3rd Earl of Pembroke (1231-1234)
Marshal of England (1231-1234)
Born 1194 Died 1234
Richard Marshal was born at Pembroke, Wales about the year 1194, the son of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke and his wife Isabel de Clare. Richard was the second son and therefore, whereas his older brother William was to inherit the title Earl of Pembroke and bulk of the various and extensive family landholdings following the death of the elder William Marshal in 1219, Richard had to be content with receiving the former Giffard lands of Orbec and Longueville in Normandy as his share.
He was later to marry Gervaise the daughter of Alan de Dinan, from which marriage he received the lordship of Dinan and the title of Viscount of Rohan in Brittany. So although Richard also held some land in England he spent most of his time between the years 1220 and 1231 administering his lands and castles in northern France.
It was whilst he was in France that Richard received the news that his brother William had died. This was somewhat unexpected and the cause of William's death has never been entirely clear (although foul play and poisoning were suspected) and since William was childless Richard was his heir and returned to England in the July of 1231 to pay his respects to king Henry III and be formally invested with his new lands and title.1
Now Earl of Pembroke and Marshal of England, Richard spent time in Ireland from November 1231 to June 1232, but then returned to England, meeting with Henry at Worcester to sort out the arrangements regarding the property of his brother's widow Eleanor (who also happened to be Henry's sister, hence his keen interest in the matter).
"strife arose between Henry, king of England, and Richard Marshall, earl of Pembroke"
Brut y Tywysogion
In order to understand what happened next it is necessary to appreciate some of the political background.
When Henry III succeeded to the throne in 1216 he was only nine years old and therefore the governance of the kingdom was in the hand of regents. The first of these had been none other than Richard's father William, who had served in that capacity until his death in 1219, after which one Hubert de Burgh had taken up the task.
As Henry III came of age and took the government into his own hands he became annoyed at the restrictions placed upon him by the 'Great Charter', the so-called Magna Carta signed by his father John in 1215, and reissued in his own name during his minority in 1216 and 1217. Henry in particular resented the way in which the English barons had come to expect a say in matters of government and began to import French advisors and ministers to assist him in establishing his personal authority over the realm.
Henry therefore became increasingly under the influence of the Poitevin2 faction led by one Peter des Roches the bishop of Winchester. At the time, Hubert de Burgh, the former regent, remained a significant figure in the administration but was summarily dismissed in the 29th July 1232 and was later accused of a long list of crimes including, inter alia, murder, treason and failing to keep proper accounts3. As Richard came forward to defend Hubert he naturally attracted the animosity of the Poitevins and became himself a target.
Richard Marshall, and we should not forget that he was Marshal of England, and therefore a person of some note and authority in the kingdom,
therefore found himself as the leader of the Anti-Poitevin faction in England.
In July 1233, Peter des Roches seized control of the lands of Gilbert Basset and Richard Siward, two of Richard’s strongest supporters, and gave them to his own son Peter des Rievaux. This naturally annoyed Richard who threatened to go to war over the matter.
Henry III decided to call a conference to settle the dispute at Westminster in July 1233, but unfortunately no one came. So Henry decided to try again this time at Gloucester in August. Richard was dutifully on his way when he was met by his sister Isabel at Woodstock who warned him not to go as Peter des Roches had laid a trap for him.
Although we are not told the nature of this trap, Richard was sufficiently alarmed to decide against Gloucester and returned home to Pembroke. When Richard failed to appear at Gloucester on the 14th August, Henry III stripped him of the title of Marshal of England and declared him a traitor.
Richard and Llywelyn
Meanwhile in Wales, the power and influence of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, ruler of Gwynedd from 1198 had become an increasing threat to the Marshal lands in the south-west. Open warfare had earlier broken out between the younger William Marshal and Llywelyn as the later attempted to extend his influence in the south-west. Richard, after his assumption of the lands and title of Pembroke in 1231, was no different, and during the early months of 1233 was similarly engaged in conflict with Llywelyn.
Of course once Richard had been declared a traitor by Henry III in the August of 1233 everything changed. Llywelyn ap Iorwerth and his Welsh allies ceased to be mortal enemies and instead a became a potential source of support against an overbearing monarch. The failure of a final conference at Westminster in early October to heal the breach between king and subject quickly led to open rebellion.
As the Welsh 'Chronicle of the Princes', the Brut y Tywysogion relates, "And the earl made a solemn pact and agreement with the Lord Llywelyn and with the Welsh". So in the late autumn of 1233 Richard Marshall joined forces with Owain ap Gruffudd4, one of the Welsh lords of Deheubarth and one of Llywelyn's key allies, and raided the south-east and devastated large sections of Glamorgan and Gwent taking, as the Brut records, the castles of Cardiff, Abergavenny, Pencelli, Blaenllynfi, Bwlchydinas before adding "and they destroyed them all except Cardiff".
