Cover image for The greatest knight : the remarkable life of William Marshal, the power behind five English thrones
The greatest knight : the remarkable life of William Marshal, the power behind five English thrones
Asbridge, Thomas S., author.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2014]
Physical Description:
xx, 444 pages : illustrations (chiefly color), genealogical tables, maps ; 24 cm
The story of the largely forgotten William Marshal Pembroke of the English medieval period, who, "as a five-year-old boy ... was sentenced to execution and led to the gallows, yet this landless younger son survived his brush with death, and went on to train as a medieval knight. Against all odds, [he] rose through the ranks--serving at the right hand of five English monarchs--to become a celebrated tournament champion, a baron and politician and, ultimately, regent of the realm"
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DA209.P4 A83 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Popular Materials-Biography

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A renowned scholar brings to life medieval England's most celebrated knight, William Marshal--providing an unprecedented and intimate view of this age and the legendary warrior class that shaped it.

Caught on the wrong side of an English civil war and condemned by his father to the gallows at age five, William Marshal defied all odds to become one of England's most celebrated knights. Thomas Asbridge's rousing narrative chronicles William's rise, using his life as a prism to view the origins, experiences, and influence of the knight in British history.

In William's day, the brutish realities of war and politics collided with romanticized myths about an Arthurian "golden age," giving rise to a new chivalric ideal. Asbridge details the training rituals, weaponry, and battle tactics of knighthood, and explores the codes of chivalry and courtliness that shaped their daily lives. These skills were essential to survive one of the most turbulent periods in English history--an era of striking transformation, as the West emerged from the Dark Ages.

A leading retainer of five English kings, Marshal served the great figures of this age, from Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to Richard the Lionheart and his infamous brother John, and was involved in some of the most critical phases of medieval history, from the Magna Carta to the survival of the Angevin/Plantagenet dynasty. Asbridge introduces this storied knight to modern readers and places him firmly in the context of the majesty, passion, and bloody intrigue of the Middle Ages.

The Greatest Knight features 16 pages of black-and-white and color illustrations.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Respected medievalist Asbridge (The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land) investigates the life of William Marshal (1147-1219), thought by many to have been the model for the perfect chivalrous knight. Most of William's life comes from a highly colored biography commissioned by his family shortly after his death; Asbridge uses contemporary sources to flesh out the story and correct the panegyric. The strength of this work is the depiction of the early formation of the concept of knighthood and the unromantic life of a professional warrior. Asbridge also explains the political context of the time in a clear narrative. William, the younger son of a minor lord, grew wealthy and powerful through his military skill, but even more through his loyalty to the members of the family of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine-a rare feat, considering the Plantagenets' internecine battles. The story of William's maturation from a freelance fighter to a statesman who managed his property and became the guardian for the young Henry III includes daily life, as well as politics. It is not always clear, however, which anecdotes are drawn from the biography and which are better substantiated; the maddening absence of footnotes spoils an otherwise excellent book. (Dec.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. William Marshal (1147-1219), the subject of this title, will be unknown to most readers. However, the men he served are familiar: Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, and King John. The primary source material for this work is a 13th-century biography commissioned by Marshal's son; however, Asbridge (The Crusades) does not rely solely on this biased document and instead weaves a rich and elaborate tapestry from several contemporary accounts. It helps that Marshal knew and served no fewer than five anointed kings and that his movements can be traced through royal chronicles and official documents, including the Magna Carta. On one level, this is the story of how a second son with few prospects rose to the pinnacle of chivalry, later becoming the most powerful man in England. It is also a story about how medieval knighthood worked; the interlocking web of obligation and fealty, friendship and loyalty that created the fairy-tale world of Arthur and Lancelot. Readers seeking a deeper understanding of early tournaments and the origins of chivalry will be pleased. VERDICT This modern biography of Marshal will appeal to history buffs as well as fans of fiction set in the medieval period. [See Prepub Alert, 6/8/14.] Cate Hirschbiel, Iwasaki Lib., Emerson Coll., Boston (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Map of Medieval Englandp. ix
Map of Medieval Francep. x
Map of Upper Normandy and Bordersp. xi
Prefacep. xiii
Part I Childhood & Youth: Becoming a Knight
1 A Time of Wolvesp. 3
2 The Path to Knighthoodp. 31
Part II Adulthood: A Knight in Service
3 A Warrior's Lifep. 61
4 The Man Who Would Be Kingp. 85
5 Tournament Championsp. 115
6 The Question of Loyaltyp. 140
Part III Middle Age: A Lord of the Realm
7 A King's Warriorp. 175
8 Defender of the Realmp. 205
9 Serving the Lionheartp. 230
Part IV Old Age: England's Great Magnate
10 An Enemy of Naturep. 259
11 A Lord in the Westp. 280
12 The Faltering Crownp. 305
13 A Royal Reckoningp. 336
14 The Guardian of the Realmp. 343
Epiloguep. 365
Chronologyp. 384
Cast of Charactersp. 386
Marshal Family Treep. 389
Anglo-Norman and Angevin Royal Housesp. 390
End Notesp. 393
Picture Creditsp. 424
Acknowledgementsp. 425
Indexp. 427