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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.
“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 man’s struggle, ascent and final (peaceful) demise.” (The Sunday Times (UK))
“Big, readable, and enlightening… a rousing history.” (The Dispatch)
“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’ doesn’t 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)
“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)
“A valuable biography of an important figure in a distant, violent, barely comprehensible era.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“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)
“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 you’ll 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)
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