William the Marshal, the archetypal knight:

William was born in about 1145 in England. He was the son of John the Marshal and Sybil of Salisbury. His family came from a minor line of Anglo-Norman knights in the service of the kings of England. The nickname “Marshal” came from William’s grandfather, Gilbert the Marshal, who received this hereditary title while serving at the court of Henry I, Beauclerc.

After his first exploits, he entered the service of Henry II of England. He showed such bravery and talent in military matters that the King charged him with the education and training of his oldest son, Henry the Young King. It is probable that he was also one of the masters-at-arms of Richard the Lionheart. William distinguished himself in numerous tournaments, which at the time took the form of small battles, to such a pitch that Henry II had tried to forbid them in his domains. Having insured for himself as good a reputation in France as in England, William the Marshal had become famous.

He remained in the service of Henry the Young King, son of Henry II, even when he rebelled against his father the king in 1174. The life of William the Marshal showed clearly the complexity of the feudal system at the time. William was in the service of Henry the Young King, but because of the mechanics of the vassal/overlord relationship he was also the vassal of Henry II. In this way, William was torn between his different allegiances. He chose the side of Henry the Young King but not without having asked for Henry II’s permission to stand alongside his rebel son!

This unswerving loyalty on William’s part was characteristic of his attitude. Seeking to prove his ability in tournament and war, loyal to his lord, but also modest and courteous, he was the very incarnation of the chivalric values which were gaining more and more currency in the second half of the 12th century.

In 1183, Henry the Young King died. William himself escorted his body on its return to Rouen. Following this, he left for the Holy Land. He returned to Europe in 1187, a little before the Battle of Hattin in 1188 which led to Jerusalem falling into the hands of the Muslims, which was the reason for the Third Crusade.

Impressed by the bravery and loyalty of William, Henry II engaged him in his service and gave him the fief of Cartmel in Lancashire in England. Despite coming from a minor family of knights, William thus gradually entered the aristocracy of landholding lords. However, he remained a “bachelor”, an unmarried knight in the service of a lord, until he was in his forties.

During the internal disputes of the Plantagenets, William the Marshal was one of the last remaining loyal supporters of the old king, Henry II. Once Richard the Lionheart became King of England, in spite of the unswerving loyalty that William had shown for his father, he pardoned him. He gave him Isabelle de Clare, countess of Pembroke and Buckingham (known as “The Virgin of Striguil”) as a wife. As a result of this marriage, William the Marshal, knight bachelor, became one of the most powerful barons in England: his wife brought him the county of Pembroke, half the county of Longville and almost a quarter of Ireland.

Subsequently, William served Richard the Lionheart, during his war against Philip Augustus, and then his brother John, after Richard’s death. He himself died on 14 May 1219. On learning of his death, the King of France, Philip Augustus, honoured his memory by describing him as the “best knight in the world”. He was the incarnation of the values of chivalry in a rapidly changing society at the turning point between the 12th and 13th centurie

Mercadier 

Mercadier was a 12th century mercenary. We know little about his life, but he was one of the most loyal servants of Richard the Lionheart. Nothing is known of him before 1183, at which time he was reputed to be the leader of the Brabançons. The Brabançons were troops of mercenaries who sold their services throughout the kingdom of France. They had a sinister reputation, because once paid off by their employers they had the habit of living off the country, ravaging towns and villages, pillaging and committing atrocities. They were also called the “flayers” because of their appalling methods of extortion. “Brabançons” (people from Brabant) was a generic term for these mercenaries who, in fact, came from various places. In spite of their reputation, they were regularly employed by kings and great feudal lords.

Mercadier followed and supported Richard in all his campaigns. From 1190 to 1192 he accompanied him on crusade. After Richard was freed by the German emperor, Mercadier rejoined his army and fought in the conflict with the king of France. As recompense for his loyalty, Richard gave Mercadier the land left by Adhémar de Beynac, in Perigord, after he had died without heir. In February 1199, Richard the Lionheart again entrusted Mercadier with the job of pacifying Limousin. On Richard’s orders, Mercadier led his mercenaries to Châlus where he laid siege to the castle. The King rejoined him there and died after being hit by a crossbow bolt.

On the death of the King, Mercadier remained in the service of the new King of England, John Lackland, brother of Richard, and ravaged Aquitaine as well as the town of Angers. On the 10th April 1200, Easter Monday, he was assassinated at Bordeaux by a henchman of Brandin a rival mercenary captain also in John’s service. One of the bridges of Château Gaillard in Normandy carried his name, witness to the affection that Richard had for him.