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William Marshal's tournament career reached its apex when he was appointed as head of the mesnie household of the young king Henry. Tournaments of Marshal's time were vastly different from the tournaments held in the late thirteenth century, and the majority of them were held on the continent because Henry II did not allow them to be held in England. The tournaments held on the continent were the training grounds for young men entering into knighthood. These young men could be noble heirs or second or later sons of nobles, barons, and/or magnates. These tournaments were the arenas through which the young males entered into the elite military order of the middle ages.
Tournaments were the best means of teaching and refining the skills and abilities necessary for medieval warfare within a more confined and controlled circumstance than actual warfare. The tournaments of the late 1100s were far different than the usual vision of two knights jousting against each other over a dividing barrier before a gathering of distinguished lords and ladies which was the norm in the late 13th century. The tournaments of William Marshal's time were more of a "free-for-all" melee. The time and place of each tournament would be announced by messengers to the households and/or lords who were known to be interested two weeks prior to the date of the expected event, and sometimes these announcements would also provide the composition of the two parties involved. Those notified would then gather a group of knights who might come from their own households or be men who would be interested in participating in the tournament with that lord. All participants would arrive at the set place either the date of the tournament or perhaps the day before if the group participating came from a greater distance. Some great tournaments could last several days, and on the eve preceding the actual tournament, the young knights might show their skill with weapons and horse without having to compete against the more experienced knights.
The site of the tournament would encompass several square miles of territory between the two towns/sites specified. They could, and did, include farmland, small villages/towns, fields, and even vineyards. The property and welfare of the bystanders was not necessarily a major concern, and often these people were caught up in the tournament and its mayhem to the detriment of their lands and dwellings. It was not until 1194 that rules were set that protected the bystanders and their property, and that was only in England by order of King Richard. Richard decided that tournaments would be held in England in order to train his English knights to the level of skill of the knights on the continent, but he also decided to control those tournaments and make them a means of collecting revenue while protecting the peace and welfare of his realm.
Richard's writ to Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury, set five sites as places for tournaments. Richard's designated sites were: between Salisbury and Wilton in Wiltshire; between Warwick and Kenilworth in Warwickshire; between Stamford and Warinford in Suffolk; between Brackley and Mixbury in Northhamptonshire; and between Blyth and Tickhill in Nottinghamshire. These sites all straddled major roads to London and were in areas that were controlled by the three men that Richard appointed as guarantors of the charter. All tourneyers were required to take an oath before they set out to participate in a tournament. They had to swear to pay their fees in full on pain of arrest, to not endanger the peace of the kingdom, to pay reasonable market price for food and other necessities, to take nothing by force or unfairly, and to not breach the royal forests or impinge on the royal rights of vert and venison. The license for holding a tournament was ten marks. The fee a participant paid to enter was based upon his standing; an earl paid 20 marks, a baron 10 marks, a landed knight 4 marks, and a landless knight 2 marks. The fees required for each individual tournament were to be collected by Theobald Walter, brother of Hubert. Richard appointed three earls as guarantors for the tournament charters; they were William fitz Patrick earl of Salisbury, Gilbert de Clare earl of Hertford and Clare, and Hamelin de Warenne earl of Surrey and Warenne. Richard allowed tournaments in England under these concise rules for the purpose of providing the Crown revenue, maintaining order, and training his English knights so they would no longer be accused by the French knights of lacking skill. It was only in England in this time period that tournaments were closely regulated; this was not the case on the continent.
The tournaments on the continent usually began in the morning and lasted until dusk. There were no restrictions on who could or could not enter a tournament until the 13th century, and no prohibition that prevented a knight from entering a tournament that had already begun. There were no prohibited strikes, and no rules that prevented a group of knights or foot soldiers from banding together to attack a single knight. The count of Flanders used serjeants as well as knights in one tournament, and in another tournament he used over 300 infantry to cover a retreat. Mounted knights fought with lance, sword, and mace, and foot soldiers used arrows and lances. There were specified areas, recets, where a knight that had been unhorsed or captured could go to make arrangements for the payment of his ransom, or could re-arm, or simply rest. In this area no one was allowed to harm any other. After a knight had made his arrangements for the payment of his ransom to the knight who had defeated him, he could return to the fight if he wished.
