Iron Mike – Gruntworks Contributing Blogger
Circle up Numbnuts… it’s story time again!
Let’s get right to the point: are you “secure in your masculinity”? Are you comfortable sharing your feelings and not questioning whether or not you should feel less ‘manly’ because of them? Did some fay middle-aged bearded nerd with glasses and a calming voice convince you that masculinity was just some thing that you could do once and then feel good about forever? Or worse, did you listen to some lesbian feminist cunt with penis-envy who told you it doesn’t matter at all (because she can’t do it)? Did they tell you “It’s OK to cry”? Well I’m here to tell you that’s all a load of horseshit. Being a man means striving for conquest and victory in every aspect of your existence for all of your life… and that life is pain. This idea that men can be “secure in your masculinity” was psycho-babble bullshit invented by Bourgeoisie liberals to make middle-aged nobodies feel like their pedantic existence of mediocrity and overall failure to achieve anything of consequence was just as good as being an apex male with success and influence. It was a ploy by betas to bring the alphas low and sell the other betas some weapons-grade pharmaceuticals to solve their problems for them. Ambien and Xanax to make the pudgy balding gimps have joy-joy feelings about their inferiority. Weak men buy into this “I’m secure in my masculinity” line as they sit idle with their wife watching The Bachelorette. The kind of weak men who look in the bathroom mirror at the age of 38 and realize the only thing the have going for them is an increasing case of gynecomastia. The kind of men that realize their wife is growing less attracted to him by the day and his climb up the corporate ladder has made him nothing more than a placated worker-drone in a soulless cubicle-farm. The kind of man that has never been in a fist-fight, at least not since second grade when he got his ass beat on the playground and cried until his mommy told him he was her special sensitive boy… The kind of man that fails in his marriage, in raising his kids, and eventually suck-starts a handgun at the age of 43 when his wife leaves him and he realizes he will die alone. He has earned no honor, he has claimed no victories, and he lost his will to fight when he traded ambition and struggle for the fleeting selfish promise of security and comfort.
This weak man is one who gave up and became complacent; who decided that convincing himself he was “secure” was a more important endeavor than striving for excellence and victory for the rest of his life. The enemy of greatness isn’t failure, it’s deciding that ‘Good Enough’ will work. So, he selfishly planted his flag on that small hill of mediocrity and died there convinced he was “secure” in his masculinity. Well… he didn’t PHYSICALLY die. His soul died there. The essence of what made him a man died there. His drive, ambition, passion, and all sacrificed in the name of fleeting comfort in a life that ultimately affords no such thing. To succeed in life to endure the blows and struggle defiantly in the face of an adversity that will eventually overcome you anyway. Every man should know that when he stops bettering himself, when he stops competing, when he stops struggling against the slings and arrows life throws his way – that he will face spiritual death and oblivion. The only fish the stop fighting the current are the dead and dying floating their way downstream to be consumed by bottom-feeders and coalesce into the shit and detritus at the lowest part of the river. You don’t want that to be you, do you? You don’t want to wake up one day and realize your years of wasted potential, in a loveless relationship with a woman that doesn’t respect you and hasn’t gotten her panties moist for you in years… do you? Then give up on this “secure in my masculinity” bullshit and keep up the good fight. Struggle, kick, scream, and never give up. As the poet Dylan Thomas wrote: “Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Today’s story is about a man who was born raging and raged against the dying light until he laid upon his own deathbed. A man who was the military power behind no less than five English kings. Who survived his first castle siege at age 5 and was still scaling castle ramparts at age 50. A man so revered for his capacity for war and chivalry he is widely regarded as: “the Greatest Knight of the Middle Ages”. Today’s story is about: Sir William Marshal, First Earl of Pembroke.
