Friday 5 April 2019

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

Good Reads Revisited

"If you want a history book without the often dull facts of a non-fiction book, read Elizabeth Chadwick!”

this edition published 2009

Biographical Fiction
England / Normandy / France

"Normandy, 1167A 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. However, being a royal favourite brings its share of conflict and envy as well as fame and reward. William's influence over the volatile, fickle Prince Henry and his young wife is resented by less favoured courtiers who set about engineering his downfall."

I have been re-reading some old favourites, several of those on my list being written by Elizabeth Chadwick. Out of the many she has penned over the years, the life of William Marshal, England’s Greatest Knight, surely has to be one of her best.

A contemporary of Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Richard I, the Lionheart, and the youngest son of Eleanor and Henry II, John, Ms Chadwick has researched Marshal’s life in fine and superb detail. If you want a history book without the often dull facts of a non-fiction book, read Elizabeth Chadwick!

This novel explores Marshal’s earlier events of his long career in the service of these most well-known kings and queens. As a younger son, he was not expected for greatness and had to find his own way in the world of knights and courtly doings, by hiring his sword and pledging allegiance even to those who in no way deserved it. I liked Marshal right from the start. He is a man of steadfast loyalty and honour, and his life – and that loyalty and honour - took him through dangers and adventures, and much love, laughter and sorrow.

Maybe Marshal’s strict personal code of chivalry does not match the (often outrageous) scandals and political machinations of later royalty, such as the Tudors and Stuarts, but I personally found this aspect refreshing. Here was a man of principle when it came to swearing an oath, be it to King, Queen or God, and he stuck to them, no matter what.

Possibly, for some readers, Ms Chadwick’s style of occasionally short, historically accurate scenes that move quickly on to the next event in the timeline, can be a little frustrating… this happened, then this happened, then this… Rollicking fictional adventure from one tumultuous action to the next is not what you get in a Chadwick novel. What you do get is the very best of beautifully skilled writing, superbly drawn characters and accuracy of detail.

© Helen Hollick

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  1. This is a fantastic book. I really enjoyed it.

    I met a descendant of William Marshall at a medieval melee event once, dressed in full mail. It really brought the event to life for me.

    1. A fascinating man, a rare 'gentleman'.

    2. I may have fallen a teensy bit in love with him, lol.

  2. I read this book 'privately' because I had seen so many good reviews of it. And I agree with them all!

  3. There's a reason this book has sold so many copies. A beta reader compared my MC in my upcoming book to Marshall, and I couldn't be more pleased. Maybe some of Elizabeth's writing rubbed off on me and I didn't know it!


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