Tournaments were fought either a lą plaisance meaning that they were fought with blunted weapons, or they were fought a lą outrance meaning that they were fought with unsheathed weapons. It was only in tournaments that were fought with bare weapons that ransoms and booty were taken. The equipment of a knight included a helmet, usually cylindrical and flat on top with one or two slits for the eyes and small breathing holes beneath the nose. Required for every knight was a hauberk which was a shirt of mail extending to the knee and made of interwoven steel rings that was light and flexible and worn over a gambeson or aketon, a quilted and/or padded coat. A coif was a hood of mail that was worn over the head (leaving the face bare) and under the helmet and protected the neck and throat. The weapons carried by the knight were first a shield, usually the famous "kite-shaped" shield that was curved at the top and ended in a point and was long enough to protect the mounted knight's body from shoulder to leg. Secondly they carried a sword which was one of the most prized possessions of a knight. The sword was a broad double-edged weapon; it was usually 36 inches long with a blade of 28 inches and a width of the blade of about one and a half inches. It had a slightly rounded point, a simple cross-guard of about seven and a half inches, a hilt of about eight inches, and a rounded, flat, or "brazil-nut" shaped pommel. The sword weighed from three and a half to four and a half pounds. The sword was carried in a scabbard that hung from the belt on the left hip, if the knight was right-handed, and on the right hip if left-handed. The lance carried by the mounted knight was about ten feet in length, usually made of ash, and had a head of iron or steel and was carried under the right arm of a charging knight. The mace was another weapon that could be used by a knight and was made of metal with a slim, straight shaft and a trilobate head and used as percussion weapon. Bows were used by foot soldiers and with their reach and their barbed, iron arrowheads could be deadly in battle. Crossbows were used but not in tournaments because of their ability to pierce the shield and hauberk and therefore kill a knight. In actual war, crossbowmen were often killed because of their ability to seriously wound and/or kill knights. The Church banned the use of crossbows because of their deadly abilities, although this did not prevent their use.
The reckoning and collection of the ransoms taken during a tournament was done at the end of the day when the tourneyers would call at the tents or abodes of the great lords. The winner of the tournament would be either the army that held the field at the end of the day, or the one who had collected the most booty/ransoms, or in the event of no clear winner, the army selected by all those participating. Any knight who believed that he had been mistreated or cheated of his ransoms or booty during the tournament could present his case to the lord of the offending knight and ask for justice. There were unwritten customs and rules governing the action of the knights at this time, and some things were not permitted according to those customs. A knight could not take advantage of a disadvantaged knight such as striking an unprepared opponent or taking a horse or booty from a knight who was not in a position to defend his captured horse or booty. Such actions violated the codes of chivalric behavior and were not tolerated.
The actual tournament began with the military maneuver of an ordered charge of mounted knights with couched lances. This was one of the most important skills required of a medieval knight and one that the tournament fields proved to be the best at training. The charge of the mounted knights with couched lances was the opening move of a tournament and the most important in determining which side would be victorious. It required that the knights in each army work together as an ordered and disciplined unit. Maintaining their serried ranks and moving as a group in a full charge made that army almost impossible to defend against. The ability to time the charge exactly right and maintain a concentrated force provided the maximum effect. The sheer force of such a charge usually resulted in the opposing army scattering, and thus making individual captures more likely. The archers were to use their weapons to create an opening for the calvary charge, and the foot soldiers' job was to resist the enemies charge with their lances and arrows. Any knight who was over-confident or over-eager could destroy the entire purpose of the charge. The great benefit of the tournaments was to provide an arena for this military training for knights while reducing the possibility of permanent injury or death to the knight. The organized and highly skilled abilities required of a medieval knight had to be constantly reinforced and refined, and the tournament field provided the arena for that training.