Sir William Marshal was born in 1147 A.D. as the fourth son of a minor English Baron (and a real cocksucker as it turned out) named John FitzGilbert, Marshal of the Court. Coming from a family of little political power and no significant influence at the court of King Stephen, John FitzGilbert decided to align himself with the king’s rebellious wife Queen Matilda (the only legitimate daughter of King Henry I) during a warring period called “the Anarchy” in English history. Basically, Matilda being the daughter of King Henry I, claimed she had the right to rule as her royal inheritance, while her husband King Stephen disagreed – thus beginning one of many civil wars between English royalty for the throne of England. Young William found himself at the age of 5 besieged by King Stephen’s forces in his father’s keep after his father declared himself for the Queen in an effort to increase his political power with a new regime. The small castle was taken by the King’s army and William became a political hostage to King Stephen in order to coerce his father’s continued loyalty to the king. It turns out William’s father was a righteous prick who declared “I will make more sons” and essentially left 5-year-old William at the mercy of King Stephen to continue on his support of the Queen’s rebellion. King Stephen was apparently impressed by the child’s bravery at his situation and instead allowed the boy to live in the court and begin training as a squire. The war would continue until King Stephen’s son Henry II was appointed heir apparent – thus resolving both his and his wife’s claims to the throne. Having a kid has never saved a marriage, but at least it saved England one time…
Later in his childhood (around the age of 12), William found himself living in the household of his cousin on his mother’s side: William de Tancarville, the Chamberlain of Normandy. It was here living in France (English nobles had claims to many lands in France and for a while the English King controlled large portions of the French coast) that young William began training in earnest for his future as a knight. For the next seven years William diligently honed his skills with the longsword, bow, mace, and lance. He especially excelled at jousting – riding a horse at full gallop towards an opponent with a 20-foot pole in order to spear them through the fucking chest or at least knock them off their own horse with the force of a mid-sized sedan hitting a brick wall at 40 mph. William was knighted as Sir William Marshal around the age of 20 and took up the mantle of other landless knights of his day; competing for fame in glory in jousting and tournaments. William learned his father had died and as expected, didn’t leave him dick for inheritance. So, William did what badass warrior of his day did: he beat the living shit out of anyone who challenged him on the tournament field and cashed in on it.
Tournaments of this period aren’t the type of courtly jousts that Hollywood has typified in movies like A Knight’s Tale or an episode of Game of Thrones. These tournaments were known a ‘Melees’ where knights essentially engaged in full-scale combat against one another with blunted weapons. Beginning with a horseback charge at one another with lances, and ending with duels involving swords, axes, or maces; knights would beat as many opponents as they could and then extort a ransom from them to stop the pain and embarrassment. This trained men for the type of warfare of this period and inculcated the ideals of Chivalry in them. Chivalry was not only a code of stately conduct at court, but a method of warfare between members of the nobility’s warrior class. Warfare in northern Europe of the medieval period involved killing the peasant foot-soldiers and trying to capture as many knights, nobles, and wealthy enemies as possible in order to ransom them back to their families or kingdoms for cold hard cash. Killing opponents was often necessary, but not ideal – dead men don’t pay. Sir William – at over 6 feet tall, and reportedly over 200 pounds – dwarfed many of his opponents by half a foot and the weight of several sandbags. The average man back then was about 5’6” and weighted around 150 pounds… even a well-fed nobleman might only weigh a buck-eighty at best. Go to a museum, you’ll be surprised that most of the knight’s armor on display looks smaller than the pads worn by any Division-1 offensive lineman. Sir William was among the top competitors at these events across Northern France, his childhood nickname “greedy guts” (for his voracious appetite as a youth) now took on new meaning: for beating up so many opponents and emptying their coin purses on his winnings table. By the 1170’s Sir William was something of a rock star on the tournament tours of Picardy and Normandy (provinces in northern France) and his name became known across Europe as his deeds were spread by the knights from as far as Spain and Italy who came to compete there. He was named Champion of numerous tournaments and jousts in combat with the most respected knights from across Europe – including some of whom he would later fight face-to-face on the battlefield. Kings began taking interest in these tournaments and started sending teams to represent their kingdoms on the field of sport. Sir William became the champion and captain of the English King’s team of King Henry II. Sir William was now in charge of devising tactics and mentoring the King’s son in the ways of warfare, gaining recognition before his entire nation in the process. He was not even 30 years old yet.
