The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones
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.
From the Back Cover
A thrillingly intimate portrait of one of history’s most illustrious knights—William Marshal—that vividly evokes the grandeur and barbarity of the Middle Ages
William Marshal was the true Lancelot of his era—a peerless warrior and paragon of chivalry—yet over the centuries, the spectacular story of his achievements passed from memory. Marshal became just one more name in the dusty annals of history. Then, in 1861, a young French scholar named Paul Meyer made a startling discovery during an auction of rare medieval manuscripts. Meyer stumbled upon the sole surviving copy of an unknown text—the first contemporary biography of a medieval knight, later dubbed the History of William Marshal. This richly detailed work helped to resurrect Marshal’s reputation, putting flesh onto the bones of this otherwise obscure figure, yet even today William Marshal remains largely forgotten.
As a five-year-old boy, Marshal was sentenced to execution and led to the gallows, but this landless younger son survived his brush with death and went on to train as a knight. Against all odds, Marshal 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, a regent of the realm.
William Marshal befriended the great figures of his day, from Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine to the infamous King John, and helped to negotiate the terms of Magna Carta—the first “bill of rights.” By the age of seventy, the once-forsaken child had been transformed into the most powerful man in England, yet he was forced to fight in the front line of one final battle, striving to save the kingdom from a French invasion in 1217.
In The Greatest Knight, renowned historian Thomas Asbridge draws upon the thirteenth-century biography and an array of other contemporary evidence to present a compelling account of William Marshal’s life and times. Asbridge follows Marshal on his journey from rural England onto the battlefields of France, to the desert castles of the Holy Land and the verdant shores of Ireland, charting the unparalleled rise to prominence of a man bound to a code of honor, yet driven by unquenchable ambition.
This knight’s tale lays bare the brutish realities of medieval warfare and the machinations of the royal court, and draws us into the heart of a formative period of our history, when the West emerged from the Dark Ages and stood on the brink of modernity. It is the story of one remarkable man, the birth of the knightly class to which he belonged and the forging of the English nation.
Age Range: Adult
Start Rating: 4.5 stars
Publication Date: 10th November 2015
Author: Thomas Asbridge
Thomas Asbridge is Reader in Medieval History at Queen Mary, University of London, and the author of ‘The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones’ (2014), ‘The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land’ (2010) and ‘The First Crusade: A New History’ (2004). He studied for a BA in Ancient and Medieval History at Cardiff University, and then gained his PhD in Medieval History at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Thomas wrote and presented a BBC documentary, ‘The Greatest Knight: William Marshal’, and a landmark three-part documentary series ‘The Crusades’ for the BBC, filmed on location across the Near East and Europe. He has also appeared in many other internationally broadcast television documentaries and radio programs, and has worked as a historical consultant for HBO and Company Pictures. He now lives in southern England.
For more information visit: www.thomasasbridge.com
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