Having watched the Timewatch programme on William Marshal on January 19th, or rather a sketchy account of William Marshal's career as a tourney knight, I was surprised that not more was said about his horses. Without a horse (or three) a nobleman making his way in the tourneys was somewhat stumped after all.
I thought I'd fill in a few gaps left by the programme and post a little bit about William's horses as described in the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, with a few introductory comments and observations.
William's family were royal Marshal's, hence the name. It derives from Marescallus, roughly translating as Horsemaster and way, way back they were head stable boys. By the beginning of the twelfth century, The Marshal was the Constable's deputy and his job was still fairly hands on and more wide ranging by this time than stable duties. He had such tasks as keeping order around the King's person and checking via his subordinate ushers, those who were admitted into the royal presence - you might say his department supplied the doormen and bouncers of the Middle Ages! He was responsible for getting the show on the road when the court moved from one place to the other. The Marshal had to hire the carts and arrange for accommodation at the arrival end of matters. He was responsible for the kennels, the mews - and the stables of course, where his career originally started. Each lord's son who was knighted by the king, was expected to pay the Marshal some sort of horsey due, depending on purse and status. The fee might be anything from a saddle to a palfrey (a high status riding horse). In times of war, the Marshal was also due any pied (black and white) horses that were captured from the enemy. The reason for this has been lost in obscurity, but perhaps it had to do with the fanciest horses making a show.
As horse masters and soldiers who had to be constantly on the move, the Marshals were horsemen both by aptitude and training. They would know a good animal when they saw it, and how to obtain the best from it.
William Marshal's first association with warhorses begins early in the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal - and rather unfortunately for him. During the battle for Drincourt, he was involved in some heavy street fighting and surrounded by a gang of Flemish soldiers who tried to tear him down off his mount. One of them had lodged a hooked pole in the hauberk at William's shoulder.
'More than thirteen of them formed a band to knock him off his horse, but he held on by the breast piece of its harness. His spurred his horse on and they tugged and by using force tore through thirteen links on his hauberk....' William managed to fight his way out of the situation but 'as he departed from them, it was on a horse which had the worst of it, for it was wounded in many places and from the wounds the blood streamed from its body; such a loss of blood so impaired it that its death was inevitable.'
Thus the Marshal's war horse was a victim of the street fighting and its loss a source of financial embarrassment to the Marshal. As a green youngster he was not canny enough to realise that he should have held for ransom the men he had downed in the battle.
Once peace had been restored, the Marshal could have gone tourneying to win money and renown, but he didn't have a destrier on which to do so. 'The Marshal was much displeased and greatly dismayed, for all he had was his palfrey now that his fine horse had died from the wounds it had received as he rode it. William was reduced to selling one of the cloaks he had at his knighting for twenty two shillings in Angevin currency. This was apparently sufficient to buy a rouncy - 'un rocin' - a common all purpose riding mount, which he turned into a pack horse (somer, or sumpter) for carrying his arms. Rounceys were of less quality and value. You never see a rouncey being offered as a gift, bribe, or payment in the pipe rolls of the period but palfreys are a frequent item.
News then came to the Tancarville household about a great tourney to be held between Sainte-Jamme and Valennes. William was despondent because he had no warhorse. His lord promised him one, but when it came to sharing out the horses available to the Tancarville knights, William was last in line and had to have the destrier that no one wanted. It was 'strong, fine and well-proportioned, very lively, swift and powerful, fine and valuable. However it had a flaw that was a terrible drawback. The horse was 'so wild that it could not be tamed. The Marshal mounted it. Not once did he use his elbows; instead he pricked it with his spurs, and the horse, flying faster than a hawk, bounded forwards. At the point where it should have been reined in, it turned out that it pulled incredibly hard. Never had it had a master able to make it pull less, even if he had fifteen reins to restrain it. The Marshal gave the matter some thought and came up with a brilliant scheme: He left out the bridle at least three fingers' lengths from the bit and so released the lock of the bit that it went down into its mouth and so it had far less to bite on than was usual. For no amount of gold or riches could he have reined it in any other way.... The horse was so improved by this new bridle that he could have been ridden round in half an acre of land as if he were the tamest on earth.' We know from the description of the tourney in which they then fought, that the horse's name was Blancart. I'm not up on Old French, but this suggests to me that the horse was perhaps a grey. Horses seem generally to be named for their colour, their markings, or their owner or place of origin. It's also interesting to see that a landless knight's lord would provide that knight with arms and equipment as a matter of largesse and honour should the circumstances require. Obviously in quiet times, said knight was expected to fend for himself, even if that involved selling his best cloak to buy a horse.
William duly took Blancart onto the tourney circuit and was soon making a name for himself.
It would seem that horses from Lombardy, an area of Northern Italy, were particularly prized and are one of the types mentioned by name. Obviously they were immediately recogniseable on the tourney field. 'He swiftly stretched out his hand towards a horse from Lombardy, and its rider was not sufficiently bold as to dare to defend it.' William took the horse off him and gave it into the custody of his squire.
