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How Did William Marshal Win the Battle of Lincoln?

How Did William Marshal Win the Battle of Lincoln?


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William the Conqueror’s invasion of England is unavoidable in any five-minute history of the country, but what is little-known is that Prince Louis of France almost matched his predecessor 150 years later.

The Prince’s invasion claimed almost half of the country, including London, and only the brilliance of the King’s Regent William Marshal preserved the kingdom of England for centuries to come at the decisive battle of Lincoln.

Strangely enough, the invasion actually began with that very English document – the Magna Carta. By June 1215, when it was signed by King John, the reigning monarch had already lost all of his father’s land in France and alienated the Barons, leading to him being humiliatingly forced to sign this document limiting his power.

A short film reflecting on the themes and events surrounding King John's signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

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The beginning of the war

Just months later, however, John’s failure to keep to the Magna Carta had caused uproar amongst his powerful Lords and what is known as the First Barons War had begun.

A rebellion of the nobility in 1215 was even more serious for the reigning monarch than it might sound, for the feudal system of the day meant that he relied upon these men to keep his power.

Each of them was, in essence, a mini-King, with their own proud lineages, private armies and almost limitless authority over their domains. Without them, John could not wage war effectively or keep any control over his country, and the situation was quickly desperate.

However, England was a country that needed a new king for the Barons to have any legitimacy in trying to depose John, and so they turned to Louis, son of the King of France – whose military prowess had earned him the title “the Lion”.

In those years, just 150 after Saxon England had been conquered by Norman invaders, inviting the French royal family over to rule would not have been seen as the same traitorous action as it would have been in later centuries.

The ruling nobility of both England and France spoke French, had French names, and often shared bloodlines, meaning that the two countries were more interchangeable than they would be at any other point in history.

Louis was initially hesitant about getting involved in an English Civil War, and only sent over a detachment of knights, but soon changed his mind and set off himself with a powerful army in May 1216.

Now heavily outnumbered, John had little choice but to flee to the old Saxon capital of Winchester, leaving the road to London open for Louis’ army.

Louis quickly entrenched himself in the capital, where many rebel leaders – including the King of Scotland – came to pay homage and proclaim him King of England in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Sensing the turning of the tide, many of John’s remaining supporters defected and joined Louis, who had taken Winchester by the end of June and forced the King to flee north. By the late summer, the entire south-eastern half of England was under French occupation.

Turning of the tide

Two events in the latter months of 1216 helped raise some hope for the loyalists, however. The first was the survival of Dover Castle. Louis’ father, the King of France, was taking a dispassionate interest in the struggle across the channel, and wrote to his son mocking him for taking all of the south-east except its most important port.

In July the Prince arrived at the castle, but its well-supplied and determined garrison resisted all his efforts to take it by force over the coming months, while the county squire William of Cassingham raised a force of rebel archers to harass Louis’ besieging forces.

By October, the Prince had given up and returned to London, and with Dover still loyal to John, French reinforcements would have a much harder time landing on English shores. The second event, later that month, was the death of King John, leaving his nine-year-old son Henry as sole heir.

The reign of Henry

The Barons realised that Henry would be much easier to control than the increasingly headstrong Louis, and their support for the French began to wane.

The new King’s regent, the formidable 70 year-old knight William Marshal, then rushed to have him crowned in Gloucester, and promised the wavering Barons that the Magna Carta would be adhered to, both by him and Henry when he came of age. After this, the war became a simpler matter of the mostly united English against the invading French.

Temple Church in Central London is the physical embodiment of the Knights Templar, a religious order that also trained as warrior monks. This is history that is strong on narrative and bursting with battles and blood-lust.

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Louis was not idle, meanwhile, and spent the first few weeks of 1217 in France gathering reinforcements, but more determined resistance to his rule – encouraged by the popular Marshal – whittled down at his army’s strength. Furious, he took half his army to besiege Dover again, and sent the other half to take the strategically important northern city of Lincoln.

The second Battle of Lincoln

A fortified town with a castle at its centre, Lincoln was a tough nut to crack, but the French forces – commanded by Thomas, Count of Perche – took all of the city quickly apart from the castle, which stubbornly held out.

Marshal was aware of these developments, and called for all the English Barons of the north to bring their men and gather at Newark, where he amassed a force of 400 knights, 250 crossbowmen, and an unknown number of regular infantry.

The Count of Perche decided that his best course of action would be to take Lincoln Castle and then hold out until Louis came to reinforce him, and therefore failed to meet Marshal on the battlefield. This was a grievous mistake, for he had overestimated the size of Marshal’s army.

The battle occurred on 20 May 1217. While Thomas’ forces continued to frenetically attack the castle, Marshal’s crossbowmen reached the city gate and took it with volleys of withering fire, before positioning themselves on rooftops and pouring shots down onto the besieging forces.

Caught between the hostile castle and Marshal’s charging knights and infantry, many were then slaughtered, including the Count. Thomas had been offered surrender, but had chosen to fight to the death instead, a brave decision that must have won the respect of the seasoned soldier Marshal.

David Carpenter joined Dan on the podcast to examine one of England's most remarkable monarchs. Just nine years old when he came to the throne in 1216, David explains how Henry was pacific, conciliatory, and deeply religious. His rule was constrained by limits set by the Magna Carta and the emergence of parliament.

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The royalists also managed to capture most of the English Barons still loyal to the Prince, guaranteeing that the new King Henry III would face less opposition when the war was over.

The few French survivors then fled south towards London, while Marshal’s victorious troops sacked the city for apparent loyalty to the Louis, in what became euphemistically known as “the Lincoln Fair.” Most of the escaped French never made it to their goal, as they were ambushed and massacred by angry villagers along their way.

Louis’ defeat

With half his army gone and Dover still resisting, Louis’ position became untenable. After two more reinforcement fleets were sunk at the sea battles of Dover and Sandwich, he was forced to leave London and give up his claim to the throne at the Treaty of Lambeth.

Marshal, meanwhile, died in 1219 after invaluable service to five different kings of England, and Henry would rule for another fifty years, surviving another Baron’s revolt in the 1260s.

Over the next few centuries, the result of the Battle of Lincoln would ensure that the character of England’s ruling elite would grow increasingly more Saxon, and less French; a process shown by King Henry naming his son and heir Edward, a royal English name as old as time.