Sir William also gained something of a reputation for being the ideals of the other components of Chivalry. He is reported to have caught a noble woman and a monk as they planned to run away together and convinced them not to – stopping a crime that would have resulted in both their deaths in that age. As a knight he was expected to be the King’s law enforcement and keep the peace among the nobles and commoners alike – a job Sir William apparently took great pride in, enjoying the prestige of being seen as a courtly law enforcer. It was as his role as a law enforcer that Sir William rode out with one of his uncle, Earl Patrick of Salisbury, and went to put down a rebellion be the noble house of de Lusignan in France. The de Lusignans were backing Queen Eleanor of the Aquitaine in her rebellion against her husband (King Henry II of England) to rule large portions of land across France – and while riding out to put down their rebellion, Sir William and his uncle were ambushed by a far superior force. Most of the men including the Earl were killed and despite killing a dozen of his attackers Sir William was gravely wounded and taken for ransom. During his captivity, he so impressed his captors with his character and bravery that some members of the Queen’s court secretly provided him medical aide for his badly wounded thigh – likely saving his life from infection. He was returned safely to King Henry II, and eventually fought to end the rebellion.
King Henry II was a close confidant and friend of Sir William. When Henry II fell ill with dysentery in 1183, Sir William vowed to fulfill his lord’s promise to take up the crusade in the Holy Land – where he would fight for King Guy of Jerusalem and the Knight’s Templar for two years. Upon finishing his two-year stint killing Muslim heathens at the behest of the English Crown (these days the Crown simply invites the Muslim heathens into England to bomb little girls in the name of “tolerance” and “diversity” instead of fighting them), Sir William returned to England and again served King Henry II until he fell ill again with bleeding ulcers, leading to yet another war of rebellion. Henry’s eldest living son, Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) was convinced by several court nobles that his father was planning to name his youngest son John as his successor instead of Richard; causing Richard to begin a rebellion against his father for immediate succession rights to the throne from his lands in France. Sir William was dispatched by the dying king Henry to bring young Richard (the future king) to heel. Imagine having a task like that set upon you, your boss is ordering you to go out and fight your future boss possibly to the death… but Sir William managed it. Finding the young rebellious prince out on the battlefield, Sir William engaged him in a personal one-on-one joust in front of both sides of men. Slamming the Crown Prince hard to the earth with his lance and the cold professionalism of a seasoned soldier in his 42nd year. Despite being fully justified in bringing the rebellious prince’s head back to his father in a basket, Sir William instead gave the shithead some less-than-respectable words of encouragement before killing Richard’s prized warhorse in front of him as a lesson. That lesson was: “Fuck up and again and it will be you tasting this sword.” It was the middle ages equivalent of a crusty Command Sergeant Major ripping a cherry Second Lieutenant a new asshole, telling him what a fuckup he was, how to fix himself, and then punctuating the conversation with a terse “Sir”. Presumably Sir William then dragged bonny Prince Richard back to papa kicking and screaming to get a literal royal ass-chewing.
Henry II died later that same year in 1189, leaving Richard I on the throne. Most people would be scared shitless after the last exchange between he and Sir William – but King Richard I had developed a profound admiration for the professional warrior that had whipped his ass but spared his life. Instead of retribution, King Richard gifted Sir William numerous lands and offered him the hand of Isabel de Clare, heiress to the estates of Strongbow in England, Ireland, Normandy and Wales. Sir William at the age of 43 married a 17-year-old noblewoman (probably a total babe with huge tits and a vintage 70’s-style muff) and became the 1st Earl of Pembroke. On nothing but his courage, conviction, and the strength of his sword arm Sir William had gone from being a landless and penniless unwanted child to the most famous knight in the land with a lordship. Now at this point in his life, most men start bitching out and looking for reasons to quit and go be “secure in their masculinity”, then grow fat and die. Sir William was not most men.
