34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
This was a wonderful story and much different from Chadwick's previous books, but as to be somewhat expected as Marshal's early life was one of duty to his lord(s) and not leaving much room for romance.
A fascinating look at a true, honorable and loyal man, who in the end was well rewarded for his loyalty by marriage a wealthy heiress who became his life's soul mate. Much of the book is involved with the treachery and intrigue of the Plantagenet court and their lives -- you won't see as much heart stopping page turning excitement as you might have found some of the author's previous works, but still excellent reading just the same. It was also wonderful getting a closer look at those Plantagenets, Henry II, young Henry, Eleanor, Richard I and the always evil Prince John. It's going to be even harder now to wait for Sharon Kay Penman's third novel in her own trilogy of this family, The Devil's Brood.
This book is not yet available in the US -- I got sick of waiting and splurged on it from the UK, along with the sequel the Scarlet Lion, which I am eagerly anticipating in the mail any day now. However, I am very glad I did so, as this author always transports me to another time and place. Highly recommeded.
104 of 107 people found the following review helpful
on 18 December 2005
A writer who only gets better with each book has now written a compelling novel about a charismatic and complex medieval knight whose life sheds light on a fascinating period in English history.
Chadwick writes novels that are steeped in accurate history but she never lectures the reader; never gives you facts just because she knows them. What she does is to illustrate through action and dialogue the truth of medieval life. Readers absorb historical fact by enjoying her storytelling and her characters, and finish her books with a greater understanding of the medieval world and mindset. Marshal was clearly a tough soldier and an astute politician. This novel also shows him to be honourable and caring: a man appreciative of the joys a loving wife and children can bring: a complicated and attractive mix of tough and tender. He is a man it's easy to fall for: I ached to know him.
William Marshal lived through tumultuous times, and this novel successfully weaves fiction with fact to bring to vivid life the precarious lifestyle and character of a man born with no advantages who used his physical and mental skills to live a rollercoaster of a life. His story would fill a thousand pages, and Chadwick has wisely chosen to tell just part of it in this novel. We leave him when he thinks his life in the public arena is coming to a close ... but there is promise that Chadwick might tell the 2nd part of his life in another novel, from the point of view of his intelligent wife, Isabelle. I can't wait.
THE GREATEST KNIGHT is an apt title: William Marshal led one of the most event-filled lives of all our medieval knights, yet is little known now. This book should change that. If, like me, you want to see his stone effigy and that of two of his 3 sons, visit the Temple Church in the City of London. It's hard to find, but the atmosphere in the old apse, with the stone effigies on the floor, is electric. My head was full of the novel when I visited and I'm sure I could feel his presence. But that was the skill of the author whose novel I had only just finished.
101 of 106 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2006
If you're a medieval buff - and especially if you've read up on early Plantagenet history - you know William Marshal. But if you haven't, you should know what you've missed. And there's no better way to start learning than with this book.
I'm an American, a Plantagenet enthusiast, and a tremendous Marshal fan. Since THE GREATEST KNIGHT has yet to be released here, I splurged on transatlantic shipping and bought it from the UK. I'm so very, very glad I did. Elizabeth Chadwick, an author I've long admired for her way with a medieval tale, has gone herself one better. She has taken the known facts of Marshal's life, done a little reading between the lines of recorded history, and rendered a portrait of the man that shimmers with life.
William Marshal led a charmed life to some extent. His first appearance in the historical record is when he is about 5 years old. His father has given him as a hostage to King Stephen, as a sort of human insurance policy against the elder Marshal's disobeying the king. But when William's father defies the king anyway, Stephen hasn't the heart to hang the boy. A few years later, William finds himself in the right place at the right time to save the queen of England from being taken prisoner by enemies. He's injured and taken prisoner himself in the process, however, and when Queen Eleanor ransoms him, it's not without expectations of repayment: She wants the gallant young knight to enter service with her family - arguably the most powerful people in western Europe.
Thus begins a long and profitable - but also perilous - association. The Queen, her sons, and even her estranged husband, King Henry, value William highly as a fighter, an adviser, and an instructor in the chivalrous arts. Such a talented and fortunate man is bound to attract jealousy, though. William's loyalties are put to one complex test after another, and, though his honor remains unblemished, his enemies would have the royals believe otherwise. More than once, William's future looks bleak. But he is never defeated; his intellect, courage and diplomacy make this one story in which the nice guy finishes first.
