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The Greatest Knight : The Unsung Story of the Queen's Champion
Royal protector. Loyal servant. Forgotten hero.
A penniless young knight with few prospects, William Marshal is plucked from obscurity when he saves the life of Henry II's formidable queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In gratitude, she appoints him tutor to the heir to the throne, the volatile and fickle Prince Henry. But being a royal favorite brings its share of danger and jealousy as well as fame and reward.
A writer of uncommon historical integrity and accuracy, Elizabeth Chadwick resurrects the true story of one of England's greatest forgotten heroes in a captivating blend of fact and fiction. The Greatest Knight restores William Marshal to his rightful place at the pinnacle of the Middle Ages, reflecting through him the triumphs, scandals, and power struggles that haven't changed in eight hundred years.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ELIZABETH CHADWICK AND THE GREATEST KNIGHT:
The Greatness of William Marshal: The descendants of the Greatest Knight himself include George Washington and Winston Churchill, as well as the Stuart kings of England and Scotland. He was partly responsible for the Magna Carta. He vowed his body to the Templars and is buried in Temple Church in London.
The Appeal of the Time Period: There are very few novels about Marshal, and no one has covered him as in depth as Elizabeth Chadwick has. In addition, unlike the Tudor era, there are not extensive amounts of historical fiction set in the 13th century.
The Integrity of the Research: Elizabeth Chadwick's research is impeccable. She not only visited many locations, but she re-enacted with a living history society where a quarter of the membership are either historians or archaeologists, and she collected and used replica artifacts from the period and engaged in experimental archaeology. She has taken courses in various medieval studies to facilitate her knowledge.
The Breadth of the Audience: Readers who are fans of Sharon Kay Penman, Anya Seton, Diana Gabaldon, Phillipa Gregory, and Jean Plaidy will like Elizabeth Chadwick. She appeals to readers who are looking for historical accuracy and strong, believable characters, readers who want to feel that they are being immersed in the period with well-rounded characters.
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.
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September 01, 2009
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