Does the name William Marshal ring a bell? If not, you're not alone. This medieval knight's story was for many centuries largely lost to the annals of history. It was only when his biography L'Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, comte de Striguil et de Pembroke was discovered in 1881 by Paul Meyer that suddenly his rags to riches story truly came to light.
From a young hostage to King Stephen I to becoming regent for the minor King Henry III - Marshall's life was shaped by six very different English kings: Stephen, Henry II, Henry the Young King, Richard I, John I and Henry III.
Stephen was the last Norman King of England and Marshal was born in his reign in 1146. This period was marred by civil war known as the Anarchy. It was Stephen versus his cousin Empress Matilda, as she was the legitimate heir to the throne but had been usurped by Stephen in 1135. Marshal ended up becoming Stephen's hostage when he was around five or six years old. His father John Marshal offered him as hostage for a truce, which he then reneged on endangering Marshal’s life. Apparently he declared "he did not care about the child, since he still had the anvils and hammers to forge even finer ones". This could have been the end of young Marshal, with Stephen threatening to follow through and have him executed. Yet for all Stephen's faults as a ruler, he was not a cruel man and ultimately Marshal was spared a terrible fate.
Henry the Young King
Many years passed and with poor inheritance prospects, Marshal had to go out to make a name for himself. He became a knight, and utilising his family connections, ended up working for his powerful uncle the Earl of Salisbury. This got him noticed by the formidable (and frankly amazing) Eleanor of Aquitaine. He joined her retinue and eventually he became a part of the entourage of her son Henry. Henry is known as the Young King as he was crowned in his father Henry II’s lifetime to secure the succession. In terms of Marshal’s personal relationships with these monarchs, his relationship with Henry the Young King was by far the strongest. He served him from 1170 to Henry's premature death in 1183. During this time they became incredibly close friends taking part in the tournament circuits together. Yet it wasn't all plain sailing and Marshal left Henry's retinue for a time, after malicious rumours put a wedge between the young king and his knight. By the time of Henry's death though the two had reconciled and Henry asked him to take the cross on his behalf and go on crusade. Marshal fulfilled his friend's dying wish, travelling to the Holy Land and staying there for two years.
After his crusade, Marshal returned to England and went into the service of Henry II. Marshal was in his forties by this time, and served in Henry’s household for the next three years until Henry’s death in 1189. Although he did not serve Henry long compared to the other Plantagenets Marshal worked for, he did remain steadfastly loyal. Henry was in bitter conflict with his heir apparent Richard, and when he fell ill and was dying many nobles (including his beloved son John) abandoned him to secure privileges in the upcoming Ricardian regime. Marshal stayed with Henry until the bitter end though, a testament to his character and reputation for loyalty.
Marshal and Richard the Lionheart were both incredibly successful military men. They had one conflict in 1899 where Marshal came out victorious, proving his legendary moniker “the Greatest Knight”. Henry II was fleeing from Le Mans to Angers, with Marshal acting as the rearguard. Richard was in full pursuit, as once again Henry II had fallen out with one of his sons. Upon reaching Marshal, Richard realised his vulnerability as he was only dressed lightly and was without his supporting forces who hadn’t kept up with him. Marshal could have killed Richard there and then, and Richard knew it. He asked Marshal to spare him, to which Marshal replied “let the Devil kill you, I shall not be the one to do it”, he then killed Richard’s horse to stop further pursuit. You might think that this meant on Richard’s accession later that year that Marshal would be ousted from court. Instead, Richard was pragmatic enough to respect Marshal’s skill and he confirmed Marshal’s rights to Striguil and marriage to wealthy heiress Isabel de Clare as discussed in the previous reign. This helped secure Marshal’s financial future. Marshal supported Richard throughout his 10 year reign, his reputation for loyalty cemented after being of service to the Plantagenets for so many years.
