Thomas Asbridge Quotes
“Adopting and extending the existing system of mamluk recruitment, he purchased thousands of young male slaves, drawn from Kipchak Turkish and, later, Caucasian stock. These boys were trained and indoctrinated as mamluk troops, and then at the age of eighteen freed to serve their masters within the Mamluk sultanate. This approach created a constantly self-rejuvenating military force–what one modern historian has called a ‘one-generation nobility’–because children born of mamluks were not regarded as being part of the martial elite, although they were permitted to enrol in the army’s second-tier halqa reserves.”
“Islam had, from its earliest days, embraced warfare. Muhammad himself prosecuted a series of military campaigns while subjugating Mecca, and the explosive expansion of the Muslim world during the seventh and eighth centuries was fuelled by an avowed devotional obligation to spread Islamic rule. The union of faith and violence within the Muslim religion, therefore, was more rapid and natural than that which gradually developed in Latin Christianity.”
“Only the History of William Marshal described this encounter in close terms, though the broad details of its account were confirmed in other contemporary sources. One thing seems certain. This was to be no fair fight. So intent had Richard been upon hunting down his father, that he had begun his chase wearing only a doublet and light helm. This added speed to his pursuit, but left him dreadfully exposed to attack. Worse still, the Lionheart was armed with only a sword. Marshal, by contrast, had a shield and lance. The biographer described how: [William] spurred straight on to meet the advancing [Duke] Richard. When the [duke] saw him coming he shouted at the top of his voice: ‘God’s legs, Marshal! Don’t kill me. That would be a wicked thing to do, since you find me here completely unarmed.’ In that instant, Marshal could have slain Richard, skewering his body with the same lethal force that dispatched Patrick of Salisbury in 1168. Had there been more than a split second to ponder the choice, William might perhaps have reacted differently. As it was, instinct took over. Marshal simply could not bring himself to kill an un-armoured opponent, let alone the heir-apparent to the Angevin realm, King Henry II’s eldest surviving son. Instead, he was said to have shouted in reply: ‘Indeed I won’t. Let the Devil kill you! I shall not be the one to do it’, and at the last moment, lowering his lance fractionally, he drove it into Richard’s mount. With that ‘the horse died instantly; it never took another step forward’ and, as it fell, the Lionheart was thrown to the ground and his pursuit of the king brought to an end.”
“King Henry was carried back to Chinon on a litter and confined to bed, but he could find no peace. The Old King now became fixated by the desire to make a last account of his supporters. The keeper of the royal seal, Roger Malchael, was sent to Tours to demand the list of turncoats promised by Philip. When Roger returned he was hurriedly ushered into a private audience with Henry, but could hardly bring himself to reveal the bleak truth, saying: ‘My lord, so Jesus Christ help me, the first name written down on this list here is that of your son, count John.’ When King Henry heard that the person he most expected to do right, and who he most loved, was in the act of betraying him, he said nothing more except this: ‘You have said enough.’ This final act of treachery crushed the Old King’s spirits. He soon collapsed into a ‘burning hot’ feverish stupor, and ‘his blood so boiled within him that his complexion became clouded, dark, blue and livid’. Unmanned by agonising pain, he ‘lost his mental faculties, hearing and seeing nothing’, and though he spoke ‘nobody could understand a word of what he said’. On the night of 6 July 1189, with only a handful of servants in attendance, Henry’s will finally gave out. In the words of the History: ‘Death simply burst his heart with her own hands’, and a ‘stream of clotted blood burst forth from his nose and mouth’.”
“Churchmen are too hard on us, shaving us too closely. If, simply because I’ve taken 500 knights and kept their arms, horses and all their equipment, the kingdom of heaven is closed in my face, then there is no way for me to enter in, for I am unable to return these things. I believe I can do no more as regards God but surrender myself up to him as a penitent for all the sins I have committed and all the wrongs I have done. They might well wish to push me, but they can push me no further; either their argument is false on this score or no man can find salvation.”
“A remarkable treatise on manners dating from the late twelfth century – Daniel of Beccles’ Book of the Civilised Man – gives some insight into how nobles were expected to behave in a medieval great hall. In this public milieu, a measure of decorum was advised. Nobles were warned not to comb their hair, clean their nails, scratch themselves or look for fleas in their breeches. As a rule, shoes should not be removed and urinating was to be avoided, unless of course you were a lord in his own hall, in which case it was permissible.”
“But the concept of knighthood only began to emerge in the second half of the eleventh century and it remained in its infancy even as William Marshal arrived at Tancarville and grew towards manhood. William lived through the precise period in which the ideas, rituals and customs of knighthood coalesced. Indeed, his own celebrated career as one of Europe’s greatest knights helped to mould this warrior class.”
