The Office of Marshal

The Marshal was originally an officer of the king’s household, the 'marechal', that is the head groom, the individual who was in charge of the king’s stables acting under the direction of the constable, or the 'count of the stable' - an office very likely imported into England by the Normans in emulation of the marescalci, the masters of the horse of the early Frankish kings.

Within the feudal or early medieval estate, the position of master of the king's horse was an office of some authority and power and the office of Marshal of England accordingly became one of the nine Great Offices of State. The Marshal's main job was to maintain the muster roll of the knights of the kingdom and summon them into battle when the need arose, thus effectively making the Marshal the leader of the feudal host and commander of the king's cavalry.

Since the Marshal assumed military command, he naturally also assumed responsibility over questions of military disclipline; maintaining order between the assembled knights both in time of war and at court in times of peace and deciding on questions of chivalry. This particular duty was formalised during the reign of Edward III who established the Court of Chivalry, where the Marshal and Constable of England acted as joint judges over criminal matters and the Marshal himself adjudicated over questions of heraldry and the use of arms.

The military aspects of the role became less important over time and were essentially eliminated by the reforms of the Tudors, and the office of Marshal is now almost entirely ceremonial. He accompanies the sovereign during the formal opening and closing of Parliament, and is responsible for organising such events as coronations, state funerals and royal weddings. He is also the head of the College of Arms and is responsible for appointment of the various heraldic officials.

The office of Marshal of England was was generally, but not exclusively, an hereditary title, lying first of all with the Marshal family (whose surname was naturally derived from the office itself) and later passing to the Bigod, Mowbray and Howard families.

Earl Marshal and Marshal of England

Although it is the office of Marshal of England its holders were often more generally known by the title of 'Earl Marshal'; although the early holders of the office (particularly those that were not earls to begin with) never used the title. It was the later Bigod Marshals that first began to style themselves as 'Earl Marshal' and with the appointment of Thomas of Brotherton to the office of Marshal of England in 1385 he was formally granted the right to use the title of 'Earl Marshal' in the subsequent year.

Since all of the subsequent holders of the office has been earls, the title 'Earl Marshal' and the office of 'Marshal of England' have generally regarded as being synonymous, although a technical distinction remains between the office itself and the style of 'Earl Marshal', either granted to or assumed by the officeholder. Circumstances have arisen, as with the case of Thomas Mowbray in 1399, where one individal was styled 'Earl Marshal' whilst another assumed the actual office of 'Marshal of England'.

Generally speaking most of the appointments seem to have been of the nature of a 'double creation' with the grantees being awarded both the title of Earl Marshal and the office of Marshal of England, sometimes styles as Grand or Great Marshal of England. The Howard Dukes of Norfolk, who have held the office as of hereditary right since 1672 were specifically granted the title and office of 'Earl Marshal of England', combining the two designations into one, but the present incumbent the Duke of Norfolk follows the older tradition of describing himself as both 'Earl Marshal' and Hereditary 'Marshal of England'.


Marshal to Bigod

The first Marshal of England was a gentleman by the name of Gilbert who appears during the reign of Henry I. Gilbert, or Gilbert le Marechal as perhaps he should be called, is sometimes mistaken for a Gilbert de Clare thereby giving rise to the spurious notion in some quarters that the office was held by the de Clare family.

This Gilbert was followed by his son John, who took the name of John Fitz Gilbert le Marechal and is therefore also known as 'John le Marechal' and 'John the Marshal', and it is he who secured the office as hereditary. When John Fitz Gilbert died in either 1164 or 1165, it is possible that his eldest son Gilbert Marshal may have succeeded as his date of death is also given as 1165 and he may therefore have outlived his father. But there appears no record of this Gilbert having held the office and it is therefore generally assumed that he did not succeed.

John Fitz Gilbert was certainly succeeded by his son John Marshal who was Marshal until his death in 1194. He left no sons and the office of Marshall together with the family estates passed to his younger brother William Marshal. As it happens William Marshal had already made his mark on the world, having served in the household of the young Prince Henry (son and heir of Henry II) before his untimely death in 1184, and been rewarded with the hand of the heiress Isabel de Clare, which brought him considerable wealth and the title Earl of Pembroke.

William Marshal became, thanks to both his wealth and his incorruptible sense of honour very much the leading magnate in the Anglo-Norman world, ending a long career of service to the crown when he was chosen to act as Regent during the troubled years of Henry III's minority. The growth of William Marshal's personal power and influence was mirrored in the growth of the stature of the office of Marshal; towards the end of his life he was known as the 'Grand Marshal of England', and the office of Marshal was seen as being equal to, rather than subordinate to that of the Constable of England.

After William Marshal's death in 1219, each of his five sons succeeded to the office in turn until the death of Anselm Marshal, the last of the Marshals in 1246. The Marshal estates and titles fell therefore to be distributed amongst each of William Marshall's five daughters as co-heiresses.