Henry III countered by raising an army of his own and marching up the Wye Valley but was defeated by the new Anglo-Welsh alliance just outside of Monmouth in November 1233. In January 1234, Richard Marshal defeated another royal army led by John of Monmouth before joining with Llywelyn in an attack on Shrewsbury when they burnt and looted the town.
Henry was naturally a little annoyed, not only because of the open defiance of Richard Marshal, but the fact that such defiance had been successful and resolved that he would only forgive Richard Marshal on condition that he threw himself on the royal mercy as a confessed traitor with a rope around his neck.
The end of Richard Marshal
The alliance between Richard and Llywelyn forged a potent threat to the authority of the king and in particular the Poitevin faction
In his determination to bring down Richard Marshal, Peter des Roches therefore resorted to a cunning plan, to whit that he decided to encourage certain Norman barons in Ireland to attack Richard's Irish castles and lands. This was achieved by means of procuring certain royal writs that declared that whomsoever either killed or captured Richard would thereby acquire his lands in Ireland. By means of this open bribe, the de Lacy family and others were persuaded to seize hold of whichever of Richard's possessions they could get hold of.
Therefore in the February of 1234 Richard hurriedly left Wales for Ireland in the company of fifteen loyal knights to set about the business of defending his lands there. Richard made some considerable headway and succeeded in recapturing Limerick and recovering a number of his own castles. Hence his opponents requested a truce and a conference to discuss terms was arranged for the 1st April 1234 on the Curragh of Kildare.
At this point in our story there enters a character named Geoffrey Marsh also known as Geoffrey de Marisco, who despite being one of Richard's vassals was, it seems, working for the opposition. Although Richard was keen to agree terms with his enemies, Geoffrey Marsh encouraged him to take a harsher line and simply demand the return of his castles and lands. By this means Geoffrey engineered a pretext for the de Lacy's to violate the truce and attack Richard with a force of over a hundred men.
According to Roger of Wendover Richard's response to this turn of events was to announce that,
I am well aware that I am doomed to die this day, but it is better for me to die with honour in the cause of justice than to incur the reproach of my fellow knights for cowardice
and proceed to fight off his assailants with the aid of the few loyal men he had with him.
As it happens his attackers had a difficult job in besting Richard and in the end fell to hacking away at the legs of his horse until he was thrown to the ground and then stabbed him in the back before he had a chance to get to his feet.
Thus severely wounded Richard was taken to nearby Kilkenny castle where to his opponents surprise he began to show signs of recovering. A surgeon was called, who either by incompetence or design, cauterized Richard’s wounds so badly that he is condition rapidly deteriorated and he quickly died on the 16th April 1234. Richard's body was hurriedly buried in the nearby Franciscan abbey at Kilkenny before any of his friends or family had an opportunity to examine his corpse.
Whilst Richard was lying injured in Kilkenny castle events had moved on in England. A new Archbishop of Canterbury, one Edmund Rich also known as Edmund of Abingdon, had taken office and was keen to bring all this internal strife to an end. Edmund succeeded in removing the Poitevins from office by the simple expedient of threatening to excommunicate Henry III if he refused. He also succeeded in negotiating a truce with Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. Ironically if Richard had managed to survive another month or two he might well have been able to make his peace with king Henry.
There has been a long established tradition that Richard Marshal was betrayed by his followers in Ireland, but more contemporary historians dispute this and claim that as records show that all the leading vassals of Richard Marshal were later forced to pay large fines before being allowed to retain their lands, and that this necessarily means that they supported him in his revolt and did not therefore 'betray' him.
Despite his early and untimely death Richard Marshal was a man who clearly made an impression on his contemporaries and one chronicle was fullsome in its praise for him;
Richard was a man endowed with all honourable qualities, distinguished for his noble birth, well-endowed in liberal arts, most vigorous in the exercise of arms, and one who kept God before his eyes in all his works(Annales Monastici)
From the point of view of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth the alliance with Richard Marshal promised a great deal and his early death was a disappointment. Richard's activities serve as an illustration of the power of the Marcher Lords, and how their ability to commandeer military resources from their Marcher domains made them a potent threat to the English crown.
1 Roger of Wendover wrote that Henry III tried to deny Richard’s rights to his inherited lands, titles, and offices on the advice of Hubert de Burgh, and that Richard used the threat of military force to compel Henry III to change his mind. Most modern commentators doubt this tale.
2 That is Poitevin as in 'from Poitou' in France.
3 Oddly enough, one of the crimes with which Hubert de Burgh was accused, was the poisoning of Richard's elder brother William Marshal.
4 This Owain ap Gruffudd was a grandson of Rhys ap Gruffudd, former ruler of Deheubarth.
- Brut y Tywysogion
- Catherine Armstrong The Children of William Marshal and Isabel de Clare (1999)http://www.castlewales.com/mar_chld.html
- Dennis Walsh Barony of Knocktopher
- Maurice Powicke The Thirteenth Century (OUP, 1962)