Gilbert LE MARSHAL of Rockley
(-Abt 1130)
[Unknown daughter FitzAUGER]
Sir Walter FitzEdward DE SALISBURY, Sheriff of Wiltshire
Sybil DE CHAOURCES, Heiress of Hesdin
John FitzGilbert LE MARSHAL of Rockley
(Bef 1109-1165)
(Abt 1127-)
Sir William MARSHAL "The Protector", Earl of Pembroke


Family Links

Isabel DE CLARE, Countess Strigoil

Sir William MARSHAL "The Protector", Earl of Pembroke

  • Born: 1146, Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, Wales
  • Christened: 12 May 1146
  • Married: Aug 1189, London, Middlesex, England
  • Died: 14 May 1219
  • Buried: Round Chapel of Knight's Temple, London, Middlesex, England

  Also called William LE MARESCHAL.

  Research Notes:

He succeeded his brother in 1194 as Master Marshal of the king's household.

The Red Book of the Exchequer, listing scutage payments in [1194/95], names "Willelmus Marscallus" among those granted delay in payment "per brevis" in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire.

He was invested as Earl of Pembroke 27 May 1199 by King John. The Continuator of Florence of Worcester records that King John gave "comitatum de Striguil" to "Willelmo le Marescal" the day of his coronation "VI Kal Jul" 1199. The Annales Cambriæ record that "Willielmus comes Marescallus" besieged "Kilgerran" in 1204. Matthew Paris records that the appointment of “Willelmi comitis Pembroc...magni...Marescalli” as guardian of King Henry III after his coronation.

The Chronicle of Ralph of Coggeshall records the death in 1219 of "Willelmus Marescallus senior comes de Penbrock" and his burial "in crastino Ascensionis" in "Novum Templum de Londoniis". The Annales Cambriæ record the death in 1219 of "Willielmus Marescallus senior". The Annals of Dunstable record that “Willelmus Marscallus” died in May 1219. The Annals of Waverley record the death “apud Londiniam II Id Mai” in 1219 of “Willelmus Marescallus”. Matthew Paris records the death in 1219 of “Willelmus senior Marescallus regis et rector regni”, his burial “apud Novum Templum...XVII Kal Jun”, and the transfer of the king to the guardianship of “Petri Wintoniensis episcopi”. 1


Marshal of England
Protector of the Realm
Regent of the Kingdom

The office of Marshal to the king was a hereditary perquisite of a middling Wiltshire family. The duties were various, but mainly they consisted of acting as second-in-command to the constable of the royal household, maintaining order in the palace and guarding it, looking after the stables, keeping the rolls of those who performed their military service, and checking the accounts of various household and state departments.

From this family came William Marshal, whose biography was written by his squire John of Earley so providing us with one of the deepest and most fascinating insights into the life of a great baron of the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.

His father, John Marshal, whom the Gesta Stephani rather unkindly describes as 'a limb of hell and the root of all evil' was a man who loved warfare, and played the game of politics with great success. At first he supported Stephen but, when he began to realise the failings of the King and the potentialities of Matilda's party, he changed sides. Almost immediately he proved by a consummate act of bravery and hardihood, that he was worth having: escorting Matilda to safety in his castle at Ledgershall, John found that the party was going dangerously slowly because Matilda was riding side-saddle, so he persuaded her to ride astride, and stopped behind to delay the pursuers at Wherwell. His force was soon overpowered by the numbers of the enemy, and John took refuge with one of his knights in the Abbey. The opposing party promptly set fire to the church, and John and his knight had to take cover in the tower, John threatening to kill his knight if he made any move to surrender. As the lead of the roof began to melt and drop on the two soldiers, putting out one of John's eyes, the enemy moved off, convinced that they were dead. They escaped, in a terrible state, but triumphant, to John's castle.

