Knight in Anarchy Paperback – 25 Mar 1971
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Top Customer Reviews
Shipway's Knight in Anarchy (Released under the title THE KNIGHT in the US), is the tale of a Norman knight, Humphrey Visdelou through whose eyes the Civil War fought by Stephen and Maud for the English crown is brought to life. This is not just a medieval romance it encompasses the brutality of 12th Century warfare, civil war politics and the split allegiances that the feudal system could bring about.
As always Shipway brings his vast knowledge of history and military service to instil life into his characters and paint a vivid picture of the era. He particularly uses the much debated use of the cross-bow in English warfare in the 12th century to examine the conflicts of honour and chivalry in warfare; the crossbow was considered to be a dishonourable weapon as it was capable of not just killing common soldier but of piercing a noble knight's armour. It was a fact that more of the nobility were killed by accident than intention on the medieval battlefield and it was considered very un-knightly for a noble to allow one of his humble bow men to take the life of a peer.
Most of the characters appearing in the book were real as were most of the major events chronicled.
This is one of my personal favourites of the genre and I have re-visited it many times since purchasing the book in 1969. Highly recommended to all who like medieval historical novels, but be warned it may make the works of some later authors appear somewhat bland.
The novel was written nearly fifty years ago and so you will need to allow for it to sound just a little archaic; but some may not think this a bad thing for an historical novel. I found one or two irritations, like his use of Count rather than Earl. (The Normans didn't bring over continental titles and continued to use the Saxon Earl).
The atmosphere of the period is conveyed well and you should be prepared to be depressed rather than uplifted by the tale.
The account of the Battle of the Standard is particularly good as is his description of the siege and burning of a timber motte and bailey castle.
If you interested in this period of history, as I am, and want a tale that gives you a real feel for what it was like to be a knight then this book does the job.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The time and place is in 12 century England shortly after the death of Henry I. This of course is one of the pivotal points in Western History and a time of complete turmoil and chaos. It was a time of extreme brutality and a time when questions were being asked, serious questions of government, the Church and mans place the grand scheme of things. This is the story of one Knight, a Norman Knight; Humphrey Visdelou. It is the story of one man caught up in the conflict of loyalties. The question this story asks is what are the boundaries of sworn fealty? In an age where intrigue, treachery, politics, religion and the mere act of survival ruled, Sir Visdelou is faced with major and soul destroying (as well as physical) decisions that must be made. Can a man stay true?
This is an extremely gritty work and pulls no punches. Fine points of the etiquette of Knighthood are closely examined and the convoluted and extremely complex reasoning behind actions as related to Knighthood are also addressed. The best example of this would be an early episode in the book... Briefly, our young hero is placed in charge of a keep. The stronghold is attacked by a rival Knight. Humphrey is out numbered and the only way he can possible expect to win the encounter is through the use of the cross bow which at the time was considered a very un-knightly act as the bolt from such a weapon could easily pierce the armor of the attacking foe. Huphrey's duty is to defend so he is forced into using this "cowardly" and un-knightly weapon. In the end he is defeated anyway and taken prisoner. Now the fellow Knight who captures Humphrey knows that he, Humphrey, was only doing his duty, yet he also knows that Humphrey used a weapon that was not acceptable. How to deal out punishment? It was decided castration would be a swell way to make a point, but since Humphrey was after all only doing his duty, it was decided to give him the benefit of a doubt and only one testicle was removed and ripped out, leaving him partially whole. As odd as that sounds, even Humphrey considered the punishment just. He can still sire children, or can he?
Now I personally find this examination of fealty fascinating in lieu of what we have seen in our own politics, industry and commercial houses over the past several years? Did those of the 12th century have it right? Have the questions of ethics, moral fortitude and responsibility changed all that much since those times? Do the standards some held dear during those days of old still apply to us today? Are ethics dead or did they actually ever actually exist or were they ever actually practiced? Can they be practiced in the world of today? Is a code, an unbendable code, ever a good thing?
These questions and others are all neatly and interesting packaged in an action filled novel that is very well written. It is one of those books that will grab you on the first page and then will stick with you years after its reading. This is one of those books that I am a bit surprised was not better known when it was first published and one of those that should be back on the shelves today.
Now reader; do be warned! This book is not for the squeamish. It vividly portrays the realities of war at that time, and the reality of living conditions, including such dreaded diseases as leprosy, plague and the like. You have no shinning Knights in armor here...no Hollywood version of King Arthurs dressed in absurdly crafted costumes. No what you have here is dirt, filth, disease, brutal death and very, very short lives for the most part. Not a nice picture, but those were not nice times despite what our romantic imaginations would like us to believe.
As another reviewer as so well put it, this is a must read for those interested in the concept of fealty and live in the 12th century. This is indeed a "historical novel." a genre I am not overly fond of, but this is one that transcends the fictional part quite well. Being no stranger to the study of this era, I can attest to the fact that this is a very well researched work.
A good read for any interested in this time and place in our most fascinating history. This one deserves more than five stars simply because you get so much more than just a very well told story.