William Marshal, warrior and tutor-in-arms to the son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, promised his dying charge that he would complete the sacred task of crusading to the Levant. Did he succeed in his mission and fight the forces of Saladin?
One of England’s finest warriors was laid to rest in London’s Temple Church on May 20th, 1219. In his funeral oration that day, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, reportedly described this celebrated veteran of countless wars – William Marshal – as ‘the greatest knight in the world’. The youngest son of a minor Anglo-Norman noble, Marshal had risen through the ranks to serve at the right hand of five English monarchs. He became a revered tournament champion, esteemed by his peers as the paragon of chivalry and a powerful landed baron of the realm.
Having been on intimate terms with figures such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and ‘Bad’ King John, Marshal was ultimately appointed as regent for the boy-king Henry III. Fighting in one final campaign, the 70-year-old Marshal successfully stemmed the tide of a major French invasion and baronial revolt in 1217, at the Battle of Lincoln, saving the Angevin (or Plantagenet) dynasty from utter annihilation. Though Marshal is far from a household name today, this remarkable career marks the knight out as one of the most compelling, extraordinary and intriguing figures of the Middle Ages.