stephen: When Christ and His Saints Slept.

William suffered directly and personally in the Civil War.

John FitzGilbert the Marshal – William Marshal’s Father

William was the 4th son of John FitzGilbert the Marshal, also known as just John the Marshal. The Marshal post was a mostly hereditary job in the Royal Household.

Originally the Marshal (or Maréchal in the Norman French spoken by the top levels of society) was in charge of the King’s horses and stables (the Marshalsea), but the post expanded to include organising the King’s household and soldiers in general.

The remains of Marlborough Castle, held by John the Marshal, and probable birthplace of William Marshal

The remains of Marlborough Castle, held by John the Marshal, and probable birthplace of William Marshal

John’s father, Gilbert, had also been a royal marshal, for King Henry I. (John’s often-used surname, FitzGilbert, means “son of Gilbert” in Normal French).

John the Marshal married firstly Aline Pipard, and they had two sons, Gilbert and Walter. His marriage to Aline was annulled, and he then married Sybilla of Salisbury, by whom he had four more sons, John, William, Henry and Ancel (or Anselm), and two daughters.

John was renowned for being extremely tough and a fierce opponent. He was described as being “a limb of hell and the root of all evil”.

During a battle John was imprisoned in a burning church, and molten lead dripped down his face and body, caused horrific burns. Despite the injuries, he escaped and recovered to fight again.

John became Marshal to King Henry I when his father died, in about 1130, and when King Henry himself died in 1135 AD, he became King Stephen’s Marshal in turn.  John held Hamstead Marshal as his own inheritance, and was granted the castles of Marlborough and Ludgershall nearby – all are in Berkshire and Wiltshire.

Sybilla of Salisbury – William Marshal’s Mother

Sybilla was the sister of Patrick, Earl of Salisbury, and daughter of Walter of Salisbury. Her family and John the Marshal’s had been local enemies, and the marriage was designed to keep the peace so that both families could join together and harass others instead of themselves.

William Held as a Hostage

King Stephan of Blois, from Matthew Paris' early 13th century chronicle

King Stephan of Blois, from Matthew Paris' early 13th century chronicle

John the Marshal was on the Empress Matilda’s side, and built an adulterine castle, one which was not permitted or licensed, on his lands at Hamstead Marshal, near Newbury.

In 1152, when William was 5 or 6 years old, King Stephen and his army besieged Newbury. A truce was agreed, so that John Marshal could seek permission to surrender the castle, and his young son William was given as  a hostage for John’s good behaviour.

Instead of surrendering, John took the opportunity offered by the truce to re-fortify and re-supply the castle, so that it could continue to hold against the siege.

King Stephen threatened to hang the boy and catapult his body over the castle walls if John did not surrender, and John replied:

I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!

Fortunately for William, but to the disgust of his allies, King Stephen couldn’t bring himself to kill a small boy, and William survived.

For more about Newbury Castle, see Hamstead Marshall Castles.


Military Training

At the age of 11 or 12, William was sent to be a page, then squire (training to be a knight) in a relative’s household in Normandy, in William de Tancarville’s care. He late moved, once knighted, to his maternal uncle’s household, Patrick of Salisbury.

Later Medieval Tournament illustration (15th century)

Later Medieval Tournament illustration (15th century)

He started to fight as a Knight from about 1166, aged 20, and attended his first tournament in 1167.

He became a very successful tournament fighter: tournaments and jousts at this time were extremely dangerous events, with many competitors dying or suffering serious injuries.

Knights who were caught by another competitor lost their horse and armour, and if rich, had to pay a ransom to the captor. So a tournament fighter could both make and lose vast sums of money, and William tended to win.

See this article for more about Medieval Armour.

First contact with Royalty

In 1168, the rebellious rebels, the de Lusignans, killed William’s uncle, Patrick of Salisbury, and captured William in an ambush near Poitiers, in Aquitaine.

The group was on business for Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Duchess of Aquitaine and wife of King Henry II. Eleanor paid William’s ransome, and he entered royal service as a knight.

William Marshal and Henry the Young King

King Henry II

King Henry II

King Henry II had decided to follow the French example of crowning the heir to the throne during the King’s lifetime. Henry, the oldest surviving son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, was therefore crowned in August 1170, when he was 15 years old.

William the Marshal was appointed as the Young King’s tutor and an important part of his household.

In 1173 Henry the Young King joined his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his brothers Geoffrey and Richard, in rebelling against King Henry II.  A bitter family war ensued, with father aligned against 3 of his sons and his wife, their mother.

William Marshal supported his lord and master, Henry the Young King, although by 1174 King Henry II had triumphed, making peace with his sons and capturing and imprisoning his wife, Queen Eleanor (she remained in captivity until Henry II died in 1189).

After peace broke out in 1174, William Marshal lead the Young King’s tournament team, and they competed across France, Normandy, Anjou, Aquitaine, Picardy and Flanders from 1174 until 1182. William devised the team’s tactics, and acted as guard for Henry the Young King, as Henry’s being captured and held for ransom would have lead to serious embarrassment all round.

By 1179, William was wealthy enough to run his own team of knights in tournaments.

In 1182, William and Henry fell out, for reasons that are not entirely clear, but probably owed much to others’ jealousy of William’s influence over the Young King, and increasing wealth and prestige from martial sports. William left the Young King’s household in the summer of 1182.

Henry the Young King

Henry the Young King

Some 6 months later, the Young King recalled William to his service. Henry was once again rebelling against his father, King Henry II, and this time also fought against his brother Richard, heir to the Duchy of Aquitaine.

Henry the Young King died of dysentery, or the bloody flux as it was then known, in June  1183. Henry had started to raid monasteries and shrines to pay mercenaries to fight against his father and brother, and many saw his death as a sign of divine displeasure. Fearful of damnation on his deathbed, the Young King asked William Marshal to take his cloak on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to fulfil the Crusader vow he had taken and not carried out.

After Henry the Young King’s death, William Marshal, with King Henry II’s approval, made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and returned 2 years later, to join Henry II’s household.

William Marshal and King Henry II

King Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart, or Richard Coeur de Lion

King Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart, or Richard Coeur de Lion

William basked in royal favour from 1185 onwards. He was given estates in the north-west of England, in Cumberland (now Cumbria), and the wardship of a Cumberland heiress, Heloise.

Late in 1188, Henry II’s sons, Richard and Geoffrey, rebelled against their father again. William Marshal acted as captain of Henry II’s troops, and accompanied Henry II as he travelled to fight the revolt.

On one occasion, William became the only man ever to knock Richard off his horse, as Richard and his soldiers chased after Henry II.

By mid 1189, Henry II was unwell. He promised William the heiress Isabel de Clare, one of the greatest heiresses in any of Henry II’s domains.

But before the marriage could take place, and the transfer be formalised, Henry II died in August 1189, mourning because his youngest son John had joined the rebellion of his older brothers.

Although William Marshal had fought against him on behalf of Henry the Young King and later Henry II, Richard valued the loyalty and prowess William had shown in the service of his brother and father.

Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart, appointed William Marshal to his own household, and sent him urgently to England, to release his long-held mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Read on for part two! William the Marshal: 1st Earl of Pembroke & Regent of England


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