One Hugh Bigod, who was Earl of Norfolk had married Maud Marshal, the eldest of the five daughters and in the subsequent division of the spoils it was to the Bigod family that the office of Marshal of England was given. Accordingly it was Roger Bigod, 4th Earl of Norfolk son of the aforementioned Hugh Bigod and Maud Marshal who became Marshal of England after the death of Anselm Marshal.

From Roger Bigod the 4th Earl the office passed to his son, Roger Bigod the 5th Earl, but with the death of the 5th Earl in 1306 the line of Bigods ran out and the office of Marshal (together with the title Earl of Norfolk) reverted to the crown. (Roger Bigod made Edward I his heir in any case) But although the Bigod tenure of the office was comparatively short it established the connection of the office of Marshal with Norfolk which has been a recurring feature ever since.

The reigns of Edward II, Edward III and Richard II

Edward I himself was succeeded by Edward II in 1307 and the office of Marshal was granted to Robert de Clifford for a few months in 1307 and later to Nicholas Seagrave in 1308. (In the absence of any evidence to the contrary it appears that Nicholas Seagrave continued as Marshal until 1315.)

On the 10th February 1315 Edward II granted the office of Marshal of England to his younger half-brother, Thomas of Brotherton, the Earl of Norfolk and made it hereditary. Unfortunately Thomas of Brotherton died in August 1338; his only daughter and heiress Margaret became the Countess of Norfolk and was also permitted to style herself as 'Marshal of England'. This however, was merely a courtesy title and had nothing to do with the office itself, to which appointments continued to be made throughout the Margaret's life. (She died in 1399.)

Edward III (king since 1327) consequently made a succession of appointments; first there was William Montague, the 1st Earl of Sailsbury who held the office until his death in 1344, secondly Thomas de Beauchamp, the 3rd Earl of Warwick who was Marshal until his death on the 13th November 1369 and lastly, Edmund Mortimer the 3rd Earl of March who was Marshal until the accession of Richard II in 1377.

Richard II appointed Henry Percy as Marshal of England, but he seems to have held the office only for the purposes of the coronation of 1377 and was replaced later that same year by John Fitzalan until he drowned in the Irish Sea in 1379. Thomas Holland, the 3rd Earl of Kent was the next appointment in 1380, and served as Marshal until 1385. He was followed by Edward Courtenay, the 3rd Earl of Devon for a few months, before Richard II decided to create Thomas de Mowbray as Marshal of England for life.

In the following year Richard II made the office hereditary and further granted Thomas Mowbray the formal right to use the title 'Earl Marshal' - arguably making Thomas the first 'Earl Marshal'. Thomas Mowbray was however exiled in 1398 and all his offices were were declared forfeit. His office of Marshal of England was granted to Thomas Holland, the 3rd Earl of Kent, and son of the previous Thomas Holland who had held the office between 1380 and 1385, together with the title Duke of Surrey.

The Reigns of Henry IV and Henry V

Thomas Mowbray died in exile at Venice in the September of 1399 and was followed by his eldest son, Thomas Mowbray. After the execution of Thomas Holland in 1399, this second Thomas Mowbray was allowed to inherit the title of Earl Marshal, which he continued to hold until his execution for treason at York in 1405. But Thomas Mowbray did not hold the office of Marshal of England, which was granted to Richard Neville, the Earl of Westmorland.

Richard Neville died in 1412 at which point the Mowbrays appear to have revived their claim to the office, and the titular Earl Marshal in the form of John Mowbray, later the 2nd Duke of Norfolk, became Marshall of England. The subsequent Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk were similarly appointed until 1476, when the 4th Mowbray Duke died without male heirs.

With the extinction of the Mowbray line, the title of Duke of Norfolk and the office of Marshal were amongst the honours bestowed by Edward IV on his younger son Richard Plantagenet in 1476. Following the death of Edward IV in 1483 his elder son became Edward V, only to have the crown taken from him by his uncle Richard III. When Richard became king, he turned to one of his most ardent supporters, John Howard and appointed him as Duke of Norfolk and Marshal of England in the June of 1483, by which time it must be assumed that his nephew Richard was dead.

This John Howard was later killed at the battle of Bosworth in August 1485 along with king Richard himself.

The reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII

Henry Tudor, the victor of the battle of Bosworth created William Berkeley, the 1st Earl of Nottingham as Earl Marshal and Great Marshal of England in 1486. This appointment was also an hereditary creation, but as William Berkeley died without issue in 1497, nothing really came of it, and on William's death Henry VII created his infant son Henry, later Henry VIII as Marshal.

