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The Greatest Knight (2005)

by Elizabeth Chadwick

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: William Marshal (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9785117,457 (4.01)102
A 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, the volatile and fickle Prince Henry, but being a royal favorite brings its share of danger and jealousy as well as fame and reward.… (more)
  1. 30
    Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman (ladymacbeth1)
    ladymacbeth1: Elizabeth Chadwick's style is similar to Sharon Kay Penman's. If you liked reading about William Marshal in Devil's Brood, you'll enjoy Chadwick's biographical fiction on the man.
  2. 00
    The Lion in Winter by James Goldman (Limelite)
    Limelite: Intelligent and powerful play about Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitane, and their sons, with a feature role for William Marshall. Also a movie starring Peter O'Toole, Katherine Hepburn, and Anthony Hopkins as Richard III.
  3. 00
    The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick (arctangent)
    arctangent: This book continues the story of William Marshal and his family that was begun in 'The Greatest Knight' through the time of his death.

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» See also 102 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
What a man

William Marshall was probably the greatest knight of all. This book doesn't tell his whole life but there is another book to complete. It is well written and you will come to know much of what made him the man he was. ( )
  ChrisCaz | Feb 23, 2021 |
No continuous narrative drive. I did learn why some Irish names are oddly French.

A personal anecdote:

When I was about 12 or so, I went through a Robin Hood / Magna Carta phase. Of course, a major personage of this time period is William Marshal, and I scoured the library for biographical material. I remember finding one book, looking at the dimly-lit, maroon-ish cover while taking it to my mom for approval. She took it home, read some, then told me I could read it after I was married.

Well then. So much for that.

But, the book stuck in my head, so when I left home, I decided that was close enough to being a grown up that I could read the book without having entered the marriage state. And so, I came across the ONLY historical fiction I could find on William Marshall, that being this very same The Greatest Knight.

I hold out hope that one day I will come across that same maroon covered hardback... ( )
  Pascale1812 | Apr 16, 2020 |
A good book. I love the story of William Marshal. He chose to remain loyal to some rather unsavory characters-the Angevin heirs and kings of England. King John was no prize! But that's in a later novel.
Marshal is fascinating to me because he managed to hold on to his integrity even as his overlords were falling apart and bickering with one another (some family Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine raised!). This book gives him some humanity as well, as I am not sure we know all there is to know about him. It is well written and manages to keep track of all the players without confusing the reader. ( )
  a1stitcher | Jun 22, 2019 |
Before this read, I have never heard of William Marshal, a 12th century personality. I have not known about the life and exploits of ‘the greatest knight that ever lived’. I admit not being well-versed about feudal Europe, courtly knights or monarchical politics; my knowledge about the Middle Ages is usually limited on fictional books set in that period and medieval-themed films or TV shows that boast of elaborate costume display and scenic country landscapes, and I know that they don’t always count as credible sources of information.

So, hearing about William Marshal through this book (albeit in the same fictional fashion) has given me an introduction to his remarkable life story and how from being landless—which I learned is a younger son’s usual fate in his time—he became one of the richest and most powerful men in their kingdom. His autobiography could rival that of our modern-day telenovelas—a young crown hostage and penniless nobleman who eventually grew up to be an indisputable tourney champion, skilled courtier, honorable knight, loyal crown aide, and brilliant military strategist. Historical accounts also noted that his marriage to wealthy heiress Isabelle de Clare appeared to have been a happy one, and that he treated his wife as his helpmate and equal. Not the usual perspective of men in his time, which made William Marshal even more agreeable for me!

Then, there is Elizabeth Chadwick’s capable writing style. She has given me a historical excursion with her descriptive narrative of events in William Marshal's time. It felt like I was exactly there in medieval Europe either as a silent spectator in tourney jousts or a peasant looking impressed as brave knights paraded in the street. I may have probably said a line or two to the great William Marshal, or even served him wine (or ale)! As a reader, I enjoy this feeling of immersion; the book being so compelling it was like seeing William Marshal in the flesh, hearing his actual voice or knowing what stirs his passion. As a history aficionado, I admire the author’s vivid portrayal of historical events and places, and even the mundane lives of both the nobility and ordinary people.

With Chadwick’s ability to transport me back to the past, who needs standing stones or time machines? (Okay, so maybe I might need those standing stones for Outlander’s Jamie Fraser after all, but this is another story.)

I truly enjoyed this read despite the drama, feudalism and too much politics in William Marshal’s time. It is nice to read people from ages past come back to life in contemporary print, and I think Elizabeth Chadwick excels in exploiting this field. I have never read a lot of historical fiction materials or known a lot of writers under this genre, but ever since my first Chadwick read (Shadows and Strongholds) I already knew that I would see more of her.

(Note: This review was first posted on Goodreads.) ( )
  Krista02 | Feb 6, 2018 |
Really gives insight to the times of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their sons, as seen through the eyes of William Marshall. Chadwick really nails it. ( )
  winterslights | Jun 12, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chadwick, Elizabethprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Koch, MonikaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rostant, LarryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scott, ChristopherNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Szűr-Szabó KatalinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the dark hour before dawn, all the shutters in the great hall were closed against the evil vapours of the night.
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Wikipedia in English


A 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, the volatile and fickle Prince Henry, but being a royal favorite brings its share of danger and jealousy as well as fame and reward.

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Book description
A penniless young knight with few prospects, William Marshal blazes into history on the strength of his sword and the depth of his honor. Marshal's integrity set him apart in the turbulent court of Henry II ad Eleanor of Aquitaine, bringing fame and the promise of a wealthy heiress as well as enemies eager to plot his downfall. Elizabeth Chadwick has crafted a spellbinding tale about a forgotten hero, an ancestor of George Washington, an architect of the Magna Carta, and a legend of chivalry--the greatest knight of the Middle Ages. [from the cover] This book recounts the life of William Marshal (1146 – 14 May 1219), from the age of twenty, as a new knight, to his rise as the husband of the Countess of Pembroke and a sub-justiciar under Richard the Lionheart, and ends shortly after the return of Richard from his crusade.

This story intersects with For the King's Favor, the story of Roger Bigod and Ida de Tosney, the earl and countess of Norfolk, who become friends with William Marshal and Isabel de Clare.
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