William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke

William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (French: Guillaume le Maréchal) (1190 – 6 April 1231) was a medieval English nobleman and was one of Magna Carta sureties. He fought during the First Barons' War and was present at the Battle of Lincoln (1217) alongside his father William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who led the English troops in that battle. He commissioned the first biography of a medieval knight to be written, called L'Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, in honour of his father.


INTRODUCTION

The English rode to battle gaily, as if to a tournament. The morning sunshine of the first Saturday after Pentecost shone on the white crosses stitched to their surcoats, for these men were Crusaders, newly shriven and assured of heaven if they fell in action. Before them lay the sprawling mass of Lincoln Castle, much battered by hostile siege engines, for the blockading army in the city beyond included French knights and engineers, the best in Europe. But where were the French, usually so forward in a tourney? Perhaps they had miscounted the strength of the approaching host, less than a thousand all told, misled by the spare shields and banners flying from the wagons that followed the fighting men.

Scouts rode to and fro, speaking with the castle&rsquos loyal defenders, probing the ancient town walls for a way in. Crossbowmen infiltrated the castle&rsquos outer gate, but that was too narrow a path for knights. The Earl of Chester&rsquos vanguard veered off to the north gate, while the main body of the relieving army rode straight on towards the west wall. There the warlike Bishop of Winchester had found an undefended gate, carelessly walled up, too near the castle for the besiegers to watch closely. When the leading sergeants, professional men-at-arms serving for pay, dismounted to pull away the loose stones stacked against the timbers of the old West Gate, there were no hostile eyes to see them.

The attackers burst through so suddenly that their own leader had still to put on his helmet. William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, &lsquoThe Marshal&rsquo, was seventy years old but vigorous enough to have been chosen guardian of the realm and its boy king, Henry III. &lsquoWait for me,&rsquo he called out, &lsquowhile I get my helm.&rsquo William&rsquos men did not stop, however. They pressed on into the city, killing the besiegers&rsquo chief engineer as he placed a fresh stone in the sling of his machine. Not to be left behind, the Marshal spurred on his horse, carving a path three lances deep in the enemy ranks, driving all before him. Surging past the castle, the English turned right into the open space before the cathedral, to find a great mass of French and rebel English knights. One of the latter broke his lance upon William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, but the Marshal dealt him such a blow that he slid off his horse, and slunk away to hide. Crossbowmen appeared on the castle walls and roof tops, picking off the horses of the enemy knights below like so many slaughtered pigs. The Earl of Chester&rsquos men, having smashed their way through another gate, threw their weight into the battle. Unhorsed riders were dragged away in chains. Sparks flew as swords clashed on swords, or glanced off helmets.

As the opposing knights recoiled, William seized the bridle of their commander, Thomas, Count de la Perche, &lsquoa man strenuous in arms and drawn from royal blood, who had not yet reached the age of thirty&rsquo (Waverley Annals). Called on to surrender, he refused to do so, swearing great oaths. Provoked beyond endurance, Sir Reginald Croc, a valiant knight, lost patience and ran his sword point through the count&rsquos helmet eye-holes. In a last spasm, Thomas smote the Marshal three double-handed blows over the head, denting his helmet, and fell down dead. This was an unexpected departure from the script: leading knights were rarely slain out of hand William and the count were first cousins, and everyone grieved to see him killed.

The loss of their commander was a fatal blow for the besiegers, who retreated down the steep slope towards the River Witham. They rallied halfway, only to break again as the Marshal&rsquos men emerged from between the castle and cathedral, and the Earl of Chester appeared on their right flank. The broken army fled south down the High Street to the Bargate, fortuitously blocked by a stray cow. Over 300 French and rebel knights were captured, though only three men of note were killed in the fighting. Two hundred panic-stricken knights escaped to London, seeing Marshals in every bush. The single most decisive battle of medieval English history, after Hastings, had been won at less cost in human life than many tournaments.

William Marshal&rsquos helter-skelter victory at Lincoln on Saturday 20 May 1217 was the final exploit of one of the most remarkable men of an age filled with larger than life figures: Henry II, King of England, his consort Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons: Henry &lsquoThe Young King&rsquo, Richard &lsquoCoeur de Lion&rsquo and John &lsquoSoftsword&rsquo. More dubious characters included John&rsquos mercenary leader Fawkes of Bréauté, named from the scythe he allegedly used to kill his first man, or the French master pirate and necromancer Eustace the Monk, whose ability to make himself invisible did not save him from summary decapitation in the bowels of his flagship.

William began life during the so-called Anarchy of the mid-twelfth century, the penniless younger son of a Wiltshire landowner: a robber baron described by a local bishop as &lsquoa limb of hell and root of all evil&rsquo. William had to make his own way, combining a strong arm with a calculating eye and cool head. We know about his ascent from an epic poem: l&rsquoHistoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, referred to below as the History. Composed soon after its subject&rsquos death in 1219, this is the first surviving vernacular biography of medieval times to feature a non-royal layman. Written by a professional poet or trovère named John, probably from Touraine, its sources were recollections of the Marshal&rsquos own tales of his early days, the eyewitness testimony of his intimate followers, and long lost documents. Together these make the History a unique record of the life of a knight errant and great feudal magnate.

Narrowly escaping death as a hostage when aged five, William was apprenticed to arms in Normandy, making his fortune on the international tournament circuit, where he earned a reputation as &lsquothe finest knight in the world&rsquo. Such praise from a French observer is remarkable: jousting was a French-dominated sport. England was considered a poor country for breeding knights. William&rsquos career took off with his entry into royal service. He was wounded defending Queen Eleanor against Poitevin renegades, ransomed, and appointed military tutor to Henry II&rsquos heir, known as the &lsquoYoung King&rsquo, acting as his tournament manager. After the Young King&rsquos premature death, William wore his Crusader&rsquos cloak to the Holy Land. When the future Richard I rebelled in 1189, William was one of the few to stand by the &lsquoOld King&rsquo to the bitter end.

Despite this, William became a key figure at Richard&rsquos court, marrying the heiress to vast estates in Wales and Ireland, and acting as royal justiciar during the king&rsquos absence on Crusade and as military adviser in the never-ending war with King Philip Augustus of France. On Richard&rsquos death, William played a leading role in the accession of his brother John, being rewarded with the Earldom of Pembroke. His reputation and restraint helped him survive accusations of treachery following the loss of Normandy. Despite John&rsquos enmity, William remained faithful throughout the disturbances that brought the unwilling king to make the unprecedented concessions enshrined in Magna Carta.

