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.


One Response to “William the Marshal: 1st Earl of Pembroke & Regent of England”

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