“His notion of knighthood, and that entertained by the society around him, was also profoundly shaped by the archetype of the preudhomme – the ideal warrior, literally the ‘best kind of a man’. By the mid-twelfth century, worthy knights were increasingly expected to display the ‘right stuff’, to conform to an evolving code of behaviour. An admirable and respected warrior – a preudhomme – was skilled in combat and courageous, faithful, wise and able to give good counsel, but also canny, even wily, in war when necessary. He was the exact opposite of the type of serpent-tongued deceivers (or losengiers) who had tried to persuade King Stephen to execute young William back in 1152 – men of dubious loyalty and questionable judgement. William arrived at Tancarville hoping to become a preudhomme. Indeed, in many respects his life served to define that archetype.”
“on 4 July 1187 and, three months later, Jerusalem fell into Muslim hands. This calamity sent a shockwave through Western Europe and, with the preaching of a massive new crusade to avenge these injuries and reclaim the Holy Land, thousands of knights took up arms. According to the History of William Marshal ‘the number of those taking the cross was so great . . . that there was no man convinced of his worth who did not abandon wife and children to become a crusader.”
“The first surviving manuals of European swordsmanship date from the early fourteenth century, so it is impossible to know precisely how William trained and fought with this weapon, but it is clear that he honed his ability to wield his sword both while mounted and on foot. This must have required the daily repetition of practice sword strokes through his teenage years and beyond – so as to develop strength and acquire muscle memory – and regular sparring to refine coordination and agility. By the time he became a knight, Marshal was an effective swordsman, but so far as the History was concerned, his primary gift was not flashy technique, but the brutish physicality that enabled him to deliver crushing blows. With sword in hand, William was, in the words of his biographer, a man who ‘hammered like a blacksmith on iron’. Marshal probably also trained with a number of other mêlée weapons popular with twelfth-century knights, including the dagger, axe, mace and war-hammer, but much of his time would have been devoted to mastering the lance. By construction this was a fairly rudimentary weapon – often simply a ten- to twelve-foot-long straight spar of hewn wood, usually of ash – but it was fiendishly difficult to use from horseback. The lance would be held under the arm (or couched) during a charge, and directing its point towards a target with any accuracy required immense skill. Lances often broke after one or two uses, but a successful strike could cause devastating damage to an opponent. In the course of his career, William would witness the lethal potential of this weapon with his own eyes and he would also be called upon to charge down one of the greatest warriors of the age, Richard the Lionheart, with lance in hand.”
“With the safety of his family secured, Marshal’s mind turned to the well-being of his knights. He had spent the first forty years of his own life in service, and cherished the intimate bonds of friendship and trust forged with the members of his own mesnie. Most of William’s closest retainers had already been well rewarded with lands and offices, but the obligation to provide for his warriors remained a pressing concern. In these final weeks, one of Marshal’s clerks suggested that the store of eighty fine, fur-trimmed scarlet robes held in the manor house might be sold off. He apparently told the earl that the money raised could be used ‘to deliver you from your sins’, but William was appalled by this suggestion. ‘Hold your tongue you wretch,’ he reputedly countered, ‘I have had enough of your advice.’ Marshal’s firmly held view was that these robes should be distributed to his men, as a last token of his duty to provide for their needs, and he bid John of Earley to commend him to all the household knights to whom he had been unable to speak in person. Beyond the inner circle of his family, the mesnie had been the cradle of William’s life – a priceless sanctuary – and it remained so to the very end.”
“WILLIAM MARSHAL: IN LIFE AND LEGEND In many respects, William Marshal was the archetypal medieval knight. His qualities epitomised, perhaps even defined, those valued in late twelfth- and early- thirteenth-century Western European aristocratic culture. His storied career stood as testament to what knights could achieve: the heights to which they could rise and the extent to which they could shape history. In spite of Archbishop Stephen’s reputed pronouncement at his funeral, Marshal was not the only great knight of his generation. Other warriors, such as William des Barres and William des Roches, could match his prowess and reputation. Yet they never reached such astonishing heights. William Marshal’s life represents both a model of knightly experience and a unique example of unparalleled success, for in the end, his story transcended the normal boundaries of his warrior class.”
- Born: The United Kingdom.
- Description: Thomas Asbridge is an internationally renowned expert on the history of the Middle Ages and author of the critically acclaimed books The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land and The First Crusade: A New History. His latest publication is The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones.Thomas studied for a BA in Ancient and Medieval History at Cardiff University, and then gained his PhD in Medieval History at Royal Holloway, University of London. His is now Reader in Medieval History at Queen Mary, University of London and Founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam & the West.