It was on the tournament field that the medieval knight developed a sense of professional solidarity, identity. and a universal code of acceptable conduct and custom that would also permeate the conduct of medieval warfare. This arena also provided a way for knights to meet and know knights from other regions and countries, and thus provided a social as well as a military environment. The knight could meet men from France, Flanders, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Scotland, and England; he could even find such a variety within his own lord's household. The fact that many of the opposing teams in tournaments were formed on political divisions and alliances meant that in actual warfare many of the opponents were well known to each other. The tournaments were in many ways the entrance point for the young knight into the world of the military order of chivalric knighthood. It was the arena where he could, by his own abilities and skills as knight, make the contacts and friendships that would aid and guide his future possibilities in society. This was the arena in which William Marshal developed his reputation, his status, and his sense of honour that would influence and govern the rest of his life.
The highest accolade that could be bestowed on a medieval knight was that he was a prudhomme. This meant that the knight displayed loyalty to his lord and kin, that he was known for wise and sagacious counsel in both war and diplomacy, that he practiced largesse (generosity) especially to his vassals and companions-in-arms, that he showed franchise (piety) to the Church and its institutions, and that he possessed courtoisie (the ability to conduct oneself properly in courtly circles and with the ladies). Above all of these, the knight must be known for his prouesse (prowess), his ability to prove in combat and in feats of arms that he was a superbly able and skilled fighting knight. It was not only a knight's pride in himself and his estimation of his own worth, but the acknowledgement of society of his right to that pride that made a prudhomme. According to Kaeuper, Marshal was a knight who used his prowess in causes that were honourable to his king and country as well as causes that advanced himself and his family. Marshal earned his rewards by his sword, his counsel, and his careful and prudent loyalty. His largesse was openly displayed with style with regard to his own men and family as well as to his opponents. Marshal's piety was practical and realistic; he founded priories and abbeys and gave to those that were in his lands, went on crusade to Cologne, and fought as a Knight Templar in the Holy Land. Marshal possessed and lived by a strong sense of loyalty and honour that perfectly balanced and complemented his prowess as a medieval knight.
During 1169 Marshal was probably in the household of his cousin, William de Tancarville, who replaced earl Patrick as Henry II's lieutenant in Poitou. There are no records of this year in Marshal's life. In 1170 Marshal was given a position that would determine the next thirteen years of his life and have great influence on the later years of his life. Though only in his early twenties, William Marshal was appointed by Henry II to head the mesnie household of young Henry, the crowned heir of Henry II. It is not known specifically what led Henry II to appoint Marshal to this responsible position. Probably several reasons contributed to Marshal's appointment. The service Marshal's father, John fitz Gilbert, provided to both Empress Matilda and Henry II during and after the civil war; the notice and favor of Queen Eleanor which Marshal had gained while with his uncle Patrick in Poitou; and the reputation that Marshal had gained for himself as a member of de Tancarville's household. Whatever factors led to Marshal's position as head of the young Henry's mesnie household, Marshal had just acquired a formidable status for a young landless knight.
Marshal would be responsible for tutoring the young Henry in chivalry, for teaching him the skills necessary to handle the weapons and warhorses of a knight, for instilling in the young Henry all the virtues, customs, and codes of a chivalric knight, and for protecting the person of the young king in both tournament and battle. William Marshal had just become the tutor, guardian, and companion to the heir of the Angevin throne. He was the chief of the prince's household of knights and would be responsible for all matters relating to the knightly aspects of that household. The primary sources of charter witness' lists provide an idea of the importance of Marshal's position within young Henry's household. Of some fourteen known acts/charters of young Henry, Marshal is found on seven of them, and Marshal's name follows after the nobles and prelates and before others. By this appointment, William Marshal had begun the second stage in his long career.
The next important event in Marshal's life occurred in February 1173. Henry II and young Henry were at Montferrand where Henry II was negotiating a marriage between his youngest son John and the daughter of the count of Maurriene in Savoy. In order to make a marriage to John more appealing, Henry II wanted to give John the castles of Chinon, Loudon, and Mirabeau, but the young Henry refused to agree to surrendering these castles to his brother unless Henry II gave the young king actual sovereignty in England, Normandy, or Anjou. Henry II had no intention of turning over the governing and revenues of any of his lands to his heir. The young Henry refused to release the castles to John and displayed such an unreasoning temper that Henry II decided that he needed to take his eldest son in hand. On February 21-28, Henry II, young Henry, Eleanor, Richard, and Geoffrey were at Limoges for a family gathering. On March 5th, Henry II, young Henry, and Marshal left Limoges and stopped for the night at the castle of Chinon. During the middle of the night, the young Henry and his household stole away from the castle and headed toward Vendome. This was a virtual act of rebellion and war, and Henry II immediately prepared to march against his son.
