Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick (Rated: C)
ISBN 0-316-72832-2
Time Warner Books
Published 2005
Hardcover, 545 pages

Reviewed by Sandra

I had never heard of William Marshal until I recently read a historical novel based on the life of one of his family members. That novel prompted me to search at my local library where I was pleased to find the above-mentioned book based on the life of William Marshal.

The story opens with William as a young 20-year-old, impoverished knight. His prospects in life seem slim, but when he saves the life of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of the King, he is rewarded with the tutelage of Prince Henry, heir to the throne of England. The perks that go with it include horses, gold, arms, and rich garments. William becomes part of the inner circle of the royal family. Ugly rumours circulate about William and the wife of Prince Henry. They emanate from envious troublemakers who seek William’s downfall. The likely reason for his fall from grace was his charm and ability in the great tourney championships of the day. These champions were in demand and sponsors would pay huge amounts of money to have them on their “team”, much like modern-day sports stars. Whatever the reason, William is banished from court and seeks redemption in pilgrimages to the Holy Land. His fame and expertise with the sword become widely know as he climbs toward becoming the pre-eminent knight of the time.

He eventually returns to England after some years and is offered a rich heiress in marriage, as a reward for his loyalty. William, then 38, accepts and becomes fabulously wealthy when 18-year-old Isabelle de Clare becomes his wife. They fall deeply in love after the marriage and begin their family life. Peace and tranquility elude them, however, as deadly political intrigue and betrayals surround them. Both the King and the heir to the throne die and Richard the Lionheart becomes King of England amidst enemies. When he leaves on crusade – he prefers fighting to ruling England - John, his brother, attempts to seize the throne. William Marshall, powerful, respected knight stands in his way. Marshal’s loyalty is to the reigning King and accepts no substitutes or usurpers. Loyalty, integrity, and chivalry are inseparably linked in his nature. In short, he is an honourable man. Marshal defends King Richard’s throne and is rewarded by him. As the book ends William, Isabelle, and their 3 children are sailing to Normandy along with King Richard and the court, with William looking forward to a long, happy, peaceful life. Circumstances will dictate otherwise.

Chadwick deftly describes manners, customs and clothes of 12th century England as she writes of hauberks, braies, wimples, reused bathwater (ugh), scented rushes on the floors , flagons of wine, spinning galleries, trenchers, and the inevitable embroidery.

This is the second historical novel penned by Elizabeth Chadwick that I have read and enjoyed immensely. Now I’m on the hunt for the sequel to this book entitled The Scarlet Lion and more gems about the life and times of the greatest knight, William Marshal.

Disclosure:I borrowed this book from my local library and I was not compensated in any way, nor told how to rate or review this product.

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  1. I have been eying this one for awhile. You review makes me want to go read it now. Great review!

  2. Thanks, Laura. So far I haven't succeeded in finding the sequel, The Scarlet Lion. I'll keep looking.

  3. I've heard that Chadwick is a master at historical fiction, but I have yet to give her work a try. I'm so glad to see you enjoyed this one so much!

  4. Thank you for this review.
    I've just found The Scarlet Lion
    in a charity shop (last week) and have now ordered The Greatest Knight from the library. I started reading The Scarlet Lion and realised that I needed to start with The Greatest Knight.

  5. This sounds like a must-read! Thanks for the wonderful review!

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your supportive comments regarding my review of The Greatest Knight. I asked the local library to get the sequel, The Scarlet Lion, for me through an inter-library loan, but am still waiting for it. Elizabeth Chadwick is an excellent historical fiction writer.


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