William Marshall is over 70 years old in 1219, a good age for that. Described by his contemporaries as “the greatest knight in the world,” he had a brilliant career.
The second landless son of a bourgeois aristocrat, he trained to become a knight, take part in competitions and tournaments, and then set out to serve four kings – Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, King John and the sons of King Henry III when he’s the regent.
As regent, William Marshall republished the Magna Carta, ensuring that the Magna Carta remains. He would also win the Battle of Lincoln against invading French forces.
And he was so regent that he ruled the kingdom from his Caversham lands during his last illness. Henry and the palace lived in the imperial house at Reading Abbey on the other side of the River Thames.
From the start of his illness, Reading’s Marshall Abbot Simon confessed his sins every eight days. After his death, his body was taken to the wealthy chapel he founded at Reading Abbey Church. His wife and son gave 100 us to Abbey while his body lay there, then taken to Staines, then Westminster and finally taken to London Temple Church for burial.
What is the key to such a spectacular climb? William Marshall had a great holiday, of course, and there were times when he fell from grace, especially under the “evil” and capricious King John.
Marshall must have been a shrewd operator for negotiating the complex politics of the medieval court, but his loyalty to the kings he swore allegiance gave him a reputation for fortitude that helped him generate wealth.