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:

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.

A Remembrance of Freedom

This will be likely the saddest post seen in many days on NEO.

I think you all know by now, that I am very definitely an Anglophile, I love the English nearly as much as I do the Americans but, it is increasingly becoming a dysfunctional relationship, as Britain sinks into being simply another European province, and sells its heritage of freedom for a mess of European stagnation. Still, it’s their country to do with as they will. For all that it troubles me greatly.

My co-author and editor here, Jessica, has taken her blog, All Along the Watchtower, private.

It was not by choice but because pressure was applied, and as we have several times noted here, free speech does not exist in the United Kingdom. While I grieve at the development, I would have made the same decision, it was a matter of loyalty and honor, and I would have had her do no other.

Understand this, my American readers, when you say, “It can’t happen here.” You are wrong, It can, and it has, happened here, and it will again. I also pray that you remember, as I do, that our rights come from English law, and as we move toward the 800th anniversary of Magna Charta, ours are in more danger now than they have ever been before as well.

Here is her announcement, in its entirety (if she doesn’t like it, she can sue me!)

From Saturday 16 August, this blog will be accessible only to registered readers with a WordPress account. I will be sorry to lose new readers, and anyone who wants access to it or to existing content can do so by requesting it.

Our thanks to all our readers, but it seems increasingly difficult for some of my contributors to combine free speech and employment, and I cannot be responsible for harm coming to others.

Thank you for your company across the last two and a half years, and God bless you all.

Jess xx

AATW has been one of the most stalwart Christian blogs in the UK, representing all Christian viewpoints. I have been honored by the friendship of my fellow contributors there, nearly since the blogs beginnings, and I shall miss the fellowship, the friendship, and the sharing of knowledge that has meant so much to me. Through it also, Jessica, herself has become my dearest friend, and I must say that this contretemps angers me greatly. It is indeed a tawdry end for a wonderful vision. I note that Jessica, herself, will continue to write here, and that is nearly the only ray of good news involved.

From Tennyson, one of Queen Victoria’s favorites

A happy lover who has come
To look on her that loves him well,
Who ‘lights and rings the gateway bell,
And learns her gone and far from home;

He saddens, all the magic light
Dies off at once from bower and hall,
And all the place is dark, and all
The chambers emptied of delight:

So find I every pleasant spot
In which we two were wont to meet,
The field, the chamber, and the street,
For all is dark where thou art not.

Yet as that other, wandering there
In those deserted walks, may find
A flower beat with rain and wind,
Which once she foster’d up with care;

So seems it in my deep regret,
O my forsaken heart, with thee
And this poor flower of poesy
Which little cared for fades not yet.

But since it pleased a vanish’d eye,
I go to plant it on his tomb,
That if it can it there may bloom,
Or, dying, there at least may die.


An all too “brief and shining moment”, indeed. I will carry its memory to the grave.

For truly, it has been my second home, and I would give anything, save honor, to have it continue.

Duty Is the Rent You Pay For Life

article-2625548-1DBD495E00000578-350_634x498There are some words that have gone out of fashion. Duty, Honor, Integrity, and Responsibility are among them. Why?

I think it is mostly that we have had it too easy, and we have been encouraged to do only what is necessary, not what is right, or to do our duty. We, and our countries are much the poorer for it. We have often talked here about the generation that won World War II, and undoubtedly shall again. But their older brothers and fathers were perhaps of even sterner stuff. That generation that fought the Great War have nearly been forgotten, and they shouldn’t be. They may well have been the real ‘Greatest Generation’.

In truth the British casualties in the Great War compared to the population at somewhat less than 2 % wasn’t all that horrible, in the American Civil War the ratio was about 3.5% and many estimates of the English Civil War were about 4%. But soldiers come from the working class while in the Edwardian model, the officer corp came from the educated upper classes, and do remember the divide was much wider then than now.  The British army lost roughly 12% of its effective soldiers, but and here is the kicker, it lost roughly 17% of its officers, Eton lost more than 1000 alumni, 20% of those who served.

Those men were leaders, who took their duties seriously, they died leading their men. They were quite likely the best of Britain, for instance UK wartime Prime Minister Herbert Asquith lost a son, while future Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law lost two. Anthony Eden lost two brothers, another brother of his was terribly wounded, and an uncle was captured, Rudyard Kipling lost his only son. We’ve seen this before but let’s look at it again.

Noting as I have before that all three of them were convinced Jack wouldn’t return, and very aware that he could have honorably avoided field service, they all thought that it was his duty.

A hard word, duty is.

At the same time, a fourteen year old girl was helping her family prepare the family home for use as a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers, and she too would lose a brother in the war, Fergus was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915 and another brother was on the missing list before they found out he was a POW. Fergus’s death badly affected her mother and she picked up the slack, to the point of even keeping the house from burning down, with some help from the soldiers.

The house castle of course, was Glamis and the girl was the Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. After the war she was one of the most famous and popular of debutantes. But she never in the course of a very long life, lost her bravery and her sense of duty. And we are far better off for it. Because she in fact married the King’s younger son, Prince Albert, and after the abdication in  1936 she became the queen.

And we very famously saw that sense of duty, now to the United Kingdom when she said, when it was suggested that the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret should be evacuated to Canada because of the threat of invasion,The Princesses will never leave without me. I will not leave without the King and the King will never leave,” Of such attitudes are leaders made.

And her attitude never changed. The £ Daily Mail spoke of this saying:

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother’s death was much like her life – full of dignity, grace and the minimum of fuss.

Right up to the end, she showed the same stoicism and pluck that she had displayed through thick and thin for more than a century.

