Post-classical history

Peace Comes to the Land and Death Comes to the Marshal

PEACE was signed on September 12 on an island in the Thames at Kingston, with a proud queen mother and an exuberant young king to watch the proceedings. Louis was to withdraw from England and to forswear his claims to the crown. He agreed, moreover, to bring persuasion to bear on his father to restore Normandy and the Angevin provinces to the English King. This was a futile gesture: Philip Augustus, that passionately ambitious monarch, would never yield an inch of the territory he had won. Louis entered into a definite undertaking to restore the Channel Islands to England, expelling the brothers of Eustace the Monk therefrom.

On their part, the English agreed to proclaim an amnesty and to restore all lands and possessions of the barons who had fought for the French. They were to pay the beaten prince the sum of ten thousand marks to finance his withdrawal, Louis being now completely without funds.

The terms were easy. Some violent partisans wanted to force the French to surrender without conditions, but it is worth noting that none of them belonged to the relatively small group which began the struggle in support of the boy King and had borne the heat and the responsibility of it. William the Marshal again held out for moderation on the ground that England needed peace. He wanted above everything else to see the French out of the country and a start made at repairing the ravages of civil war. The legate was ofthe same opinion, although he refused to have the amnesty extended to the churchmen who had allied themselves with the invaders; Rome would attend to the disciplining of its own people. The verdict of history has been that they were right in not holding out for more rigorous terms, that the country benefited immeasurably by the quick ending of hostilities.

The vanquished Louis, somber and chill in defeat, sailed from Dover before the month was out, with his most unpleasant task still ahead of him, that of facing Philip Augustus and explaining his lack of success.

The long civil war had come to an end. In November of that year Eustace of Fauconberg was appointed treasurer and the Exchequer began again to function normally at Westminster. Early in the following year, 1218, the judges set out on their circuits and again cases were tried and justice was administered as in the good days of Henry II. Stephen Langton, the great archbishop, was at last allowed to return from his exile in Rome. He landed at Dover in May 1218 and was greeted like a conquering hero, great crowds swarming about him, to kiss his hands, to see his benign and resolute face. He was an old man but as conscious as ever of great tasks to be accomplished. Resuming his functions at Canterbury immediately, he was largely responsible for the affirmation of Magna Charta at a council held in London shortly thereafter.

On Whitsunday, 1220, the boy King was crowned again, with proper robes and regalia and with all the ostentation which had been lacking at his first coronation. Stephen Langton officiated, and the noblemen with hereditary roles to play came forward eagerly to perform them, even the owner of Addington presenting his dish of dilligrout in the traditional manner. The records state that “the feasting and joviality was such that the oldest man present could remember nothing like it at any previous coronation.”


Queen Isabella had left England in July 1217, returning to the peace of the high-walled city of Angoulême which had been her home until John saw her and stole her away from the man to whom she had been pledged, Hugh of Lusignan. Her purpose was to visit her seven-year-old daughter, Joanna. The little princess, who was a beautiful child and blessed with a perfect disposition which she could not have inherited from either of her parents, was to marry in due course of time this same Hugh of Lusignan, who was now the Count of La Marche. In his disappointment over the fair Isabella, handsome Hugh le Brun (the Brown) had remained without a wife, and it was through sentimental regard for his old sweetheart that he had accepted Joanna as his future bride in return for assistance to John in one of the latter’s abortive campaigns in France. The child was being educated in one of his castles.

Count Hugh was away crusading when Isabella arrived. The Lusignans had played an important part in the struggle for the Holy City, and one of them had been King of Jerusalem. Hugh returned before the end of her visit, browner than ever, and he realized at once that his love for her had not lessened with the years. This was not surprising, for the royal widow at thirty-four was still beautiful, as lissome as ever, her manner gay and seductive. A troubadour would have compared her to a ripe peach hanging on a sun-kissed wall in Provence or an earth-bound spirit of beauty. Why should he wait seven or eight years more while the little Joanna grew up? Here was the lady of his first choice, free and obviously willing. He held out his arms and Isabella walked right into them.

They were married without waiting for the consent of the King’s Council in England. This was a mistake. The Council had the power to say whom she should marry or whether she should marry at all. As the second matrimonial ventures of queens are supposed to be dictated by political expediency, it was certain they would not have selected Hugh le Brun for her. They promptly confiscated all her dower lands and stopped the payment of her pension.

