On Richard’s stool of state, It was the Longchamp’s leg that appeared first to be shorter than the others and create a disturbing wobble. As we all know, there is no silvery lining without its cloud, and Longchamp’s energy and efficiency proved to be deployed in things of which the political nation did not approve. The political nation was of course composed of not very many people in those days. Longchamps was arrogant, and therefore committed the cardinal error of making and applying decisions without consulting with the great families. Longchamps, complained the histoire
Had the loftiest pretensions, and started spending wildly and surrounding himself with foreigners. He squandered the King’s money on fripperies, his sole aim in life being to be recognised as lord
I’m personally rather fond of fripperies, but This was an egregious failing even by a king which could lead to ooh, the Anarchy or the Cousins’ War. But by a more ordinary Jo it was insupportable. Plus. Longchamps, raised up and mighty though he was, wanted more, more, and indeed if you don’t mind, more. He persuaded the Pope to make him a Papal Legate and then reached out his greedy claw to pluck the fruit of the ABC – without asking for the support of the king. This was an offense not just to the Magnate, but the king.
We don’t know much about the process, but already by early 1191 Eleanor and the Council of 4 Blokes were convinced this Longchamps chappie needed to go. And that to achieve this one of their number should go and tell their king so, and what to do. John, the Count of Mortain, was equally disdainful of Longchamps, but the Council of 4 justiciars were also worried that the snake that was the Count of Mortain was stirring in it’s lair, the sound of slimy scales hissing as John uncoiled, interested at the discord Longchamps was causing, and the opportunity it might present for rebellion. This could be hindsight it must be said; the histoire is very contemptuous of John and makes William resolutely opposed to him – because the author was writing in the 1220s when the full extent of John’s treachery and failure was known. In fact, William’s relationship with John was a good deal more equivocal than that, as we will see.
Anyway, a message needed to be sent to the king. We do not know for certain that it was William who took it, but it seems entirely possible; Richard was still in Sicily and William was able to find him there. Richard trusted his Mother and Justiciars, and so gave them carte blanche to remove Longchamps if they felt it necessary and replace him with Walter of Coutance, a reliable Angevin servant, if fraying a little around the edges from Anno Domini. Back William came, letters of authority burning a hole in his saddle bags. The Council of 4 + Mum waited, to give Longchamps time to recover his wa and reform his ways.
Now this did not suit Mortain one little bit, oh dearie me no. He wanted chaos. And so John went on a ‘we hate Longchamps’ campaign, spreading rumour and inuendo. Marshal was in a bit of a pickle, frankly. He did not like Longchamps, and Longchamps did not like him, but he was suspicious of John, and Longchamps represented an obstacle to John. On the other hand William needed to keep John sweet; he was negotiating for control of his lands in Leinster in Ireland, and needed John, as Lord of Ireland, to give them up and hand over authority; and John also held lands close to marshal’s around Bristol. And in the end it was too much; John broke his promise to stay in France and besieged Longchamps in the Tower. The Council gave way and removed him, and Longchamps fled the realm in terror. He also fled the realm in women’s clothing, which apparently suited him very well, since he attracted the attention of sailor as he waited for his boat, and who tried to, um, get it on as t’were. It was not the most dignified of departures, though he would return to goad Marshal after Richard’s return from the Holy Land, though that’s obviously in the future. The report has it that the re-instated Longchamps found innocent pleasure in the fact that Marshal would not do homage to Richard for his Irish lands, but only to John. This made the wicked Longchamps giggle; he knew that the Marshal, loyal and true though he might be, was 100% courtier, and was looking out for his own wealth and happiness – he needed John’s cooperation to take possession of his lands, and was therefore compromised in his allegiance. ‘Planting Vines, Marshal?’ remarked Longchamps nastily in front of Richard – suggesting Marshal had one eye on a possible future when John might be king.
All I am saying is that Marshal’s attitude to John was equivocal, Especially when Richard was away and it was not sure he’d return – that’s all I am saying, I am not accusing him of treachery or disloyalty to Richard or anything; but he’s not quite the honest, open, guileless man of legend either. And his attitude to John remained rather less than direct when in 1192, John actively took to the streets in alliance with Philip of France, to usurp the throne of England.
