Monday, August 31, 2009

Elizabeth Chadwick on Why I Love William Marshall

Today for Elizabeth Chadwick week we have a guest post from Elizabeth Chadwick as part of our Why I Love series and also as the Historical Tapestry stop of her ongoing blog tour.

Why I love William Marshal – How shall I count the ways?

I thought as my guest post, I’d contribute to Historical Tapestry’s ‘Why I love’ series for a second time and write ten reasons why I love William Marshal, the hero of The Greatest Knight.

1. He was a real charmer as a little boy. William was very nearly hanged when he was about six years old. He was given as a hostage for his father’s word of honour but when his father reneged on the terms, William’s life was declared forfeit. However he made such an impression on his captor, King Stephen, that the latter couldn’t bear to hang him, and took him for his page. William sat down in the King’s tent which was strewn with meadow flowers and politely asked Stephen if he wanted to play a game with plantain stems called ‘knights’. ‘Beau sire chiers, Volez joer as chevalers? Stephen agreed to do so and for his pains had his ‘knight’s head knocked off. Even then, William was a champion jouster!

2. He was known in his youth as ‘Guilleame Gaste Viande’ or ‘Greedy Guts.’ At first glance this may not seem like a reason to love William – that he was a glutton as a young man! It was also said he spent all his time sleeping. My reason for feeling endeared is, I confess, maternal again. Being the mother of a son recently of those adolescent years, I can fully empathise with the condition I just want to give William a heaped plate of steak and kidney pie and a hug!

3. I love William’s eagerness and zest for life. While he might have been castigated for eating too much and lying abed, once he was actually up and about, he seized hold of life with both hands. Summoned to battle as a newly knighted young man when the French descended on his town, William couldn’t wait to get stuck in and had to be told on several occasions to get to the back of the queue. ‘William, get back; don’t be so hot-heated, let these knights pass,’ he was warned by his lord. It wasn’t just battle where he was eager. Whatever was going on, he wanted to be part of it.

4. William lived in a society that was a lot more pragmatic about their animals than we are. While a battlefield and a tourney melee were not exactly wonderful places for a horse to be, William cared for the welfare of his mounts. Given a warhorse that was very difficult to ride because there was something wrong with its mouth, William especially adapted the bridle so that it would suit the animal’s disability. We are told that this particular horse was called Blancart and it was plainly a favourite, and long remembered.

5. I love William Marshal for his courage in the face of difficult odds. Many times in his life he had to put himself on the line for others and he did it unstintingly without thought for himself. He rescued Eleanor of Aquitaine from ambush by putting himself in the path of the enemy and was thereby captured and wounded himself. He stood between his lord, the dying King Henry II and the pursuing Richard Coeur de Lion, and rode Richard down, rather than put thought to his own future at Richard’s hands. He took on the regency of England when he was 70 years old, and led from the front at the Battle of Lincoln because there was no one else.

6. William had a wonderful, mischievous sense of humour that dances through his life story. Once he and some knights were entertaining themselves before a joust by singing songs. A young herald set up the refrain ‘Marshal give me a horse!’ William excused himself for a moment, took up his lance, mounted his stallion and knocked one of the competitors off his horse, and brought it back to the squire in a ‘no sooner said than done’ fashion. He wasn’t afraid to have stories told against himself either, such as the time he captured a man for ransom and led him off the field, only to find himself with an empty horse, when his prisoner escaped behind William’s back and scrambled up a gutter to safety.

7. William adored music. Since I have a fondness myself, we are on a wavelength here. He was often called upon to sing in company because he had an excellent singing voice and a ‘pure, sweet tone.’ Even on his deathbed, he could be found giving his daughters a singing lesson.

8. William was intensely loyal. If he gave his word he kept it whatever the cost. When his young lord died, he promised to take his cloak to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and did so. When he swore to protect King Henry II, he did so, even when others were deserting to Coeur de Lion in droves. Despite being persecuted by King John, he stood by him to the bitter end.

9. In an age when women had few rights and men mostly ruled the world, William was respectful of the opposite sex. He always consulted his wife about matters of the earldom because he recognised he had nothing without her. When they were first married he took her away on honeymoon to a quiet spot – just the two of them. He was a lifelong friend of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although a man of his time, he was a true gentleman.

10. He always had the greater good at heart, even if that greater good often served himself too. When nearly ship-wrecked on his way to Ireland, he built a lighthouse to warn future vessels of the danger. That it might also help ships coming to the new port he built on the river Barrow was incidental. Indeed the latter was part of his initiative for Leinster. It enriched him, but it enriched the people of his lands too.

Don't forget about our current giveaways, and please be sure to check out the other stops on The Greatest Knight blog tour:

August 20—Pop Syndicate’s Book Addict

August 25—My Friend Amy

August 27—A Reader’s Respite

August 28—Booking Mama

August 31—Historical Tapestry

September 1—Passages to the Past

Yankee Romance Reviewers

September 2—A Journey of Books

September 3—The Tome Traveller’s Weblog

September 4—

September 21—Love Romance Passion

September 22—The Review From Here/Scribe Vibe

September 23—Bloody Bad Books

September 25—Morbid Romantic


  1. Great guest post. Wonderful reasons for loving William Marshal. Thanks Elizabeth Chadwick, and thanks historical tapestry.

  2. There are lot of good reasons to love William Marshal right there!

    It would have been cool to meet a man who was able to be so well regarded and respected, even by his opponents!

  3. Thanks for this wonderful post! How can anyone not love him after reading such great traits?


  4. I love him, too! I loved him in Sharon Kay Penman's Devil's Brood and my copy of The Greatest Knight is en route! I can't wait to read it!

  5. will you have a william marshal tour in 2014?

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  7. This is a love fest! I think the world needs The Marshal again, maybe Mandela had these characteristics in the end?