By this time Richard, the earl of Cornwall, had also married into the Marshal clan. William’s sister Isabella was the widow of the earl of Gloucester, another powerful family. By marrying Isabella, Richard became stepfather to her 10-year-old son, Richard de Clare, later one of the leaders of the reform movement. Henry had objected to that marriage on the grounds that he had a better match for his brother. The new leader of the Marshals, another Richard, was inclined to think the objections came from the king’s foreign advisers, who were steadily encroaching on the authority of the magnates. Taking up arms, Richard Marshal was killed in an ambush, which forced Henry to finally purge his court of the aliens. One alien who survived the struggle was Simon, in part because he came from an entirely different background than the others, who were mostly churchmen from the province of Poitou. It also helped that Henry had finally settled on a bride for himself, and marriage into her family would result in a fresh batch of aliens swarming to England.
The Leicester holdings, it turned out, generated little income to cover the debts Simon had incurred to recover them. Ever the mercenary, he cast his eyes on two rich widows on the continent and nearly snared the second one before the French court stepped in and sent him packing back to England. He was nevertheless making a name for himself at Henry’s court, where the outbreak of a power struggle coincided with his arrival. The king had supplanted his native council with aliens, creating widespread discontent and a minor rebellion by the influential Marshal clan of Pembroke. Henry had tried to win over the Marshals by marrying his 10-year-old sister Eleanor to 35-year-old William, the head of the clan. The marriage was contracted despite grumblings from the magnates. They were opposed to matches between royals and commoners on principle and princesses always made excellent bargaining chips in diplomacy. Eleanor had no more come of age when her husband died unexpectedly. Distraught, she took a vow of chastity, an impulsive act she would regret after meeting the handsome young Frenchman at court.