William Marshall (the Greatest Knight) and his building of Pembroke Castle
William was born in France of an Anglo Norman family in 1147. As the son of a minor nobleman he had no fortune to inherit and had to make his own way in life. Aged 12 he went to Normandy to train as a knight and was knighted in1166. In 1170 King Henry 2nd asked Marshal to join his Court but allowed Marshall to go on a crusade. On William’s return he rejoined the Court and served as a loyal captain through Henry’s final difficult years.
Henry rewarded William by arranging his marriage to Isabel de Clare, the daughter of Richard de Clare (Strongbow), the Earl of Pembroke. The marriage brought with it large estates in England, Normandy, Ireland and Wales, and Marshall set about improving them. At Pembroke Castle he improved its defences by building the formidable keep which he made impregnable with a stone roof. He also dug out access steps to Wogans Cavern that enabled the castle to be supplied if under siege.
When Richard, the Lionheart, became King, William was one of the Barons appointed to the Council of Regency when Richard joined the third crusade. Following Richard’s death, he supported the unpopular King John, becoming his chief adviser and the guardian to John’s son, the future Henry 3rd. William remained loyal to King John throughout the hostilities with his barons which culminated with the signing of Magna Carta on June 15th 1215
In November 1216 John died, in the midst of a French invasion. William was appointed Protector of the nine year old King and Regent of the Kingdom. He produced an improved Magna Carta and declared he would rule under its terms.
Although William was aged 70, he prosecuted the war against the French with great energy. During the Battle of Lincoln he charged at the head of the young King’s army and gained a victory which caused the French to retire from England
In 1219, William was buried in the Temple Church in London. Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, stated ‘Behold the remains of the best knight who ever lived’.