Castle Corner: Who was the greatest knight?

Image: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Image: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery - Credit: Archant

Charging horses, clashing swords and battle cries of the past will come to life for Norwich Castle visitors when the current renovation of the Keep is complete and the first British Museum medieval gallery outside London brings medieval treasures of international importance to Norwich.

'Introducing our new 6 part series starting today.'

'Introducing our new 6 part series starting today.' - Credit: Archant

The ‘Those who Fight’ section of the gallery will tell tales of battles fought, kingdoms lost and won – from humble foot soldiers to knights and famous swords people of the past.

Lee Warden, Project Learning and Engagement Officer at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, steps back to colourful medieval times to offer a hint of what we can expect.

Q: Who was the greatest knight?

It has to be William Marshall – in fact, he was so impressive that I am amazed no-one has made a film of his life! He was an unlanded son of a minor nobleman who rose to fame during a period which defined the middle ages and shaped centuries of history after it. William (1146/7 to 1219) served no less than four English kings, was the personal combat tutor to the Young King (Henry II’s son) and oversaw the signing of Magna Carta. He became a legendary tournament champion – and stopped a French invasion at the age of 70! His daughter Maud Marshall married Hugh Bigod (the 3rd Earl of Norfolk) which cemented the Earls of Norfolk to be the Marshalls of England for centuries to come. The role of Marshall is essentially to oversee the army and ensure the Kingdom is well defended – a very prestigious position.


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Q: What makes this knight’s tale so intriguing today?

William’s fascinating story resonates with people today just as much as it did almost 800 years ago for a variety of reasons. It reminds us that although history typically focuses on the grand events, it is really a series of decisions made by people just like us with aspirations, love and heartbreak. This human side of history is one of the key perspectives we hope to convey through all the new displays and events at the museum. William was on the scene at many era defining moments in medieval history, the signing of the Magna Carta is one that most people are familiar with, but he also unhorsed the young Richard the Lionheart after Richard rebelled against his father and joined the French in waging a war against England. When Richard eventually became the King of England, the two readily supported each other.

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Q: How will the new gallery bring medieval battles to life?

There will be plenty of medieval objects displayed in the Those who Fight area of the museum. What’s really exciting about the project is that as well as amazing pieces from the British Museum’s collections, a huge number of local objects will also be displayed and reinterpreted. These tell the fascinating, and often overlooked, history of Norwich and Norfolk, and their place in the wider world. Norwich is a city with a rich medieval history, and we look forward to shining a spotlight back in time to allow all of our visitors to see the past as never before.

Q: How else can people immerse themselves in these stories of the middle ages?

Why not get involved in Knight Club? It’s a pioneering, new, active way for people to engage with history. The Club’s aim is to revive the lost art of sword fighting in a safe, competitive way for schools and individuals across the county. Knight Club combines history, exercise, and community to bring the past to life for everyone, regardless of age or ability. We also hope to support schools in starting their own Knight Club by providing training and bursaries to help towards the cost of equipment. Knight Club will be launched in early 2021 and schools, groups, or individuals interested in getting involved are welcome to contact lee.warden@norfolk.gov.uk

Norwich Castle has reopened to the public, although the Keep itself, the café, shop and some galleries are closed due to the Royal Palace Reborn works. Admission is by advance booking only: norfolk-museums.arttickets.org.uk For more information visit www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk

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