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Notes on Gesta Gugliemi
I was getting tired of posting on climate, economics, and related matters, so decided to take a break by posting my poems on William Marshal instead. The Marshal is an interesting historical figure in multiple ways, as an example of social mobility within the feudal system, someone viewed by contemporaries as an exemplar of the knightly virtues, the key player in the events after King John’s death.
When John died there was a French army in London, the revolting barons having offered the English crown to the heir to France, who was married to John’s niece, Blanche of Castile. William was arguably the single figure most responsible for winning the civil war and so preserving the English throne for John’s nine-year old son. One could do an interesting alternate history of what would have happened if it had gone the other way.
William is also the only figure of the time for whom we have biography written not by a cleric but from within the knightly class. The unknown author of the Histoire was working from information provided by people who had been close to William, giving us a knight’s eye view of 12th century England.
I have an unfinished fourth poem, starting with John’s death, and have considered a fifth based on William’s own death, which has multiple interesting scenes:
William’s response to being told that “the clergy insist that no man is safe unless he returns what he has taken.”
The clerics are too hard on us! They shave us too close! I’ve captured five hundred knights and kept their arms, their destriers and all their gear. If that means the kingdom of God is barred to me then that’s that — I can’t give them back! I can do no more for God, I’d say, than yield myself to Him repentant of all my misdeeds, of all the wrongs I’ve done. Unless the clergy mean to see me damned they should stop their harrying! Either their claims are false or no man can have salvation!
His final words to the king, John’s son, whose throne he had saved:
Sire, I pray to almighty God that, if I have ever done anything pleasing in His sight, He may grant that you grow to be truly worthy; but if you should be otherwise inclined, and emulate some wicked forebear, I pray God the son of Mary will see you live not long but die before that happens.