In 1190 King Richard I left England for the Holy Land on the 3rd Crusade. He would not be back for many years. Before he left, he had appointed Sir William to the Council of Regents to govern the land in his stead. In 1193 Richard was captured in battle by the Saracen Leader An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub – better known as Saladin. He was ransomed for a fortune worth 3 times the annual tax revenue generated by the English Crown (Ever hear the expression “A King’s Ransom” to convey a fuckload of money?) and finally returned in 1194. Naturally, this near bankrupting of the entire English nobility just to get their king back pissed off a lot of Barons and Counts across the kingdom. In 1199 King Richard laid siege to Château de Chalus-Chabrol – a tiny, virtually unarmed castle in France belonging to the minor nobleman: The Viscount of Limousin – when he was struck by a crossbow bolt and later died of gangrene. With no legitimate heirs, succession fell to Richard’s younger brother John. This entire time Sir William had been holding the kingdom together mostly by strength of will alone… and the French nobles of England’s continental territories were getting super pissed about losing all that cash in the first place. In 1197 one of the French nobles rebelled, causing Sir William to go to France and kick some ass. At the age of 50, when most men of his day were trying not to shit themselves to death, Sir William Marshal personally lead the attack and stormed a castle wall by himself; holding the ramparts against the defenders until reinforcements arrived. He had survived his first siege at the age of 5, and he was in the business of winning sieges at the age of 50.
When King John I ascended the throne in 1199, the troubles immediately started as Phillip II, the King of France began taking territory belonging to England having sensed England’s weakness after the death of Richard I. That meant there were going to be a lot of battles to fight in France in the coming years and John needed someone super hardcore to try and unfuck this whole situation for him… Sir William again answered the call. King John however, proved to be a suspicious and paranoid king who did not trust Sir William as his father and brother had. Fearing his power, he often ignored Sir William’s advice in how to deal with the dissatisfied nobles he ruled. Eventually the rift became so large that Sir William returned to his estates in Northern Ireland to fuck his hot wife (25 years his younger) and let King John sit on his thumb and twist until shit REALLY got bad. In the meantime, King John got busy losing a bunch of battles and eventually most of the crown’s lands in France… In 1204 John was such a fuckup that he was excommunicated by the Pope. In 1211 Sir William had to intervene between King John and his court in order to prevent all-out war. King John eventually lost so much of his power that he was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. However, Sir William – First Earl of Pembroke was living large in Leinster, Ireland and raking in the cash from a prosperous lordship that he managed extremely well. Probably drinking Irish whiskey and fucking his hot young wife the entire time too…
King John almost immediately went back on his promises codified in the Magna Carta, causing a civil war in the process. He died a year later of dysentery (allegedly on the toilet according to a wives’ tale of how toilets became known as “Johns”) leaving his 9-year-old son Henry III in line for the throne. Sir William again stepped in to unfuck the king’s mess. As someone who was known to oppose John’s harsh rule – he had favor with the opposition. As someone who had never rebelled against the crown – he held sway with the loyalists. As the most distinguished and neutral nobleman around, he was agreed upon to act as the Regent to King Henry III until he came of age to rule. It was 1216 and Sir William was approaching his 70th birthday.
