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The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

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diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

Postby diamondlil » Wed August 27th, 2008, 12:41 pm

I have never read any Elizabeth Chadwick novels before even though I have had her on my TBR list for quite some time. When I saw this book sitting on the new releases shelf at the library I thought here is my opportunity! So it then moved to my shelf for the best part of a two and a half months until suddenly I realised that I was not going to be able to extend any further, so I was going to have to either take it back or just get on with it and read it. I chose the latter, and to be honest I am wondering why on earth I didn't read it when I first got it because it was a very enjoyable read!

The book follows William Marshal from the time he is 5 years old through to around 48 years of age (there will be another book to cover from then until his death that the author is currently working on). This is a fictionalised version of his life, taking the events that we do know from history, and then weaving and fleshing out the story into very readable, very enjoyable look at life in the times of the Plantagenet period of English history.

William was the fourth born son of John Marshal (Marshal to King Stephen), and nephew to the Earl of Salisbury. When he was approximately 5 years old William was handed off as to King Stephen as a hostage against his father's promise (not an uncommon event at that time). When William's father did not keep his word, King Stephen had every right to hang William, but he did not. What King Stephen did do was give William what would appear to be his life mantra - A King Values Loyalty.

When he was around 20 years of age William was knighted and began to participate in the tourneys that were part of the life in Northern France. After suffering a setback in his first major tourney, William quickly learns how to fight and win, and build his store of wealth. The author has done a great job at portraying the colour, and the pageant associated with the tourneys, but it was not an easy life, especially for a young man who was born with such limited prospects, and who is living in his uncle's house by his good grace alone. As his success continues and reputation grows, William becomes probably the most successful knight on the tourney circuit. In the epilogue, Chadwick compares the adulation that William Marshal would have received due to his success at the tourneys to that accorded to modern footballers now:

Rather like the sporting heroes of today, the great tourney champions were much in demand and sponsors would pay vast sums of money to have them on their 'team'. The world of high earnings, transfer fees, hero worship and celebrity that, for example, we associate with modern-day football was a concept already embraced by the followers of the tourney circuit in the late twelfth-and early thirteenth century Europe. William Marshal was the David Beckham of his day!



Whilst out riding with the Queen one day, William saves her life when they are attacked by a group of rebels. He is taken captive and is not released until someone pays the price of his release. Once he is released, William is appointed as tutor to the sons of Queen Eleanor, thus beginning a life long service to the Plantagenet family.

His service was to Prince Henry, who was eventually crowned the Young King concurrently with his father King Henry II. This was one of several things that I learnt whilst reading this book. I had no idea that it was the French tradition to crown the heir to the throne, whilst the current King was still alive. Another thing I learned was that tourneys were not at that time held in England because King Henry didn't like them.

If you know anything about the Plantagenet family, you will know that they were practicallly the model of the ultimate dysfunctional family (throughout the events of this book Queen Eleanor is being held as her husbands captive!) and it is not long before Prince Henry was fighting his father, and eventually openly rebelling against him, making alliances with his father's enemies. Whilst William did his best to contain his charge without upsetting him too much, William's enemies saw ideal opportunities to undermine his position and his authority. For with success in the Royal courts comes ambitious jealousy and dangerous gossip to which William falls prey when he is accused of having an affair with the Young Queen Marguerite, Henry's bride and sister of the French king. William is banished from court and begins a period of wandering, mainly making pilgrimages to atone for the sins of the desecration of a chapel that occurred under the order of Henry earlier.

Eventually recalled to court, William once again acts as right hand man to the Young King, knowing that it could well count against him with the King because of the open rebellion between the two Kings, but then the young king Henry is taken ill and dies. William takes time out and journeys to Jerusalem to fulfill the dying wish of his master. There is little known of this time in his life, and this is one area in which Chadwick chooses not to elaborate, keeping this mystery for us as we read through her book. When William returns to court, Henry recognises the loyalty that William displayed to his son and appoints him to his court, again rising to a position of authority and influence. And then it seemed that the cycle began again, this time with the rebellion between King Henry and his now heir Richard (known to us these days as Richard the Lionheart), and then between King Richard and his brother Prince John who is attempting to undermind Richard through underhanded scheming and dealing as Richard is held hostage in Austria and Prince John attempts to gain the throne any way he could.

Rewarded with various lands and gifts, one of the greatest gifts that William was given was the marriage to Isabel de Clare, bringing both what certainly appeared to be a happy marriage, but also children, lands, and wealth. In order to win this great prize though, William had still had to figure out whether to accept what he was given (for he was originally given another young ward with a view to marriage) or asking for more! He was ably assisted in this regard by Queen Eleanor who was a great champion for his cause.

Not only did William have to tread carefully as he made his way through the Plantagenet court, he also had to deal with his own family, finding himself more often than not on the opposite side of a quarrel to his own brother, and trying to ensure that his family was advanced as much as possible.

