Series: William Marshal #1
Publisher: Sourcebooks Inc. (Sourcebooks Landmark)
Pub date: 2009
Source: Personal copy
The Greatest Knight is the story of William Marshal (1167-1194), a knight under King Henry II. Marshal was a loyal vassal to his King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, but has to do some nimble political maneuvering when their sons start to rebel against their father and jostle with each other for the throne and power.
The Greatest Knight tells the story of the unsung knight, William Marshal a favourite of Queen Eleanor. As a younger son, Marshal has no inheritance and few prospects. He starts his career as a hostage ( his father refuses to pay the ransom demand). As the most junior and not very respected knight, he works hard to gain the respect of his fellow knights and his master.
A few years on, fortunes change and Marshal finds himself as Young Henry’s tutor. The spoiled young prince tested Marshal’s loyalty throughout his service. But to Marshal, his word is everything and he remains loyal to the prince to the bitter end.
The story follows his trials and victories and political slippery slide that Marshal travels on while serving King Henry and then King Richard, John – all the while the brothers are fighting among themselves. Not only is it a political quagmire as the royal brothers keep jostling for power, but Marshal’s success in tournaments and on the battle field often gain him the jealousy of other knights.
Queen Elanor is a great source of support for William Marshal and time and again she sees to it that he gets rewarded for his loyal service. Finally, Eleanor gives Marshal permission to marry a rich heiress. Luckily they fall in love and start their life together.
One thing that struck me was the plight of young heiresses who didn’t have any family. The king decided their fate. While unmarried, their wealth was used to pad the royal coffers. They were handed off in marriage to any knight or lord who has shown his loyalty to the king. These young women did not have a say in their own future and it was the lucky few who found themselves with a good man for a husband.
The concept of loyalty is also thoroughly explored in The Greatest Knight. A knight swears loyalty not only to his lord, but also to his king. Very often knights found themselves in a tough spot when the lord they served turned against the king. And when the king and princes begin fighting, Marshal finds himself between a rock and a hard place more than once.
What was good about this book were the descriptions of life as a knight, the tourneys and the battles. Chadwick draws intricate pictures of this life and the changing political situations. At 500 pages, this is not a short book, but the attention to details and historical facts made this a very enjoyable weekend read. An unsung hero and unknown knight is brought to life in this story. I really liked reading about medieval England, knights, chivalry and jousting.
But as a character, Marshal does come off as too perfect and too good at times. So while I didn’t really fall in love with any of the characters, I loved this behind the scenes look at the life of a knight whose loyalty and duty meant so much to him.
I will be looking out for the second book of the series – The Scarlet Lion.
Recommended for fans of Historical fiction. It is rather slow and seems overly detailed in parts, but well worth the read.
*See my Rating policy
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