Monday, June 2, 2014

The Knight Who Saved England

For a brief period in English history, a French king was named monarch of England – this was the Dauphin Louis and the time was 1216.  It was a period of turmoil in England – King John was at odds with his powerful barons, who invited the prince to England to lay claim to the throne in 1215.  Louis duly accepted and landed in England where he was welcomed by the rebellious barons.  John had only the year before signed what is now known as the Magna Carta at Runnymede (1215).

That same year as the French prince landed to claim his throne, King John died leaving his infant son Henry as England’s next monarch.  Many of the barons in rebellion against John gave their support to the young boy-king and support for Louis fizzled but not before a small force of French under Thomas, Comte de Perche laid siege to Lincoln Castle.  The English force was led by the 70yo Earl of Pembroke – the formidable William Marshal.  The French were routed and the sack of the rebel town became known as the Battle of Lincoln Fair.

The chronicler Roger of Wendover, who wrote an account of events (Flower of History trans by JA Ggiles London 1849), said …
“This battle, which, in derision of Louis and the barons, they called “The Fair,” took place on the 19th of May, which was on the Saturday in Whitsun-week; it commenced between the first and third hour, and was finished by these good managers before the ninth.

This then is the back-drop to Richard Brooks’ book, The Knight Who Saved England.

Brooks details events in English history leading up to and including the battle of Lincoln, and in doing so, recounts important events under the Angevin kings – Henry II, Richard I and John.  We are then treated to a short history of the life of England’s pre-eminent knight, William Marshal, which is based on an epic poem written after his death in 1219 entitled “ L’Historie de Guillaume de Marechal”.  

He was "marshal and then regent of England who served four English monarchs as a royal adviser and agent and as a warrior of outstanding prowess."

Brooks pays special attention to William’s career at the tournaments and his life with Henry, the Young King of England (eldest son and heir of Henry II of England).  Brooks goes on to detail William’s long military career on battlefield and siege, and gives us an insight into the chivalric and knightly class of the period.  All of this leads us up to William’s role and leadership in the battle of Lincoln, in which we find the aged knight so eager for battle that he leaves without his helm.

Needless to say, the life and character of William Marshal is extraordinary and you will find a list of further reading at the end of Brooks’ book.

Further Reading:
A Knight’s Tale – Thomas Asbridge (
William Marshal by Georges Duby (trans Richard Howard)
History of William Marshal by A J Holden
William Marshal: Knighthood, War and Chivalry, 1147-1219 by David Crouch
Magna Charta Barons, 1915. Baronial Order of Runnemede  by Charles H. Browning
William Marshal: Medieval England's Greatest Knight by Myra Weatherly
William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron, and Regent of England by Sidney Painter

William Marshall: flower of chivalry -
William Marshall -,_1st_Earl_of_Pembroke
Medieval English genealogy – notes on William Marshall -
Battle of Lincoln 1217 -
History of Eengland podcasts – William the Regent -

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