There has only been one King of England called John, and for good reason, as John was a pretty terrible king. Upon hearing of Richard’s death, Marshal went straight to the Archbishop of Canterbury Hubert Walter to discuss the succession. Marshal decided to support John to which the Archbishop responded “that you will never come to regret anything you did as much as what you're doing now”. Considering how events later unfolded, this was a pretty accurate assessment. Marshal’s loyalty to the Plantagents and the crown was severely tested during John’s reign. They had a huge falling out in 1205, regarding the Marshal paying homage to the French king for his lands in Normandy. Their deteriorating relationship led to what historian David Crouch described as Marshal’s “seven years in the political wilderness”. Yet by the time of the First Barons War (1215-1217), Marshal had been restored to John’s good graces and was integral to the royalist cause.
John died suddenly in 1216 from dysentry, leaving his 9 year old son Henry as King of England. A minority kingship was usually a disaster, as the monarch wasn’t in a position to lead and was reliant on nobles and key family members. Henry’s mother Isabella deserted him, and it was Marshal who took the reins. John had named Marshal as one of the 13 executors to assist Henry, but as events unfolded Marshal assumed the responsibilities of a regent. The war was still ongoing, and although nobles were defecting back to the royalist cause it wasn’t enough. The Battle of Lincoln proved a huge turning point for the royalists and contributed towards the end of the war. Marshal himself (at an incredible 72 years old!) was involved and took part in the combat. The war was resolved with the Treaty of Kingston-upon-Thames. For the next three years Marshal was England’s guardian, helping secure peace for his young King. Marshall died during Henry’s reign on the 14th May 1219.
Marshal’s life is full of twists and turns which this article barely scratches the surface of. He is a fascinating figure who witnessed the rise and decline of the Angevin empire, rising from obscurity to becoming one of the most powerful men in Western Christendom. 6 kings of England shaped Marshal and the course of his life, leading him to become “the greatest knight”.
Oxford National Biography: 'Marshal, William [called the Marshal]' by David Crouch
The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge
Rex Factor Podcast: https://rexfactor.podbean.com/
Online Medieval Sources Bibliography: http://medievalsourcesbibliography.org/sources.php?id=2146116715
Oxford National Biography: ‘Henry III’ by H.W. Ridgeway
In @VersusHistory Podcast Episode #102, we interviewed David Gessner, the author of 'LEAVE IT AS IT IS'. At the end of the Podcast, David asked a question. If you want to be in with a chance of winning a copy of the book delivered straight to your door, just enter the correct answer below. The competition closes on Sunday 25 October 2020. Good luck!
In @VersusHistory Podcast Episode #101, we interviewed Tom Levenson, the author of 'MONEY FOR NOTHING'. At the end of the Podcast, Tom asked a question. If you want to be in with a chance of winning a copy of the book delivered straight to your door, just enter the correct answer below. The competition closes on Sunday 11 October 2020. Good luck!
win a copy of richard kreitner's brand new book 'BREAK IT UP: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union (2020)'
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Guest contributor, Tanya Price, reveals what she learned from Hallie Rubenhold's revelatory book about the victims of Jack the Ripper, The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper.
I have taught the topic 'Jack the Ripper' several times, at my first school in a unit on ‘Conspiracy Theories’, and also at my most recent school, as a standalone unit; both to year 9 students. Students are generally fascinated by the 'Jack the Ripper' murders and the mystery of who Jack could be: Why did he target women? Why did he kill prostitutes? What was his motive? And ‘Was there a conspiracy’ involving Her Majesty the Queen? All of these are popular avenues down which I have ventured in the past. Having recently read The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold, my thinking has altered. Why have I focused on the identity of 'Jack' instead of looking at who the women were that he murdered? I have never once questioned where they came from, what their back stories were, or even whether they were married and had children. I now think that this is just as interesting as who Jack could possibly be, for by learning the stories of the five victims one learns so much more about the attitudes, experiences and social culture of Victorian London. I also began to question how I, as a single parent with a broken marriage, with experience of parental bereavement at a young age, might have fared if I had lived in 1888. Would my life have trodden a similar path to the women in The Five?