It was William&rsquos fidelity, as well as his prowess and longevity, that persuaded the loyal barons of England to entrust him with the regency on John&rsquos death. It was no common emergency. John had driven his barons beyond revolt, to the point of offering the crown to Louis the Dauphin, eldest son of Philip Augustus. By the spring of 1217, French and rebel troops held most of south-east England including London, Windsor, and Winchester. Dover and Lincoln were besieged. The crisis represented the gravest threat to England&rsquos independence between the Norman Conquest and the Spanish Armada. Had Louis succeeded, England might have become a French province, much as Languedoc had done following the battle of Muret in 1213. Seizing his moment, however, William smashed the Dauphin&rsquos northern army at Lincoln, jousting down streets too steep for modern traffic. Panic-stricken, Louis withdrew from Dover, and summoned reinforcements from France. Two months later these were intercepted at sea and destroyed, forcing Louis to withdraw. Never again would foreign invaders thrust so deep into English territory.

William&rsquos victory was more than just a military success. He had already reissued Magna Carta, within a month of John&rsquos death, undermining the rebels&rsquo political platform. He confirmed it again after Lincoln, permanently subjecting the arbitrary power of the king to the rule of law. Without Magna Carta, parliamentary government and English common law would not have developed as they did. American and French revolutionaries of the eighteenth century would have had no constitutional example to inspire them. There might have been no Gettysburg Address or European Declaration of Human Rights. At the time of the battle, England&rsquos rulers spoke French, as they had since 1066. A French victory at Lincoln might have delayed the emergence of a distinctive English cultural identity for another century. Without the patronage of an Anglophone nobility there might conceivably have been no Chaucer and, hence, no Shakespeare.

William&rsquos charge at Lincoln elevates him from the status of an international sporting champion, or another self-seeking magnate, to that of saviour of his country. If his early career made him a super-star in his own time, its dramatic conclusion, with its long-term significance for England and the world, should make him a national hero today. William&rsquos victories, however, are morally ambivalent. Like those of Oliver Cromwell, they occurred during a civil war between Englishmen, subverting traditional narratives of English history as a glorious pageant. Henry III was a peaceful king who preferred paintings to jousting. He came to resent and disparage the tournament champion who had preserved his throne. The Marshal clan fell into disfavour, and, lacking male heirs, historical oblivion.

Lincoln is a rare example of a medieval battle with long-lasting consequences. Most wars in the Middle Ages were won by raids and sieges. In the only major battle of his career, William showed a remarkable grasp of the military principles of mobility, concentration, and surprise, striking at Lincoln while the Dauphin&rsquos forces were divided gaining access to the city through an old gate the enemy had overlooked. Once inside, he successfully combined missile action by crossbowmen on roof tops with shock action in the streets below. Lincoln is more indicative of how English soldiers fought in the high Middle Ages than the ultimately pointless victories of the Hundred Years War which attract so much attention.

Existing studies of the Marshal pay insufficient attention to the military aspects of his life. Sidney Painter&rsquos William Marshal: Knight Errant, Baron and Regent of England presents a romanticised view of the Marshal&rsquos career: his chivalry was calculating and sometimes brutal. Georges Duby&rsquos Guillaume le Marechal ou le meilleure chevalier du monde (translated as The Flower of Chivalry) treats the Marshal as a muscular simpleton. David Crouch&rsquos William the Marshal: Knighthood, War and Chivalry focusses on the political and administrative aspects of William&rsquos career, treating battles and campaigns as incidental.

None of these makes use of the History&rsquos extensive detail of real and sham fights to set William&rsquos career in the military context of his day, or looks beyond the Marshal family narrative to evaluate his contribution to the interminable Anglo-French wars of the 1190s and 1200s. What were the relations of the &lsquofinest knight&rsquo with those devious monarchs John and Philip Augustus? How did he resolve the contradiction between the individualism of the knight errant and the prudence demanded of the royal counsellor? The baronial class has often been depicted as consisting of obtuse reactionaries. The History&rsquos lucky survival provides a unique opportunity to challenge this caricature. Previously available only in Middle French, or in a nineteenth-century précis, it has recently appeared in modern English verse with every scholarly facility. As Lincoln&rsquos 800th anniversary approaches, the time seems right to reconsider the reputation of England&rsquos forgotten champion.


800th Anniversary Events - 2019

There are several events marking William's anniversary:

Saturday 11 May 2019 Pop-up William Marshal Exhibition at the Abbey Gateway, Reading

Join the Friends of Caversham Court Gardens and take a peek inside the newly restored medieval Abbey Gateway. This May is the 800th anniversary of the death of William Marshal at Caversham. Find out more about ‘The Greatest Knight’ who, as regent for the boy king Henry III, defeated a French invasion force and ensured the survival of Magna Carta. Please note that the Gateway has no step free access and there are uneven steps and floors.

Free, drop in (30 places max per session, there may be a short wait)

Saturday 11 May 2019 Afternoon Talk: William Marshal, Reading Museum

May is the 800th anniversary of death of William Marshall at Caversham. His body lay in state at Reading Abbey until it was transported for burial at Temple Church in London. Discover more about his life in this fascinating talk with Dr Elizabeth Matthew of Reading University.

Tuesday 11 June Evening Talk: The life of William Marshal, Thameside School, Harley Rd

Join the Caversham and District Residents Association for an illustrated talk from Tom Asbridge of Queen Mary University of London, author of The Greatest Knight.


The Battle of Lincoln Fair

WHY
King John's conflict with his powerful barons was at the root of the conflict known as the Battle of Lincoln Fair. The king was forced by his barons to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. Louis, Dauphin of France, sent troops to aid the barons' cause.

The French troops besieged the castle but were bought off by the then constable, Nichola de la Haye. King John died in October 1216, and the French troops returned to Lincoln, took the city on behalf of the rebel barons, and besieged the castle.

THE BATTLE
William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, acting on behalf of the child-king Henry III, advanced on Lincoln with an army, arriving in on the morning of 19 May. The French divided their troops, some to continue the assault on the castle, and some to face the advancing royalist army. Marshall's army advanced on two fronts, one advancing into the city by way of the Newport Arch, the other forcing an entry to castle by way of the west gate.