The young Henry had a pressing problem; he was not yet knighted and therefore could not take an active part in war or any knightly sport. He could not lead an army. against his father unless he was a belted knight, and it was certain that he could not have his father knight him. The young king sent word to his father-in-law, King Louis VII of France. Louis sent his brother, Peter de Courtenay, Raoul, count of Clermont and constable of France, the lord of Montmorency, William des Barres, and other great barons to his son-in-law to remedy this problem. Obviously, Louis was expecting either his brother, or at least one of the great knights he sent to perform the knighting of the young Henry.
The bestowing of knighthood on a young man was a ceremony filled with great symbolic meaning. It symbolized the investiture of authority, the attainment of a young man's majority, and his entrance into the warrior elite. The act of girding a young man with his sword of knighthood (cingulum militiae) carried with it a bond that tied the giver to the receiver, often with an understood tie of alliance and/or allegiance. For reasons not recorded, young Henry chose the landless knight and his tutor in chivalry, William Marshal, to perform the act of knighting him. Perhaps Marshal's reputation for prowess and his successes as knight and warrior overrode the considerations of rank and status, or perhaps the young Henry did not wish to bind himself or be beholden to any great noble. Whatever the young king's reasons for this act, Marshal would consider this one of the greatest events of his life. After the rebellion of 1173/74 was ended by the Treaty of Falaise on October 11, 1174, Henry and his household went to England and with his father Henry II and stayed for over a year. Since there were no tournaments there and no venues to practice the knightly skills, the young king and his party returned to Normandy in May 1176. It was from this time that young Henry and his mesnie became devoted to the pursuit of glory, honour, and riches in tournaments.
The greatest patrons and/or participants of the tournaments of this time period were the young Henry, count Philip of Flanders, Theobald of Blois, Robert of Dreux, the duke of Burgandy, Raoul count of Clermont, and William des Barres. The Histoire records twelve tournaments; of these twelve, two were held in the county of Clermont, two in the county of Dreux, three in the lands of Henry count of Champagne, and four in the lands of Theobald count of Blois. On leaving England, the young Henry and his household went to Henry's cousin, count Philip of Flanders. Philip was considered the epitome of a chivalric knight, and the arrival of young Henry gave the count the opportunity to practice that admired knightly quality of largesse. A tournament was announced that was to be held between Gournay and Ressons in the county of Clermont. For some reason not explained, the young Henry and his household were without their knights' equipment, so count Philip provided the warhorses and armour needed for the tournament. The young Henry, Marshal, and the young king's military household were thus launched into the chivalric world of tournaments with great style and fanfare.
It was in this first tournament that Marshal noted that count Philip employed a very practical approach to tournaments. The count tended to hold back in the tournament until the other combatants were somewhat exhausted and disorganized; then the count would charge into the fray and capture many knights and take a great amount of booty. Based upon his shrewd, critical observation of Philip's tactics, Marshal proceeded to advise the young king to make use of count Philip's tactic in future tournaments when such a tactic was not prohibited by that specific tournament.
