When he died on 4 May in 1219, he had gone from being a lowly noble with no lands, fame or fortune to become The Marshal, an advisor to four kings who was now running England on behalf on the infant king, Henry III.
Born of an obscure knightly family, Marshal's abilities on the tournament field and on the battlefield, combined with his political acumen, allowed him to rise through the ranks of the nobility.
He served as a confidante of Henry II, and ran the military household of Henry 'the Young King', Henry II's eldest son, helping him to victory after victory on the tournament field.
William was often at the heart of the conflicts within the Plantagenet family, where brother was pitted against brother and the sons of Henry II rebelled against their father. On the Young King's death, William entered the service of Henry II and continued to serve Henry's sons Richard and John as a political advisor and military commander.
In 1189 Richard the Lionheart gave William the hand of Isabelle de Clare, the daughter of Earl Richard de Clare, known as 'Strongbow', by which he gained the powerful Earldoms of Pembroke and Striguil (modern-day Chepstow) and the lordship of Leinster in Ireland.
As the son of a minor nobleman Marshal had started out with nothing, but he was now one of the wealthiest and most powerful noblemen in England.
Among many others, he gained the castles of Chepstow and Goodrich, updating the former by building the current main gatehouse, where the great wooden gates still survive, and rebuilding the eastern curtain wall, where added two projecting round towers that enabled flanking fire along the length of the wall, some of the first of their kind in England.
On Richard's death, William supported the accession of King John, staying loyal to that unpopular king throughout the so-called Barons' Wars - the conflict that resulted in the creation of Magna Carta.
On John’s death in 1216, Marshal, now 70, was appointed regent and protector of John's infant son Henry III, making him effectively the ruler of England. For three years he pursued a policy of stability and reconciliation.
In 1219, as he lay dying, the Marshal was invested into the Order of the Knights Templar, his titles and lands passing to his son, also William.
He was buried in the Temple church in London, where his effigy still lies. His lands and his castles passed down through his sons, none of whom had heirs, before being divided between the Marshal's five daughters. Chepstow became the holdings of the Bigod family, Earls of Norfolk, whilst Goodrich continued to be held by the Earls of Pembroke, eventually coming into the hands of William de Valence, who completely rebuilt it.
Want to find out more? Join our small-group tour to explore the Wye Valley Castles of the Marcher Earls, including the clifftop fortress of Chepstow Castle and elegant Goodrich Castle.
Led by historian Dr Robert W. Jones, you’ll follow the traditional border on Wales and England, along the Rivers Wye and Monnow, to visit the stone symbols of lordships and status that were built by the Marcher Earls of Pembroke and Hereford as statements of England’s domination over its neighbour.
The Wye Valley Castles of the Marcher Earls
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SEE THE TOUR DETAILS
Picture credit: The tomb of William Marshal, 1st_Earl of Pembroke, by Kjetilbjørnsrud, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons