When John had demanded another Marshal son as a hostage, William and Isabel had dithered. They’d dithered a significant dither but in the end decided that the risks dictated that they hand over Richard Marshal and without more a-dither, they did. At around the same time, the paranoid, suspicious and volatile John make the same demand of a Magnate who’d fallen dramatically from royal favour – to the point of being deprived of much of his estates at Limerick. William Briouze and his wife Matilda were also ordered to hand over their eldest as a hostage; specifically Briouze had massive debts to John, which was a reasonably standard way in which medieval kings controlled magnates. At any time they might call in the loan after years of ostentatiously forgiving them. And wham, magnate in default, breaking the law, declared at outlaw, swinging on the end of a rope double 4 time. Medieval kings as loan sharks – discuss.
Anyway, when the king’s messenger came to demand their younger son, they received a different reaction that they had chez Marshal. Matilda appears to have been a person of definite and strong opinions, and a keen sense of the high status of the Briouze family, who’d been magnates since the Conquest. She was famous for her leadership in all situations; notably holding Hay castle in the Welsh borders, and defending Painscastle for 3 weeks against an attack by Gwenwynwyn, Prince of Powys, until help arrived. So Matilda responded in a way that was without doubt sui generis. The general drift of Matilda’s response was not on your nelly. But unwise as that was, she really dropped the tea tray when she roared she’d never trust one of her own to the man who had killed his very own nephew, Arthur. Now, since William Briouze had also certainly been at Rouen with John, this was most unwise because it sort of sounded credible, and when news reached John the result was early evidence of spontaneous combustion.
Now William Briouze realised this was something of a faux pas. And scrambled furiously to retrieve the position notably by giving up 3 of his castles in the Welsh borders to the Crown. But John was determined to have his guts for garters. He accused him of not paying his debts, and remarkably, or then attacking the 3 castles Briouze had just handed over – I ask you, is that likely? Anyway, the Briouze legged it to Ireland.
Why am I telling you all of this I hear you grumble? William the Marshal, not William de Briouze, come on get on with it man. Well
- It’s a good story with a grisly ending
- It’s an illustration of why everyone hated John and would rebel against him
- Its my podcast, and I did a project on the Briouze 34 years ago, so indulge me as I walk down memory lane
Briouze fled to his powerful friends, looking for succor, and he fled first to William the Marshal in Leinster. They would have known each other well, from both the Welsh marches and Ireland. Marshal took him in. He would later claim that he knew nothing of John and Briouze’s spat, which is almost certainly a porky, but provided a fig leaf for when the beak arrived. John’s lieutenants duly turned up at Kilkenny Castle and demanded that Briouze be handed over. William’s response was of a man who knew just how far to push it; no he wouldn’t hand him over, such would break the laws of hospitality. But he would send him on his way – which he duly did. Briouze then went to the Lacys in Ulster, who were less circumspect, puffed up with pride and inflated expectations after their defeat of Meiler. Briouze’s son had married their daughter so there were family ties too. The Lacy’s went into full rebellion mode, even promising the King of France their support if he invaded England. The whole incident led to Marshal’s next run in with John. Because John wasn’t going to let this go.
In 1210, John landed in Ireland with an army the size of which dwarfed anything the Barons could put up. Marshal submitted early, bringing out the fig leaf from his kit bag that he’d known nothing of the dispute between Briouze and John. The Lacys, Hugh and Walter, and Briouze decided to fight and were duly crushed like bugs. It’s notable that if the English medieval king could stir his stumps to get over the Ireland, he usually had the required firepower; but none of them could sustain it.
John dragged the defeated Barons to Dublin. William Marshal had just managed to skirt disaster; 3 of his leading knights were imprisoned for a year, but that was pretty much it. Not so the Lacy’s, who were banished, and tipped up at the French court. Briouze stitched up a deal with John to buy himself off – but it was a ridiculous amount, and after trying out a rebellion in Wales fled to France and died there in 1211.
Matilda’s fate was far worse. She and her 4 sons were locked up by John, either in Windsor or Corfe castle. Let’s say Corfe, because it’s a beautiful place, and now you have an excuse to visit. John was not pleased with Matilda, or the Briouze, and did not want to see them back. So he neglected to send any food to the dungeon. Matilda and her sons all starved to death. The more grisly recountings of the tale have Matilda found dead crouched over a son, from whom in desperation she’d stolen a nibble. But that’s a bit gross.
Now Marshal might consider himself a little fortunate, and maybe he reflected on this. That maybe he was coming in from the cold with John. After 1210 that impression began to strengthen. And for the reason why, we have to do a brief reprise of a couple of other aspects of John’s reign. Bear with me, since I don’t really want this to become a biography of John. Though much of the trouble you will have picked along the way – Johns behaviour towards Arthur, his volatility. Now his behaviour towards Briouze – seriously, if someone as high in royal favour a Briouze could fall to his and his family’s death – then it definitely wasn’t safe to go out at night. Then Johns method of controlling his barons was brutal, if not exactly unprecedented – holding debts over their head, confiscating land that sort of thing. His prestige had taken a real beating, from the loss of Normandy. And then there was the Interdict. John had fallen out with Pope Innocent III over the right to nominate the ABC; the pope had insisted on his candidate, Stephen Langton, John had refused to accept him. So the Pope put all England under interdict – a sort of general strike by the church – and Philip of France was encouraged to invade. He began to make enthusiastic preparations, with his son Louis.
