Monday, 3 April 2017
John the Troubador surely must take his place among Lincoln’s Literary Heroes.
Never heard of him!
Well, read on.
On 20 May 1217 a battle took place just outside Lincoln castle between two groups of English barons: one loyal to the boy king Henry III, and the other led by Louis, son of the French king, and supported by French troops. This battle must rank alongside the Armada and the Battle of Britain in its significance to this island.
Barely two years before, a similar group of barons had confronted Henry’s father, King John, at Runnymede and had persuaded him to add his seal to a list of their demands in the document we now know as Magna Carta. This document remained in force for just ten weeks when, in response to John’s pleading, the Pope annulled it. The battle lines were re-drawn with a group of barons seeking the support of the French with the objective of overthrowing John. Another group rallied round their king.
One of these was a septuagenarian, William Marshal, whom in his younger days had been a dashing, handsome young knight beloved by those fond of jousting. William stood by his king and crucially was by his bed when John died of eating an excess of peaches, or so the story goes. John entrusted the care of his young heir to William.
The rebel barons, under Louis, controlled London and the whole of the east of England, up to and including Lincoln, but crucially not Lincoln castle which was under siege and held by Nicola de la Hay, the widow of its previous castellan.
William and his troops controlled the west. In May 1217 reports reached William that the French troops had spilt into groups and so he grabbed the chance to take them on at Lincoln and so lift the siege of the castle. They camped at Torkesey and on the morning of 20 May marched into Lincoln. A fierce battle followed and the French and the rebel barons retreated down steep hill with the English in pursuit. The English were victorious and celebrated by plundering the city of Lincoln which they accused of being in league with the rebels.
How do we know all this?
John the Troubadour wrote it in an 19,214 line poetic celebration of William Marshal’s life. John had been commissioned by William’s son and he wrote it within ten years of the battle taking place using a good number of contemporary sources. The poem, originally in medieval French, has been translated into English by Stewart Gregory and David Couch and form the basis of Crouch’s William Marshal.
Phil Hamlyn Williams - chair of Lincoln Book Festival, indebted to David Starkey who is speaking at this year’s festival in September 2018