Nothing typified her resiliance more than her insistence last month on travelling 100 miles by helicopter to her daughter Princess Margaret’s funeral. Despite weakness caused by persistent illness, she went against the Queen’s wishes to attend and hid her feelings behind the palm of her hand as she carried out the saddest duty of all – watching a child laid to rest.

For death was something that Queen Elizabeth had never feared. Her steadfast faith, learned at her mother’s knee and which had sustained her through the dark days of the abdication crisis, the Second World War and her husband, King George VI’s premature demise, kept as firm as ever as she prepared to meet her Maker.

Her bravery had always been legendary, shrugging off the excruciating pain that necessitated two hip replacements in her mid and late 90s and the constant discomfort of a leg ulcer that refused to heal. When most people half her age would have thrown in the towel, there she was going about her duties as if she had not a care in the world.

No one to whom she chatted had the slightest inkling of the effort behind the twinkling blue eyes and golden smile as she mingled charmingly among her people. Once in a blue moon, she did confess to occasionally getting slightly tired, but quickly added that the affection that she received from the people she met, from whatever walk of life they came, ‘recharges me, gives me back my strength’.

Queen Elizabeth was born in the reign of Queen Victoria on a summer day so hot that the tar melted on the roads and working horses had to wear straw hats. She was the ninth of Lord and Lady Glamis’s ten children and her arrival on August 4, 1900, prompted so little interest that her grandfather, the Earl of Strathmore, failed to note it in his daily diary.

Read more:–last.html#ixzz31RgfojFR


I easily think we can all respect that as a life lived in duty to one’s people, and it would be a very good guide to those who think they should lead our peoples today. And yes, the title of this piece was one of her favorite mottoes.


I also think that I don’t say much more than the truth if I were to call her “The Queen Mother of the Free World” because her courage and steadfastness had very much to do with it being the Free World.


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Diamond Jubilee

Our British and Anglosphere friends are celebrating something that has happened only twice in the last 1000 years. The current Queen, Elizabeth II, has been on the throne for 60 years. By the way the other Monarch to make 60 years was Elizabeth’s Great-Great Grandmother Queen Victoria. I would say that’s pretty distinguished company.

Let’s think about this a bit, a Head of State, who has known every US President since Franklin Roosevelt, who technically was under the command of General Dwight Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, who guided the transition from Empire to Commonwealth, has known and worked with every British Prime Minister since Sir Winston, and has even managed to tolerate the slights of Obama without making it a public scandal.

This is a throne that goes back to the Anglo-Saxon dynasty of Wessex, as changed by the Conquest of William the Conqueror, and has rolled down the centuries, nearly always working with the Parliament to safeguard its subjects’ freedom (not always willingly, though).

Her life has been quite remarkable, also. From being an ambulance driver in the Second World War to being snubbed at the 65th Anniversary of D-Day by Obama and Sarkozy, there isn’t much she hasn’t done. I think it telling that in 1940 during the Blitz the Queen Mother famously announced:

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, horrified at the thought of what the Royal Family abandoning its people to its fate, might do to civilian morale, famously declared that:“The children won’t leave without me, I won’t leave without the king, and the king will never leave!”

– Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Thus even as a child the queen understood the down side of being a Royal, I’m sure that this was reinforced when her favorite uncle Lord Mountbatten was killed by Irish terrorists. I think a bit of Shakespeare relating to one of her predecessors, Henry V, would be in order.

I think it entirely fit and proper for us, as Americans, to salute the Queen on this auspicious occasion, as she has proved to be one of the best friends of freedom the world has seen, as well as the Head of State of the Mother Country of freedom. For we all know that our founding fathers built this country, our America, on the heritage of free Englishmen. There’s not too much to add here, for 60 years Her Majesty has been Head of State of our staunchest allies and friends and so I think it’s appropriate to say sing, “Long Live the Queen”.

Happy Victoria Day

Today is Victoria Day in Canada. It celebrates the birthday of Queen Victoria the “Mother of Confederation”

Soldier’s Tower, Toronto, via Toronto Then and Now

Canucks being Canucks, they’ve been known to drink a bit of beer on Victoria Day weekend, just as we will on Memorial Day. So bear with them, they are great friends. They’re also damn good mates to party with (I speak from experience, I once spent a bank holiday weekend in Plentywood, MT, and it took all week to recover). I also remember dad talking about marching in the Victoria Day parade at Fort Garry, now Winnepeg, when he was young.

But of course we can’t do a post about Canada without a video featuring the Mounties, now can we?

Some Things Last

Coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, June 1953 via Wikipedia

On this day in 1952 King George VI died of a heart attack at Sandringham, leaving his daughter Elizabeth Alexandra Mary officially Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth the Throne. She has as of today reigned for 60 years, at all times showing all the world what a queen should be as the champion of her people.

During World War II, in 1940 when Lord Hailsham suggested that the Princesses should be evacuated to Canada the Queen replied, “The children won’t go without me. I won’t leave without the King. And the King will never leave.” Also in 1940, the 14-year-old Elizabeth made her first radio broadcast during the BBC‘s Children’s Hour, addressing other children who had been evacuated from the cities. She stated:

We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our share of the danger and sadness of war. We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well.

As the Princess approached her 18th birthday she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service where she trained as a driver and mechanic and was promoted to Honorary Junior Commander 5 months later.

On 6 February 1952, they had just returned to their Kenyan home, Sagana Lodge, after a night spent at Treetops Hotel, when word arrived of the death of Elizabeth’s father.

And so she became Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith. She is the fortieth successor to William the Conqueror

And so she has been for sixty years, second only to Queen Victoria.


In other news of the Free World, on this day in Tamipco, Illinois was born to Jack and Nelle Wilson Reagan a son, who they named Ronald. He would grow up to become the Great Liberator of Eastern Europe as the 40th President of the United States. Ronald Wilson Reagan, Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath and a member of Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum.


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