Isabella and her devoted Hugh were highly indignant over this. Hugh was in love with his wife, but he was also very much attached to her broad acres and the handsome jointure she was supposed to receive each year. He demanded satisfaction and made many threats against the men who composed the Council. The little princess had not been returned to England, and this provided the pair with a weapon. They announced they would not let her go until the Council relented and handed back the castles which had been the Queen’s dower right and the fat and fruitful lands which had gone with them. This threw the Council into an equal state of indignation, and a letter was sent to the Pope, signed by the boy King, requesting the Pontiff to excommunicate his mother and her new spouse, to curse them, as the papal bans read, “within and without, sleeping or waking, going and sitting, standing and riding, lying above ground and under water, speaking and crying and drinking, in water, in field, in town.” It happened that, on finding the princess had been freed from her troth, the Council had started negotiations to give her as wife to King Alexander, the Red Fox of Scotland, and thereby cement the peace between the two countries. Joanna not being available, the Council wanted to substitute the tiny Princess Eleanor. Alexander would have none but the oldest daughter of the royal line, and so the Council was compelled, most reluctantly, to come to terms. Isabella received in compensation for her dower lands in Normandy the stanneries in Devon and the revenue of Aylesbury for a period of four years. She received the sum of three thousand pounds as payment for arrears in her pension.

To cast ahead, Joanna was married to Alexander at York in the year 1221. The little Queen won the affections of the Scottish people, who called her Joan Makepeace because her coming had brought about a cessation of hostilities between the two countries. She died in her twenty-eighth year and was deeply mourned by her husband and the people.

Isabella was happy for a time in her second marriage, presenting her husband over the years with eight children. She had been a queen, however, and could not reconcile herself to the rank of a mere countess. Her dissatisfaction grew with the years and led, as will be recorded later, to much trouble for her husband and her son, and much unhappiness for the people of England.


William the Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, Lord of Striguil, and regent of England, fell ill in the Tower of London early in 1219. He could eat nothing but mushrooms and partially masticated bread, and he became weak and the flesh wasted from the bones of his once powerful frame. Doctors came from all parts, undoubtedly all five of the established physicians in London, as well as healers of the sick from elsewhere with cures of their own, and quacks in noisy droves. They gave him curious mixtures and they put coral in his mouth at night and they kept the room cooled by the evaporation of rose water. There was a general belief in the efficacy of warmth, and some of them unquestionably would have liked to bury him up to the neck in a dunghill or in the belly of a freshly killed animal, these being acknowledged ways of checking disease. The old man knew that he had not much longer to live, however, and it is unlikely that he permitted the men of medicine to subject him to such useless indignities.

He remained in the Tower until Lent, his devoted wife remaining constantly at his bedside. Then he was taken by boat to Reading and from there to his manor at Caversham, where he desired to spend his last hours. The members of the Council followed immediately for a final conference with the Good Knight. The King, the legate Pandulfo who had returned to England to replace Gualo, the justiciar, the barons, and the bishops arrived in a body and seated themselves about the narrow couch on which the marshal was lying. The dying man spoke first to the young King.

“Good, sweet sire,” he said, “I have served you loyally and I would still serve you if it pleased God that I should remain on earth. But that is no longer His pleasure, and it is fitting for your barons to choose a man who should guard you well, you and the realm, to the satisfaction of God.”

Peter des Roches took it on himself to answer. Having had the custody of the King’s person, he had succeeded in gaining an ascendancy over the boy’s mind. During the two and a half years of his tutorship he had been installing his own relatives and creatures in posts of importance. A young Poitevin named Peter des Rivaux, who was generally believed to be his illegitimate son, had been insinuated into a position in the royal household and was picking up other posts as they fell vacant. It was clear to all that the suave and wily bishop was planning to get full control of national affairs into his clever and unscrupulous grasp.

Placing a hand on the King’s head, Peter des Roches declared that Henry was in his custody and would remain so.

This was a direct challenge. William the Marshal, understanding fully the ambitious plans of the bishop, summoned his dwindling strength to raise himself slightly on the couch.

“Not so, Sir Bishop,” he said. “The Lord Henry was placed in my care. Because the land had to be defended I delegated his custody to you.” A sudden twinge of pain caused him to pause. He then turned to Pandulfo and said to him: “Go now and take the King with you. Tomorrow, if you will be good enough to return, I will tell you what I have decided; and may God guide my counsels aright.”

The decision at which he arrived was probably the wisest one under the circumstances. He did not make the mistake of giving the post to any of the active contenders for it, knowing the dissension which would have been caused. On the following day, when the same group had assembled about his couch, he raised himself with great difficulty on his side and addressed the legate. “I will commit my lord Henry into the hand of God,” he said, “and into the hand of the Pope—and into yours, you being here in the Pope’s stead.”

This solution had perhaps been expected. At any rate, there was no immediate discussion or opposition. With the greatest difficulty the marshal raised himself still higher and addressed himself to the King.

“Sire,” he said, speaking in a whisper, for his strength was beginning to fail him, “I pray the Lord God that He may grant you to be a brave and good man.”

“Amen,” piped up the boy.

The Bishop of Winchester now approached the King with the obvious intent of dissenting from the decision. The marshal cried sharply, “Let be, my lord bishop!” and motioned to his oldest son, who was present, to escort the boy to Pandulfo. Peter des Roches hesitated, then stepped back. He could afford to wait.

