A man was needed to guide England through a civil war and minority. So who do you think they picked? The answer was of course William the Marshal who was now a very old man by the standards of the time. The Earl of Chester was politely asked, given the size of his holdings, but there was no holding William. In the two and a half years left to him, William was able to throw Louis out of the England and establish Henry as the rightful king. But he left an awful lot more for his successors to do
The Civil War of 1216-1218
The advantages in this civil seemed to lie all on one side – with the French prince, Louis, and his allies the Barons. After all, 97 holders of major baronies supported Louis, while just 38 were on Henry's side. And the Marshal's attempt to lure some away came initially to nothing. But appearances were deceiving; Henry had over 150 royal castles, supported by sheriffs and castellans who used the local area to support themselves. Reducing all these castles would take time and resources – in a way, it was bigger than the challenge William the Conqueror had faced. And John had done his cause a lot of good by dying; Henry was untouched by his reputation, and his advisors played on that.
The Battle of Lincoln, 1217
The battle of Lincoln is the second most decisive battle fought on English soil – but unlike Hastings is almost completely unknown. William the Marshal's victory meant that England would be ruled by Plantagenets not Capetians. There's a good description of the battle in David Carpenter's 'The Minority of Henry IIIrd, a book now remarkably difficult to get hold of !
Marshal won becuase he concentrated his forces and achieved a local superiority of forces. But he had to work at it – Louis's forces retreated behind the walls of the town, continued to besiege the castle and prepared to wait for re-inforcements. The Marshal wasn't having any of that. He sent Falkes de Breaute to break into the castle. Then while Falkes sallied out, the Earl of Chester attacked the north gate. While everyone was busy and occupied, the Marshal himself burst through a formerly blocked gate and charged into the enemy, so hard that he penetrated 3 ranks deep. By the end of the battle, many leaders of the rebel forces were captured for ransom including Robert fitz Walter, the former leader of the Army of God.
The only man of substance to be killed was the Count of Perche, stabbed through the eyes of his visor – you can see him in Matthew Paris's titchy pic above. Everyone was very sorry about it. No doubt loads of oiks like thee and me also got killed, but no one thought of that as worth mentioning.
The Battle of Sandwich, also 1217
Louis was confined to London by the defeat. He had one more throw of the dice – his wife Blanche of Castile was coming with re-inforcements from France. Which is where we come to the naval battle of Sandwich. As the French fleet sailed towards the English coast. Hubert de Burgh led the English fleet out. At first it looked as though he was running away – but in fact he was simply getting the weather gauge. The defeat of the French fleet sealed the fate of the rebels and the French. At the Treaty of Lambeth Louis made sure that the rebels would get their land back, and took a bribe of 10,000 marks to leave. In Paris's picture on the right, you can see Eustace the Monk losiung his head.
Regency and death
William had massive problems to deal with – lack of money, a bunch of independent sheriffs and Castellans wandering around, no Justice system. He did not manage to solve these problems before he died and handed his mantle on to the triumvirate of Pandulf, Hubert de Burgh and Peter des Roches. But he did achieve two things; he restarted the Eyres of the Royal Justices. This was important becuase royal justice was a visible manifestation of royal authority, and also because it generated revenue. And secondly, his constant involvement of the Magnum Consilium, for Great Council, legitimised his regime and firmly embedded the principle of consultation.
William himself died at Caversham on May 14th 1219.