This latter force then deployed crossbowmen on the castle walls and sent down a rain of fire on the besieging French, and killed many of the French knight's horses. The French commander, the Count of Perche, was killed in the melee, and the French troops were put to flight. They retreated through the Bail, down High Street, and into Wigtown, outside the city walls.

According to the contemporary chronicler Roger of Wendover, over 300 knights from the barons' army were captured, but there were only three deaths the count of Perche, Reginald Crocus, a knight of the king's party, and an unknown soldier fighting for the rebels.

THE RESULTS
The victorious royal army showed little mercy towards the inhabitants of the city. Lincoln was ransacked, and many of its inhabitants brutally killed. Even the cathedral was looted. The victorious royal troops dubbed the short conflict 'Lincoln Fair'. The Battle of Lincoln Fair probably cemented the victory of the royal faction over the barons, though perhaps the baron's success in forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta could be deemed a more lasting success!

Note: Do not confuse this second Battle of Lincoln with the First Battle of Lincoln, otherwise known as the 'Joust of Lincoln', which took place in 1141.


The Battle of Lincoln 1217

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the battle at Lincoln on 20th May 1217 between the forces of the boy-king Henry III, led by William Marshal, and supporters of Louis of France.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Battle of Lincoln on 20th May 1217, when two armies fought to keep, or to win, the English crown. This was a struggle between the Angevin and Capetian dynasties, one that followed Capetian successes over the Angevins in France. The forces of the new boy-king, Henry III, attacked those of Louis of France, the claimant backed by rebel Barons. Henry's regent, William Marshal, was almost seventy when he led the charge on Lincoln that day, and his victory confirmed his reputation as England's greatest knight. Louis sent to France for reinforcements but in August these, too, were defeated at sea, at the Battle of Sandwich. As part of the peace deal, Henry reissued Magna Carta, which King John had granted in 1215 but soon withdrawn, and Louis went home, leaving England's Anglo-French rulers more Anglo and less French than he had planned.

The image above is by Matthew Paris (c1200-1259) from his Chronica Majora (MS 16, f. 55v) and appears with the kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Louise Wilkinson
Professor of Medieval History at Canterbury Christ Church University

Stephen Church
Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia

Thomas Asbridge
Reader in Medieval History at Queen Mary, University of London


The Marshal in the Courts of Kings

He would have operated as a sword for hire and guarding the homes and Castles of higher Nobles and worked as their personal protection. It was during this period that William Marshal made his mark simply by chance. He and another knight were charged with escorting a wealthy woman from one of her castles to another. On the road they were attacked and his companion was killed, William fought against an estimated 60 men at arms and bought the noble woman enough time to escape to her castle.

He was injured and captured but the noble woman was none other then Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of King Henry II, forever sealing his fate to loyally serve the kings of England, France and Ireland. She paid William’s ransom and he became part of the most powerful Royal Court in Europe. It is also rumored in history that Marshal and Eleanor had a love affair. Marshal was a handsome, tall and striking figure, standing at over 6 feet tall when the average height of a man during medieval times was approximately 5’7”, Marshall must have been an intimidating sight on the battlefield.

Eleanor of Aquitaine hired William Marshal to be her second son’s tutor in the world of Medieval Tournaments William served at his side for many years. Henry the younger was the 2nd son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II, he was crowned during his father’s lifetime and was known as King Henry the Younger, but he was a king with no kingdom.

He was never granted any meaningful power by his father and this caused a rift between them. He was obsessed with Medieval tournaments and was guided by The Marshal, He fought with his father and brother and died without ever making peace with King Henry II. He had taken the oath of the Crusaders and up his deathbed he gave his mantle to William Marshall, it is thought to have held the Crusaders Cross of The Knights Templar. He asked the loyal Marshal to rerun this mantle to the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem, and it is presumed that The Marshal fulfilled his dying request.


William Marshal

You can’t write novels about the Middle Ages without coming across references to the Marshal family. I read a comment saying that the family burst like magnificent fireworks over the skies of 12th and early 13th century England and were as swiftly gone. It’s a very apt description. The most famous scion of the family is the great William Marshal and his story reads like the script of an epic movie.

William grew up in a world made uncertain by the civil war between royal cousins Stephen and Matilda. However, his father had a strong grip on his lands in the Kennet Valley and for those formative years in the nursery, William would have had a stable family life surrounded by siblings and with his parents in close proximity. John Marshal was no absentee father.

The big change happened when William was five or six years old. John Marshal had fortified his castle at Newbury. No one now knows where this castle stood, although I have a strong personal suspicion that it is at Speen on the outskirts of the modern town. Wherever its precise location, this castle stood in King Stephen’s path. His army drew up before its walls and laid siege. However, the defenders fought valiantly and it was obviously going to be a tough nut to crack – although crack it did eventually. A truce was arranged and John Marshal asked if he could seek permission from his lady, the Empress Matilda, to surrender, because that was the honourable thing to do (seek permission). Stephen agreed, but he didn’t trust John and said that he would have hostages from him, including a son of his house. He took William – which is interesting. My own feeling is that he didn’t take one of the older boys because they were not of the blood of Patrick Earl of Salisbury but smaller fry to Stephen’s mind.

As soon as John had handed over the hostages, he set about stuffing the keep to the rafters with men and supplies because he had no intention of surrendering. The moment he did so, the road to Wallingford became open and John Marshal was not the kind of man to back down. A few years previously he had lost an eye in heavy fighting defending an escape route for the Empress. When Stephen returned at the appointed time to demand the castle, John defied him and refused to hand it over. A furious Stephen sent word to John that he would hang his son. John made the infamous reply that he did not care about his little boy because had the ‘anvils and hammers’ to produce even finer sons. Personally I believe there was far more to this speech than meets the eye, but that’s for discussion in my forthcoming notes on John Marshal.

William was duly taken off to the gallows, but King Stephen couldn’t bring himself to hang the child. William was full of charm and perky questions. He wanted to play games with Stephen’s barons and with Stephen himself. There’s an epic poem about William’s life called The Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal. It’s from this we know about the Anvils and hammers speech and the entire hostage situation. There is a delightful scene in the poem where William and the King play ‘Knights’ with some plantain leaves.