There's a bit less romance in this book than in Elizabeth Chadwick's other works. But since William didn't marry until he was in his 40s, that is as it should be. Chadwick speculates that William had a mistress in the years prior to his marriage, and, in a footnote to the documented history, she finds a highly likely candidate for the role. But the great love of William's life was Isabelle, countess of Pembroke, whom he married when she was 18 and he was middle aged. We don't know much about the real Isabelle, but the Isabelle of this book is exactly as I would imagine her: beautiful, smart, confident and loyal. Judging by the number of children the couple had, I'd say Chadwick couldn't be too far off the mark in depicting them as very much in love.
As I neared the end of the book, I realized with some disappointment that it was going to end many years before Marshal's death. But that was unavoidable; the man survived to what would be a ripe old age even now, and he did twice as much living as most of us would in the same time span. This book does leave off in a logical and satisfactory point in the story, and the afterword promises a sequel, which I'm eagerly awaiting.
I read THE GREATEST KNIGHT very quickly. I became a little obsessive-compulsive over it, making time to read even when I had other things to do, racing through it breathlessly despite not really wanting to reach the end. When I did finish, I was truly sorry I'd read it so fast. I wish I could give it 6 stars, because I'm now questioning every other 5-star review I've ever written.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 25 December 2005
Elizabeth Chadwick has done it again! With The Greatest Knight, she has solidified her position as one of the best historical fiction authors writing today. I was eagerly awaiting this novel, and I'm delighted to say I was not disappointed in any way.
This is the story of William Marshal, an humble knight in the 12th century, who through his integrity and loyalty, rose to become one of the most trusted men of his time. Set against the backdrop of the turbulent relationships between Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, and their sons, Marshal's story takes us on a brilliant ride of jousting tourneys, court intrigue, and yes, even romance. The fact that this novel is based on Chadwick's impeccable research makes it all the more stunning and entirely believable. The motivations for the characters are real and unembellished; Marshal is seen as a flesh-and-blood man who must make difficult choices in trying to follow his conscience. Chadwick fills in the blanks of his life with details that make his story come alive. His romance with Isabelle, an heiress twenty years his junior, is sweet and compelling; it's a match with many contemporary overtones even though it's completely true. Chadwick makes us understand William's conflicts and his triumphs. While there is a romance, this is truly historical fiction and it is absolutely wonderful---a story you can lose yourself in and emerge from with a sigh of regret at leaving this world behind. Part two is highly anticipated!
Highly, highly recommended!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 18 August 2010
Unlike some others I came to this book with trepidation - William Marshall has been a hero of mine for years, thanks to the painstaking research of Dr David Crouch into the history of this neglected medieval knight and magnate. I was very worried that I would find, as happens all too often, that the events of William's life, the meaning of those events and his actions would be trivialised and even ignored. How wrong I was - most of the story presented is direct from the original sources (although much more compellingly told!) and where "in-fill" has be used this fits with what is known or it is reasonable to suppose. Whether you know William Marshall and his world or not this book, and its follow up, are wonderful and cannot be praised too highly. A triumph of the marriage of scholastic research to a great story telling ability. Read it now!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2005
This is much anticipated story of The Greatest Knight, William Marshal. He starts out as a young knight with no money and rises through the ranks when Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine takes notice of him. He becomes a tutor to the princes of England, Henry and then eventually Richard the Lionhearted.
His was never an easy life even with the favor of the Queen. He had many adventures many not of his own making and came out on top.
Years later, William is ready to settle down and to take a wife, an heiress. He desires not the heiress chosen for him but sets his sights higher, on Isabelle de Clare, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Richard de Clare, also known as Strongbow.
This tale is told with such style that it makes the reader feel as though they are living in these perilous times. It contained just the right amount of "romance" between Isabelle and William. After all, this is historical fiction not a romance novel! If it had been a romance novel I wouldn't have even bought it.
Obviously some readers are mistaking this Elizabeth Chadwick for the other author of the same name. Elizabeth Chadwick's novels never disappoint! You can always count on her to deliver an expected excellence. They're a bright ray of sunshine in what can otherwise be a less than exciting reading experience from other author's works. I'm eagerly looking forward to EC's next installment!