And with the news of John’s rebellion, other now news hit English shores, good and bad news. The good news was that Richard was coming home, Richard’s coming home, coming home, Richard’s coming home sang the crowds. What’s the bad news? Oh, he’s been captured by the Duke of Austria and locked up in a tower.
Marshal acted in accordance with the wishes of Eleanor and the Council, which of course supported Richard, looked to free him and take the fight to John. But the council was not united; one of the Justiciars, Hugh Bardolf, refused to fight John directly in person, saying that as john’s man he could not honourably do so, and One of the Marshal’s biographers David Crouch believes that Marshal may have done the same. It was a tricky period for Marshal in another way, which concerned his brother, John Marshal.
When Richard finally returned from captivity in early 1194, William was at Chepstow; and of course the responsible courtier should rush to his lord’s side. However, at the same time, William received news of his brother John’s death. You would imagine that any king would be happy to give a brother time to see his own flesh and blood into the grave; and yet Marshal does a rather feeble work around, rushing to have his knights bring John Marshal’s earthly remains to see him on his way to see the king. It’s rather lukewarm brother-wise, and a slightly toadying desire to get to the king’s time as quickly as possible.The embarrassment leaks out of the histoire which falls over itself to try to present William as a good grieving brother, really
The marshal…was so distraught that he almost collapsed
Yuh, right. So why was Marshal so cavalier about his brother’s death? One reason is that probably Marshal knew his brother very little, and so his death probably fell into the reasonable regret cat1egory without wanting to sound callous. But the other reason is that John Marshal had probably blotted the Marshal family copybook. John Marshal was in all likelihood killed trying to hold on to Marlborough castle, and we know Marlborough was held for Count John. It appears John Marshal was probably a rebel against Good King Richard. Oops. So William had some fences to mend with the boss.
Now that Richard had returned though, Marshal was released from matters of conscience and self interest concerning John, and able to take to the field and seize John of Mortain’s possessions around Bristol and the South West, as Richard took the war to his brother and allieselsewhere. Before long, John was reduced to obedience falling on his knees in front of his brother, which must have hurt. But much worse was Richard’s contemptuous indulgence
Don’t worry John: you’re a child and have been led astray. Those who gave you ill counsel will rue the day! Up you get now and go and dine
Well, I would like to bet back in John’s chambers later there were a few choice words in the air and a deal of cat kicking. But John, and of course the arch villain Philip of France were firmly put back in their cage by the mighty Lion.
Which brings us then to the last 6 years of Richard’s reign, 1194-1199. It is often said, slightly tiresomely if I may admit to a smidge of curmudgeon, that Richard would now spend all his time not in England, what a terrible king. Well, the reason for that of course was that Richard needed to be where the trouble was. And the trouble was in his French possessions, on account of the fact that someone, namely the king of France, was trying to take those possessions off him. And one of Richard’s close circle of merry Men as it were, was William. Richard’s marriage to Berengaria of Navarre had secured his southern frontiers; and indeed Sancho of Navarre lead an army into Aquitaine. So Richard was free to concentrate on the north, aiming to recapture Gisors and the Norman Vexin which Philip had half inched the previous year. In 1194 as Philip attacked into Normandy Richard and William set a trap, threatening to encircle the French king. In a panic, Philip ordered his men to pick up their skirts and leg it. Obediently they duly so legged, but at the town of Freteval Richard caught them and in the ensuing French panic, as they moved into top gear legging speed, the French king’s baggage train was captured. Richard was off to a flyer.
The next four years essentially turned out to be one of those grinding, castle by castle campaigns, During it, William and Richard became brothers in arms, but more than that, William came to be the kind of complete political right hand man he had started to become during the Council of Eleanor and the 4 blokes, with constant access to the king. There was the continual warfare to secure Gisors and Norman Vexin. But there was also the assembly of an alliance against the French king. In 1196 an alliance was made with the Counts of Toulouse to the south. In 1197, it was the turn of Flanders to the north, when the count of Flanders formally abandoned the alliance with the French. And here it was William who had led the delegation to Flanders, with expenses of £1,000 – enough to dazzle any potential ally.