Well if you are a Baron, now much can you be expected to take? The loyalty to the office of the king ran deep – but this particular model was clearly a Friday afternoon car. John caught wind of a plot amongst the northern Barons of England to assassinate him. Whether true or not, John was quite paranoid enough to believe it. John was dimly aware that maybe his behaviour had not been quite exemplary, and maybe he’d gone too far so he began to pay more attention to the demands of the barons, and a slight de-frosting of relations was evident. John new he needed friends – maybe he should stop riding Marshal so hard?
Marshal meanwhile seems to have continued on a pathway that led to spending the rest of his life as an Irish Baron. We see him as a ruler, promoting the cause of the loyal, starving the disloyal of grants and favour, promoting trade and commerce. Dealing with the Church – usually amicably, but in the case of the Bishop of Ferns involving disputes which might be described as a hounding of the good Bishop by William. The point is that William had moved from courtier to local governor.
Favour flowed both ways; John made Marshal a guarantor of his treaty with the Welsh Prince of Gwynedd, Llewellyn, a signal mark of trust. Marshal meanwhile loyally assisted the Justiciar in putting down a rebellion. The air between John and Marshal was getting sweeter, bit by bit.
As I have been at pains to stress, the image of Marshal as a bluff, brave, disingenuous and loyal knight is too one-dimensional; that Marshal had got where he was by his skills as a courtier. And late summer 1212, Marshal carried out a masterly act of brown nosing that put the relationship with his king right back where it had once been. At the end Irish rebellion, he persuaded the Irish Barons to write to John with a letter of support and loyalty. Maybe brown nosing is harsh; Marshal was quite clearly also showing local leadership in Ireland, using his skills to protect the Barons from further retribution.
Either way, it worked, worked like charm it did. There survives a letter from John the tone of which could not be more friendly; and you have to think that John was playing the same game as Marshal – artfully trying to manipulate and build his party. He thanks him for his loyalty, and talks business and then gets personal, talking of Marshal’s son, trying to build a bond:
You had better provide for your boy, who is with me and lacks horses and a robe. I will provide for his needs, at my own cost if you agree, and I will hand him over to one of your knights. If you want it otherwise, let me know…
Well, ain’t that lovely? Almost as though the lad wasn’t held as hostage for good behaviour. And Marshal’s adherents began to feel the warmth of the royal sunshine to boot – John of Early, who you might remember John at one stage throwing in the cooler – was made sheriff of Devon and Marshal of the royal household.
It was pretty clear why John was being so nice. He was under great pressure from the Pope. France was making preparations to invade at the Pope’s command – despite a petition organised by Marshal from Irish lords pleading John’s case to the implacable Innocent. Added to all this, many of John’s barons were now refusing military service until he mended his ways.
1213, however, saw a bit of a comeback by John. He won a sea battle at Damme in Flanders in May, which effectively nixed Phillip’s invasion plans. Evil candidate for the title of worst monarch of England he might be, but he had a fertile mind, and he had a plan. Firstly, he would gather around him the most loyal and powerful of his Barons. Chief among these were two men; firstly Ranulph, the Earl of Chester; and secondly our hero William the Marshal. It appears that Marshal never for a moment considered exploiting the situation by joining the opposition; loyalty was all. The histoire marvels at it:
He took no heed of what had gone on before with the king, nor his cruelty, because ever he loved loyalty
Over the next few years Marshal indeed demonstrates again his loyalty to the crown; and his claim to be statesman as well as courtier, warrior and governor.
So back to the plan. Secondly John was give in to the pope and accept Stephen Langdon as ABC. By so doing he’d remove one of the causes of friction and unhappiness. But John went further – he actually did homage to the Pope and agreed to pay him an annual tribute. In one sense it’s pretty abject – but by golly did it spike the king of France’s guns or what? Innocent ordered Philip not to attack his vassal, the English king. Philip was furious, moaning that he’d already spent a bag of cash, but he was forced to concede.
The third plank to the royal plan was a grand alliance to bring France to her knees, and restore John’s battered prestige, along with Normandy, Anjou and so on with a bit of luck. And John’s diplomacy did a pretty good job it must be said. He assembled a coalition of the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne, and the German Emperor. Next year, 2014, Philip Augustus would be crushed by John’s invasion from the south, in Poitou; from the north, and from the east in the form of Otto the Emperor.
Meanwhile in 1213 Marshal was given further evidence of the benefits of loyalty. He arrived in England at the head of 500 men as requested by the king. John duly showered him with grants of land and jurisdiction, particularly in the southern marches of Wales. In 1214, the trap was sprung, and Marshal’s men accompanied John to Poitou – commanded not by the old Warhorse, but by his son Richard. Was this the start of the great come back, the return of the Angevin Empire?