I think many of us who read a lot of historical fiction hear about Elizabeth Chadwick. Her books are not available to Americans except through imports, which is a shame, and quite strange considering how popular historical fiction is these days. Anyway, usually the one we hear about most is The Greatest Knight, the fictionalized life story of William the Marshal, one of medieval England’s most fascinating knights. I saw it at the library and just couldn’t resist despite my staggering TBR piles.
As a small child held hostage by King Stephen, William nearly loses his life when his father breaks his agreement with the king and switches allegiances. After all, William is only his fourth son. Stephen, not a strong king nor a hard man, chooses not to kill William and lets him go, but impresses on him the importance of loyalty and honor. At first, an adult William struggles to make himself known, but his extraordinary talent and aforementioned loyalty speak for him and he earns a place in the Plantagenet household, eventually training and serving Henry the Young King, eldest surviving son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. As his star rises, William’s life and fortunes are shaped by this most powerful family.
William the Marshal is a fascinating historical character and I think Elizabeth Chadwick has done him justice here. He certainly stuck with his loyalties in an age where many men switched allegiance to suit themselves; his father is a very good example, as are the sons of Henry II. As such, William truly stands out from the crowd, and he lived an extraordinary life in the shadow of five kings. As a result, in most places Chadwick doesn’t need to embellish the history, it’s a great tale as the chroniclers tell it. So for the most part, she sticks to it. She adds mainly a mistress, as we can assume that most well off knights had mistresses, and some story continuity, which works fairly well. You can still tell a little bit that she got her start in romance when William develops love interests, but this book is clearly beyond that and stands as a really good work of historical fiction. It isn’t the best I’ve ever read, but it is a worthy read.
I’m definitely looking forward to reading the sequel, The Scarlet Lion, which I conveniently enough have on my bookshelf. I would recommend this to other historical fiction lovers, it is a very solid and compelling work. Buy it on Amazon UK.