There is a great deal to cover to give animation to the facts that are known of the life of this man, and so the author moves through from event to event. There are times when the time difference between two chapters can be several years. Whilst at times I found these jumps a bit distracting and had to go back and check the dates so that I had it straight in my mind, this is probably the only criticism I would give. The William Marshal we meet is highly successful despite the attempts of his enemies to cause his downfall - a man with a very strong sense of integrity, honour and loyalty, who often has to contemplate whether these values will be enough to help in to survive in the very fickle world of court affairs.

Overall this was a very enjoyable read, spending time in the courts of Plantagenet England, one of my favourite eras in English history. I look forward to the second book to be released and will read it as soon as I get hold of it this time, and will be reading more from her!

Rating 4/5

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Kailana
Reader
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada
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Postby Kailana » Wed August 27th, 2008, 3:54 pm

I still can't believe I still haven't read Elizabeth Chadwick before. I don't even have a book by her in my TBR pile! She is not an author I can just go to the store and buy and I just haven't ordered her online yet! Kind of hard to believe, really.

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Sun September 7th, 2008, 9:49 pm

I just finished this one and loved it! I am eagerly awaiting the next two in that series. A bit frustrating tho, I am ready to read the next one right now, but I have to wait since the only place I could find them was on Amazon CA. Ah well, good things come to those who wait, they say.

> Whilst at times I found these jumps a bit distracting and had to go back and check the dates so that I had it straight in my mind

I had to do the same. It would have helped to have a timeline, or a family tree, and a map. Those three things, as well as a good author's note which this book had, helps me so much as a reader, and I wish every author would include those (hint hint :) )

I was wondering if she was going to cover his year in Jerusalem and was pleasantly surprised that she didn't. I think it would have been too much within that one book.
Last edited by Ash on Sun September 7th, 2008, 9:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Sun September 7th, 2008, 11:00 pm

Ash, she's among the best in this genre. I don't know why something this good isn't readily available in the US. Check out abebooks, they do have US sellers bringing her books in from the UK. You'll pay shipping charges but perhaps better than the exchange rate, and you might find some of her older books there -- and those are getting hard to find.

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Sun September 7th, 2008, 11:46 pm

"Misfit" wrote:Ash, she's among the best in this genre. I don't know why something this good isn't readily available in the US. Check out abebooks, they do have US sellers bringing her books in from the UK. You'll pay shipping charges but perhaps better than the exchange rate, and you might find some of her older books there -- and those are getting hard to find.


I checked out ABE via Bookfinder, all copies of her books start at $15. So really the Amazon CA order is fine; the total for 3 books came to $18US including shipping. Its just that I know its going to take longer than usual!

Oh btw, in another thread we were talking about sex in novels. It worked out great here!

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Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Mon September 8th, 2008, 12:43 am

Glad you've got more coming. You won't be sorry.

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Tanzanite
Bibliophile
Location: Northern Virginia
Contact:

Postby Tanzanite » Mon September 8th, 2008, 12:46 am

I love The Greatest Knight - and William Marshal as a result! He's the ultimate "knight in shining armour". It is one of my all time favorites (up there with Penman's Here Be Dragons).

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diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

Postby diamondlil » Mon September 8th, 2008, 9:25 am

"Misfit" wrote:Ash, she's among the best in this genre. I don't know why something this good isn't readily available in the US. Check out abebooks, they do have US sellers bringing her books in from the UK. You'll pay shipping charges but perhaps better than the exchange rate, and you might find some of her older books there -- and those are getting hard to find.


My favourite UK online bookstore is Book Depository. No shipping which brings the cost of buying books from overseas right down.
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There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

Edith Wharton

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Mon September 8th, 2008, 11:53 am

"diamondlil" wrote:My favourite UK online bookstore is Book Depository. No shipping which brings the cost of buying books from overseas right down.


I haven't tried them yet but everyone who has raves on the service. I've heard the exchange rate is bit unfavorable to us in the states right now as opposed to buying through Canada and paying a small shipping charge.
I could be wrong though :o

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Mon September 8th, 2008, 1:29 pm

Thanks lil - tho I think for the time being I'm going to stick with CA - it actually has the dollar higher than the CA$! (by a few pennies, but still)

One thing that did bother me in this book, was Marshalls perfection. It wasn't enough to make me dislike the book, but enough that as I finished the book, I thought about more. He obviously had internal turmoil, which helped develop his character, and I liked his love/hate relationship with his older brother. But there were times I wanted him to really screw up (yes he did at the raid on the church, by being passive). He obviously went to Jerusalem to pay for his sins, and that was very believable. But esp when he was married to Isabel, it started not to ring true (didn't help that I thought she seemed too perfect as well). That being said, the characterizations in this book were right on, and I like the story of Marshall enough to check out the other two books. I suspect that he might not be such a knight in shining armour on a white horse a little later?


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