Spider-Man's Tom Holland Descended from 'the Greatest Knight Who Ever Lived'
Updated: Jun 13
Interesting parallels can be drawn between Tom Holland's ancient ancestor and the character of Spider-Man, who Tom portrays in the Marvel movies. | BY MIKE BATIE
Tom Holland is the latest actor to wear the mantle of Spider-Man, and arguably the most-beloved. Along with Holland's charming looks, his dance, choreography, and gymnastics training seem to have predestined him for the role. The British actor wowed audiences in Billy Elliot on the West End in London.
Holland also gave a stunning performance alongside Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor in The Impossible, the true story of a family vacationing in Thailand and caught in the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. I knew back then from his performance that Holland was going to score many more prominent roles in the industry. If you haven't seen it yet, add it to the top of your movie queue!
Tom has also appeared in the films The Lost City of Z, In the Heart of the Sea, Captain America: Civil War, Edge of Winter, Avengers: Infinity and Avengers: Endgame. Up next he'll be in the much-anticipated Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Some of Tom Holland's films.
Tom Holland's Descent from the Greatest Knight Who Ever Lived
Eight hundred years ago, in they year 1219, Tom Holland's 25th great grandfather was being laid to rest in Temple Church in London. He was William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, a knight of the realm and invested into the order of the Knights Templar. In giving the funeral sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared that William Marshal was "the greatest knight who ever lived." Yes, that's right, our boy Tom is the 25th great grandson of the greatest knight who ever lived.
Tom Holland's line of descent from William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and hailed as "the greatest knight who ever lived." / Image by Mike Batie
There are some pretty amazing parallels that we can draw from the life of Tom Holland's ancestor William Marshal, and the character of Spider-Man that Holland plays in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Both Are Legendary Superheroes
William Marshal was quite the hero of his day. He was a knight, a soldier, and a statesman, serving under five English kings. In all of these roles he fought not only for his sovereign, but also for the people of the realm. Marshal fought for those he loved and who had his loyalty. He proved himself a formidable opponent in battle.
Likewise, Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a bit of a knight, you could say. He is a soldier in the war against against good and evil, and has already helped defend the planet and the universe from the like of Thanos. Spider-Man fights for the people of his realm, whether they be his local community in Queens, New York City, or the world. He defends and protects those he loves and is loyal to.
Both Grew Up Without Their Parents
William Marshal was primarily raised in the household of a cousin, and later in the household of his aunt and uncle, where he was brought up in the way his elders thought he should go, being taught literature, Biblical stories, and chivalry.
Similarly, Spider-Man was raised without his parents, being brought up in the household of his aunt and uncle, who taught him the morals and ethics they would expect him to live by.
Both Tragically Lost Their Uncles
William Marshal lived in the household of his uncle, Patrick, the Earl of Salisbury. During this time, Marshal served as a knight in the household. Sadly, William lost his uncle Patrick when he was killed in an ambush while they were out hunting. William survived the attack, but the sadness and possible guilt of losing the uncle he was meant to serve and protect must have weighed heavily on him. From this point in time, William would go on to prove himself a great warrior and defender.
Many will recall that Spider-Man also lost his uncle, Ben, who was tragically killed by a burglar. Peter Parker felt a weight of guilt and remorse that led him to vow to protect the innocent from harm as Spider-Man.
Both Were Trained by Mentors
In Normandy, William Marshal was trained up and mentored to be a knight with lessons in chivalry and the art of warfare by his cousin William de Tancarville.
In Spider-Man: Homecoming, we see Peter Parker is guided and mentored by Tony Stark in preparing him for the role of superhero as Spider-Man.
Both Wear Suits and Masks
Both William Marshal and Peter Parker wear suits and masks to go into battle, which protect them from bodily harm and enhance their abilities. For William Marshal, his chain mail and armor protect him from the blows of weapons, and his horse and sword extend his fighting abilities. For Peter Parker, his suit protects his identity, but also extends his abilities, including a HUD (heads up display) in his lenses, his web shooters, and the Iron Spider Armor suit made for him by Tony Stark also gives him protection from bodily harm, much like the armor that William Marshal wore.
Both Have Stunning Love Interests
Everyone knows about Peter Parker's main love interest, Mary Jane "MJ" Watson. MJ has become one of the most popular "non-powered" characters in the Marvel universe, and become one the best known love interests in superhero pop culture. MJ is smart, independent, supportive, and at times, thrust into battles tied to Peter's role as Spider-Man. In Holland's Spider-Man movies, MJ is Michelle Jones, who goes by the nickname of MJ as an homage to the original Mary Jane.
Similarly, William Marshal married a pretty rad Medieval babe known as Isabel de Clare. She was one of the richest women of the day in England, and also half William's age. But they had a happy and cohesive marriage. At one point while William was away on business, their castle was attacked and Isabel orchestrated and led the defense of the castle and battle against the attackers. Like Peter and MJ, Tom Holland's ancestors William and Isabel were quite a power couple.
The Greatest Knight Who Ever Lived
Tom Holland's 25th great grandfather William Marshal was an insignificant child in his day, as he was not a firstborn and would inherit no lands, titles, or wealth. He had to set out into the world and make a name for himself. He set out at the age of 12, trained to be a knight, and became so skilled in fighting that he won countless tournaments. These tournaments were dangerous staged battles in which money and prizes were won by capturing and ransoming opponents, their horses and armor. The risk of death was always possible. During his lifetime, William Marshal won over 500 such tournaments.
Later, Marshal was appointed by King Henry II to be the tutor-in-arms to his son, Prince Henry. Together they would fight in many tournaments and gain fame throughout Europe.
William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke—Tom Holland's 25th great grandfather, is buried in Temple Church, London. / Image via BBC
When King Henry II's other son—Richard the Lionheart—rebelled against his father, William Marshal met him face-to-face in battle, and became the only person ever to unhorse the Lionheart. William could have killed him, but he instead killed his horse, making the point that he could have taken Richard's life if he wanted. Shortly after this incident, Henry II died and Richard the Lionheart became king, but he was so impressed with William Marshal (and likely the fact that he spared his life) that Richard immediately appointed William as his military adviser and made him one of the richest men in the kingdom.
For all this and more, it is no wonder that Tom Holland's ancestor was declared "the greatest knight who ever lived" in his funeral proceedings. Like William Marshal, our boy Tom Holland has come from humble beginnings and gone out into the world and made a name for himself. Even during school, Tom was bullied. Said Tom, "I had my rough patches. There was times when I was bullied about dancing and stuff, but you couldn’t hit me hard enough to stop me from doing it." I'm sure William Marshal would be proud of his 25th great grandson's determination to keep forging ahead, not allowing anyone to hit him hard enough to stop him from pursuing his ambitions.
Tom is close with his parents, Dominic and Nikki, his brothers Sam, Harry, and Paddy, and his beloved Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Tessa. Together the family runs The Brothers Trust, a UK registered charity which supports smaller charities that struggle to be heard. Tom is the focal point of the charity and its fund raising efforts. To learn more or to donate, visit https://www.thebrotherstrust.org
About the Author
As a family historian, I enjoy researching my own family tree and the family trees of others. It gives me a sense of someone’s background and what makes them who they are today. To see their roots and where they come from is inspiring to me. I’m often in awe of the connections of their ancestors’ experiences to the present. I hope to inspire others to research their own family trees and find out where they come from by sharing interesting insights from the family trees of notable figures.
Questions? Comments? Shoot me a message on my contact page.
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