He plainly expected his children to be as tough as himself, as an incident of the year 1152, when William was about six, will show. King Stephen went to besiege Newbury Castle, which Matilda had given John to defend; the castellan, realising that provisions and the garrison were both too low to stand a long siege, asked for a truce to inform his master. This was normal practice, for if the castellan were not at once relieved, he could then surrender without being held to have let his master down. Now John had not sufficient troops to relieve the castle, so he asked Stephen to extend the truce whilst he, in turn, informed his mistress, and agreed to give William as a hostage, promising not to provision and garrison the castle during the truce. This he promptly did, and when he received word from Stephen that the child would be hung if he did not at once surrender the castle, he cheerfully replied that he had hammer and anvils to forge a better child than William.

The child was taken out for execution, but at the last moment Stephen relented with that soft heart that was his undoing, and though his officers presented such enticing plans as catapulting William over the castle walls with a siege engine, he would not give in. Later on he grew attached to the child, and one day when William was playing an elementary form of conkers with the King, using plantains, the child saw a servant of his mother, the lady Sibile (sister of the Earl of Salisbury), peeping in to check up on his safety. William cried out a greeting and the servant had to run for his life. The child did not know what dangers he was running, but it was good and early training for his future career.

When he was thirteen William was sent to serve in the retinue of his father's cousin, the chamberlain of Normandy. This was his apprenticeship in knighthood, and was to last eight years. As a squire he would learn by experience all the skills of a knight, and the elaborate code of honour that went with it. After he had been knighted in 1167, he began to go round the tournaments to make his name, and earn a living by the spoils. He was eager for the fray, so eager in fact that in his earliest tournaments he concentrated too much on the fighting, and forgot to take the plunder. He had to be warned by elder and wiser knights of the dangerous folly of such quixotic behaviour---a good war-horse captured from an unseated opponent could fetch £40. Even so, his heart was really set upon fame, and he recalled in old age the pride he had experienced as a youngster when, having retired to the refuge (a hut regarded as neutral territory in a tournament) to fix his helmet, he overheard two knights outside commenting on how well he was fighting.

He was, however, only the second son of a middling baron, and he could not live off honour; so it must have been wonderful news for him when in 1170 he heard of his appointment as captain of the guard and military tutor to King Henry II's heir, the fifteen-year-old Henry, already crowned in his father's lifetime in, as it turned out, a fruitless attempt to ensure the succession. In 1173 it fell to his lot to make the young King a knight.

Henry seems to have had a good sense of humour, for in 1176 when the two were cantering back into town after a tournament, William managed to bag another knight, and led him reined behind, with the King following. A low-hanging water sprout swept the knight off his horse, but Henry kept what he had seen to himself, and the laugh was definitely on William when they got home to find he was leading a horse, but no knight to ransom.

Tournaments were so frequent at that time that a real enthusiast could attend one a fortnight, and William and the King must have attained a record number of attendances. This was the equivalent of hunting to a nineteenth century country gentleman, though much more rugged. In ten months William and a colleague captured one hundred and three knights, and risked death on each occasion: one memory William kept of those days was having to receive the prize of hero of the day kneeling with his head on an anvil whilst a smith tried to prize off his battered helm. Another memory he retained was arriving too early for a fight, and dancing with the ladies who had come to watch---in full armour!

Then came trouble---William's enemies began to spread rumours that he was the lover of Henry's wife, and seeing that the suspicion could not fail to mar their relationship, William cut out on his own. He was immediately inundated with tempting offers from great lords who wanted to engage his services---three times he was offered £500 a year or more, but he turned them down and went instead on pilgrimage to Cologne.

He was soon recalled to service with the young King in 1183, but it was only to see him die of a fever. At the last William promised that he would carry out Henry's vow to go on crusade, and having buried his master, he carried out his promise.

He came home in 1187 to take his place as an esteemed servant of the King, and to marry the second richest heiress in England who brought him the Earldom of Pembroke and extensive lands in England, Wales and Ireland. He served Henry II in his final bitter years and once, when he was covering the king's retreat, he put the fear of God into Prince Richard who was leading the pursuit. The Lionheart cried out, 'By the legs of God, Marshal, do not kill me,' and William killed his horse instead.