A short while after this incident, William joined the entourage of his uncle Patrick, Earl of Salisbury, who was acting as a governor of Poitou. While escorting Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine between one castle and another, the company was set upon by their enemies, the de Lusignans. Patrick called for his warhorse because at the time of the attack he was 'quite unarmed and riding his palfrey.' (showing that warhorses were not used by lords and knights as general riding beasts). Unfortunately, while trying to mount his destrier, he was struck from behind and killed. William himself, although fully armed and riding his warhorse, was little more fortunate and lost yet another horse in battle as the Lusignans killed it under him. (I so hope it wasn't Blancart!).
Having been ransomed from his predicament by Eleanor of Aquitaine, William joined the royal household as tutor in chivalry to Henry and Eleanor's eldest son, The Young King and from that position in society, set out to tourney with a joyous vengeance. 'Then you would have seen many kinds of banner and flag fall and slide into the mud, and many a horse, both piebald and bay, fleeing riderless over the field. Those most able to take full advantage made gains and captured horses.' What happened to these horses? The Histoire doesn't say, but I would make an educated guess that they were either kept, sold on, or ransomed back to their owners. One of the main methods of capturing a knight in the tourney appears to have been by seizing his bridle and dragging him by main force out of the tourney, then forcing him to yield.
There's an amusing tale about a tournament at Eu. The knight Matthew de Walincourt approached on a fast galloping horse and William rode to engage him. De Walincourt was knocked from his mount and William 'quickly took his horse's bridle and rode off towards the men on his side.' De Walincourt was somewhat upset at this turn of events and protested to the Young King, who told William to return the horse as a mark of courtesy. William did so. However, later in the day, he encountered de Walincourt again. The latter had upped the ante and put on better equipment but that still didn't prevent William from knocking him off his mount and taking the horse a second time. 'So now the Marshal had a very good deal, for he had won the horse twice in a single day.' De Walincourt again protested to the Young King, who at first thought that William had ignored his order to restore the horse. 'He thought it very wrong of him to have waited so long to do so.' William explained that he'd taken the horse off de Walincourt not once, but twice. He also said he wasn't going to return the horse because de Walincourt had once taken a horse off William at at tourney when he was a raw youngster and had refused to give it back even when asked to do so by men of higher rank than William. De Walincourt replied that William had been of little esteem at the time and that was why he'd not cared to give him back his horse. At which remark, William effectively said tit for tat, and who was esteemed now? His retort evinced great mirth from those listening in.
From mention of other incidents in the Histoire, it becomes evident that a good destrier in the late twelfth century would cost around forty pounds and that a beast of less worthy calibre put up for quick sale would cost around fourteen. As seen above, a common hack could be bought for 22 shillings Angevin.
Horse thieving was a hazard of the day - both for the owner and the thief! An incident is reported where William had gone to the lodging of Count Theobald of Champagne one night during a tourney gathering. He was riding on 'a tall and valuable horse' which was stolen by a thief from outside the lodging. The hue and cry was raised and William went in pursuit of his mount and the thief. Having caught up with them, he recovered his horse and gave the thief a beating for the deed - and a bad enough one at that to cause the man to lose the sight of an eye. However, when others wanted to hang the man, William said that he had had enough of a lesson.
The attrition rate for warhorses would be interesting to know. As above mentioned, we know of two that William lost in battle. Further on in the Histoire, William killed Richard the Lion-Heart's destrier under him with a single lance thrust. On another occasion, William was engaged in an assault on Montmirail. 'those standing on the bridge gave him a rough reception: they pointed their lances in his direction and all together, stuck them in his horse's chest, but thanks to the power of and providence of God, the hoofs of the horse switched position, with those at the back now at the front, and it came down the slope of the bridge, so that no harm befell the Marshal.' His squire, John of Earley, who had charge of William's horse, 'on removing its coat, he could see the incisions and wounds made by the lances. He said to his lord the Marshal: 'Your horse is wounded.' The Marshal came to look and together they found seven wounds on the horse's body, made by the steel-tipped lances. There were wounds to the shoulders, neck and chest, but the Marshal was in no way concerned by this for he saw the horse would make a good recovery.' One wonders how many warhorses an active tourney knight and warrior went through in a lifetime! William Marshal certainly seems to have had his share. When he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he left his two most valuable warhorses with King Henry as a surety against his return. Whether they were waiting for him on his return, the Histoire doesn't say.
Of William's later career and relationship with his horses, the Histoire says little, but from the first part at least, the reader can glean some useful insights into the importance and standing of the destrier in a knight's life. Clearly there were top class mounts that fetched a premium price, just as there were less exalted beasts. Without a destrier, a tourney knight was stymied and in case of disaster it was better to have at least two or three - and preferably a Lombard!
For those interested in knowing more about the warhorse in William Marshal's period, the most useful book for a starter is The Medieval Warhorse from Byzantium to the Crusades by Ann Hyland, published by Alan Sutton ISBN 0 86299 983 9
My own research for this piece was mostly carried out using the Anglo Norman Text Society's translation of the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal. isbn 0 905474 42 2
For the details on the Marshalsea I referenced The Bigod Earls of Norfolk in the thirteenth Century by Marc Morris, published by Boydell ISBN 1843831643
Also re the Marshalsea I referenced the Constitutio Domus Regis in Oxford Medieval Texts OUP ISBN 0 19 822268 8