After this tournament, the young Henry and his household left the hospitality and home of count Philip and returned to their own home base. Not long after returning, there was a tournament announced that would be held between Anet and Sorel-Moussel in the valley of the Eure. Henry's party was so successful that they managed to drive the French company completely from the field in their first charge. While pursuing the French through the streets of Anet, Marshal and the young Henry found themselves surrounded by French foot-soldiers under the baron Simon de Neauphle. Completely undaunted by the men on foot, Marshal simply charged into their midst with Henry close behind him. Marshal grabbed the bridle of Simon's horse and pulled Simon and his horse with him until they were clear of the French group. While charging through the town with Simon in tow, a low-hanging drainpipe knocked Simon clear of his horse. The young Henry, who was following behind Marshal on his own charger, said not a word as he and Marshal returned to their camp. When Marshal ordered his squire to take charge of the French knight that he had captured, Marshal discovered that he had taken a charger as booty but had lost the knight. Another tournament was held in 1177 at Pleurs in the valley of the Marne. The young Henry decided to not attend this one, but he gave Marshal permission to go. At this tournament were some of the greatest knights of that time. Count Philip of Flanders, Theobald V count of Blois, James d'Avesnes, and Guy de Chatillian were there; later these men would take the Crusader's vow and go to the Holy Land. Raoul count of Clermont, Hugh duke of Burgandy, the count of Beaumont, and William des Barres were also there. This was a gathering of what was considered some of the best knights of that time, and apparently it was a tournament that was filled with glorious combat. At the end of the tournament, a lady, who was not named in the Histoire, presented a grand pike (a large fish) to the duke of Burgandy as a reward for an outstanding display of prowess. The duke, wishing to increase the value of the reward, gave the pike to count Philip of Flanders. The count in another gesture of largesse gave the pike to count Theobald of Blois. At this point, it became obvious that they needed to call a halt to the somewhat overdone gestures. Philip suggested that they should give the pike to the knight who they thought had truly fought the best during the tournament, and he recommended William Marshal. The other nobles agreed, and they sent a squire holding the pike before him and accompanied by two knights to find Marshal. Having searched everywhere for Marshal, they finally found him with his head in his helmet on the anvil of the blacksmith. Marshal's helmet had apparently received so many blows during the tournament that it had to be hammered back into shape before it could be removed from his head. Once free of his helmet, Marshal received the pike as the accolade for the best warrior on the field of that tournament with the required amount of humility.
At another tournament in 1177 at Eu, a Flemish knight Matthew de Walincourt had his horse taken by Marshal; Matthew went to young Henry and asked that his horse be returned to him as a gesture of largesse. Henry ordered Marshal to return the horse, which Marshal did. During this tournament or at another one held at this same place, Marshal personally took ten knights and twelve horses in ransoms and booty. Marshal was quickly increasing his wealth and reputation on the tournament field, but apparently not even the young king desired to attend all of the tournaments on the continent since there could be one every two weeks. The young Henry allowed Marshal and another knight of Henry's mesnie household, Roger de Gaugi, to form a partnership and attend any and all tourneys. Marshal and Roger agreed to split all the booty and ransoms they might take in the tournaments they attended as partners. Wigain, the young Henry's clerk, recorded that Marshal and Roger took one hundred and three knights in ransoms and booty in just one ten month period.
At a tournament at Jogni in the Seine valley is recorded one of only two instances where ladies are mentioned in the entire Histoire as being present at a tournament; during this time period, women were not spectators of tournaments because it was too dangerous for any bystander in the melee. Marshal and Roger had armed themselves at the castle with the company they had joined for that day, and all arrived at the tournament field before their opponents. The men were joined by the countess of Jogni and her ladies, and while waiting for their opponents to arrive, the knights and ladies danced to a song sung by Marshal. This must have been a rare sight to see ladies dancing with knights already dressed in their hauberks for combat. After Marshal's song, a young minstrel sang a song of his own composition that included the refrain, "Marshal give me a good horse." When a mounted knight of the opposition appeared, Marshal mounted his charger, unhorsed the knight, and gave the defeated knight's horse to the minstrel. During this tournament, or another held at the same place (dates are not often given for all tournaments in the Histoire), Marshal gave all his earnings to be divided between the knights that had to be ransomed and the knights who had taken the Crusader's vow.
