Holden, Anthony, ed. and trans.; Crouch, David, ed.; Gregory, Stewart, ed. and trans., History of William Marshal (3 vols, London: Anglo-Norman Text Society)
Text name(s): History of William Marshal; L'Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal
Number of pages of primary source text: 972
Dates: 1146 - 1219
Archival Reference: Pierpont Morgan M.888
- Translated into English.
- Original language included.
Translation Comments: Anglo-Norman French on the left side, modern English on the right
- British Isles
- Literature - Verse
- Chronicle Annals
- War - Military History
- War - Chivalry
- Royalty / Monarchs
- Nobility / Gentry
- Military Orders
History of William Marshal is a chivalric biography written in verse about a twelfth-century English knight. This text is one of the most commonly used sources when trying to understand twelfth-century nobility and tourneying. It provides insight to the daily life of a knight as well as information on high medieval political relationships and the events of the reigns of Kings Henry II, Richard I, John, and Henry III of England.
The poem, entitled L’Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal in the original Anglo-French, details the life of William Marshal, a landless knight who rose through the ranks through his prowess in the tournament. William eventually served four English kings: Henry II, Richard I, John, and Henry III, for whom he was regent at King John’s death. By Marshal’s own death at the age of 72, he held the lordships of Striguil in England and Wales and Longueville in Normandy, as well as the earldom of Pembroke, which he inherited, along with some lands in Ireland, through his marriage to Isabel de Clare.
William Marshal’s son, also named William Marshal, commissioned the work to be written in honor of his father. This poem, taken mostly from the account of Marshal’s squire, John of Earley, was composed by another man that was only known as “John.” The authors believe these are two separate Johns because of the way the original poet addressed John of Earley and the prevalence of the name John in the twelfth century.
This work, along with its apparatus, is divided among three volumes. The first two volumes hold the text itself, with the original Anglo-French on the left and the modern English translation on the right. The third volume includes the introduction, a select bibliography, textual and historical notes, a glossary for the Anglo-French terms, and separate indexes of place names and persons’ names.
The introduction (41 pp.) is divided it into two parts: a textual introduction and an historical introduction. The textual introduction, written by A. J. Holden, begins with a look at the poem, author, and sources for The History of William Marshal. It then goes on to detail the only extant manuscript of this work, located at the Pierpont Morgan Library. The introduction subsequently “establishes” the text, discussing the various difficulties of the text, particularly in terms of the meter and how the author may have varied his method. The final portion of the textual introduction looks at language, breaking down versification, syllable count, phonology, morphology, syntax, and orthography. Holden concludes by saying that the dialect of the author was that of Touraine or Anjou, while the scribe was likely Anglo-Norman.
The historical introduction, written by David Crouch, begins with dating the manuscript, detailing the work of Paul Meyer, who dated the text to 1219-1226 based on internal evidence. There is then a lengthy discussion of the sources for the poem, mostly speculating where the author gained his knowledge. Finally, Crouch assesses the historical value of the text, arguing that this text is a credible witness to the events detailed within it.