Stephen’s tent was ‘Strewn with grass and flowers of a variety of colours. William looked at the flowers, examining them from top to bottom. Happily and cheerfully he went about gathering the ‘knights’ growing on the plaintain with its broad, pointed leaves. When he had gathered enough to make a good handful, he said to the King: My dear lord, would you like to play ‘knights?’
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘my little friend.’
The child immediately placed some on the King’s lap. Then he asked: ‘Who has the first go?’
‘You my dear little friend,’ replied the King. So then he took one of the knights and put his own against it. But it turned out that in the contest, the King’s knight lost its head, which made William overjoyed.’ Stephen seems to have become attached to Willliam and took him into his own household and there the boy remained for around two years, serving as a page.

The war ended with agreement between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda’s son, Henry, that Henry should inherit the throne when Stephen died. This happened in 1154 and William’s boyhood now continued on a level course – presumably at home – until he reached his mid teens. At this stage he was sent away to be trained in the household of Guillaume de Tancarville, chamberlain of Normandy, to whom he was distantly related. William remained here in training, learning the knightly arts and was eventually knighted around the age of 21. We are told that he was tall, well made, had a good seat in the saddle and was brown-haired with an olive complexion. We are also told that he had a reputation for a big appetite and being a slugabed. His nick-name was apparently ‘Gaste-viande’ or ‘Greedy guts.’ I can’t help thinking of adolescent youths I have known not so far from home with prodigious appetites and a capacity for slumber until midday if allowed. Nothing changes!

As the situation in Normandy calmed down, Guillaume de Tancarville found himself with an embarrassment of knights on his hand and William was basically made redundant. He shipped himself home and went to see his family, including his older full brother John (his two older half brothers having died) and his sisters. By the time he returned home his father was dead. We don’t know his mother’s death date. John Marshal junior doesn’t seem to have wanted young William at home – perhaps he was jealous of this young gun with his charmed life, home from the wars, trailing flash war horses and glory behind him. Perhaps William cramped his style. Whatever the reason, William didn’t stay long but sought employment with his uncle Patrick, Earl of Salisbury who was preparing to go to Poitou and was on the lookout for likely knights. William being kin and with proven battle experience went straight onto the shipping manifesto.

While in Poitou, the young William came into frequent contact with the Queen of England, the famous and infamous Eleanor of Aquitaine. She had several of her children with her, including her eldest sons Henry and Richard. The latter was her designated heir and later to become the great Coeur de Lion.

One day in 1168, while escorting the Queen between castles in the company of his Uncle Patrick, they were attacked by members of the de Lusignan family who were in rebellion against Eleanor and the Angevin faction. Patrick, who was not wearing his mail, was ridden down and killed. Eleanor made a bid for freedom and William stood in the path of her attackers and gave her time to escape. Although he fought like a lion, he was eventually wounded in the thigh, overpowered and taken for ransom. He had a hard time of it and had to bandage his wounds with his own leg bindings. At one particular castle, a woman took pity on his plight and brought him fresh bandages hidden in a loaf of bread.

He hadn’t been abandoned by his own side though, and Queen Eleanor paid his ransom and took him into her household. William was soon appointed as a companion to her eldest son, Henry who, at 15 was crowned as official successor of King of England. This was done in his own father’s lifetime so that there would be no quibble about who inherited the throne. William quickly settled into the Young King’s household, becoming his tutor in chivalry.

As usual with the Angevin kings, there was inter-family strife and it wasn’t long before the Young King was kicking over the traces and deciding he would like more than just a title. He wanted the power to go with it and rebelled against his father. William stood by his young lord, and even knighted him as the conflict kicked off. As with most of the Young King’s ambitious designs, it came to a sticky end. His father was victorious and the rebellion fizzled out, having caused physical damage to land and property and emotional damage all round. The Young King was made to stay at his father’s side for a while to learn governance but found the whole thing tedious and sought permission to go to France and join the round of the tourney circuits. His father wasn’t best pleased but let him go.

Now came William’s heyday as he set out on the path to becoming the greatest tourney champion of his time. Under his tutelage and his command, the Young King’s ‘team’ became invincible on the European tourney circuit. Tourneying and jousting in the 12th century wasn’t what we imagine from seeing the Hollywood version – a show-piece pageant of one on one in an enclosed arena, but took place over several acres, often involving entire villages. It was big, joyous, brawling and reached its height in the 1170’s and 1180’s. By the 1220’s shortly after William’s death, his biographer said that ‘Errantry and tourneying have given way to formal contests.’

At first the ‘England’ team was soundly trounced because they were the new kids on the block and had to learn strategy and to work cohesively, but William was a good general as well as an extremely gifted individual fighter and he soon had his company knocked into shape so that they became invincible on the tourney field. William’s biographer details several fascinating incidents from this period of William’s life. There’s the well known one about William getting his head stuck inside his helm after a particularly vigorous tourney at Pleurs and having to put his head down on an anvil while a blacksmith worked the helmet off. ‘the smith with his hammers, wrenches and pincers, was going about the task of tearing off his helmet and cutting through the metal strips, which were quite staved in, smashed and battered.’ Another incident tells of knights all dancing together while waiting for the tourney to begin. A young herald who was singing an accompaniment, uttered the refrain ‘Marshal give me a horse!’ William promptly left the gathering, mounted his own horse, galloped off to where some knights were practising, and having tumbled one of the hapless men off his mount, brought the beast back and gave it to the herald. Another incident shows William at a post-tournament feast. He arrived there on a particularly large and handsome horse which he gave to a lad outside to look after. Unfortunately someone stole the horse and William had to run after the thief on foot. There followed a nocturnal chase through the streets and down side alleys. William finally caught his man, gave him a thrashing and recovered his horse. When the other party-goers wanted to string the man up, William dissuaded them, saying that the thrashing was enough punishment (since the man has lost the sight of an eye).

William success was a two-edged sword though. The other knights in the Young King’s retinue became jealous of his popularity and decided to put a fly in the ointment. The Young King himself was also peeved at William’s glory because he felt it put him in the shade, which was not the name of the game. William’s jealous rivals suggested to their young lord that William was having an affair with his wife, Marguerite, daughter of the King of France. William was denied the right to defend himself and banished in disgrace from the Angevin court. Did William have an affair with his lord’s wife? We don’t know. On the one hand there was the accusation and the banishment. Marguerite herself was sent back to Paris. On the other, William was known to have some very jealous rivals and would he have been mad enough to ruin his career by committing a treasonable offence? Whatever the story behind his banishment, William made use of his time by going on pilgrimage to the shrine of the Three Magi at Cologne. Other men offered him position in their retinues but he declined them.

