William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, was one of the most famous Englishmen of his day. He was born into a minor aristocratic family and made his living as a successful competitor on the international tournament circuit. His life changed when he married Isabel of Claire, daughter and heir of Richard fitz Gilbert of Clare, earl of Pembroke and Striguil, better known as 'Strongbow'. This brought him massive estates in England, Wales, Ireland and Normandy. This made him one of the most important figures in the courts of Richard I and King John, and an obvious choice to be regent to the young Henry III after John's death.
The author has taken advantage of a modern edition of The History of William the Marshal, a rare example of a surviving secular biography from this period, combining it with other contemporary sources to provide balance and fill in details that Marshal's biographer didn't cover.
We get an interesting view of the life of a tournament celebrity, an arena in which Marshal made quite a bit of money early in his career. This was the world of the mass melee tournament, not the later formalised joust, and so was excellent training for his later military career.
The biggest part of the book looks at the crisis triggered by King John's rather inept rule, the resulting Baronial revolt and the call for French help that triggered an intervention by Prince Louis, the heir to the French throne. When King John died Prince Louis and the rebels held large parts of the south and east of England, and looked to be in a very strong position. However the death of King John meant that the throne passed to his infant son Henry III, and control of the war to William Marshal, who became regent. The author follows Marshal's strategy during this phase of the war, explores the details of his key battlefield victory at Lincoln and examines his role in the naval victory at Sandwich that effectively ended the war.
This is an excellent biography of a major medieval figure. As a medievalist myself I was familiar with the basic outline of William's life, but not the details, and found this a fascinating story. It will be of even more value for non-medievalists, presenting a invaluable picture of one of the most serious crises in English medieval history.
I - Angevin Inheritance
II - Finest Knight
III - Before the Longbow
IV - King John and the Dauphin
V - William's War
VI - Lincoln Fair
VII - The Battle of Sandwich and the Treaty of Kingston
VIII - Nunc Dimittis
Author: Richard Brooks