Of course the office of Marshal merged with the crown on the accession of Henry to the throne as Henry VIII in 1509 and the following year he appointed Thomas Howard, son of the John Howard killed at Bosworth, who was the Earl of Surrey at the time. Thomas Howard was later restored as Duke of Norfolk in 1514, and succeeded in that title by his son, another Thomas Howard in 1524, who was also appointed to the office of Marshal in 1533.

This Thomas Howard the 3rd Duke of Norfolk was imprisoned in 1547 and his honours declared forfeit and he only escaped execution because Henry VIII died before the execution warrants could be signed.

The reigns of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I

With the death of Henry VIII his young son Edward VI became king. During Edward's the office of Marshal was held; firstly by Edward Seymour, the 1st Duke of Somerset until his execution in 1551; and secondly by John Dudley, the 1st Duke of Northumberland until his execution in 1553, shortly after the death of the young king Edward himself. Although both of the gentlemen in question were technically appointed by the king, it would be accurate to say that both gentlemen appointed themselves when they gained control of the government of the kingdom.

Edward was of course, succeeded by his half sister Mary who released the imprisoned Thomas Howard from captivity and restored him to his previous position as both Duke of Norfolk and Marshal. Thomas died the following year, and his son another Thomas Howard succeeded as the 4th Duke of Norfolk and was duly re-appointed to his father's office of Marshal of England.

Thomas Howard the 4th Duke, continued to serve Mary's successor Elizabeth until ambition got the better of him and he was executed for treason on the 2nd June 1572. Thereafter Elizabeth departed from tradition and appointed firstly George Talbot the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, and secondly Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex as Marshals. Robert Devereux was executed for high treason on the 25th February 1601, after which the office of Marshal was allowed to fall vacant for the remainder of Elizabeth's reign.

The reigns of James I and Charles I

After the death of Elizabeth in 1603, James I became the first Stuart king of England. He appointed Edward Somerset, the 4th Earl of Worcester as Marshal but only for the purposes of the coronation of 1603, after which the office again fell vacant.

It was not until 1621 that the vacancy was filled when James I returned to the Howard family and on the 29th August 1621 granted to Thomas Howard the Earl of Arundel, Surrey, and Norfolk, the office of Marshal for life. His son Charles I similarly granted the title of Earl Marshal and the office of Marshal of England to Henry Frederick Howard, son and successor to Thomas Howard.

By the time Henry Frederick Howard died in 1652, Charles I had been dead for almost three years and the country was essentially a republic and felt no need of a Marshal, earl or otherwise, and the office once again fell vacant.

After the Restoration

With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 it was necessary to appoint an Earl Marshal to preside over the coronation ceremenony and the choice fell upon James Howard, the 3rd Earl of Suffolk, representing a junior branch of the Howard family. Whilst he relinquished the office once the business of the coronation was concluded, the main branch of the Howard family, now restored to their dukedom of Norfolk were were eager to regain the office of Marshal.

In the year 1672 the Howards finally got their wish. But Charles II felt unable to grant the dignity of Marshal to the Thomas Howard whom he had restored to the dukedom of Norfolk in 1660 (becoming the 5th Howard Duke of Norfolk), for the simple reason that Thomas Howard was mentally incompetent at the time. Charles therefore turned to his brother and heir Henry Howard and created him Earl of Norwich by Letters patent issued on the 19th October 1672, and additionally, after noting that "the ancient and great office of Marshal of England has been too long vacant", also granted to him "the Name, Style, Title, Rank, Authority, Jurisdiction, Dignity, and Honour of Earl Marshal of England".

The office of Marshal of England together with the title Earl Marshal has thereafter resided with the Howard family. Although since the Howards have generally inclined towards being Roman Catholics, they were for many years prevented from actually carrying out the duties of the office itself, and therefore relied on deputies. Such discrimination has long since been abandoned and the Howards have been free to take matters into their own hands.

The current Marshal is Edward William Fitzalan-Howard, the 18th Duke of Norfolk.


Main hereditary creations are prefaced by the family name;
other creations for life or a fixed period time listed under the monarch who made the appointment.



Appointments by Edward II


Creation of 1315

Appointed by Edward III

Appointed by Richard II


Creation of 1386, title forfeit in 1398

Appointed by Richard II

MOWBRAY (restored) Creation of 1386, title of Earl Marshal restored in 1399

Appointed by Henry IV

Appointed by Henry V

Appointed by Edward IV

Appointed by Richard III

Appointed by Henry VII

Appointed by Henry VIII

Appointed by Edward VI

Appointed by Mary I

Appointed by Elizabeth I

Appointed by James I

Appointed by Charles I

Appointed by Charles II


Creation of 1672


Information on the Marshal family comes from articles posted by Catherine Armistrong on the Castles of Wales Web Site see

Other sources used included:

  • Royal Genealogy information held at University of Hull see
  • RoyaList Online at
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
as well as generally googling around for references to Earl Marshal and/or Marshal of England.

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