William Marshal’s checkered legacy

The reign of King Henry III began on this day of the 28th of October in 1216. Just a nine-year-old boy at the time, he was knighted by William Marshal, the most prominent baron in attendance, and then crowned in Gloucester under the authority of the papal legate Guala Biaccheri. The next day Ranulf de Blondeville, the earl of Chester, arrived. He was the only baron who rivalled Marshal in prestige and wealth, and at 46 he did not endlessly complain about his health and age the way the 72-year old Marshal did. Marshal did not want to become regent for the young king, but was pressured into accepting it and Ranulf deferred to him out of respect.

In retrospect, it was a bad decision. The war against the French invaders was won nine months later, but Marshal not only allowed Crown Prince Louis to go back to France, but paid him to do so. Marshal was worried that if Louis were captured and ransomed, his father King Philip would seize the Marshal lands in Normandy. Marshal’s concern for the inheritance of his many children led him to look after his own interests instead of Henry’s. Ranulf, on the other hand, had no children to provide for and he despised the intrigues against foreign-born courtiers that came to dominate the regency council and led Marshal’s son Richard into a disastrous rebellion against Henry.

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