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
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.
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.
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.
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."