The Young King rebelled against his father once more – the inter-family quarrelling about lands and power was as continuous as dusk following dawn, and suddenly William’s military skills were desperately needed. He was summoned to return by the Young King, and did so, although he arrived via visits to the English and French court and bearing letters confirming the established sovereigns’ trust in his good character. William served the Young King throughout the strife, even helping young Henry to rob shrines when the money to pay the mercenaries ran out, the most scandalous being the robbing of the shrine of Our Lady at Rocamadour. But if money was running out, so was luck and time. The Young King contracted dysentery and died in Martel in June of 1183. At the last he was repentant of his sins and begged William to take his mantle to Jerusalem and lay it at the tomb of the Holy Sepulchre in expiation. William agreed – he had sins of his own to atone for – and set out almost immediately, pausing only to see his lord buried and to have a meeting with King Henry II.

William spent two years in the Holy Land. Nothing is known about his time there, other than that he vowed his body to the Templars (although he didn’t take Templar vows as such) and he bought his own burial shrouds of fine silk. These he kept with him for more than thirty years and told no one about them, not even his closest companions or his family.

On his return around 1186, he took up service again with Henry II, who was glad to have him back and gave him lands in the north of England and the care of at least two wards to give him responsibility and income. One was Jean D’Earley, an adolescent youth in need of fostering until he came of age. William made him his squire. Jean, even after he came into his inheritance, remained with William and became one of his staunchest supporters and friends. Another was Heloise of Kendal, an heiress with lands around Lake Windermere. Henry II may well have expected William to marry the lady, settle down in the north and keep an eye to the Scots border for him. William did indeed spend some time in those parts and began the process of founding a priory there on his own lands at Cartmel. But he didn’t take Heloise to wife, and we know from a letter Henry II wrote to William, that William had his eye on a greater prize than the lady Heloise, with whom he remained ‘just good friends.’ Henry promised William the heiress Denise de Berri, if William would come and fight for him.

William duly emerged from his northern retreat and rejoined Henry on the front line, but his interest was not on Denise, but on another heiress, Isabelle de Clare, who had vast lands in Normandy, on the Welsh borders and in Southern Ireland. Her mother was an Irish Princess and her father was Richard Strongbow, a great Norman baron, adventurer and warrior. Henry promised William he could have Isabelle, but it went no further than a promise.

The usual family wars meant that Henry found himself fighting his son Richard, and Richard, with the help of King Philip of France had gained the upper hand. A sick, worn out, angry and dejected Henry had to flee from le Mans as his son moved in to take the city. Richard was keen to capture his father and dashed after him. William stayed back to cover Henry’s retreat and when Richard was in danger of catching up and pushing through, William charged him and killed his horse. ‘When the count saw him coming, he shouted out at the top of his voice: ‘God’s legs Marshal! Do not kill me, that would be a wicked thing to do, since you find me here completely unarmed.’ The Marshal replied ‘Indeed I won’t. Let the Devil kill you! I shall not be the one to do it.’ This said, he struck the count’s horse a blow with his lance, and the horse died instantly.’ When Richard later protested that the Marshal had tried to kill him, William replied that he was not so much in his dotage that he didn’t know where to stick a lance!

Henry died not long after this and Richard, recognising the value of the loyalty that William had shown, promoted him to the ranks of the magnates by giving him Isabelle de Clare. His father might have promised, but Richard actually gave.

There were more than 20 years between William and Isabelle. He was 41, she was about 17, but their match seems to have been compatible and love does seem to have grown from it, from what we can glean from meagre mentions in William’s biographical poem, the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal. William married Isabelle in London, possibly at St Paul’s Cathedral in the summer of 1189 and then straightaway took her on honeymoon to a place called Stoke D’Abernon where one of his friends had a manor house. Here they stayed for several weeks getting to know each other and setting up their household, before returning to London to greet King Richard in the September.

The following year, William brought Isabelle with him to Normandy where in April she gave birth to the first of their ten children – a son named William for his father. A second son, Richard, followed in approximately 1191, then a daughter Mahelt (or Matilda), then two more sons, Gilbert and Walter. During this time, William was busy in the field serving Richard. When Richard went on crusade, William remained in England as one of several co-justiciars, responsible for keep the peace, and it was perhaps partly for this reason that Richard had raised him on high. At the same time he also raised William’s cleric brother Henry to the bishopric of Exeter. Unfortunately, William’s older brother John, had cast his lot with Richard’s brother, John Count of Mortain, Prince John, and died in 1194 – probably killed at the siege of Marlborough castle.

Although a great magnate, who could play the magnificent lord, William was comfortable within his own skin. He knew the things that mattered. Although as a mighty lord of the realm he could have chosen to use a huge fancy seal on his documents, he continued to use the small equestrian one that had served him as a penniless young knight. Perhaps to remind him where he came from – who knows. John’s reign was a complex and troubled one. Due to matters of personality and politics, John lost Normandy to the French. This gave William a serious dilemma. In order to retain his Norman lands, he had to swear allegiance to Philip of France. But this compromised him because he was then unable to fight for John, should John invade Normandy and try to regain his lands. John was angry with William for swearing to Philip and to cut a long involved story short, he took William’s two oldest sons as hostages for William’s good behaviour. Thus, history repeated itself. William himself had been a hostage. Now William Junior and young Richard Marshal were being kept at the King’s pleasure. William handed over his sons with seeming insouciance, saying that he was loyal to John and that a finger that wasn’t cut, could be bandaged, and would still be whole once the bandage was removed. He decamped to Ireland with Isabelle and the rest of his family – except for Mahelt, whom he married off just before they sailed, to Hugh Bigod, heir to the Earldom of Norfolk. She would have been been at the oldest not quite fifteen, but it is likely that she was actually thirteen or fourteen.

Once in Ireland, William set about sorting out his wife’s inheritance of Leinster. It was her dowry and what she would live on when he died. Since there was a twenty year age gap, it behoved him to see her well provided for. He had begun founding a port on the River Barrow that was to become New Ross and was to bring increased income into Leinster. The Justiciar of Ireland, a lord called Meillyr FitzHenry, was King John’s man and William’s enemy. Like John, he saw William’s arrival in Ireland as worrying. Meillyr had been encroaching on Leinster lands and had been doing much as he liked, but all this was in jeopardy now that the absentee landlord had shown up.

