Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Review: The Greatest Knight

Title:  The Greatest Knight

Author:  Elizabeth Chadwick

Publisher:  Sourcebooks

# of Pages:  529

I received this book for free to review.

Plot Summary:
William Marshall lived through a very volatile time in English history.  When he was a child, he was used as a hostage against his father's continued loyalty to King Stephen.  As a youth, he fought for a nobleman in France.  Then he caught the attention of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and his life changed profoundly.  He became a knight in the Young King Henry's household and quickly had to learn courtly manners and strategies to deal with the wily Plantagenet family.  He protected the king from his enemies, from bad influences, and from himself.  Unexpectedly, however, Young Henry passes away and William must find his own way once more.  Over the next several years, he sets about becoming the greatest knight in English history, making a mark on the world and trying to find peace and happiness for himself.

Elizabeth Chadwick has admitted that she herself is a little in love with William Marshall, and it shows.  The man is wonderful- it would be hard not to be in love with him.  I don't know if he was as handsome as he is portrayed in the book, particularly if he ran the jousting circuit and probably got beat up quite a bit around the head.  But even if he was ugly, Chadwick has solid proof that he was a chivalrous, well-liked gentleman, and I believe it.  He really is a knight in shining armor. 
There is romance in this book, but it is not a romance novel.  William has a mistress and then, much later, he has a wife, but neither of those stories is the main one (though they're interesting as well).  No, William stands firmly in the center of this novel, as does the Plantagenet family.  Everyone else, in my opinion, is just a satellite to the action.  And it is completely understandable.  Particularly towards the end of the novel, there was so much going on, politically and strategically, that I was grateful to only have a few characters to concentrate on.  Any more would have confused me past knowing.  Particularly as, in Medieval Britain, it seems like there were only about three names for parents to choose from to name their children.  There were multiple Johns & Richards to keep track of.

After the Hanovers, the Plantagenets are my favorite English royals.  They are crafty.  No loyalty to parents or siblings amongst the offspring of Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine, certainly.  Some people think the Tudors are dicey, but they are tame compared to the Plantagenets, in my opinion.  And they didn't last nearly as long.  After reading this book, I really want to pick up Thomas Costain's Plantagenet history volumes!  Those people are the definition of Machiavellian.

So, it's really, really impressive that William Marshall managed to not only survive, but thrive, in the late 12th century.  He walked a very fine line between the multiple camps but somehow emerged a victor.  Anyone who can do that should be commended.  Chadwick does very well in making William Marshall realistic and sympathetic, and I really enjoyed learning about him through this book.  I look forward to the sequel, The Scarlet Lion.

Historical fiction that centers around actual historical figures always makes me pause a bit because I wonder where the author draws the line.  How do you know that William Marshall had a sense of humor?  Are you sure his wife was beautiful and had blond hair?  Did he really have a blue cloak?  How much of this story is comprised of you projecting your interpretation of events?  It's hard to tell.  I don't know anything about William Marshall, and very little about the turbulent 12th century, but I have a feeling that if I asked her about major events that shaped Marshall in her story, she could give me primary evidence to back up her claims.  That's always nice to know.  Also, she knows Medieval England well enough to have hated The Pillars of the Earth, so that is always a good sign.

Considering that William Marshall's life was the subject of a long Medieval poem, that he was so involved in politics, and that he did so much to shape England, it's amazing that he is practically unknown to people today.  What a comment on how the collective memory works!  Luckily for all of us, we have an author like Elizabeth Chadwick to raise him back up out of obscurity and give him a dignified place of honor in history!


  1. Isn't he just dreamy?!!!

  2. Besides the Pillars of the Earth blasphemy, this was a great review =) El oh el!

    I fell in love with William hardcore - he is one big medieval hunk of man!

  3. Thanks for the great review Aarti and I will be doing a piece for Rosie's Riveters as soon as my decks are clear. Meant to e-mail you, but things kept getting in the way!
    Was William's wife blonde? The Akashic Records say so (psychic research) but other than that we know her daughter and namesake had thick, flaxen blonde hair - they cut it off her when she was dying in childbirth. So there is circumstantial evidence of family colouring. I seem to recall Countess Isabelle's mother was blonde too and we know her father was red-haired. The Histoire tells us that William was handsome - but then it's a family history, so it would!
    You're quite right about Pillars of the Earth! I'll say no more :-)
    Must dash. Just back from London and the dog is doing a dance. But thank you so much again for the review.

  4. Lucky for us indeed! Glad you enjoyed this one, and now you need to get your hands on The Scarlet Lion and A Place Beyond Courage.

  5. Daphne- Yes he is!

    Amy- "one big medieval hunk of a man" is a perfect description!

    Elizabeth- I remember you telling me before that you use the Akashic records. And I never thought before that histories saying that someone was "handsome" or "beautiful" would be far off. It was only after reading The Penelopiad that it dawned on me.

    Marg- I have The Scarlet Lion, an older edition. Not A Place Beyond Courage yet, but I still have some older books by Chadwick to read!

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  7. That is so cool, Elizabeth Chadwick posted on your blog! Wow I am in awe Aarti :D

    Lol, I wrote cold by accident so had to go deleting.

    Pst, I am sure I can do a riveteer between Dec 7th and Jan 12

  8. Elizabeth is one of my peeps, Blodeuedd ;-)

  9. This book seems to have impressed all those who have read it. Must remind myself to keep a look out for it next time I go on my book buying spree :)

  10. Oooh, I must read this. It sounds fabulous.

  11. I've heard this one is good. Glad I've discovered your blog!

  12. This sounds pretty fascinating!

  13. Anonymous11/20/2009

    This one's already on my list. Who knows when I'll get around to it, though.

  14. I really need to read this! I have heard nothing but good things, but yet, haven't read it!

  15. You know, I won this book in a contest, but I never received it. I had been really looking forward to getting a chance to cut my teeth on some Elizabeth Chadwick. After reading this review I am thinking that I might just buy this one for myself and try to put it on the top of the list. I have been hearing such good things about Chadwick, so I am looking forward to it. Awesome review, I can tell you really loved the book!

  16. I loved this book. Great review!


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