Such conduct was dangerous, but when Richard came to the throne he showed the Marshal that he respected him for it, and when he went on crusade he made William one of the four associate justiciars appointed to help William de Longchamp, who had the care of the kingdom. This was excellent training in administration and justice, which was to stand William in good stead later when he had to bear responsibilities far greater than those with which a simple soldier can deal.

It also gave him lessons in how to deal with the immensely difficult Prince John, who, fearing, with some justice, that Richard intended to leave the kingdom to his nephew Arthur of Brittany, had to consolidate his position whilst his brother was away. When he heard that Richard had been captured on his way home and was being held to an incredibly stiff ransom, John's ambitions became boundless, and the Marshal had, added to his normal duties, the double problem of keeping the prince in check and raising a vast sum of money.

Richard returned to find William a wise counsellor now as well as an incomparable soldier, and he used him well; but in 1199 he died, and William worked with skill and energy for the smooth accession of John. This King was to bring him worse problems than he had ever known.

For the next seven years William had to watch John losing Normandy to the Marshal's old friend Philip Augustus, knowing there was nothing to be done about it. Instead of knightly virtues, treachery was now the order of the day, and when he taxed the French King with using traitors, he had only this for reply: '. . . it is now a matter of business. They are like torches that one throws into the latrine when one is done with them.'

Attempting to rescue something out of the chaos of the loss of Normandy, William undertook the negotiations with France to make peace, and find a formula by which the English barons might retain their lands in France. What he found instead was the implacable suspicion of John who, fearing that William was going over to the French side, confiscated all his castles and official positions, and took his two eldest sons as hostages.

So William spent the next five years in Ireland, looking after his vast estates and interests there far away from John, but unfortunately, in an area in which John took an especial interest. Every move William made was countered by the royal officials, and active hostilities soon commenced. However, William had the better and more faithful knights and, despite the royal offensives, he tended to win, so in 1208 a truce was made.

Soon afterwards William received on his lands William de Briouse, whom John regarded as a bitter enemy, and so the quarrel flared up again. Finally the sixty-six-year-old knight had to come to court and offer to fight an ordeal by battle to prove his faith. No one dared to take up the challenge, though a winning contestant would have rocketed into favour with the King.

But by the year 1212 John was in serious trouble, and was to learn where his true friends lay. William swung the baronage of Ireland into support for the crown, helped to organize the vital rapprochement with the Pope, and prepared to gather the King's friends together and put his castles in order in readiness for the inevitable struggle. A great moderating force was Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was to be associated with William throughout the struggle, persuading John to accede to those demands of the barons which he had helped to formulate.

In 1216 William was back in the saddle as commander-in-chief of the royal forces opposing the barons and their ally the Dauphin and his French troops. All was well between the Marshal and the King who had so badly misjudged him, and now John tried to make amends. But the years of suspicion and discord still told: when he gave William the castle of Dunamase, he was upset that his justiciar failed to hand it over---he had forgotten an arrangement he had made secretly with the justiciar that William was to have nothing, whatever documents he produced, without a secret handshake (holding each other's thumbs) being given.

Now as John lay dying in Newark Castle, with half his kingdom in enemy hands, and a nine-year old child as his successor, he realised the worth of the man he had hounded so long, and urged all present to commit the kingdom into the care of the Marshal after his death.

William was an old man, the treasury was empty, discord reigned, and the position seemed hopeless---he wept and begged to be excused; but John of Earley, his squire, pointed out what honour there was to be won, and changed his mind for him in a flash. 'It goes straight to my heart that if all should abandon the King except me do you know what I would do? I would carry him on my shoulders, now here, now there, from isle to isle, from land to land, and I would never fail him, even if I were forced to beg my bread.'

Filled with a sense of the glory of his task, the regent now raided the rich stores of jewels and clothing accumulated by the royal house 'against a rainy day' to pay the soldiers he so desperately needed. He sent out showers of letters of protection to the enemy barons, tempting them to change sides. Gradually he built up his powers for the decisive blow, at Lincoln in May 1217.

