The Greatest Knight and the End of an Age

English: William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke

English: William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things that happens as we grow up (and even older) is that we discover our heroes have feet of clay. That’s because they, like us, are men, not gods, or even demigods. Still some seem to endure, and I suppose I was lucky, mine did better than most.

One of the first men in history that I decided was a hero and a good man to model  my life on was William Marshal, earl of Pembroke. Gallant knight, respected by all of Henry II fractious children, as well as nearly all of the barons of England, signatory of Magna Charta doing his duty as Marshal of England. And reissuing the Charter as Regent of England for John’s son Henry III,

Here’s a bit more about his sojourn as a crusading knight, following the dying request of the young Henry, Henry the II’s son. by Thomas Asbridge in History Today

William Marshal, warrior and tutor-in-arms to the son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, promised his dying charge that he would complete the sacred task of crusading to the Levant. Did he succeed in his mission and fight the forces of Saladin?

One of England’s finest warriors was laid to rest in London’s Temple Church on May 20th, 1219. In his funeral oration that day, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, reportedly described this celebrated veteran of countless wars – William Marshal – as ‘the greatest knight in the world’. The youngest son of a minor Anglo-Norman noble, Marshal had risen through the ranks to serve at the right hand of five English monarchs. He became a revered tournament champion, esteemed by his peers as the paragon of chivalry and a powerful landed baron of the realm.

Having been on intimate terms with figures such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and ‘Bad’ King John, Marshal was ultimately appointed as regent for the boy-king Henry III. Fighting in one final campaign, the 70-year-old Marshal successfully stemmed the tide of a major French invasion and baronial revolt in 1217, at the Battle of Lincoln, saving the Angevin (or Plantagenet) dynasty from utter annihilation. Though Marshal is far from a household name today, this remarkable career marks the knight out as one of the most compelling, extraordinary and intriguing figures of the Middle Ages.

Manuscript of the History of William Marshal. Thomas Asbridge.Manuscript of the History of William Marshal.

Marshal was also the subject of the first known contemporary biography of a medieval knight, the so-called History of  William Marshal, written some six years after his death on the orders of his eldest son and now surviving in a single manuscript held in New York’s Morgan Library. This work serves as the key source for Marshal’s life, though inevitably it offers a highly partisan account of his achievements. However, the biography has sparked an enduring mystery about one particular phase of its hero’s career: the time he spent on crusade in the Holy Land.

While still in his early twenties, Marshal was appointed as tutor-in-arms to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s son and heir, Young Henry. In the course of the next 13 years the pair became close associates,  achieving renown on the tournament fields of northern France; but they were also embroiled in two abortive rebellions against Henry II’s overbearing authority. In the midst of the second of these civil wars, in June 1183, Young Henry contracted dysentery and suffered a squalid and agonising death in Aquitaine. As he lay dying, Young Henry charged his friend and confidante with a sacred task. Some months earlier, the Angevin heir had made a commitment to lead a crusade to the Levant (modern Lebanon, Syria and Palestine) and he now begged his ‘dearest friend’, Marshal, to fulfil that vow in his stead, carrying the cloak upon which Henry had affixed his cloth crusader’s cross all the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Honouring Young Henry’s request was no simple matter; it involved a challenging journey of more than 2,000 miles, almost to the edge of what was then the known world, but Marshal undertook this last act of service, nonetheless. The best estimates suggest that Marshal set out from western Europe in the autumn of 1183 and probably returned either in late 1185 or early 1186. This places him in the Near East at the precise moment when a titanic struggle was brewing between the Latin Christian crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and the emerging might of the great Muslim sultan, Saladin. Not surprisingly, the notion of one of the foremost warriors of the Middle Ages arriving in such a contested battleground has sparked both scholarly and popular imaginations.

Over the last century, the leading historians of Marshal’s career – from Sidney Painter to Georges Duby and David Crouch – have all struggled to interpret or to explain his short-lived crusading career. This was largely because the History of William Marshal offered only a brief and frustratingly evasive comment upon the period that its chief protagonist spent in the Holy Land. The History recorded that William performed ‘many feats of bravery and valour’ during his stay, achieving as much as ‘if he had lived there for seven years’, adding that these ‘fine deeds’ were ‘still known about today’ and widely discussed. But Marshal’s biographer then declared that he could not describe these marvellous exploits because: ‘I was not there and did not witness them, nor can I find anyone who can tell me half of them.’

