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Update on William Marshal Research
and new Biography

by Catherine Armstrong

First I would like to thank all of those who have taken the time to e-mail me with their comments and questions in regard to my biographical texts on "The Castles of Wales" web site. I try to answer all e-mail that I receive; I ask your forbearance with regard to the time it may take me to reply. Since I am in the process of researching and writing a new biography of William Marshal, it may take me several weeks to answer my e-mail. For those who want to know when this biography will be completed, I can provide an update now. I am writing this biography of William Marshal in the context of the history of his father and of Richard Strongbow de Clare, as well as the history of the children of Marshal and Isabel de Clare. In short, this narrative story will encompass three generations, and hopefully expand the current knowledge of William Marshal and his place in medieval English history.

At this moment, I have completed roughly one third of my text, and I am working on finding the answers to two mysteries/questions. With my discovery of the fact that Aoife {Eve} MacMurchada de Clare was buried at Tintern Abbey, I am trying to establish when she died and where. She had to have died in Wales or at least in England to have been buried at Tintern instead of Dublin where Strongbow is buried. What I am seeking to discover is if she lived until August 1189 when her daughter Isabel became the wife of William Marshal. Perhaps Eve lived long enough to know the man who would marry her daughter and inherit, in right of Isabel, all the lands and titles that Eve and Strongbow held. So far I have found primary source records of Eve through 1188, but I have found no record of when or where she died. This is the first of my unanswered questions that I need to resolve.

Right: Tomb effigy of William Marshal at Temple Church, London. Photograph copyright 1999 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

The second question/mystery that I am seeking the solution to regards the coat of arms that is ascribed to William Marshal, earl of Pembroke [d.1219]. His coat of arms is party per pale or, vert, a lion rampant goules (Greenstreet 39; Parker, "Pembroke"). This is the blazon [the written description] of Marshal's arms, and it means a shield divided in half down the middle with the color/metal gold on the left side and green on the right side [as a person looking at it would see] with a red lion rampant [a lion standing on its hind legs with the forelegs outstretched as if attacking] the main charge [object] on the field of the shield. I have questions about this for the simple reason that there is no acknowledgement, no recognition, of Isabel de Clare's arms on this coat of arms.

The greatest fiefs, castles, and lordships William Marshal held were held in right of his wife as the sole heir of Richard Strongbow de Clare. These were the very things that a medieval feudal baron/earl held to be his most valuable assets and the things to be protected and passed on to his heir. By the end of the 1100s, coats of arms were the rule for the nobility, magnates, and even their vassals. First, they were necessary in battle and tournaments as a means of identification and a symbol of "belonging" to a lord and/or his household, and second, they were an identification of the status of the person carrying/wearing them. They were part of an individual's seal by which he signed or affirmed charters and agreements both political and personal. In the rules of heraldic descent, male issue always has precedence over female, and the elder male descent has preference. No children will inherit/carry their mother's arms unless she was a heraldic heiress (Boutell 115). The permanent and hereditary combination of both father's and mother's coat of arms occurs only when the mother was an heiress or co-heiress (Boutell 140).

There are primary source records of Richard Strongbow de Clare's seal/coat of arms as well as of his father Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare, first earl of Pembroke. Gilbert's and two of Strongbow's seals show a knighted figure with six chevronels[inverted "v"] on the shield (Wagner, "A Seal" 130-31; Dennys 95, 97). Wagner states that a seal of Strongbow's that was extant and was seen and drawn from a charter (c1170) showed a shield with only three chevrons. This may indicate that Strongbow was the first of the de Clare's to assume the arms of or, three chevrons goules [a shield of gold with three red chevrons] (Wagner, "A Seal" 130). Whether six chevrons or three chevrons, it is proven that Richard Strongbow de Clare did have a coat of arms that his daughter as his sole heir would have carried.

Now, William Marshal held the title of "marshal" of England as the male heir of his brother John [dsp 1194] and thus of William's and John's father, John fitz Gilbert the "marshal." One might say, with reservations, that Marshal held the title of earl of Pembroke in his own right as granted to him by King John in 1199. The problem I have is that Marshal would have had no claim to Pembroke except as the husband of the heir of Richard Strongbow and Gilbert fitz Gilbert de Clare, earls of Pembroke. Marshal would have had no claim to the lordship of Leinster, Striguil [Chepstow], or Longueville except as the husband of Isabel de Clare. All of these lands, castles, and titles were passed to his eldest son William II through descent from Isabel de Clare except for the title of "marshal" of England. No man of this time period who inherited such fiefs and lordships through marriage to an heiress would have failed to carry the coat of arms of that heiress as part of his own arms.

What I believe is that the current coat of arms assigned to William Marshal [d.1219] are the arms he carried as a knight of the Angevin household of the young king Henry and of Henry II, and later as "marshal" of England. I believe that his personal coat of arms as earl of Pembroke and husband of Isabel de Clare was different. What I have to find to prove this is some primary source that either still carries Marshal's seal or gives a description of his arms. Matthew Paris' Chronica Majora and his Historia Anglorum both have a drawing of the accepted Marshal coat of arms, and a description [blazon] of those arms is found in a Temp. Roll of Henry III (Greenstreet 39; Parker, "Mareschall"). Both of these sources were written after William Marshal's death in 1219, and some of the sources relate to his son, William II, rather than to William senior.

At this time I am researching the history of the effigies in The Temple Church of London and the records of Normandy. I found that an original charter for the Priory of Longueville c1200 still had attached to it in 1899 a seal of William Marshal and of Isabel de Clare (Calendar 75, 63). I am hoping that either the seals still exist or that there is a contemporary description of them.

I will provide another update on the status of my biography of William Marshal when it is near completion.



Ms Armstrong has Master's degree in Professional Writing from Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, Georgia. Her field is medieval English history. Her specific field is William Marshal, his fiefs and "familiares". Her concentration is on the lands and people bound to Marshal by blood and marriage, by feudal tenure, and by "affinity". She can be reached via e-mail at: seneschal@peoplepc.com.


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