There William led the charge, with the wily Bishop of Winchester who found a way in, and fought up and down the streets of Lincoln with many a shout of 'Ca! Dieu aide au Maréchal!' Finally they reached the open space in front of the cathedral where William personally captured the French commander and received three massive blows which left dents in his helmet. The worthy Dame Nicola, who had kept the castle for so long for the King against enormous odds, was at last relieved, and the war was almost won.

The Marshal sped down to Dover to intercept the convoy of reinforcements coming from France, and then set about making peace. He was generous---perhaps over-generous---to French and English alike, there was no victimisation, and little recrimination. The speediest route back to peace was chosen, for England had suffered enormous damage from the civil war.

This was perhaps the worst time for William---the period of reconstruction. He knew well how to fight, but the sheer boredom and worry of administration of this kind must have borne heavily on the old man. Disputes and claims had to be settled so that both sides were satisfied, and no one would have a pretext for re-starting rebellion. Above all money was needed to oil the wheels and restore the losses of war, and the best way to make rebels is to overtax them. He even had to ban tournaments, which would obviously lead to dangerous positions being taken up once more. He must have wondered what he had come to---the greatest fighter in Europe, and the one who loved a fight better than anything. Instead he spent his time setting up judicial commissions and trying desperately to balance the budget.

He continued hard at work until the end of February, 1219, when he was taken ill and confined to his bed in the Tower. Doctors came and went but could do nothing, and quickly all his family and his knights and retainers gathered round him for the end. He asked to be taken up river to his manor of Caversham near Reading to die, and there, he and his household went, in mid-March, followed by the young King Henry III, the papal legate, and the the highest officers of state.

He urged the king 'to be a gentleman,' and told him that if he should follow the example of some evil ancestor, he hoped he would die young. He worried long and hard over who should be his successor, and found no-one who could unite all under his rule, so wisely chose the papal legate. He made his will, and worried for a moment at the lack of provision for his young son Anselm, but, remembering his own career, felt that he could make his own way. 'May God give him prowess and skill.' He remembered an unmarried daughter and made provision for her 'until God takes care of her.' He had always been a religious man, founder of monasteries, crusader, and honest knight. He called for silken cloths he had thoughtfully brought back from the Holy Land thirty years before, and gave instruction that he should be covered with them at his funeral.

He wanted to be buried as a Knight Templar, and when the master of the order came to clothe him, he said to his wife 'Belle amie, you are going to kiss me, but it will be for the last time.' Happy now that all the arrangements had been made, William could rest a little, and wait comfortably for death. He talked gently with his knights---one of them was worried that the clerks said no one could be saved who did not give back everything he had taken. William set his mind at rest---he had taken 500 knights in his lifetime, and could never restore the booty, so if he were damned there was nothing he could do about it. 'The clerks are too hard on us. They shave us too closely.' When his clerk suggested that all the rich robes could be sold to win his salvation, he said 'You have not the heart of a gentleman, and I have had too much of your advice. Pentecost is at hand, and my knights ought to have their new robes. This will be the last time I can supply them. . .' He was a religious man---true---but he could not abide nonsense and knew his own duty.

In his last days he was very gentle to his family. One day he said to John of Earley that he had an overwhelming desire to sing, and when John urged him to do so, as it might improve his appetite, he told him it would do no such thing, people would just assume he was delirious. So they called in his daughters to sing for him, and when one sang weakly, overcome with emotion, he showed her how she should project her voice and sing with grace.

On 14 May, William suddenly called to John of Earley to open all the doors and windows and call everyone in, for death was upon him. There was such a press that the abbots of Nutley and Reading, come to absolve the Marshal and give him plenary indulgence, were barely noticed, except by the dying man, who called them to him, made confession, prayed, and then died with his eyes fixed upon the cross.

