Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?
Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post Edition)

Thinking Aloud...

Would making Berkeley's first-year economics Ph.D. graduate students this fall read short biographies of William Gates and William Marshall as a way of getting at the idea that there are non-market societies that work very differently from our own today--would that be a teaching idea of extraordinary brilliance or of total insane lunacy?


Guillaime de Marechal:

The New York Review of Books: The Knight of Knights: Maurice Keen

William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry
by Georges Duby, translated by Richard Howard
Pantheon, 155 pp., $15.95

Duby opens this biography... at the deathbed of William Marshal, called "the Marshal." He died at his manor of Caversham, whither he had been carried by water from London, in March of the year 1219.... William in 1219 was a very great man: earl of Pembroke in his wife's right, and up to the spring of 1219 he had been regent for the boy-king Henry III; so his death was a great event.... We see the master of the Temple arrive to admit him to his order: this is when he bids farewell to his countess, whom afterwards, as one bound by the order's rule, he must not approach. We see him ordering h s coffers to be opened and his goods distributed. Finally, we watch the stately progress of his body from Caversham to London....

[T]he verse biography that William's heir commissioned of his father... virtually the only full-scale life story that has survived from this age of a great secular magnate who was less than a king or prince. Put together from what William's friends, and above all his faithful knight John d'Erley, could recall of what William himself had told them of his life, it is at one remove only from the memoirs of the man himself. Above all, it is exceptional in that it traces the whole story, from childhood (and the moving tale of how, as a boy hostage in the civil wars, he played games with King Stephen in the royal tent before besieged Newbury) down to the very end....

Born (somewhere about 1145) as the fourth son of a baron of distinctly middling rank, he started life without prospects; for the last two years before his death he was virtually ruler of England. He had carved the way for himself, almost literally, with his sword. In the crucial early days—-and really, indeed, down to his marriage in 1189—-he was carried forward by his knightly prowess, displayed on the battlefield and in countless tournaments that were disputed scarcely less briskly th n battles. His great chance came when, in 1170, Henry II of England singled him out to be the tutor in knighthood of his fifteen-year-old heir. Henry "the young king."...

This young Henry had been crowned in 1167, but his father granted him no share in the government of his widely flung territories (this drove the frustrated young prince into rebellion in 1173). That rebellion apart, he and his household—-and William with it—-led over the next decade an extravagant and fairly aimless life in northern France, which centered principally on a constant round of tournaments: "Almost every week, tournaments were held in one place or another." These tournaments were very rough affairs, mock battles ranging widely over the countryside; and fatalities were common. Yet both the "high barons" and the young knights-errant who formed their followings flocked to them. There were two great attractions: the glory that could be won in them and the prospect of rich pickings, since those who were taken prisoner were put to ransom.... William built a distinguished reputation, on his loyalty and on his skill and valor in combat, and also on his generosity, for of his own prizes he kept nothing, distributing largess recklessly among his companions.

These three qualities, loyalty, valor, and largess, were, as Duby stresses, the nucleus of the tough, martial, knightly ethic of the twelfth century.... In 1183 Henry the young king died at his castle of Martel on the Dordogne, and it fell to William to discharge on his behalf the vow that he had taken to go on crusade... when he returned from the Holy Land, with his fame still further enhanced, he was taken into the personal service of his late master's father, Henry II himself. In the old king's last years he served him with the same loyalty that he had shown his dead son, and this good service brought him at last reward of the kind for which every adventurer of his stamp hoped, the promise of marriage to an heiress in the king's gift... Isabella, daughter of Richard Strongbow, earl of Clare, lord of Pembroke, and lord too of wide lands in Normandy, by Aoife, daughter of Dermot, king of Leinster, who had brought to Richard his claim to the lordship of Leinster in Ireland. When William married her, just after the accession of Richard I, he exchanged overnight the status of a poor if famous knightly adventurer for that of one of the greatest lords of the Angevin dominions in England, France, and Ireland. From this point forward, he was at the center of affairs in a new way, and one that opened new problems, new tensions, and new tests of loyalty.

The difficulty here, as Professor Duby explains lucidly, was the crisscrossing of feudal allegiances.... The lands that William now held in Ireland he held not of Richard I, his lord in England and Normandy, but of Richard's restive and untrustworthy brother John. When John became king and lost his hold on Normandy, William's lands there came to be held of John's enemy, King Philip of France.... Loyalty, carefully, scrupulously but at the same time often schemingly maintained, had been the theme of William Marshal's life history; that and his courage. It is a splendid story, and Professor Duby tells it splendidly... he uses it as the vehicle for his perceptions about the aristocratic society of the age... his sharpest attention is concentrated on the early period of the Marshal's life, when he was a "bachelor knight" in the service of the "young" Henry... the significance of the bands of young adventurers, cadets mostly and consequently landless, who made up the martial followings of the high baronage and of its heirs—-adventurers of whom William was a prime example. The way of life and aspirations of these unsettled men at the fringes of seigneurial society were, Duby argues, important factors in promoting the contemporary craze for tournaments, in sustaining the Crusades, and in the rise of the cult of courtly (and often adulterous) love....

In his account of William Marshal's early life Professor Duby is able also to pursue another theme of social importance, the way in which, as he sees it, the knightly ethic of the late twelfth century was becoming strained in its relation with practical reali y by the chivalrous aversion to the power of money. Chivalry's tough and masculine martial spirit, its exultation over blows and gifts of weapons and horses, had be n created in a preceding age when, as Duby puts it, "gift and countergift constituted almost everything which, in the movement of wealth, did not proceed from inheritance."...

From a single source, and in a book of small compass, Professor Duby has reconstructed a living picture of a particular sector of society at a crucial moment.... The vividness, the intimacy, and the historical perception with which he presents his picture of the fascinating and eventful life of the Marshal, and of the world in which he lived, will win him readers not just among scholars, but among all who are drawn by the unending interest of the humanity of the human past.

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