William had a real struggle on his hands with Ireland. Many of the barons did not have affinity or kinship ties with him and they were insular. They didn’t want some Johnny come lately tourney champion muscling in on their territory. The King tried to bring William down. He ordered him and Meillyr back to England, to the court, to settle their differences. William suspected something was going down and he left his best men behind to guard Isabelle, who was by now pregnant with their ninth child. He was wise to do so. Within a week of his leaving for England, Meillyr’s men, under instruction from their master, descended on New Ross and burned it down. They also set about a programme of plundering William’s lands. Fortunately, Jean D’Earley and the knights William had prudently left behind, were able to see off Meillyr’s men.

This was not what John and Meillyr wanted. The latter was sent back to Ireland from the English court with orders that William’s best men were to join their master in England. They declined to do so. William asked John’s permission to return to Ireland as Meillyr had done, but he was refused with malicious glee.

As winter descended, sea crossings to Ireland became very rough, so no news was forthcoming. John taunted William, inventing stories about how he had heard that William’s men had been defeated and killed and how the Countess was now a prisoner. William had to bear all this, unable to retaliate, not knowing if it were true, but he kept his cool and used the lessons of implacable calm learned from his father. He didn’t kick over the traces and he didn’t reply to the provocation. When news finally did come from Ireland, it was good news. Meillyr had gone down to defeat and William’s family and his knights were all safe. William never put a step wrong. He didn’t crow about his victory, merely sought quiet permission to go back to Ireland. John yielded and William went.

The barons wanted a written guarantee that John would observe their rights and govern in a proper manner. This is vastly simplifying the case, but is part of the essential drive. John was brought to sign that most famous of all documents – The Magna Carta. William is thought to have been behind some of the points involved. Whether he was or not, he was certainly involved in the negotiations between the two sides. John made moves to have the charter annulled because he said he had signed it under duress. Many of the barons continued in rebellion because they said John wouldn’t abide by the terms of the charter and true civil war broke out. William remained loyal to King John but his son, William Junior, chose the other side, as did his daughter’s marriage family the Bigods. The French King’s ambitious son, Louis, made a play for the English throne and the rebel barons offered it to him. They had managed to seize London and were in a bullish mood. Louis invaded to a strong welcome and set about making Southern England his own.

William continued stoically and steadily to support John as the country lurched deeper into civil war. Louis wasn’t having it all his own way and was finding it impossible to take Dover Castle. But then, following a few days of severe illness related to a stomach problem, John died at Newark, leaving his nine year old son, Henry, as heir to the disputed throne. Something had to be done and fast. The young boy was hastily crowned at Gloucester Abbey, using a crown belonging to his mother and various bits of regalia cobbled from here and there (his father’s treasure having gone AWOL, either while crossing the treacherous sands of the Wellstream Estuary, or having been looted while John lay dying at Newark.

Someone had to take the reins on behalf of the young Henry III and William was voted into the job. The only other real candidate was the Earl of Chester and although he was the younger man (William was by now around seventy to Chester’s mid forties). Chester had a sharper personality and often rubbed people up the wrong way, whereas most barons could work with William.

William thus set about reclaiming the country for the young king. He had breaches to close, an economy that had to begin functioning again, and he had to get rid of the French. He re-issued Magna Carta and offered amnesties to all who were willing to come and talk. He paid the army in what was left of the royal treasure at Corfe, and when he heard that Louis of France had split his forces and sent half of them up to Lincoln, he saw his chance and went for it. Under his command, the royal army came to Lincoln and here was fought the most decisive battle on English soil between Hastings and the Battle of Britain. If William’s army had lost on that day, a French king would have sat on the English throne. As it was, the French were severely trounced and the royalists were victorious. Louis was brought to sue for peace, although he still wasn’t entirely convinced and the royal army had to gird itself for battle again – this time at sea. Louis’ wife had sent him reinforcements, but an English fleet put out from Sandwich and destroyed the French supply ships. Defeated and with no more aces up his sleeve, Louis sued for peace and departed from England, leaving the country to the process of healing and repair.

William remained at the helm of government for another couple of years, but at the end of 1218 he fell ill in London and it soon became clear that this was going to be his last illness. Knowing this, he faced up to it with the same steadfastness, courage and dignity he had brought to every aspect of his life, and he had himself rowed upriver to his favourite manner of Caversham. Here, surrounded by his family, he spent the late winter and spring of 1219, making arrangements for the governing of the country, gradually cutting his ties with the world. His daughters arrived from their various marital households. There is a very moving scene in the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal where William asks for them to come to his chamber and sing for him, which they do, even though they are heartbroken.

Part of William’s preparation to die involved taking Templar vows. He must have known his death was on the cards – perhaps he’d started feeling unwell earlier than he let on to his family. A year before his death, he had Templar robes made, and kept them at the back of his wardrobe. ‘without anyone else knowing of its existence.’ Now, as death approached, he had them brought out and announced his intention of dying as a Templar. He also sent Jean D’Early to fetch the burial shrouds from a chest in Wales where they had been laid for safekeeping. After thirty years they once more saw the light of day and William told those gathered around him how he had brought them from the Holy Land. He was concerned that they weren’t ruined during the funeral journey and ordered his men to buy coarse grey burel cloth in which to cover them in case of rain.

He duly took the Templar oath, which meant that he could no longer accept the embrace of a woman. No longer could Isabelle comfort him with her touch. In the Histoire, there is an immensely moving parting scene between Isabelle and William where he tells her to kiss him one final time because she will never be able to do so again. ‘The earl, who was generous, gentle and kind towards his wife, the countess, said to her: ‘Fair lady, kiss me now, for you will never be able to do it again.’ She stepped forward and kissed him, and both of them wept.’

His body was borne in procession to Reading, to Staines, to the Temple Church in London and there interred with other knights of the order. His effigy is still there for those who wish to visit and pay their respects, although William’s bones no longer lie beneath it. The graves were disturbed by Henry III’s building work a few decades after William’s burial, and there have been other upheavals since, including bomb damage in World War II. Incendiaries almost put paid to the Temple Church, but it survived, and so did William’s effigy – battered but unbroken. Two of his sons keep him company – Gilbert and Walter, and they do not lack for visitors. Some tourists, are drawn to the church because of The Da Vinci Code, not knowing the true greatness at their feet, but others are aware of their history, and come for William. Eight hundred years later, The Greatest Knight still lives and keeps vigil.