Five compelling aspects of the victims' lives that I discovered from reading The Five:
Polly Nichols, also known as Mary Ann Nichols, was the first victim of Jack the Ripper and was killed on the 31st August 1888. What I found fascinating about Polly was that she once lived in the Peabody Apartments with her husband. This was a brand-new complex built at great expense by the American banker, George Peabody, at the cost of £22,000. The apartments had modern conveniences such as a meat safe, several cupboards, picture rails, and even separate bedrooms. However, it was while Polly and her husband William were living in luxury at the Peabody Apartments that life began to unravel for her. Her husband began an affair with another tenant and Polly saw no other option but to abandon her family and home. In March 1880 Polly began an irregular life living on the streets as a tramp or having short stints in the workhouse. I questioned at this point how women in the 21st century, who have been in a similar position, would have fared. I cannot imagine the majority of women would have to leave their family home and children and live life homeless today due to their partner’s indiscretions. Polly began to drink a lot due to her irregular life, and on the night of her murder she had been drinking in the pub The Frying Pan. It is believed that Polly had no money the night of her murder and was asleep drunk in the corner of Buck’s Row. Hallie Rubenhold’s book asserts that Polly was not a prostitute – something that I have previously taught in school.
Annie Chapman was the second victim of 'Jack the Ripper' and was murdered on 8th September 1888. What I enjoyed finding out about Annie was that she grew up as a soldier’s daughter and her family lived in close geographical proximity to the royal family and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Her family suffered tragedy when several of her siblings died from the disease scarlet fever. This impacted her father so badly that he later committed suicide. Annie married a coach driver - John Chapman. Fascinatingly, the couple had a photograph taken of themselves along with her first two children. John and Annie went to live in Berkshire at a country estate when John became the coach driver for a wealthy gentleman. At this point Annie was now an alcoholic and any subsequent children were born with alcohol foetal syndrome. Annie’s sisters were part of the Temperance Movement and decided she needed to go to a sanatorium for a year to dry out. When Annie returned home to her husband he was suffering from a cold and so was drinking a hot whiskey. On kissing his wife, the fumes were apparently enough to reverse the yearlong abstinence. John and Annie separated but he agreed to pay her a maintenance of 10 shillings a month. Unfortunately, when John died this money stopped and, like Polly Nichols, Annie found herself homeless or living in doss houses. On the night of her murder she was drunk and sleeping rough – just like Polly - at 29 Hanbury Street.
Discovered in Dutfield’s Yard, adjacent to Berner Street, Elizabeth Stride was the third victim of Jack the Ripper, having been murdered on the 30th September 1888. What I found interesting about Elizabeth was that she was originally from Sweden and was raised as Lutheran. Unlike Polly and Annie, Elizabeth was a prostitute in the city of Gothenburg and it was during this time that she contracted the sexual disease of syphilis - a disease for which she was treated but that never left her body completely. Moving to London, Elizabeth married John Stride and together they opened a Coffee Shop in the area of Poplar. Due to the pre-existing health conditions that Elizabeth had, the couple never had any children and the marriage broke down. Interestingly, Elizabeth became somewhat of a con artist and used the disaster of the Princess Anne, which sank in the Thames, to illicit money from sympathetic passers by claiming that her husband and four children had drowned in the shipping tragedy. In 1888, Elizabeth began suffering from epileptic fits and dementia due to her syphilis. She was also arrested several times for drunk and disorderly behaviour. On the night of her murder she visited the Queen’s Head pub on Commercial Street and was seen talking to a man on Berner Street by several witnesses close to midnight. This is the night of the ‘double murder’ and it is believed that 'Jack the Ripper' was disturbed on this occasion.
