top of page

 T a p e s t r i e s  2          The William Marshal Triptych Design - commissioned by Pamela Earl

The Battle of Lewes lasted about 8 hours - The tumultuous life of Earl William Marshal (1147-1219) lasted 72 years!

Thus, my task to design this embroidered triptych was much more complex, the endeavour being to include as many of the key episodes as possible without cluttering the overall layout. The brief, however, was to provide a design in indelible ink that could not be changed (even so one or two minor historical inaccuracies, pointed out by expert medievalists, did have to be put right!). This time, the transfer onto the cloth was achieved by digital printing and the stitching, was done by a comparative handful of wonderfully skillful ladies, each working on small sections that were ultimately sewn back together .

 The  mounted triptych (72 x 240 cms)was unveiled on the 14th of May 2019, the 800th anniversary of The Marshal's death, in the Norman Church of St.Anne's in Lewes, East Sussex, to celebrate this great knight, 1st Earl of Pembroke and ultimately Regent of England. The triptych  now resides permanently in Pembroke Castle, his principal stronghold, and is on public display in its purpose built cabinet which also contains a copy of the design - see below. 


The Earl William Marshal embroidered triptych with key to all images

                                                                       Panel 1


KEY1 - Copy.jpg

1.    Norman Noble John Marshal and Sybil of Salisbury

2.    Married and lived in a manor near Newbury

3.    Newbury Castle John held from King Stephen

Whose siege was successful and thus to get even

4.    Took John's youngest, William, and threatened to murder

The boy if John's treachery went any further

By hanging or drowning or trebuchet throwing

Although the King's liking for William was growing.

5.    Said William's vain father: "But I have the hammer 

And anvil to forge myself more sons and better!"

Yet the boy's life was saved by Stephen's forebearance

And William at length was returned to his parents.

10.   The tales of King Arthur were just then emerging

And chivalrous dreams in young men's hearts were surging

9.     To train as a knight then was thought to be quite cool

To France went young William to Tancarville Knight School.

6.     Whilst there he was dubbed "Gaste viande" - Greedy guts

Because he liked sleeping and eating too much

7.      But as he grew up, he grew stronger and braver

Though sometimes inclined towards reckless behaviour.

11.    Neufchatel-en-Bray was his first taste of combat

He raced too far ahead - reprimanded for that.

12.    There too died his war-horse, the loss was appalling

Without it he'd struggle to follow his calling.

8.      A knight had three horses, a pack-horse, a palfrey,

And chiefly a war-horse, by far the most costly.

But Sybil his mother appealed to her brother

Knight at Queen Eleanor's court and none other

Earl Patrick of Salisbury took on his nephew

A giant leap forward afforded to so few.

13.    He joined the Earl's cavalry guarding their Lady,

One day as they rode through woods peaceful and shady

The Lusignans ambushed the company boldly

The Queen fled to safety, the Earl was speared coldly

14.    And William was lanced through the thigh from behind

15.    And lashed to a mule as a hostage, confined.

16.    Ship symbolising the many voyages WM would make

between England and France.

17.    Excalibur - the great sword of chivalry.

Bottom Border:

A.      The Temple Church in London where WM is buried.

B.      The first biography of WM was commissioned by his son, William, in 1226 and written in verse by John the Poet.

C.      With Wm's and others' guidance, the 9-year-old King Henry III created this charter, a small step towards greater popular freedoms.

D.      The date of WM's death and of the Battle of Lewes 45 years later at which Henry III was defeated by Simon de Montfort.

18.    Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine paid his ransom

She'd rather liked William, young, brave and handsome

He entered her court famed for music and art

Where council was sought for affairs of the heart.

19.    King Henry, her husband, and Queen Eleanor

Appointed the young Knight as their son's tutor

And thus Young King Henry and William became

Great tournament champions of gathering fame

Young Henry then tried to dethrone his old father

And William fought with him although it was rather

A terrible business in which many perished.

The Young king defeated, forgiven, admonished

As if it had all been a bit of unpleasantness

No matter that there were a few thousand peasants less.

The Young King and William went back to the tournaments

Decking themselves with more trophies and ornaments.

20.    But, aged 28, the Young King became sickly

The fever consumed him and death approached quickly.

His crusader cloak he bade William take

To Jerusalem then for his memory's sake

21.    And William honoured his pledge and did go

Though what he did there we may never know.

22.    Upon his return he attended King Henry

Whom William had fought, but the old King was friendly

23.    Accepting him now as a knight at his court

24.    A maze of corruption where favours were bought

Where William perforce learnt ro scheme to survive

To wheedle and pander, to duck and to dive.

25.    But Henry knew well this new knight was a master

And sent him to France to wreak death and disaster.

26.    Then Richard, the next son in line to the throne

Attempted to take his dad's crown for his own,

At Le Mans and by chance Richard encountered William

Who unhorsed the Lionheart but would not kill him.

"The Devil can kill you!" cried William with force

And instead drove his lance into Richard's war-horse.

27.    King Henry's last illness consumed him with pain

And to Richard indeed passed the Angevin reign.

The old monarch's end was a terrible death

Just two servants present to hear his last breath

They grasped all of value soon as he was dead

And on the floor naked they left him and fled.