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Ms Chadwick's novels entertain and educate. William Marshal comes alive through this novel and, for those of us who are not medieval scholars, some interesting knowledge of medieval life is gained along the way.
I enjoy Ms Chadwick's seamless blend of fact and fiction. The facts underpin a great story: the fiction enables a real man to emerge from the shadows of time. Balancing the two effectively is no mean feat.
Few real heroes have so engaged my attention in recent years, and Ms Chadwick herself is rapidly making the transition from 'good' author to 'great' author.
I want more!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The life of William Marshall is well known and the mere facts can be easily checked in his entry in the Complete Peerage. Re-creating the life of medieval personalities and medieval life in general is not easy and I very often find the medium of a novel the most helpful in this respect. Elizabeth Chadwick's "The Greatest Knight: The Story of William Marshal" is one of the very best I have read in so far. Her description of the life and times of William Marshal at the royal court of the Plantagenet is simply superb. The reader will be drawn into the story with page one and will only let go with the last page. Elizabeth Chadwick gives us a rich tapestry of medieval life and tells the story of the remarkable William Marshal kind of rags to riches story in a lively, colourful, sympathetic and intriguing way. She manages to re-created kings, queens, merchants or simple squires equally good and convincing. Fact and fiction mix in such a convincing manner. It is a mere pleasure to read this book and one can only recommend it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2013
I am a huge fan and keen reader of works by Elizabeth Chadwick, for her impressive collection of Medieval novels stand-out above all other historical literature. It is the author's attention to detail that makes her work so beautifully atmospheric, as past ages are brought boldly to life with much fervent intensity and color. This stunning novel cleverly combines both fact and fiction, as one of England's greatest forgotten heroes is resurrected on the page triumphantly. Within the apex of the Middle Ages this noble Knight brought victory, he created mighty power struggles and memorable scandals; all of which has lived on through the centuries and is very much a part of our history. Elizabeth Chadwick is not only one of my favorite authors of historical fiction, as her noticeable books within this genre are something special, for she is one of the greatest writers of Medieval Fiction.
Convincing and utterly compelling this exciting novel is one that encapsulates the harshness of the bleak Middle-Ages, through heated drama and conflict. Dazzling authentic details are blended beautifully with a modern twist for electric emotional drama that oozes quality, as you are left breathless in astonishment of such a feat. William Marshall's journey from a penniless young Knight with few prospects to one of the greatest and most influential hero's in history is truly fascinating and most interesting. That single act (of when he saves the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine; Henry VII's wife) is the catalyst for great chance, and so plucked from obscurity he is thrust into fame and fortune. Being a Royal `Favorite' also has its downfalls, as you discover what the implications are of coming into conflict with others - especially in a Royal court.
An absorbing tale that is fueled by passion, exquisitely drawn and indisputably exceptional, I would highly recommend "The Greatest Knight" to those readers who delight in epic battles and re-telling the past.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I listened to this as an abridged audiobook about 8 months ago, so I've forgotten some of the content. I know I enjoyed it and can still remember some of it, so, maybe that is a fairer accolade than something I might write when I'd just finished.
We first meet William Marshall as a young boy. His father is in debt to King Henry II and is unable to pay, so he gives instead, his youngest son. Henry takes a liking to the young lad and even though his father is unable to redeem his son, Henry takes him on.
William trains in the joust in King Henry's court and proves himself to be a fast learner. His skills eventually come into their own when his rescues Henry's Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, from her enemies, but he becomes injured and taken as hostage.
When Eleanor pays the ransom, William enters her service as a knight and tutors her young sons in the skills of battle.
William is not just braun, however, he also possesses considerable political skills and gradually takes on an advisory role within the court. Inevitably this attracts jealousies and he falls foul of scheming, becoming an outsider for a while.
When he is welcomed back, the one prize he requests is the hand of the beautiful Isabelle. Although she is 18 to his middle age, it seems to have been a marriage made in heaven and they lived to have many children.
As I listened to the abridged version of this book, I may well track down a hard copy (or Kindle one) and read the full version at some time in the future.
Daughters of the Grail by Elizabeth Chadwick (2 stars)