Synopses & Reviews
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.
“A valuable biography of an important figure in a distant, violent, barely comprehensible era.” Kirkus
“This is medieval history at its very best - a compelling story told by a historian whose knowledge is both thorough and extensive, and whose enthusiasm for the subject rings out on every page.” Ian Mortimer, author of Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England
“Captivatingly written and eye-openingly informative, The Greatest Knight is ... a first-rate history told by a master of the craft. Read this book, and youll never forget the name William Marshal-nor will you ever think of the Middle Ages in the same way again.”- Toby Lester, author of The Fourth Part of the World and Da Vinci's Ghost
“History doesnt come more exciting than this. Thomas Asbridge has written a page turner about William Marshal, the Zelig of English history, a man who was indispensable to five kings, and had a hand in practically every important event during those turbulent and eventful reigns.”- Danny Danziger, author of 1215
“Thomas Asbridge achieves vivid characterization and gripping storytelling without sacrifice of scholarship. [He interweaves] analysis, narrative, evocative description and occasional wry humor.” Professor Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, author of Millennium and Civilizations
“A rich and elaborate tapestry… a story about how medieval knighthood worked; the interlocking web of obligation and fealty, friendship and loyalty... [The Greatest Knight] will appeal to history buffs as well as fans of fiction set in the medieval period.” Library Journal, starred review
“Englands greatest knight puts ‘Game of Thrones to shame… A riveting new biography… Asbridge takes the reader through an eye-opening account… His account is an entertaining reminder that sometimes, the truth really is better than fiction.” The Daily Beast
“Asbridge has fashioned a rare and fascinating tale: a biography of a medieval knight told with all the rich detail, dialogue, and action that is usually possible only for figures from later periods. Asbridge is a wonderful guide to the complex politics and history of medieval England.” Christian Science Monitor
“The term ‘medieval biography doesnt necessarily conjure up a lot of excitement among the general book-loving population. But . . . it really should. This blood, guts, gore and gallantry romp through medieval history, following the great knight William Marshall . . . is way more fun than it should be.” New York Post
“Mr. Asbridge has written a rip-roaring new life of Marshal, which will leave readers hungry… a generally splendid account of a great medieval life.” Wall Street Journal
“The Greatest Knight gives us a moving portrait of one mans struggle, ascent and final (peaceful) demise.” The Sunday Times (UK)
“Big, readable, and enlightening… a rousing history.” The Dispatch
“A rare kind of history book ... There are enough epic journeys here to satisfy Tolkien lovers, enough backhanded politics to engage fans looking for the next Game of Thrones book, and enough excitement for any reader to believe that true history is the greatest story of all.” Portland Book Review
A renowned scholar brings to life medieval Englands 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 Englands most celebrated knights. Thomas Asbridges rousing narrative chronicles Williams rise, using his life as a prism to view the origins, experiences, and influence of the knight in British history.
In Williams 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.
About the Author
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.