Committing the custody of the boy King to the legate meant that Pandulfo would assume political as well as spiritual control of the country during the remaining years of the minority, and many were inclined to look askance at this. He had been legate in John’s time and had conducted the negotiations which led to the translation of England into a fief of Rome. As a result, he had been regarded as a guileful and even diabolical character. This was not wholly deserved. He was a man of great ability and a careful administrator. The aging marshal had found him co-operative in every way in restoring the country to a peacetime basis.

Having settled this matter to his own satisfaction if not to that of all the ambitious and high-tempered men who made up the Council, the Good Knight composed himself to die. He called in each of his children and explained what he had done to provide for them. He set aside sums for the Church and for charity and for masses to be said for his soul. Then, his mind cleared of worldly responsibilities, he asked that his wife come to his couch.

The beautiful and gentle countess had been the wealthiest heiress in England and had brought him the lands and honors of Pembroke and Striguil as well as the enormous estates in Ireland which had been passed on in the Pembroke family from Strongbow. She had been a loving wife, content to stand by his side and to accept his will in all things; and her grief now was so great that she found it hard to retain any composure.

“My love, kiss me,” said the dying man. Then, his voice becoming less distinct, he added, “It will be for the last time.”

Later he roused and asked his faithful squire, John Earley, if he had seen the two strangers who had entered the room. He did not know, murmured the old man, who they were; but they were very tall and of a wonderful beauty, although somewhat shadowy. The company in the room, which was made up of the family and all the faithful men who had ridden with him in his campaigns and had shared his life in camp and court and castle, wept loudly at this, knowing that the two strangers, visible only to the eyes of the dying man, had been sent to escort him over the threshold into immortality.

Thus died William the Marshal, conscious to the end and making the sign of the cross, on the fourteenth of May, 1219. The news of his passing plunged the people of England into the deepest grief. They remembered how John in his dying moments had roused himself to commit his son into the care of the marshal, saying, “In his loyalty, above that of any other man, I put my trust.” Aymar, the Grand Master of the Templars, who was lying on his deathbed, said to his attendants, “Bury me beside William the Marshal, the Good Knight.” Even Philip Augustus, most self-centered of monarchs, fell into a saddened mood when the news reached him. The French King wandered about and asked all whom he encountered, “Have ye heard that the marshal is dead?” It was not necessary, even at an alien court, to explain which marshal was meant. Later Philip Augustus said, “He was the most loyal man I ever knew.”

The old man had promised his body to the Templars, and so he was taken to London for burial. As the funeral train passed, people fell into line behind it, barons and bishops, plain soldiers and plain priests, great men and common, and followed on to London. TheTemplars, who had been growing powerful and rich as the years went on (they owned in western Europe no fewer than nine thousand manors with wide lands attached), had recently moved their headquarters to a place on the banks of the Thames between the city walls and the King’s palace at Westminster. Here they had built their Round Church (which still stands today, looking very small and strange), surrounding it with a cluster of houses for the head of the order and his officers and the cells of the knights, a jumble of stone buildings raising their gables above a gray wall. There was a cloistered chapel of noble proportions along the waterfront, and somewhere in the maze of buildings there was a countinghouse where the banking of the country was carried on. In addition the Templars were spreading out on all sides, using fifteen acres known as Fikettscroft for martial exercises and installing two forges on a road which in course of time would be called Fleet Street.

It was to the Round Church that the body of William the Marshal was carried. Stephen Langton officiated, and it was clear to the knights who filled the small space wearing the plain white robe of their order that the usually composed and sternly realistic archbishop had been badly shaken by the passing of the Good Knight. He paused in his discourse and looked down on the body of the warrior.

Memories flocked through his mind. It is only possible to guess at what he was thinking, but perhaps he recalled some of the things which were most affectionately remembered of the dead man: How he had been so quiet as a boy and so devoid of the sly smartness of adolescence that his companions thought little of him, calling him William Waste-meat because of his great size, and now those who laughed at him were dust and forgotten, and all Christendom knew that William the Marshal had saved England; and how he had commanded the rear guard when the Lion of England, Henry II, was retreating from Le Mans and he checked Richard the Lionhearted in his pursuit of his defeated and dying father, killing Richard’s horse and saying to that ungrateful son, “I leave youto the devil!” Certainly there was in his mind a picture of the marshal riding to the Fair of Lincoln without a helmet, his face lighted up and saying to those about him, “See, the hour has come!” an old man leading youth to victory. Finally there was in the mind of the archbishop a deep sense of regret. He thought of the longing which William had felt for a few years of peace and comfort before he passed over the border and how this wish had been denied him.

Then the archbishop raised his voice and put into words the thought which was in every mind, “Here lies all that remains of the best knight of all the world who has lived in our time.”

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