Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 721
Margaret FitzGerold, the daughter of Warin FitzGerold, chamberlain to King John. When she first appears, she is a girl of thirteen, immediately promised in marriage by her father to the son of a powerful neighbor. Her story from then on is an account of her struggle to assert her independence and authority in a world in which a woman, especially a noblewoman or heiress, must at all times be the property of one man or another, to be married off at the will of her current protector, whether this is her father or (once her father is dead) King John himself. Margaret’s first marriage does not last long, but by the time her sickly first husband dies, England has been plunged into civil war between the king and his barons. In this confusion, Margaret suffers a severe social degradation, being married to Falkes de Brealte, a Norman knight of low birth but a successful mercenary soldier and captain of the king’s crossbows. Margaret is half attracted and half repelled by him. She compromises, assisting him as long as he is rising in the social scale but deserting him in the end and claiming that her marriage to him eight years earlier was forced and therefore should be declared void. Sadly for her, her desertion at this point is condemned even by Falkes’s enemies. After she has died alone and friendless, it is revealed that her appeal for annulment of marriage was rejected by the pope. Readers know that her marriage was in a sense compelled, even though she made no effort to escape from it while her husband was successful. Her tragedy is that of a strong, if selfish, character, condemned by a world that is as selfish as herself, but more calculating and without her errors of timing.
Falkes de Brealte
Falkes de Brealte, the captain of the king’s crossbows. Falkes owes his name to his boyhood killing of a fully armored knight while armed only with a scythe. A Norman by birth, he has no position in English society except that which he can win by violence and professional competence. His marriage to Margaret is a payoff by King John for loyal service, and it gives Falkes a chance at achieving not only wealth but also security. For a while, in the civil wars that follow John’s compelled granting of the Magna Carta, Falkes continues to rise, helped by the good sense of his wife. She counsels the raid on St. Albans Abbey, though she also sends Falkes back to be flogged by the monks in penance for his deed. At the battle of Lincoln, he plays a dominant role in the king’s victory. Once King John is dead, Falkes’s violent ways become less successful. His last castle, Bedford, eventually is stormed by his enemies, now loyal to the boy-king Henry, and Falkes loses all of his possessions and is sent into exile. He is still accompanied, however, by men who remain loyal to him against all self-interest. His likable and straightforward villainy is set against his wife’s strong will but cold heart.
King John, a totally unscrupulous monarch set on imposing his will on a rebellious country. He is killed in the end by his own gluttony.
William the Marshal
William the Marshal, an old hero and famous fighter in single combats, eventually regent of England in the place of the nine-year-old King Henry, successor to John. The marshal’s romantic passion for chivalry and courtesy is contrasted with Falkes’s professionalism and is shown to be merely the effect of greater wealth and security.
Sir Reginald Croc
Sir Reginald Croc, a mercenary knight in Falkes’s service. He is killed at the battle of Lincoln, without support from the noble knights of his own side, for thrusting himself into a battle between gentlemen.
Sir William de Brealte
Sir William de Brealte, Falkes’s legitimate half brother, totally devoted to Falkes’s service but as incompetent as he is brave. His mistakes lead to the fall of the castle of Bedford, as well as the capture of Margaret, while Falkes is absent. Sir William is hanged without mercy as another interloper and ruffian, a fate unthinkable for more gentlemanly enemies of the king and the marshal.
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