Book Review – “The Greatest Knight” by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Greatest Knight: The Unsung Story of the Queen's Champion

William Marshal rose from obscurity to become one of the greatest knights in European history. He served four kings and had even been named regent of the last of the four. But “The Greatest Knight” by Elizabeth Chadwick only covers the story of William Marshal’s service to the first two kings, King Henry II and King Richard I. But his service and loyalty was also to King Henry II’s wife, Queen Eleanor.

The story opens with William Marshal given as hostage to King Stephen when he was but a boy. William’s father, John Marshal, betrayed King Stephen. King Stephen threatened to kill the hostage, but John Marhsal still refused to give to the king’s demands. Fortunately, King Stephen could not kill the child.

As the second son of John Marshal, William had no titles, inheritance, or income of his own. Younger sons were often given to the clergy or trained in the military arts. William was given to William de Tancarville, his mother’s cousin, for military training. Later, William served his mother’s brother, Patrick, Earl of Salisbury. And from there, William made a living by winning tournaments such as jousting.

At some point in William’s life, his bravery earned him Queen Eleanor’s favor. Queen Eleanor appointed William to serve her young son, Henry. Between his service to Young Henry to his service to King Henry the II, and then to King Richard I, William Marshal was part of a royal rebellion, accused of inappropriate behavior with Young Henry’s wife, went on a crusade to Jerusalem, and married Isabel de Clare to became Earl of Pembroke.

I thoroughly enjoyed the history. But there is just something about the story that couldn’t get me into the characters. It told the knight’s story and gave historically accurate descriptions of events, clothing, and everyday life. But it didn’t delve enough into the character of William Marshal. I felt like I was watching the story from the outside rather than being a part of it. Perhaps because it is historical fiction, it focused more on the historical part and didn’t presume to know how William Marshal felt about all the events around him.

Nonetheless, the history of William Marshal is very interesting. Likewise, the story does a good job of bringing that history to life. If you do not know who William Marshal is, I highly suggest you read more about him. And if you think history is dry, you can start out by reading “The Greatest Knight” by Elizabeth Chadwick. Although her story is fiction, it is obvious that Elizabeth Chadwick has put a lot of research into it and has made the story as historically accurate as possible.

The sequel to “The Greatest Knight” is “The Scarlet Lion” and will cover more of William Marshal’s service to King Richard I, King John, and regent to Henry III. I will definitely be purchasing this second book and reading about the rest of William Marshal’s extraordinary life.

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