Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Or Otherwise Ruined

Three years on a tiny spot on planet Earth a long time ago:
  • Year 1066. Battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror from Normandy conquered England
  • Year 1204. Battle of Bouvins. The Angevins lost Normandy
  • Year 1217. Battle of Lincoln. French lost foothold on England
For 150 years the English Channel was an internal waterway for the 'homo sapiens' who had land, houses etcetera in both countries we now call "France" and "United Kingdom". Back then it was one country for William the Conqueror and his successors: the Angevin Empire.

I read Richard Brooks' book 'The Knight Who Saved England. William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217' (2014). A lovely book. It was full of a lot of tiny but new detail about a period I only knew roughly.

I read it because I wanted to have more background information on Knight William Marshal (1147-1219) before reading his biography 'History of William Marshal'. This book was written in 1219 and its manuscript was lost for 600 years. In 1861  it was sold at Sothebys. In 2002-2006 the Anglo-Norman 'History' was translated in English by S. Gregory. Direct access to the world and words of a knight from the 13th century. WOW! I am very curious about their worldview.
As a younger son - he had a couple of older brothers - William spent 22 years as a household knight before he stepped into the upper reaches of the nobility by marrying Isabel of Clare, countess of Pembroke and Striguil. In his 18-year tournament career he had taken over 500 knights. It made him rich. 

Knights were a "multi-purpose cavalry: complete warriors, inured to wounds and hardship, as useful for reconnaissance and dismounted action as for the charge. Fortified by their armoured protection and class solidarity, knights constituted the most potent military force of their day."

Battles or sieges were only a minor part of a knight's career. Raiding was the daily reality of war. Raiding to destroy or gain the feudal property of their enemies. Why? To undermine their authority.

In 1066 William the Conqueror from Normandy conquered England. He and his successors had land on both sides of the English Channel. In 1204 the English lost Normandy. (In 1453 at the Battle of Castillon they also lost the rest of France, with the exception of a few tiny spots ;) .) In 1217 the French lost foothold on England. William Marshal was personally involved in most of its battles back then. He personally saved England from the French at the battle of Lincoln and Sandwich in 1217 and preserved the Magna Carta. The King became limited in his exercise of power: "No free man might be imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, banished, or otherwise ruined without lawful judgement. "

William is buried in Temple Church (London). When he died he was loved by friend and foe alike. Langton (1150-1228) called him the "Best knight that ever lived". Joining wisdom, prowess and loyalty.

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