The cortège moved slowly up to London for the great state funeral, and there William's old friend Stephen Langton spoke his eulogy over the grave: 'Behold all that remains of the best knight that ever lived. You will all come to this. Each man dies on his day. We have here our mirror, you and I. Let each man say his paternoster that God may receive this Christian into His Glory and place him among His faithful vassals, as he so well deserves.' 2


William Marshal, of the great baronial family of Marischal, marshal to the king, is first noticed as receiving from Prince Henry, the rebellious son of Henry II, upon the prince's deathbed, as his most confidential friend, his cross to convey to Jerusalem. He m. the great heiress of the Clares in 1189, and with her acquired the Earldom of Pembroke -- in which rank he bore the royal sceptre of gold, surmounted by the cross, at the coronation of King Richard I, and he was soon afterwards, on the king's purposing a journey to the Holy Land, appointed one of the assistants to Hugh, bishop of Durham, and William, Earl of Albemarle, Chief Justice of England, in the government of the realm.

Upon the decease of his brother, John Mareschall, marshal of the king's house, in 1199, he became lord marshal, and on the day of the coronation of King John, he was invested with the sword of the Earldom of Pembroke, being then confirmed in the possession of the said inheritance. In the first year of this monarch's reign, his lordship was appointed sheriff of Gloucestershire and likewise of Sussex, wherein he was continued for several years. In the 5th he had a grant of Goderich Castle in co. Hereford, to hold by the service of two knights' fees; and in four years afterwards he obtained, by grant from the crown, the whole province of Leinster, in Ireland, to hold by the service of one hundred knights' fees.

Upon the breaking out of the baronial insurrection, the Earl of Pembroke was deputed by the king, with the archbishop of Canterbury, to ascertain the grievances and demands of those turbulent lords, and at the demise of King John, he was so powerful as to prevail upon the barons to appoint a day for the coronation of Henry III, to whom he was constituted guardian, by the rest of the nobility, who had remained firm in their allegiance. He subsequently took up arms in the royal cause and, after achieving a victory over the barons at Lincoln, proceeded directly to London, and investing that great city, both by land and water, reduced it to extremity for want of provisions. Peace, however, being soon concluded, it was relieved. His lordship, at this point, executed the office of sheriff for the cos. of Essex and Hertford.

This eminent nobleman was no less distinguished by his wisdom in the council and valour in the field, than by his piety and his attachment to the church, of which his numerous munificent endowments bear ample testimony. His lordship had, by the heiress of Clare, five sons, who s. each other in his lands and honours, and five daus., viz., Maud, Joan, Isabel, Sybil, and Eve. The earl d. in 1219, and was s. by his eldest son, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. 3


William Mareschal, now Marshall (Mareschal to the King), he became Earl of Pembroke, Lord of Leinster, and Lord Marshal of Ireland, 1207, having then a grant of the whole province of Leinster. He d. 16 March, 1219, having issue, five sons and five daus. His sons, William, Richard, Gilbert, Walter, and Anselme, all succeeded to the Earldom of Pembroke and Lordship of Leinster, the last of whom dying s. p. 21 December, 1245, the title of Pembroke became extinct and the Lordship of Leinster was divided amongst the five daus., viz., (1), Maud, who being m. to Hugh le Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, had issue. Roger le Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. 4

  Marriage Information:

William married Isabel DE CLARE, Countess Strigoil, daughter of Richard "Strongbow" fitz Gilbert DE CLARE, Earl of Pembroke, and Aoife MAC MURDADH of Leinster, in Aug 1189 in London, Middlesex, England.(Isabel DE CLARE was born in 1173 in Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, Wales and died in 1220 in Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, Wales.)


1 Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, Medlands: William Marshal.

2 Who's Who in the Middle Ages, John Fines, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1995.

3 Sir Bernard Burke, Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages, Burke's Peerage, Ltd., London, 1883, p. 358, Marshal, Earls of Pembroke.

4 Ibid., p. 628, Baronage of Ireland.

Home | Table of Contents | Surnames | Name List

This Web Site was Created 30 Nov 2015 with Legacy 4.0 from Millennia