A pattern developed in William and Isabel’s lives; charters seem to show William with the king from Spring to Autumn. The impression is of a life dominated by warfare during the campaigning season; and remember that the court of kings is all peripatetic, carried with them wherever they go, so it would have been administration as they fought. In winter Marshal disappears, and it is tempting to visualise William and Isabel together getting on with the serious business of managing their estates, having a life and adding to the gene pool. Interesting It appears that Marshal may have made a contribution to said gene pool pre marriage to Isabel, with whom we do not know – all we do suspect is that she later married a respectable landowner in Essex. Their bastard Gilbert was given a grant of land by his doting father in the 1190s. However, now a veritable stream of heirs issued from Isabel and William’s dedicated work – William in 1190, Richard in 1191, Maud in 1194, Gilbert in 1197, Walter in 1199, and there would be more – the last and 10th, Joan would be born in 1210; so 10 in 20 years.
The pattern is mixed up here and there; we know that Isabel did visit William in Normandy, and William turns up once at the court of the King’s bench in Westminster, more evidence of the broader role William played for his king, a genuine, dyed in the wool Magnate and great man of the realm. But do not be mislead by this into thinking that William had become a pen pusher. Let me take you to the Norman town and castle of Milly sur Therain, for a campaign lead for Richard by Marshal – although spookily the Histoire pretends it was lead by Richard. Here we are in 1197, the 51 year old Marshal is watching the attack on the castle
He launched attacks from every side, with scaling ladders borne forward and thrown against the walls. It was a fearsome assault: the defenders resisted as stoutly as they could, raining missiles. The daring attackers swarmed up the ladders, but the defenders fought back with crossbow bolts and beams of wood and pikes and flails and sharp pitchforks
Well, the defenders were too resolute – ‘many of the attackers beat a retreat’ said the histoire, gloomily. But wait – there was one knight left, Sir Guy de la Bruyere still up a ladder; until, disaster:
The town’s defenders trapped him with pitchforks between chest and chin, pinning him so completely he was helpless
Well, this was too much for Marshal. Into the ditch he leaped, up the other side, up the ladder, sword in hand, laying about him with such enthusiasm that the defenders
Reeled back and abandoned the battlements to him; they didn’t fancy taking him on and slung their hook and shifted!
Marshal’s men swarmed onto the battlements and the fight spread. Well, God’s Legs thought the constable of the castle, since that seems to be the oath du jour, that confounded Marshal. He’s only an oldie, I’ll have him. Blows rained down on Marshal from the Constable’s sword
But though the constable attacked with all his might, raining blows down on him, the Marshal landed a blow in return that cut through helm and hood and into flesh. It stopped him in his tracks; shocked, stunned, knocked senseless by the blow he fell and lay unmoving
Huzzah, listeners! Huzzah for Marshal! Marshal, however, was now a little pooped. And there was this nice comfy constable stretched out. So as the English soldiers swarmed over the castle and beat the defenders to a pulp, Marshal popped himself down and sat on the comfy constable, and took a few minutes, a few minutes peace and contemplation with a nice seat to ease his tired frame.
Without wanting to glorify war, obviously, the very strong impression of these years is of a William Marshal who had found his niche. Valued and consulted by a king who was well on top of the challenge the war presented. Despite the arrival of a truce, Marshal and Richard continued to spend much of their time in Normandy, preparing for the time when the war would return – building impressive defences in the regained Vexin such as Chateau Gaillard, which Richard boasted he would hold were it’s walls made of butter. Even Count John had become a valued part of a small military team around the king. Marshal was made for, and comfortable in war. So in 1199, when Richard heard rumours of a stash of treasure to be found near a small, rebel castle in the Limousin, Marshal was content to leave Richard to the company of the mercenary captain Mercardier, and stayed in Normandy while they travelled to the castle of Chalus.