THE TOURNAMENT EXPLOITS OF WILLIAM MARSHAL. William Marshal was the younger son of a minor nobleman and had no lands to inherit. He acquired wealth and power by his success in tournaments. The wikipedia entry on tournaments says that the object of a tournament “was to capture opposing knights so that they could be ransomed, and this could be a very profitable business for such skilled knights as William Marshal.” In this article, Catherine Armstrong points out the practical importance of tournaments: “Tournaments were the best means of teaching and refining the skills and abilities necessary for medieval warfare within a more confined and controlled circumstance than actual warfare.”
The article describes some of William Marshal’s tournament victories in somewhat the same manner as the exploits of a star quarterback might be described today. The details of some of the tournaments are known because Marshal’s eldest son commissioned a poem—L’Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal or ‘The History of William Marshal’. This wikipedia entry says that the poem is composed of 19,214 lines, in rhyming octosyllabic couplets.
An indication of the scale of Marshal’s success is that Marshal and another knight together took one hundred and three knights in ransoms and booty in just one ten month period. On his deathbed, according to the wikipedia entry on Marshal, he recalled beating 500 knights in his tournament career.