As a result, most historians have been content simply to pass over William’s time in the East in a few sentences. Painter, for example, argued that, as ‘a crusade was the supreme adventure’, William ‘undoubtedly performed [great deeds] against the forces of the redoubtable Saladin’. More recently, Crouch suggested that, while ‘a cynic might conclude’ from the History’s relative silence that Marshal ‘had done very little’ in Palestine, ‘this would be unjust’. Crouch also stated that ‘by no stretch of the imagination could [William’s crusading pilgrimage] be interpreted as a career move’.

– See more at: http://historytoday.com/thomas-asbridge/greatest-knight-or-failed-crusader#sthash.ytlL2Bal.dpuf

Continue reading The Greatest Knight or a Failed Crusader? | History Today.

Yesterday, 2 February was the 114 th Anniversary of Queen Victoria’s state funeral.and so the end of the Victorian age.

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About NEO
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19 Responses to The Greatest Knight and the End of an Age

  1. That is an awesome news reel of the Death of Queen Victoria, one ya don’t see too much these days! Yes what a reign! But note, the British PM Benjamen Disraeli also, who was the first and only Jewish born PM. They say Queen Vic adored him!

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Not long ago British Pathe released pretty much all of their newsreels, I’ve not the time to go through them but some great ones do pop up. This is one of those.

      I’m not a huge fan of ‘Dizzy’, I think he’s overshadowed of others who were also important, but he is an attractive guy.

      Like

      • Yes, but his work with the British Conservative Party is well known, and of course his debates with Gladstone! He was a mover and shaker! He was btw an Anglican convert, but I love his quote: “The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world; it is more, it is the history of earth and heaven.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Over well known, I think. He tends to overshadow Baldwin entirely too much. But my sources are thin, limited mostly to Dr. John Charmley’s “History of Conservative Politics since 1830.”

          That IS a great quote. 🙂

          Like

        • Well of course Disraeli died in 1881 at 77, and Stanley Baldwin, three time PM, lived to 1947! (1867-1947)

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I misspoke, I couldn’t recall the name but was referring to Derby, Dizzy wasn’t really important until the 1860s, seemed a bit short on character, or so it reades.

          Like

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Smith-Stanley,_14th_Earl_of_Derby

          Liked by 1 person

        • Btw, when Disraeli was a young men, it seems he liked the ladies a bit too much, and suffered with gonorrhea, which it appears made him sterile (with the then mercury treatment). When he did later marry, his wife was 12 years older than he, and they never had children of their own…”In 1839 Disraeli married Mary Anne Lewis, the widow of Wyndham Lewis. Twelve years Disraeli’s senior, Mary Lewis had a substantial income of £5,000 a year. His motives were generally assumed to be mercenary, but the couple came to cherish one another, remaining close until she died more than three decades later.[78] “Dizzy married me for my money,” his wife said later, “But, if he had the chance again, he would marry me for love.”[79] (Wiki)

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Charmley’s work (likely more reliable) attributes that last quote to Dizzy himself, and it’s one of the reasons he wasn’t trusted.

          Like

        • Yes, our great men and women were just people, like all of us! We are so apt to forget that!

          Btw, that was *man of course above!

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          We do, indeed.

          I do love this Baldwin quote, “The country prefers second-class intellects, with first-class characters to first-class intellects with second class characters” though.

          Liked by 1 person

        • And its no secret that like Disraeli! 😉 Btw, he become an Anglican at 12, and It appears he and his sister Sarah were always close! He had two other brothers.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yep, and there was some anti-semitism involved, and it didn’t help that looked very Jewish as well. Smart guy, and pretty good PM really.

          Like

        • The Baldwin quote almost sounds like today’s politicians? And what the country (both Brits and Americans, prefer!)

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          True enough.

          Many of us have used that WSC Quote about Great events and small men.

          Like

  2. the unit says:

    Fr. Robert and NEO. Sterile. He should have claimed man made climate and pollution change for the condition his condition was in. As for the lady’s claim…maybe he had a baculum and she loved him for it.
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150130-polar-bear-penis-bone-pollution-baculum-climate-change/
    I read polar bears on the increase…Great events even with small men. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Quite!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        48 years ago while in the U.S. Navy I had a girlfriend, also in the service for her country, who said often…”I see your sailor is standing at attention.” My favorite inspection. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yepper, I doubt any will disbelieve that. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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