Read my review of The Scarlet Lion and come back tomorrow for a special post I created regarding William Marshal's family in Ireland. There is also a two-book giveaway at the main site going on right now (closed).
For the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table event, I jumped at the chance to have the author of The Scarlet Lion go into some detail about the legend of the curse on the William Marshal male line.
Curses! By Elizabeth Chadwick
There is a legend that William Marshal, great thirteenth century magnate and regent of England, was cursed by a disgruntled Irish bishop, who declared that for his sins against the church, William Marshal’s line would perish in direct male descent.
William had ten children in all – five sons and five daughters, all apparently robust and healthy. The daughters were certainly fertile and produced numerous offspring to various husbands. But the sons all died during their prime – some we know for a fact were murdered, and none of them had children. So, how did this curse come about, and is it all just hokum?
The bishop’s anger at William Marshal boils down to an Irish land dispute. William had apparently taken into his own hand the manors of Temple Shanbo and Ferns, which were being claimed by Albin O’Molloy, bishop of Ferns, a close friend of King John. Bishop Albin kicked up a stink, complaining to Rome and involved the biship of Dublin, asking him to put William’s lands in Ireland under interdict. William was also warned that he faced excommunication from the English bishops if he didn’t hand over the lands.
Unfortunately for bishop Albin, his case hit a brick wall when the Pope declined to confirm the excommunication. The bishop tried again in 1218 through the ecclesiastical courts and was told that it was a lay matter, not church business. A complaint to Henry III got nowhere because William Marshal was acting regent for the young man and the case was deferred until Henry III should come of age. The bishop, blocked at every turn and fuming, went ahead and excommunicated William. We know from the chronicle of Matthew Paris that after William died, Bishop Albin made fresh efforts to get his manors back. He came to London and pleaded with Henry III, saying he would lift the excommunication from William if the King would only restore the manors to him.
The bishop therefore went to the tomb, and, in the presence of the king and many other persons, as if a live person was addressing a living one in the tomb, said,
"William, you who are entombed here, bound with the bonds of excommunication, if the possessions which you wrongfully deprived my church of be restored, with adequate satisfaction, by the agency of the king, or by your heir, or any one of your relations, I absolve you ; if otherwise, I confirm the said sentence, that, being involved in your sins, you may remain in hell a condemned man for ever."The king, on hearing this, became angry, and reproved the immoderate severity of the bishop.
As it happened, the hapless bishop was still out of luck as Henry III refused the request too. I have yet to read the piece where the bishop actually laid his curse on future generations. It seems to be one of those oft reported things that is hard to find in the primary source, but I suspect that it is somewhere in Matthew Paris and that it was therefore written after the time when all the sons had shuffled off the mortal coil. Of course, Bishop Albin could have worked up enough of a head of steam to add the curse to his excommunication, and it may have resonated with active energy – who knows!
So what happened to the sons?
William’s son and heir, William II, who also turned down Bishop Albin’s request, died in 1131 of unknown causes when he was approximately 41 years old – although one chronicle suggests that he was poisoned. Richard was treacherously murdered in Ireland in April 1234, in his early 40’s. Gilbert was murdered at a tournament in 1141 when someone cut his reins and he fell from his horse and was dragged. Walter died in November 1245 of unknown causes and Ancel, the last son died within a month of Walter the same. Three grown men dead without reason and two murdered as reported in the chronicles. It is not difficult to believe that someone wanted the males of the Marshal line dead. Bishop Albin died in 1223, so unless his hand reached from beyond the grave in the form of that curse, he can’t be blamed. Myself, I put it down to the deeply murky politics of the time. (then again, when aren’t politics deeply murky?). Perhaps it’s a novel for further down the line…
Perhaps it is!!
Thank you to Elizabeth Chadwick for humoring me and writing about this subject for us.
I find this topic to be so intriguing to peruse, and the fate of William Marshal's sons is just too sad to overlook the curse. And yes, further down the line, we will have another Chadwick novel that includes the Marshals, and most specifically, Mahelt, the favored first daughter of William Marshal the elder. I am so looking forward to it!
What do you think, did the bishop's curse come true?