Not too long ago a friend of mine, who is a big fan of Edward III (a king who, incidentally, deserves to be at least as celebrated as Henry V, if not more, but alas failed to get Bill Shakespeare as his publicist), recommended I read Ian Mortimer's biography of Edward, The Perfect King. Before I was halfway through, however, I was in the thrall of the extraordinary Sir (later Baron) Walter Manny (also Manney, Mauny, de Mauney and goodness knows how many other spellings!)
Manny (c.1310-1372) was born in Hainault and originally came into Edward III's orbit when the King married Phillipa of Hainault and our hero arrived as part of her retinue. He quickly became one of Edward's most trusted companions; within three years of their meeting he was Yeoman of the King's Chamber and from then on would accumulate an impressive array of offices and estates. He also proved himself a formidal warrior, initially in Scotland and later in France. He was at the key naval battles of Sluys (1340) and Winchelsea (1350) when not ploughing through the French forces on land. At the Siege of Hennebont (1342) Manny - in an incident which I an only imagine must have resembled the famous 'Dinner Under Fire' scene in Carry on Up the Khyber - led a sortie to destroy a French siege engine which was disturbing his meal! In 1346, during the Siege of Aiguillon, he led a sortie which was ambushed by a French force six times the size of his own; though his horse and all his men were killed, when English reinforcements arrived they found Manny single-handedly holding off a swarm of French troops. Little wonder that Edward III - no mean soldier himself - once invoked Walter's name to strike fear into his enemies.
The above are just a few of Manny's many exploits. However, it was not all blood-and-thunder. He perfectly encapsulates the extremes of medieval knighthood: on the one hand a relentless warrior capable of acts of both heroism and brutality, on the other a man of chivalry and charity. At the end of the Siege of Calais in 1347 Queen Phillipa famously persuaded her husband not to execute the six Burghers who had offered their lives in exchange for the rest of the citizens, but what is less well known is that Manny was one of those backing her. His interceding with Edward in 1348 seems to have paved the way for the foundation of what became Gonville and Cauis College, Cambridge. In 1349 he purchased land for a cemetary for victims of the plague, and in 1371 founded the London Charterhouse.
All in all a remarkable man who, I feel, deserves to be better known.