Short Biography

Marshall was the son of John FitzGilbert (a junior noble). Born somewhere around 1146-1147 in Newbury Castle, the knight’s early childhood passed through turbulent and unpredictable circumstances before he eventually became a great servant. His birth happened in the historical period known as “The Anarchy” – it was a time when two rivals – King Stephen & Empress Matilda – competed fiercely for the throne.

Young Marshall escapes death by the skin of his teeth

Initially, the father of Marshall put his weight behind Stephen’s struggles to claim the throne. But due to a later change of mind, Marshall’s father backed Matilda’s side. When Stephen’s army laid siege to his father’s castle, they took little Marshall and held him, hostage, hoping to force his father to surrender. At that time, Marshall was probably 4-5 years old.

Death nearly visited the young man due to his father’s hard-heartedness. With the boy in their hands, Stephen’s army threatened to kill him. They kept the young Marshall in a torturing device (trebuchet) and vowed to crush him dead.

In the long run, Stephen (probably out of compassion), decided to release the innocent kid back to his father under the Winchester Peace Agreement of 1153.

William Marshall’s Journey to Knighthood

When Marshall reached the age of 13, he was taken to his mother’s cousin – William de Tancarcille – to undergo knighthood training. Tancarcille’s home was the official training ground for knights. The knight school became the proving ground on which William Marshall’s rich story found its setting.

The training taught Marshall the knightly code of conduct – the chivalric codes. There, he learned military skills in horse riding, weaponry, medieval laws, and many other important military tactics.

Having mastered the art of knighthood, William Marshall was officially made a knight in 1166. He kicked off his career by being a tournament knight. This was a breakthrough moment for Marshall his accomplishments included winning several bouts, capturing enemies, taking ransom, and gaining reputation. After a while, Marshall became the best version of himself, exuding confidence, fearlessness, and dignity.



How Abraham Lincoln Won Re-Election During the Civil War

Despite presiding over the bloody and tumultuous Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln never tried to postpone either the 1862 midterm elections (in which his Republican Party lost seats in Congress) or the 1864 presidential election. 

“We cannot have free government without elections,” he explained, 𠇊nd if the rebellion could force us to forego or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”

Fealty to democracy, however, did not automatically endear him to voters, and his popularity waned as the twin victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg became ever more distant. Critics particularly blasted a spring 1864 invasion of Virginia, when General Ulysses S. Grant’s force suffered so many casualties in such a short period that even Lincoln’s wife referred to him by the unflattering nickname, “the Butcher.” “The dissatisfaction with Mr. Lincoln grows to abhorrence,” an opponent wrote around that time.

Knowing that no president had won a second term since Andrew Jackson in 1832, challengers to Lincoln popped up both within the Republican Party and outside it. His own treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, began covertly campaigning against him as early as December 1863, garnering the support of several Republican congressmen who likewise believed in more aggressive measures to end slavery, use Black troops and implement Southern reconstruction. Chase soon was forced to drop out, done in by the release of two anti-Lincoln pamphlets that caused a public backlash against his candidacy.

Campaign poster depicting the Democratic ticket led by George McClellan

A few hundred Republicans unhappy with Lincoln, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass and suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, next decided to form their own party, which they named Radical Democracy. Meeting in Cleveland in May 1864, they nominated for president General John C. Frémont, who had freed the slaves owned by Missouri rebels in 1861—well before the Emancipation Proclamation— only to be overturned by the White House. Among other things, the Radical Democracy Party called for equality regardless of race and confiscation of Confederate property.

Another, larger threat came from the Democrats, who mercilessly lambasted the military draft and emancipation of enslaved people, while also accusing Lincoln of violating civil liberties and strategically mismanaging the war. As part of their party platform, approved in late August at their convention in Chicago, they even called for a settlement with the Confederacy. 

�ter four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war,” the platform stated, “justice, humanity, liberty and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities.”

For their presidential nominee, the Democrats chose George B. McClellan, Lincoln’s notoriously cautious former general-in-chief of the army who had been fired after failing to pursue the retreating Confederates from Antietam in 1862. An able organizer and trainer of troops, McClellan held a personal grudge against Lincoln. Yet he refused to endorse his party’s peace platform, writing that he 𠇌ould not look in the face of my gallant comrades … and tell them that their labors and the sacrifices of so many of our slain and wounded brethren had been in vain.”

Hoping to broaden his appeal among Democrats, Lincoln ran on the so-called National Unity ticket instead of as a Republican. At its convention in Baltimore, the party selected him a new running mate, rejecting Vice President Hannibal Hamlin in favor of Andrew Johnson, the Democratic governor of Union-occupied Tennessee. At the same time, it stole some of Frémont’s thunder by supporting a constitutional amendment to ban slavery and by insisting on the South’s unconditional surrender.

Anti-Lincoln campaign pamphlet

Nonetheless, Lincoln did not like his prospects, having received a number of pessimistic reports from political insiders. “I am going to be beaten … and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten,” he purportedly told a White House visitor. Reiterating on August 23 that defeat appeared 𠇎xceedingly probable,” he made the members of his cabinet sign a pledge to cooperate with the new president-elect to save the Union before the inauguration.

Just a week-and-a-half later, General William T. Sherman captured Atlanta, and this was followed up by a major Union victory in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Suddenly, with the Confederacy on the ropes, the Democratic platform seemed harebrained. Meanwhile, Lincoln received an added boost when the foundering Frémont withdrew from the race.

In keeping with the protocol of the era, neither Lincoln nor McClellan openly campaigned for the nation’s highest office. But their supporters let the vitriol fly, with Republicans attacking the Democrats as essentially traitorous, and with the Democrats playing on fears of racial intermingling. One prominent anti-Lincoln cartoon, for example, depicted white men dancing at a ball with Black women.

Citizens went to the polls on November 8, re-electing Lincoln with 55 percent of the popular vote. He won 22 states and 212 electoral votes, whereas McClellan triumphed in only Kentucky, New Jersey and Delaware (for a total of 21 electoral votes). Notably, Lincoln received overwhelming support from the men in uniform, who voted by absentee ballot or by traveling home on furlough. 

“The election having passed off quietly, no bloodshed or riot throughout the land, is a victory worth more to the country than a battle won,” Grant wrote afterwards. Indeed, with Lincoln at the helm, the Confederacy collapsed the following April.


Watch the video: William Marshal - The Perfect Knight Documentary (July 2022).


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