That’s a question that frequently gets asked on various forums and everyone has their own ideas and then long discussions ensue!
I am often asked about my personal thought regarding his appearance.

William’s biography, the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, written in rhyming verse and completed about 6 years after his death,  gives us a description of William that is airbrushed Medieval style,  but does add a couple of pointers.

In translation the Histoire says:
It did not take many years until William had grown into a tall boy. His body was so well fashioned that, even if he had been created by the sculptor’s chisel his limbs would not have been so handsome. I can tell you this because I saw them and remember them well.
At the same time he had fine feet and hands, but all this was as nothing compared with his overall appearance. Anyone who had looked upon it would have found it so upright, so well formed, that, if his judgement were sound, he would have concluded that nowhere in the whole world was the to be found such a perfect body.
His hair was brown (brunette in the Histoire original), his face swarthy, but his features were so much like those of a true noble that he could have been Emperor of Rome.’

The Histoire also tells us that William had a large crotch – which doesn’t mean he was well endowed in the genital area (we don’t know that one!) but it does mean the parlance of his day that he had the perfect pelvic coordination for being a good horseman.  While the latter is automatic praise for a hero, the proof that he did possess such is pretty self evident from his tourney and military career.   The mention of brunette hair and a swarthy complexion is interesting because such were not the attributes of comely heroes.  To conform to that idea he should have been a fair-skinned blond.  There is no need to think of his physique in terms of massively muscled like Conan the Barbarian.  Think more the attributes of a decathlete. See this blog for what I mean.   So let’s say 6ft and 180 pounds.

A tomb in the Temple Church purports to be William’s effigy – it may well be.  The armour and style are from the correct period. The effigy shows a tall, slim man. He has a moustache for definite, but we cannot be sure about the beard because his jaw is covered by his coif.  However, it’s likely.  The face has been damaged by time and bombs, but here it is as it remains to us now.


The head of the effigy thought to be William Marshal


The full length, long, slim tomb effigy

In the late 19th century a plaster cast was taken of the effigy by the Victorians.  This was before the bomb damage but in style appears very suspiciously Victorian and I suspect quite a bit of artistic tampering, but still, it’s a gist.


Victorian plaster cast effigy of the tomb figure V&A on loan to The Temple Church

On the non conventional historical front, My psychic friend Alison King tells me that he has a look of actor Christopher Ecclestone when she sees him from certain angles and that he had strong, masculine features and was dark-haired and handsome.

A couple of months ago I was writing a scene for TEMPLAR SILKS and had a sudden very clear flash of William’s face in front of my eyes. I immediately recognised what Alison had said about Christopher Ecclestone, but at the same time, this was different, cleaner, more refined. Such was the clarity of the moment though that I set about trying to create an image of what I’d seen.

Armed with Portrait Professional Pro and Microsoft Digital Image 6, I set about the task making images both with and without beards. The with beard was alarming because I only had the clone brush to work with and had to keep borrowing from the head hair – so it was a bit like drawing a beard on a person in a newspaper as I used to do as a child! However, I softened it through a painting filter and it was more about general impression.

When I sent the result to Alison she said to me that it was ‘very spooky’ to see the image of William Marshal emerging on her PC screen. However she suggested a few more tweaks. On Thursday she had a play on my PC, and this is the final result. The only thing we couldn’t alter is the position of the mouth which needs to be a fraction lower (and it is a fraction) Find an actor who looks like this and you’ve got your William Marshal as he would have looked in his early 30’s.   When I posted it to my Facebook page, another friend with abilities looked at the images and reported ‘Yes, that’s William Marshal!’

Of course your mileage may differ depending what images fill your own head but I know I’m sold on this one!


Christopher Eccleston. 1999. Guardian Weekend Mag

Christopher Eccleston. 1999. Guardian Weekend Mag

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