William Marshall: The Epitome Of Chivalry


Word Count: 2529

Address the proposition that William Marshall was not only a premier exemplar of chivalry, the ‘perfect knight’, but was also the greatest courtier of his age.



William Marshall is considered by many to be the epitome of knighthood and chivalry, as well as being an outstanding ambassador, during the turbulent twelfth and thirteenth centuries of England. From a virtually obscure beginning, William evolves into one of the most dominant stately figures of the time in England. During his brilliant military and political career, William served as knight for the courts of Kings Henry II, Richard (the Lion-hearted), and John.
William was born around 1147 to John Marshall and Sybil of Salisbury during the reign of King Stephen. His father, John Marshall, served as a court officer and eventually earned the status of a minor baron. John Marshall was a shrewd soldier and a skilled negotiator. He was the premier example of lordship in William’s life. William’s relationship with his father would be brief and he would never experience him beyond his childhood. John Marshall died in 1165. John would leave a legacy behind that would influence William’s life and spark the future of his outstanding career both as a soldier and a courtier.
At age thirteen William was sent to William De Tancarville, to begin his military training for the knighthood. William De Tancarville was known throughout Europe as one of the grander patrons of knighthood. In the Tancarville household, William would learn courtliness in addition

to all other prerequisites found in a professional soldier of the day. After six years of being a squire in the Tancarville Household, Marshall was knighted in 1166.
In 1170, King Henry II appointed William to the head of his son’s mesnie or military household. William was responsible for protecting, training, and maintaining the military household for Prince Henry. In 1173, William knighted the young Henry, becoming his lord of chivalry. During this time period, Marshall earns many victories on the tournament field and here he first establishes himself as one of the most prolific and gallant knights of the time. During these tournaments, Marshall began to create and mold friendships with the most powerful and influential men of the day. In 1183, during a rebellion against his father, Prince Henry contracted dysentery. As his health rapidly deteriorated, Prince Henry gave William his cloak, which had a Crusader’s cross stitched on it, and made him promise to deliver it to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. William pledged to fulfill his request. Prince Henry died shortly there after. Afterward, Marshall traveled to the holy-land to deliver the prince’s cloak. He remained in Jerusalem for two years.
Upon his return to England, Marshall is welcomed into the King’s military household. War, counsel and command were now his daily life. William is a common figure in the court and currently does not have a prominent status. Marshall faithfully serves King Henry II during the last years of his reign. The King has two heirs to the throne in Richard and John. This presents a problem of sorts for Henry. Richard, the most capable and competent, appears destined to descend the throne. Henry would prefer John in succeeding him as king, however he realizes that Richard is by far the most qualified and prolific of the two. Toward the end of Henry’s rule, Richard rebels against his father, joining Phillip II of France. The two begin a series of battles against the King. During this time period, William remains faithful to Henry. Marshall inevitably realizes that his current enemy may well become his future king. This conflict does not influence William’s fidelity for his King. His loyalty to Henry remains in tact and is not compromised despite the fact that treason might have seemed advantageous to him at the time. These wars coupled with his bitter relationship with Richard take a heavy toll on the King. In 1189, Henry’s health gradually deteriorates until he eventually dies.
Despite their past differences, Richard returns home to England for his father’s funeral and to assume his birthright of the throne. The count, soon to be king, was already turning in his mind the execution of the grand plan that was to become the Third Crusade. After he becomes king, Richard has a