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William the Marshal, earl of Pembroke, was one of the most noteworthy knights of the Middle Ages. After almost being killed by King Stephen when he was a child, William grew up to be a prominent tournament competitor, and then a soldier, serving in several campaigns. After the death of King John in 1216, William fulfilled the task of regent for the young Henry III, and led English forces to victory at the Battle of Lincoln in 1217. For a more complete biography of William’s life click here.
The deeds of William the Marshal were recorded for posterity a few years after his death in the Histoire Guillaume le Mareschal, a verse account of 19,214 lines in rhyming couplets, written in Middle French. The writer, only known to us as John, was commissioned to compose the poem by the earl’s family. The writer was familiar to William and could have been an eyewitness to some of the later exploits of the English knight.
The poem is an excellent source for medieval military history. By the count of one historian, there are about 3150 lines dealing with tournaments, and some 8350 dealing with war.
Here are three sections from the poem, in English translation and in the original Middle French text:
These texts were translated by Stewart Gregory, with the assistance of David Crouch. The full text and translation of this work will be published soon by the Anglo-Norman Text Society in a three volume set. We thank Ian Short of the Anglo-Norman Text Society and David Crouch for their permission and assistance in republishing these section.
Several works maybe helpful for the reader when examining the life and career of William the Marshal:
Crouch, David, William Marshal: Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147-1219 (London, 1990)
Duby, Georges, William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry (London, 1986)
Gillingham, John, “War and Chivalry in the History of William the Marshal”, Thirteenth Century England v.2 (1991), p. 1-13.
Painter, Sidney, William Marshal: Knight-Errant, Baron, and Regent of England (New York, 1933)