William Marshal was a soldier who rose to immense prestige and prominence during the reign of English kings Henry II, Richard I and King John.
He was initially a mere soldier but soon made a name for himself by demonstrating excellent fighting abilities on the battlefield and in knightly tournaments.
In time, he came to be known as a knight of exceptional valour and chivalry. This catalysed his rise in influence and prestige in the English court which began during Henry II’s reign and continued until his death when he was serving as regent to the young King Henry III.
In a time when knightly chivalry and valour were highly esteemed, William joined the court of William de Tancarville in Normandy to learn the precepts of knightly honour. He learned his lessons rapidly and by 1166, aged nearly 20, had been knighted. By 1168, he was making his name in the knightly tournaments by being one of the best fighters on the field.
When he was captured during one of the border skirmishes with the French, his ransom was paid by Eleanor of Aquitaine, the mother of Richard the Lionheart. It was largely through his reputation as an exceptional knight that William eventually came into the royal favour of Henry II.
William Marshal’s influence in the royal court began in 1185 when he began serving King Henry II as an active soldier and knight. While the king was faced with many troubles, many of them raised by his sons, William helped the king through many conflicts. A significant example of this was in 1189 when Henry II had to retreat from Le Mans to Chinon, being pursued by the forces of Philip II of France and Henry’s own son, Richard.
In helping the king in his flight, William unhorsed Richard the Lionheart by killing the horse. Given his valour, he was equally welcome at the court later when Richard ascended the English throne. By this time, he had been awarded vast estates and the hand of Earl of Pembroke’s daughter.
After Richard’s death, William continued to serve the next monarch, King John. John had to struggle to keep the English possessions in Normandy, ultimately losing them to the French. In the ensuing negotiations between Philip of France and King John, William was the focal person. William profited from this position by securing his possessions in Normandy contrary to the interests of King John. This led to the coolness of relations between the two which continued to deteriorate until 1212.
In 1213, he was back in royal favour and during the rest of King John’s reign, he put his support behind the king against the rebel barons. After King John’s death, William was the one who undertook the responsibility for burial. He was later appointed regent to the young king Henry III. He effectively brought peace to England and passed on the regency to safe hands when he died in 1219.