Geoffrey de Marisco (c.1130 - 1179)

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Nicknames: "Justicer of Ireland"
Birthplace: Huntspill, Bridgewater, Somersetshire, England
Death: Died in Shanid Castle, Connello, Limerick, Ireland
Managed by: Jennifer Kathryn Vaughn
Last Updated:

About Geoffrey de Marisco

Geoffrey de Marisco was a first-rate scoundrel among those Anglo-Norman robber-barons who came ostensibly to help Dermot MacMurragh regain his Leinster kingdom. Geoffrey built the motte, or fortified hill, in Hollywood, County Wicklow, to defend his first holdings in Ireland.

Also the nephew of the Archbishop of Dublin, and related to King Henry II, Geoffrey de Marisco was Justiciar (chief governor) of Ireland for eight years between 1215 and 1228. He was thus well placed to grab a good bit of Leinster and Munster for himself, snatching equally from Irish chiefs and fellow Normans alike. He tried to confiscate Terryglass in County Tipperary on the flimsy excuse that the Norman owner had not fortified it strongly enough, having built a stone house instead of a castle.

The fact that a child-king -- Henry III -- was on the throne did not exactly give Geoffrey a free hand in managing the affairs of Ireland, but he took it anyway. One of his tricks was to keep the taxes he collected in the king's name, and spend the money, as one chronicler put it tactfully, "more at his own free will than according to the king's commands." He was eventually sacked. Later, he got caught with his hand in the Church's till in Limerick and was excommunicated.

Geoffrey de Marisco, his son William, and three of his nephews were implicated in a nasty assassination on the Curragh, amidst plots and counter-plots and treachery at the highest and lowest levels swirling as thick as Kildare fog.

On 1 July 1231, "Richard Marshall presented himself to the king as the heir of his brother William Marshall [who had died in early April] ...The king in reply, by the advice of the justiciary Hubert [de Burgh], told him he had heard that his deceased brother's wife was pregnant, on which account he could not listen to his demand till the truth of this matter was discovered." Richard Marshall was then exiled, accused of associating with the king's enemies in France.

In 1234, advisers of the king misled him (in their own best interests)into ordering Geoffrey de Marisco "to seize him [Richard Marshall] if he should happen to come to Ireland, and bring him, dead or alive, before the king". Richard Marshall's extensive Irish holdings were promised as a reward to whoever carried out this task.

On 1 April 1234, Richard Marshall and a handful of men loyal to him, along with his supposed friend and ally Geoffrey de Marisco and his own soldiers, were surrounded and outnumbered ten to one by the infamous Hugh de Lacy and a large number of knights on the Curragh. Marshall was called on to surrender. Geoffrey advised him against it, and Marshall refused to surrender.

When the fighting started, Geoffrey withdrew with his men, announcing to Marshall, "My wife is the sister of the noble Hugh de Lacy [some historians doubt this], and I cannot fight on your side against him with whom I am allied by marriage."

Marshall said he would "seem a man of a wavering mind" if he surrendered then, and the battle went on. Marshall killed six of the knights, and the others feared to approach him. They persuaded foot soldiers to maim his horse with lances, pitchforks, axes and halberds. As he lay helpless on the ground in his amour, one of his enemies lifted up his amour and wounded him in the back. He had fought for ten hours.

Marshall was taken to a supposed friend's castle for medical treatment. He recovered enough to walk about and play at dice, but after further "treatment" by a doctor who probed his wounds with a red-hot poker, he died 16 April.

Afterwards, Richard Marshall was proclaimed "The Knight of the Curragh" for his heroic stand. Roger of Wendover says of him, "Amongst the sons of men his person was so beautiful that nature seemed to have striven with the virtues in its composition."

Geoffrey and his son William were at the same time accused of involvement in the assassination and fined for siding with the murdered knight against the king. Both charges seem to have been more or less justified. Afterwards, William began a vendetta that "disturbed the peace and affected the peace of mind of the king himself for many years", until eventually he avenged Marshall by killing the chief assassin.

The de Mariscos were outlawed and became pirates on the Irish Sea. They concentrated their depredations on shipping to Dublin and Drogheda, which prompted Dublin to beef up its city walls.

(Isolde's Tower, recently excavated, now covered over and at present being built on, was part of this improvement in the city's defensive works.)

William was accused -- probably falsely -- of instigating an attempt on the king's life in 1238. The would-be assassin, who accused him, was torn limb from limb by horses at Coventry, then beheaded.

In 1242, William was captured -- undoubtedly through treachery -- tried and condemned. He was then "dragged from Westminster to the Tower of London, and from thence to that instrument of punishment called a gibbet, suspended on which he breathed forth his miserable life. After he had grown stiff in death, his body was let down and disemboweled; his entrails were immediately burnt on the spot, and his wretched body divided into four parts, which were sent to the four principal cities of the kingdom, that the sight of them might strike terror into all beholders. His sixteen accomplices were all dragged through London at the horse's tail, and hung on gibbets. ... And thus, as before mentioned, horrible to relate, he endured not one, but several dreadful deaths."

The 13th-century historian Matthew Paris describes Geoffrey's end: "About this time [1245], Geoffrey Marsh, a man who had been formerly a noble, and not the least one amongst the magnates of Ireland, who had incurred an indelible stain by the treacherous murder of Earl Richard Marshall, and who was now an exile, and a wretched and proscribed man, having been expelled from Scotland, banished from England, and disinherited in Ireland, after the ignominious death of his son and the loss of all his friends, was himself taken from amongst us; thus finally ending so many deaths by his own." Geoffrey's line of male descent died out in the 14th century, and so fell a rotten -- though colorful -- branch from the family tree.

Most of the quotes and much of the information in the above are from: Flowers of History (Chronica) from the Descent of the Saxons to 1235 Roger of Wendover (formerly ascribed to Matthew Paris) Matthew Paris's Chronicles (Matthew Paris's English History 1235-73)

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Geoffrey de Marisco's Timeline

1130
1130
Huntspill, Bridgewater, Somersetshire, England
1170
1170
Age 40
Ireland
1179
1179
Age 49
Shanid Castle, Connello, Limerick, Ireland
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