Catherine Eddowes was the fourth victim of 'Jack the Ripper' and was murdered on the 30th September 1888; she was found in Mitre Square. This was the night of the ‘double murder’. What I found out about Catherine – something I had no prior knowledge of – was that she actually originated from Wolverhampton and her family had worked in the tin trade for two generations. Her father, George Eddowes, was a member of the Tin Man Society and was actually prosecuted for taking part in a strike at his employer’s factory, The Old Hall Works. Rather than face two months’ hard labour in prison, George did a ‘moonlight flit’ and took his family on a canal barge to London. I learned that, in London, Catherine went to school and attended the Great Exhibition as part of a school outing, however her scholarly days were cut short when her mother and father both died of TB within two years of each other. Catherine’s older sisters made the decision to send Catherine back to Wolverhampton to stay with her uncle and aunt whereas the six younger Eddowes children had to live in the workhouse. It was at this point that I started to compare my own childhood with Catherine’s – would I have ended up in the workhouse as a child (aged 5) when my father died with my mother and sister? I assume I would have if I had had no other relatives to look after me and my sister. Catherine ended up working in the Old Hall Works like her father before her, until she decided to walk to Birmingham and try her luck there. In Birmingham, Catherine stayed with her uncle – who was a bare-knuckled boxer – until she met Thomas Conway. Conway was a retired army officer who had been relieved of duty due to a weak heart and was living on his pension and the money he earnt being a ‘chapman’. A chapman is someone who travels from place to place selling pamphlets and ballads. Catherine seemed to be attracted to the idea of accompanying Thomas and, pregnant with his child, they began their life as a duo. The life of a travelling chapman must not have been easy for Catherine – sleeping rough whilst pregnant and not having a guaranteed safe place to give birth must have caused her some anxiety. Catherine gave birth in Great Yarmouth Workhouse Infirmary to a daughter called Annie. The couple continued to tramp about the country looking for a breakthrough – which they found in the form of a ballad about one of Catherine’s distant cousins who was being publicly executed. In 1868, the couple decided to settle in London. This is when the relationship soured. Thomas was unable to find employment and had to leave Catherine and the children to find better prospects. She and the children ended up in the Greenwich Union Workhouse. Again, I made a comparison with my own life and that of many other women in the 21st century. Would this have been my fate if I had been alive in the 1800s after the break down of my marriage? Would I have no other option but to go to the workhouse with my child and be supported by the state?
Mary Jane Kelly was murdered on the 9th November 1888 at Miller’s Court, and is the fifth victim of 'Jack the Ripper'. What I found interesting about Mary Jane Kelly was the fact that she was the only victim who was murdered inside and was in a relatively stable relationship; she was also much younger than the other victims. The details of her early life is not very well known but according to her partner, Joseph Barrett, she originated from Ireland and then moved to Wales whereupon she married a coal miner who died in a tragic accident. She headed to London and became a high-end escort or prostitute for a brothel in the West End, which was run by a French woman. Mary Jane Kelly would dine out at fancy restaurants with clients and ride around in carriages. She was also known to have trunk loads of clothes. It all went wrong for Mary when she was offered a trip to Paris which, it transpires, could have been a trap by one of her clients to force her into the French sex trade. Mary Jane Kelly returned to London on the run and had to try and hide out in the East End. It is believed that she may have changed her name at this point to Mary Jane Kelly and made up her backstory to ward off any chance of being found. Prior to the night of her murder, Mary Jane and her partner had an argument over whether Mary should allow other prostitutes to stay in Miller’s Court as a way to protect them for the serial killer 'Jack the Ripper'. This argument led to a windowpane of glass being smashed which, apparently, allowed easy access to 'Jack the Ripper' into 13 Miller’s Court. It was here that, undisturbed, he had more time to spend on his gruesome acts.
In conclusion, reading Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five has made me more aware of the victims as actual people who had a life before they became a name attached to a mortuary photograph. They were loved. They lived and suffered the same heartbreaks and tragedies that many of us face today but, being part of a different time period and social system, ended up on the streets or living in lodging houses, desperately trying to survive without any help from the government of the day. This book made me personally appreciate how my life – which has, in some respects, endured similar experiences to some of the victims in the book – has had a different outcome, perhaps solely because of the time period I live in.
Our guest on @VersusHistory Podcast Episode #98 was Historian Charles Freeman. We are giving away a gratis copy of his brand new book!
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Our very special guest on @VersusHistory podcast episode #97 was Historian and Novelist Dr Miranda Malins (@MirandaMalins). This is Miranda's debut novel for Orion Books (@OrionBooks). We are absolutely delighted to be giving away a copy of 'The Puritan Princess'! To enter, simply complete the form below to be in with a chance of winning. Competition closes on Sunday 23 August 2020.
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Guest Blogpost: Tanya Rogers (@tanyaalex38) has been a Teacher of History since 2003, and is from Northwich, Cheshire. Tanya has worked at Hartford Church of England High School in Northwich and Priestnall School in Stockport. Tanya has been an assistant examiner for both OCR and Cambridge International GCSE. Tanya is passionate about teaching and learning, EduTwitter and finding new approaches to make her teaching innovative.