During the year of 1179 there were three great tournaments held in the region of Dreux and Chartres. Marshal and de Gaugi had dissolved their partnership and returned to the young Henry's household. At one tournament held in the valley of the Eure, Marshal led the young Henry's mesnie while Henry remained at home. When Marshal arrived, the tournament had already begun and the French were winning. Marshal and his company immediately joined the combat and turned the tide. Marshal discovered a group of the French company who were taking refuge on an old motte; they had left their horses outside of the enclosure. Marshal immediately dismounted his charger, crossed the moat, took two of the French warhorses, and brought them back across the moat. As Marshal was coming back, two French knights saw Marshal and realizing that he was at a disadvantage, took the horses from Marshal. Marshal recognized the knights, but for the moment could do nothing to defend his booty. Marshal remounted his charger and continued across the combat field. Marshal soon came upon another group of fifteen French knights being besieged by a larger group of English knights. When the French knights saw Marshal, they offered to surrender to him. This annoyed the besieging party who were technically Marshal's companions in this tournament, but no one wished to challenge Marshal for the fifteen French knights. Marshal took the Frenchmen and escorted them to safety, refusing to take ransom for them.
After the tournament, Marshal went in search of the lords of the two French knights who had taken Marshal's first prizes. Marshal went first to the Frenchman William des Barres and told him of his nephew's role in stealing Marshal's horses. William des Barres ordered his nephew to return Marshal's horse or leave his household. It was suggested that Marshal give the nephew one-half of the horse as a gesture of largesse and then throw dice to see who won the whole horse. Marshal agreed, and the nephew threw a nine. Marshal threw an eleven and immediately left with one whole horse. At the quarters of the other French baron whose household knight had taken Marshal's other prize horse, that knight suggested that he be given half the horse as another gesture of largesse and then whoever could pay the value of the other half of the horse could have him. Marshal agreed and asked the price of the horse; the knight thinking that Marshal had no coins with him, set the price at fourteen pounds. Marshal tossed seven pounds on the table and walked off with a warhorse worth at least forty pounds.
There is a record of a grand tournament held at Lagni in the Histoire, but the date is not given. It might possibly be the tournament given by Henry count of Champagne on the coronation of his nephew Philip, son of Louis VII of France. Philip was crowned heir to king Louis VII by his uncle Archbishop William in the cathedral at Rheims on All Saints Day (November 1) 1179. Henry count of Champagne held a tournament at Lagni-sur-Marne to celebrate the occasion. On the day of this tournament a truly magnificent gathering of nobles and knights appeared. The duke of Burgundy and his household, Robert count of Dreux, David earl of Huntingdon and brother of the King of Scotland, the counts of Eu and Soissons, Henry count of Champagne, count Philip of Flanders, Theobald count of Blois, plus some thirteen other counts, the young king Henry, and several hundred ordinary knights appeared in all their glory. Young Henry arrived with at least eighty-six knights of whom sixteen were bannerets with mesnies of their own. During this tournament Marshal had to twice rescue the young Henry from capture, and the young king's brother, Geoffrey of Brittany, proved himself to be a skillful tourneyer. The Histoire recounts that many lances were broken and blows struck, and vast acres of vineyard were destroyed under the hooves of the warhorses charging over the ground. This must have been one of the most outstanding spectacles of the time and one of the most splendid tournaments ever held in the 1100s.
This tournament at Lagni gives evidence of a second purpose and value that all tournaments of this time served. Many of the men at this tournament would find themselves either fighting with or against each other within less than three years. The tournaments not only provided the training ground for all the skills necessary to a medieval knight in warfare, but they also engendered a sense of common values, customs, and practices that these men would display and employ on both fields of combat, war and tournament. In their society where honour and reputation were as important as wealth and status and where shame and reproach were abhorred and feared, these warrior-knights were bound by the same significant ties and strictures of chivalry whether they were companions or opponents. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the melee tournaments of the 1100s produced the ethic of chivalry that placed some of the restrictions on the barbarity that could rule medieval warfare. They were the training ground for the warrior, and yet they also instilled and imposed customs and rules that set parameters for what was acceptable in actual warfare. It is perhaps one of the most difficult realities of medieval life for today's world to understand and comprehend. That not only a man's own value and opinion of himself, but the value and opinion of his own contemporaries were standards against which he measured and ruled himself. The highest and most difficult measures a knight had to meet were those of honour and knightly prowess; his physical abilities and skills had to be met equally with his sense and practice of what was honourable behavior for a medieval knight.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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