A group of the French nobles were still really pissed with this whole ‘being rule by the English’ thing and again rebelled against the crown in 1217. This time, they invaded England with the help of the French King Phillip II – who sent his son Louis IIIV (who had declared himself Prince of England the year prior for some reason) to lead his army into England. Sir William Marshal at the age of 70, got on his warhorse, picked up his lance and rode out to defeat the upstarts at the head of his army. What happened next should make you feel really bad about yourself every time you bitch out…
As the French forces and their English traitor allies besieged Lincoln Castle, Sir William organized the 400 knights under his command into a battle line. Then, at his command, the 70-year-old man closed his visor, tilted his lance forward, spurred his horse to a gallop, and fucking charged down the French at the head of his column of knights. A 70-year-old man was one of the first into the battle mowing down dozens of terrified French foot soldiers under the thundering hooves of his horse until his lance snapped in half. Then he drew his sword and continued into the fray attacking men less than half his age and splitting heads open with 3 feet of cold steel along the entire length of the battle lines. He personally engaged the French knights and fought them man-to-man killing several before the battle finished 6 hours later. The French military commander Thomas, the Comte du Perche (Count of Perch) was killed on the field and the remainder of Louis’ army was scattered and fled south, eventually back to France. A 70-year-old man had fought on horseback in full plate armor with sword and lance for six straight hours to save England from foreign invasion – and preserved the Magna Carta as a founding document of the kingdoms that would spawn the greatest Republics of Western Civilization since the Roman Empire. Think about that shit the next time you see some nebbish gimp preaching chemicals on TV to make you feel like a man again, or worse… telling you to give up because you’re good enough just the way you are…
Sir William Marshal realized his health had begun to fail him in early 1219 at the age of 72. He made the arrangements for his funeral himself and spent his last months counseling his sons on how they should continue their own lives. He was ordained in the order of the Knight’s Templar on his deathbed and passed away peacefully in his sleep. In his career he had captured over 500 enemy knights and noblemen, killed hundreds of men, fought and won tournaments in bone-breaking combat for over 20 years, and took part in nearly a dozen different wars across two continents from England to the Levant. He had served King Stephen I, Henry II, Richard I, John I, and Henry III as a knight while outliving 3 kings in his own right. He won victories that changed the political landscape of European history for centuries to come. He was eulogized at his funeral by the Archbishop of Canterbury as “The Greatest Knight who ever Lived” and lies entombed at Temple Church in London (A city now practically devoid of masculine Englishmen, now run by the Muslims Sir William fought). Even his enemy Phillip II of France paid him homage upon hearing of his death, crediting him as “my most worthy adversary” and “a great man”. He strove for excellence in every aspect of his life to the point he charged into battle at the age of 70 and emerged victorious – only the universal killer of age could bring him down. He was the epitome of the ultimate warrior of his day, in an era when masculinity meant survival and defeat meant death.
So what should you make of this story? You should remember that life is pain and struggle. The only true nobility a man can have is how he meets that pain and struggle. Does he use it to teach him, to forge his character and resolve, to become stronger and wiser? Or does he shrink from the challenge and seek comfort and weakness? Sir William Marshal never shrank from the challenges life threw his way – whether they be his own father’s abandonment of him, the lances of opposing tournament knights, the spears and arrows of Saracens, or the sword of his own future King. Sir William took all comers and never sought the complacency and comfort that weak men strive to find. He earned his honor one victory at a time until inescapable age and death took him, never complaining petulantly about some idiotic fantasy about self-actualization and his personal self-worth. He knew his worth, he had earned his worth, and he had the scars to prove it. Stop sitting on your ass sniveling and wondering if your life has any meaning. Stop being a whiney little bitch setting himself up for failure and defeat in exchange for fleeting comfort and meaningless validation of your inadequacy. Go find a battle and win it. Hell, even if you lose, learn something and go fight another one… and another one… and another one… Keep fighting until you’re staring death itself in the face with a grin and say “do what you must.” We all have to die, but fight so you know at the end you were one of the men who really knew what it meant to live. Go to the gym and fight that small battle against America’s obesity epidemic. Then repeat that battle against gluttony and sloth every day so you won’t end up like one of those despondent fat-bodies whose dick no longer works because their arteries are choked with bacon grease… because disgusting fat losers are the most likely to end up in a Psychologists’ office, crying about how they don’t feel good about themselves and demanding chemicals to alleviate their failure. Go be like Sir William Marshal – keep finding reasons to fight and test yourself. Make yourself strong with the small battles to prepare you for the big ones that matter most. Go find something to fight for, and win something that matters. Go test your strength, and even when you fail come back and fight harder the next time until you win. Go win something that matters… but most importantly, never get complacent. Never be “good enough”. Never stop fighting.