William Marshall
William Marshall

William Marshall, later earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster, was born c1146, and following family tradition, became a knight. In 1170 William was appointed head of the military household of young Prince Henry, son of Henry II of England. When young Henry died, William Marshall received permission from Henry II to take his cross to Jerusalem. He spent two years here fighting wars as a knight Templar. It is here he is believed to have learned some of the castle building techniques he later used in Ireland and Wales. On his return William served Henry II as advisor and ambassador until the king died in 1188. He was appointed to a similar position to the new king, Richard I.

In 1189, Richard I gave Marshall Isobel de Clare and all her lands in marriage, Isobel was Strongbow’s Daughter and granddaughter of Dermot MacMurrough, the last undisputed Irish King of Leinster. Isobel brought to her husband the lands of Leinster that had been granted to Strongbow by Henry II; also Pembroke and Striguil in Wales. Marshall also held lands in Buckinghamshire, Lancashire and Oxfordshire, as well as lands in Normandy.

King John created William Earl of Pembroke on his coronation day May 27th 1199, in return for his support against Arthur of Normandy, another claimant to the throne. John proved a difficult ruler who alienated many great barons. He deprived Marshall of his lands in England, Wales and Normandy, and took two of Marshall’s sons as hostages. William Marshall withdrew to his Irish lands in 1207 and was to remain there almost continuously until 1213. He showed his great diplomacy and loyalty to the crown by resisting John’s attempts to seize Leinster, while at the same time refusing to side with the King’s enemies, the barons. William left Ireland for the last time in 1213, recalled by King John to fend off a threatened invasion from France. Marshall acted as mediator for the crown during the Baronial rebellion; John eventually signed the Magna Carta in 1215. On John’s death in 1216, Marshall was chosen as Regent for the nine year old Henry III. He defeated Philip II of France in 1217 and ensured the future of the English monarchy.

Between 1207 and 1213 in Ireland, William maintained the interests of the Crown in the face of many changes being forced upon both the Norman lords and native chieftains by King John and his secular and clerical appointees. In 1208 King John appointed bishop John de Grey of Norwich as his chief official in Ireland. De Grey rigorously enforced Crown and Church land rights. There was a continuing settlement of lands in Ireland with emigrants from England and Wales which pushed the native Irish to boiling point. Henry II had granted the city of Dublin to 'the men of Bristol' to run it as they ran their native city. In 1209 the O’Toole clan slaughtered 200 'citizens of Bristol' at Cullen’s Wood near Dublin. Clearly the shirring of their native Kildare and the interference in their home-in-exile, Wicklow, by John de Grey was a considerable provocation to this uncompromising clan. While the Irish ultimately are forced to accept the new situation, a stick and carrot approach from Marshall is evident from the surviving records. In the same year, 1209, Gillapatrick O’Toole receives title to lands under the seal of William Marshall. It is also interesting to note that the same Gillapatrick is most likely a cousin of Marshall’s wife, Isobel de Clare. Dermot MacMurrough’s wife, Isabel’s grandmother, was Mor O’ Toole, a princess of South Kildare.

William Marshall was a great castle builder and left a legacy of great castles throughout his fiefdom. He held eight great castles in Wales and England, including Pembroke, Chepstow and Goodrich. In Ireland he is associated with the building or re-construction of castles at Kilkenny, Carlow, Ferns and Trim.

Kevin O'Toole

Books on William Marshall
D. Crouch, William Marshal: Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147-1219 (1990)

Books on the Cambro/Normans in Ireland
Richard Roche, The Norman Invasion of Ireland, 1995, Anvil Cambridge

Websites on William Marshall

Castles of Ireland and Wales

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