"Fight for your lord, fight for his honour, but never forget that you were fighting for yourself too." The Greatest Knight is one of the best historical fiction books Ive ever read. After reading about Eleanor of Aquitaine in the more recent Elizabeth Chadwicks The Summer Queen, I felt like going back not only to revisit the older Eleanor, but also to meet such a perfect hero. We get to know William Marshall, a figure that could be envisioned as the ideal medieval knight. Perhaps Marshalls job could have been easier if he had served less conflicted and disagreeable masters than were Henry II and Eleanors offspring. Her account of a meeting of Marshall with Queen Eleanor, while visitng her at Winchester, illustrates how the author is able to make us feel all the nuances of such a moment while they talk about marriage, love and trust: I hope to make a good match, madam I may not look like a bargain at the moment, but rest and polish will rectify some of the damage Eleanor expression softened. I do not know, madam. And he gave me children He said that they were all mine except for John, but he was wrong. William, if you are going to love your wife, and have her love you, then take some advice from one who has lived with it and without it and knows its price and value. I highly recommend not only the Greatest Knight, but the whole magnificent William Marshalls Saga.
This story is based on the life of a forgotten hero, William Marshal, the knight selected by Eleanor of Acquitaine to train her sons in horsemanship and chivalry. Throughout the story, William's integrity, loyalty and stolid support for the Plantagenet family keeps him busy going from one battle to the next.
:) The Greatest Knight is also one of my first historical fiction reads, and I super enjoyed this tour to the olden times that I never stopped reading anything under this genre since then. I admit not being well-versed about feudal Europe, courtly knights or monarchical politics; my knowledge about the Middle Ages is usually limited on fictional books set in that period and medieval-themed films or TV shows that boast of elaborate costume display and scenic country landscapes, and I know that they dont always count as credible sources of information. So, hearing about William Marshal through this book (albeit in the same fictional fashion) has given me an introduction to his remarkable life story and how from being landlesswhich I learned is a younger sons usual fate in his timehe became one of the richest and most powerful men in their kingdom. (Okay, so maybe I might need those standing stones for Outlanders Jamie Fraser after all, but this is another story.) I truly enjoyed this read despite the drama, feudalism and too much politics in William Marshals time.
Chadwick's knowledge about medieval history seems phenomenal and she has a gift for transporting a reader to the middle ages.
What I didn't find however, was a good book which I think is extremely sad because all the requirements for a great read where there. Now you could argue that this is a history novel and meant to entertain instead of being highly literary in writing style. In the afterword, Chadwick says that a lot of things, she could only hint at because William Marshall's personal history is so full of events and experiences that it would be impossible to do it justice, the reason she wrote a second book about the second half of his life (which I haven't read so I can't say whether this differs from the first one). Chadwick succumbs to that one thing that cannot happen in literature that is meant mostly for pure entertainment: she tells instead of showing. Whenever she moves on for a year or two with her narrative, the reader gets told in the opening paragraph what has happened in the years in between, then a more or less significant scene from Williams life is depicted and on we move. William Marshall has no depth of character because he is inherently good, noble, humble and all around chivalrous. Chadwick managed to avoid every possible conflict Marshall could have had. And for me, Chadwick simply believes in the greatness and goodness of William Marshall described in the ballade (that I have, admittedly, never read, so I'm doing a bit of guessing here). So while I really was curious about the book and love the time it depicts, and really wanted to like it, I never really managed to do so.
A nice romance/historical fiction about the legendary knight-errant who served Eleanor of Aquitaine and her sons, including Richard the Lionheart and the infamous King John.
He is desperate to earn his rank among the others in King Henrys retinue to be more than just the son of John Marshal. Perhaps Williams job wouldve been a bit easier had he served another family they didnt call Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaines children the Devils Brood for nothing! Theres a little bit for everyone in this novel fighting, loving, hating, betrayal, loyalty its all there!!!