Think you know the Tudors? Think Again!
The Top 5 Facts on the Black Tudors
If like me you have been teaching history for a long time, you may think that you know everything there is to know about the Tudors. It is a staple topic that I have taught every year since I started my teaching career in 2002. But it has only been this year in 2020 that I have taught about the existence of the Black Tudors. This revelation that Tudors who were Black came about in two ways, the first through an email from a year 7 student and second through Edu Twitter. I will discuss the email first. The student emailed me to explain that he had been deeply moved by the recent Black Lives Matter protests and the murder of George Floyd. His parents had been educating him at home about Black History and in particular, as a family, they had been reading the book ‘The Black Tudors’ by Miranda Kaufmann.
The student in question was rightly angry that he has not been taught any black history in year 7 and would have to wait until year 8 to learn about Britain’s colonization of its Empire. I felt that I had let Nathanael down by omitting to include the Black Tudors in year 7’s home learning and in fact I felt that I had done a great disservice to the Tudors and students I had taught in the past by making early history so whitewashed. Therefore I decided to make amends and create a series of lessons to be delivered by Microsoft Teams. I asked the History community on Twitter where to start and I was pointed in the direction of Hannah Cusworth and again Miranda Kaufmann and her blog. This is what I have found out in the creation of the lessons and in the videos I have made on the Black Tudors for my YouTube channel ‘The Price Academy.’
BLACK TUDORS: FACT ONE
1. Did you know that Henry VIII had a royal trumpeter who was Black? He was called John Blanke and he came over to England with Catherine of Aragon from Spain in 1501. Blanke is depicted twice in the Westminster Tournament Roll of 1511 with other white trumpeters Henry employed. He is seen wearing a turban and the pigmentation of his skin is black. This is the first image of a Black person that has been recorded in England, which makes this piece of evidence significant. The tournament was being held in celebration of the birth of Henry and Catherine’s son Henry, Duke of Cornwall who sadly died after two months of being born. What else is remarkable about John Blanke is that he actually petitioned the King and asked for a pay rise! The petition states that the 6d a week John was being paid was not sufficient to keep him and finance his living. He also states that he was being paid less than the other trumpeters that were in Henry’s employment. The petition shows that Henry agreed to double John’s wages to 18d a week and his signature is present on the document. Further records show that John was given a wedding gift from Henry in 1512 but then disappears from the list of official trumpeters in 1514. What I find fascinating about John is how he had the boldness to petition the King and ask for the pay rise and demand equal rights amongst his fellow professionals.
BLACK TUDORS: FACT TWO
2. Did you know that Henry VIII employed a salvage diver to locate £2 million worth of weaponry from the sunken Mary Rose? He was called Jacques Francis, a free diver from Guinea who was employed by a Venetian called Peter Corsi to lead a team of divers to retrieve the valuable items at the bottom of the sea bed. Jacques was employed on the basis that he could hold his breath and dive deeper than Englishmen who were not very able swimmers. Jacques had trained from a young age to dive for pearls in his native homeland. What is interesting about this story is that Jacques was paid £50 to attempt to salvage the weaponry which is a considerably higher sum than what John Blanke was paid. He only managed to salvage the anchor and some cannonballs from the wreckage of the Mary Rose which sank in 1545. The other significant part to Jacques Francis' story is that he is the first Black person to testify in court. His master Peter Corsi had been accused of stealing tin from a shipwreck and Jacques gives evidence as a witness. We have evidence with Jacques signature present. The fact that Jacques was able to testify shows that he was considered a free man as slaves throughout History were not allowed to appear in court on the grounds that their owners would have manipulated their evidence.