29.    43-year-old William's own prospects grew fair

He married the youthful Isabel de Clare

Arranged by King Richard whose knight he became

30.    And Lord of Striguil which was Chepstow's old name.

28.    Since becoming a knight at the court of King Henry

Fighting with and against King, friend and enemy

Bearing the Marshal lion upon his shield

In sieges and combats, on each battle field

Through conflicting loyalties, dangers and doubt

Yet always surviving to live his life out.


31.    The Tower of London as it was in the 12th Century.

32.    Tintern Parva - The Abbey of the Vow, County Wexford,

Ireland, founded by WM and Isabel in thanks to God for surviving a particularly perilous crossing from Wales.

Bottom Border:

E,F,G,H and I - signifying steps towards greater popular

freedoms, justice, wise rule and American Independence.

42.    King Richard, great warrior of the crusades

Determined to break mighty Saladin's blades

Would not stay in England unless he was bound

And left for the Holy Land once he was crowned

Appointing justiciars to guard the realm

With William among them, Eleanor at the helm.

After 2 years of battles and bloody mayhem

The Lionheart failed to win Jerusalem.

The long voyage homeward did not go as planned

The ship was near wrecked, he continued on land,

Was captured by Austria's King Leopold

Imprisoned and ransomed for mountains of gold.

44.    In England meanwhile, Prince John, Richard's brother

The wickedest son to be born of their mother

43.    In league with King Philip Augustus of France

Tried every device and pursued every chance

To take Richard's throne, saying that he was dead

But was curbed by the Queen and justiciars instead.

And Eleanor raised Richard's ransom at last

The whole kingdom paid it the sum was so vast,

But John had bought Philip's support with much land

And Richard returned to an empire less grand.

45.     The treacherous John was forgiven but forced

To help Richard win back the lands he had lost

Though multitudes died to achieve this reward

The lands were recaptured, the empire restored.

46.     But though Richard and William, great warrior knights

Had been brothers in arms in the midst of the fights

They weren't side-by-side when a bolt from a crossbow

Struck Richard the mighty a terrible blow.

Six days later he died naming John the new ruler

And the line of descent became darker and crueler.

48.    The grief-stricken William was forced to decide

To serve bad king John or find somewhere to hide.

In choosing the former he had to do both

For the murderous John rarely honoured an oath.

The lands lost and won were now lost once for all

The Angevin Empire declined to its fall

And when John took William's two eldest sons hostage

For daring to flout him, it seemed that the lost age

Of  William's own childhood had come back to haunt him

The sins of his own father rising to taunt him.

Yet at other times John gave William great favours

Lands in Ireland and Wales as rewards for his labours.

Yet astute William Marshal, First Earl of Pembroke

Was loyal to his king ere the bond between them broke.

49.    When in 1216 as our history teaches

John died of a surfeit of much more than peaches

His child son, Prince Henry, then 9, bore the crown

Protected and counselled by men of renown

And Earl William Marshal now Regent of England

At that time of upheaval and strife in the kingdom.

50.    The First Barons' War and the French at the gate,

Usurped by a French king could be Henry's fate.

The two armies fought and great carnage was seen

At the Battle of Lincoln in 1217

52.    With William at seventy leading his forces

Without his helmet, his squire ran and brought it.

The enemy routed and beaten and broken

And many the praises of William were spoken.

New hopes were born and a darker time ended

Magna Carta, detested by John, was amended

To which William Marshal's own seal was appended

51.    And these words inscribed where the great charter ended:

"Earl William Marshal - Guardian of us and of our Realm"

Earl William Marshal's remarkable life

Was spent now and then with his loyal young wife.

Five kings he survived through intrigues and slaughters

38.    While Isabel bore him five sons and five daughters.

They founded two abbeys: in Cumbria, Cartmel,

33.    Tintern Parva in Ireland, farmed sheep there as well

As in Pembrokeshire also their coffers did swell.

54.    Regarded by most as the realm's greatest knight

He became a great statesman by chance and by right.

His daughters sang to him beside his death bed

Then, dubbed a Knight Templar, the last rites were said.

On the fourteenth of May 1219 his life ended

His body was wrapped in rare silks as intended

In the great Temple Church in London his bones

Bear silent witness to his game of thrones.


Panel 2

KEY2 - Copy.jpg

Panel 3

KEY3 - Copy.jpg
Tapestry in the case.jpeg

                       The Earl William Marshal Embroidered Triptych

in its purpose-built display cabinet in Pembroke Castle, its permanent home.

Upper Border:  34.  Wales.  35.  Pembroke Castle Keep which WM designed.  36. Ireland.  37.  England.  39.  WM's mesnie or military household of knights.  40. and 41.  Another ship representing the many voyages WM took between Wales and Ireland and the many castles he caused to be built or enlarged.  53.  WM knights the boy King Henry III by slapping both cheeks to awaken him to his responsibilities. (Dubbing with the sword did not begin for another 200 years).

Bottom Border:  J.  The Rights of Man.  K. The French medievalist who discovered the only copy of John the Poet's verse biography of WM in a Sotheby's auction in 1861. 30 years later Meyer published it in 3 volumes.  L.  The League of Nations and Eleanor Roosevelt. 

M.  The United Nations and Barbara Hepworth's 'Single Form'.

The following praise for WM is attributed to Matthew Paris, 13th Century  Benedictine monk, English Chronicler, artist and cartographer:                                        "He was a Saturn to Ireland, the Sun to England, a Mercury to Normandy, a Mars to France."

bottom of page