BLACK TUDORS: FACT THREE
3. Did you know that Catherine of Aragon had a Black royal bed maker? She was called Catalina and came over to England with John Blanke in 1501 to be a member of Catherine’s royal household. Catherine was destined to marry Prince Arthur who was the heir to the Tudor throne. I have taught the story of Henry, Catherine and Arthur many times over but not once did I mention Catalina. Catalina is crucial to the age-old question of whether Catherine and Arthur consummated their marriage or not. Catalina as the royal bed maker would have been privy to such information; as it was her that changed the sheets and had to be present at any intimate moments. It was Catalina’s first-hand knowledge that the Queen and King were after when he desired to annul his marriage on the grounds it was never valid in the first place. Alas by this time Catalina had returned to Granada and had been married, widowed and produced two children to a Moorish crossbow maker called Ovida. What strikes me about this story is how different history could have been if only Catalina had been found and the information she had revealed – Henry might not have needed to set up the Church of England and Catherine could have remained Queen. Catalina knows the answer to the question all historians would love to know! Did Arthur and Catherine ever have sex or not?
BLACK TUDORS: FACT FOUR
4. Did you know that Francis Drake had a former Spanish slave from Panama who helped him circumnavigate the globe? He was called Diego and it is said that he ran up to Drake and his soldiers at the port of Nombres de Dios and offered inside information that the King of Spain had sent an army to defeat Drake and his men; Drake planned to raid the town in order to plunder the gold and silver on the island. Diego who was an escaped slave said he would be willing to be a contact with the Cimarron’s; these were former slaves from Africa who had escaped to the mountains in Panama. Diego said the Cimarron’s would make an alliance with the English but only if Drake offered him protection. What followed was an ingenious plan to attack the mule train carrying the gold and silver with the help of the Cimarron and the capture of booty worth over 150,000 pesos. Drake took Diego back to Plymouth with him and he lived for 4 years in England before Drake set sail on the Golden Hind on his circumnavigator of the globe and Diego was taken with him. From 1577 – 1579 Diego sailed the world with Drake, he was not only Drake’s manservant but he could act as a spy due to being able to speak fluent Spanish, a go-between with any escaped slaves like in Panama and also an interpreter. Diego sadly died from an arrow wound near the island of Moluccas in 1579, the year before Drake returned home and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Drake also received the Drake Jewel for his victory in Panama with the help of the Cimarron’s.
BLACK TUDORS: FACT FIVE
5. Did you know that Black Tudors were Christian? Mary Fillis was born in 1537 and was the daughter of a Moroccan basket weaver and shovel maker. She came over to England when she was aged 6 or 7 with a group of merchants. Mary worked for John Barker a merchant before becoming a seamstress for a lady called Millicent Porter who lived in East Smithfield. What is interesting about Mary is that there is a record of her baptism at age 20. Mary got baptised at St Botolph in Aldergate in June 1597 and there was a large gathering present at the event. You can see in the parish registers that at least 5 women were present, including her mistress who confirmed to the parish clerk that Mary ‘was very Christian like.’ Did Mary convert from being a Muslim to being a Christian for any specific reason? It appears that she did so to get married. It is believed that the majority of African women in Tudor times would have had relationships with English men. What is fascinating about Mary is that after her mistress’ death she went on to become a seamstress in her own right, which considering the fashion of the Tudors must have been a very skilled job.
My Final Thoughts:
I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching year 7 about Black Tudors and investigating for myself the individual stories, there is definitely a lot more that I can learn and do as a History teacher to make sure the curriculum and the lessons I deliver from now on feature representations of all who existed and not omit their stories from the past like I had been doing before.
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WIN A COPY OF DR KIRSTEEN MACKENZIE'S RECENT BOOK -The Solemn League and Covenant of the Three Kingdoms and the Cromwellian Union 1643-1663 (Routledge: London, 2017).
What is this excellent book all about? Here is the description from the publishing company.
'This book provides the first major analysis of the covenanted interest from an integrated three kingdoms perspective. It examines the reaction of the covenanted interest to the actions and policies of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, drawing particular attention to links, similarities and differences in and between the covenanted interest in all three kingdoms. It also follows the fortunes of the covenanted interest and Presbyterian Church government as it built and changed in response to the Royalists and the Independents during the 1650s.'
Select the correct answer to Dr Kirsteen MacKenzie's (@KirsteenMM) question from Versus History Podcast #96 below to be in with a chance of winning. Entries close at 15:00 GMT on Saturday 18th July 2020.