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William Marshal #1

A Place Beyond Courage

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The early twelfth century is a time for ambitious men to prosper, and royal servant John FitzGilbert is one of them. But when the old king dies and his successor is appointed, John faces a terrible choice: he must join the rival faction-his enemies- or risk losing everything. His new wife helps him carry his burden, but his final choice will seal not only her fate, but those of his young children.
As the fight for England's crown enters a new phase, John may be forced to make a terrible sacrifice...

544 pages, Hardcover

First published October 4, 2007

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About the author

Elizabeth Chadwick

48 books2,891 followers
Best selling historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick won a Betty Trask Award for her first novel The Wild Hunt. She has been shortlisted for the UK's mainstream Best Romantic Novel of the Year Award 4 times and longlisted twice. Her novel The Scarlet Lion about the great William Marshal and his wife Isabelle de Clare, has been selected by Richard Lee, founder of the Historical Novel Society as one of the landmark historical novels of the last ten years.
When not at her desk, she can be found taking long walks with the dog, baking cakes, reading books (of course!) exploring ruins, listening to various brands of rock and metal music, and occasionally slaving over a steaming cauldron with re-enactment society Regia Anglorum.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 315 reviews
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,896 reviews1,927 followers
February 5, 2022
22. Pearl Ruled (p108)

Rating: 2* of five

The Publisher Says: The early twelfth century is a time for ambitious men to prosper, and royal servant John FitzGilbert is one of them. But when the old king dies and his successor is appointed, John faces a terrible choice: he must join the rival faction-his enemies- or risk losing everything. His new wife helps him carry his burden, but his final choice will seal not only her fate, but those of his young children. 

As the fight for England's crown enters a new phase, John may be forced to make a terrible sacrifice...

My Review: I know you're all familiar with the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's sunken battleship, and the mystery surrounding her loss in the Battle of the Solent in 1545. That's the kind of audience I attract, all five of y'all.

So when I say “I foundered like the Mary Rose,” I know y'all will instantly picture a mighty carrack, gunports hazed in smoke, bravely firing upon the hated French Navy's galleys, when suddenly the vast edifice heels to starboard, takes on water, and vanishes beneath the waves.

Aline laid her cheek against his breast and struggled not to weep. He had said he wanted her to be steadfast. “Thank you, my lord, thank you.”

Above her, she heard him sigh. He tilted up her chin, kissed her damp cheek, then sought a fresh tunic. She saw him note the jumbled state of the coffer contents, but he said nothing. Aline dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands, and swore to try harder.
(p108, US softcover edition)

The mighty ship of my pleasure in history, and in historical fiction, sank beneath the waves of the River Lethe, as all memory of consciousness and its cares and woes leaked from my snoring, drooling mouth.
Profile Image for Misfit.
1,637 reviews279 followers
February 21, 2015
Chadwick never fails to deliver! This is a prequel of sorts to The Greatest Knight, and is the story of John FitzGilbert, the father of William Marshal. The story takes place amidst the backdrop of England's civil war between Henry's daughter Matilda and her cousin Stephen who usurped her crown, as John tries to juggle his perilous position between the two rivals for the crown.

John's first marriage to Aline (the best he could make at the time in his position) does not fare well as she is weak of mind as well as spirit, and when he chooses to side with Matilda he makes a more advantageous marriage with Sybilla, who bears John several children including William. The characterization of John started from a cat that always lands on his feet to a loving husband and father, facing the most difficult decision of his life. The author did a marvelous job of bringing John, Aline and Sybilla to life, and most especially young William. I was totally entranced at the way William was portrayed, from his exuberant first word to his innocent knowledge of the danger he was in whilst being held hostage by King Stephen.

While this is not a page turning, sit on the edge of your seat, action filled novel, I was thoroughly entertained throughout. As always with Chadwick's books, the way she brings the medieval period to life in such a graceful and effortless way, be it the sights, sounds, smells, food, clothes and battles is just awesome. As quoted on some of her book jackets, the next best thing to time travel. Five stars.
Profile Image for Lauren.
1,118 reviews86 followers
February 24, 2023
Read: 2/24/23
Another great novel by EC! Her historical research is impeccable! She brought a great man from history to light.

Every medieval lover knows William Marshall, who is considered one of the greatest knights, but this story is about his father. John was a brilliant military strategist. I couldn't help but love him! I love a H who is always two steps ahead of everyone else. That takes great writing!

I also love how she portrays Sybil. She's his perfect match in every way. I was so happy when they finally married.

I can highly recommend most of her books, but if you're hoping for a heavy romance, then this book is not for you. EC's romance books are more realistic (TG!)
Profile Image for Krista Claudine Baetiong.
259 reviews32 followers
November 3, 2021
The first book from the William Marshal series, A Place Beyond Courage tells us the story of John FitzGilbert and his struggles to keep his life, family and court position safe from the chaos brought about by the civil war.

The story starts with John FitzGilbert acting as King Henry I’s marshal, an important royal position that he holds with efficiency and skill. His late father, despite his minor family background, had secured the position out of hard work, cunning, and the king’s good graces and John intends to uphold the same for his heir. Then, the king dies and the claim to the throne by rival factions Stephen and Matilda (nephew and daughter of Henry I, respectively) results in a brutal and protracted civil war in 12th century England known as the Anarchy. John initially swears his allegiance to Stephen who has usurped the crown, but defects to Empress Matilda later on.

His marriage to Aline Pipard, who in the book is meek, fretful, and does not have the backbone to stand beside him in the most trying times of his political career, has proven lackluster and tedious, and with the hard times ahead, he needed a wife who will not just be loyal and dutiful in giving him heirs but will also serve as a partner through and through. That prospect came with his second marriage to Sybilla of Salisbury. Although the union was done out of the tactical alliance, it has proven to be an auspicious affiliation with Sybilla’s dependable stance and sharp intellect. She bears him six children, one of whom is William Marshal. He will be later known in England as the “greatest knight that ever lived”.

When King Stephen besieges him at Newbury Castle, he has to hand in William, then five years old, as a royal hostage and a symbol of good faith that he will yield the castle on the agreed time. However, John, long determined not to surrender, has used the standoff period to fortify his defenses and notify the empress of the siege. When the king learns of John’s duplicity, he threatens to kill young William by hanging or burning. John replies that he does not care what happens to the child as he still has “the hammer and the anvil” to forge better sons. Fortunately, the king is not one to harbor grudges against innocent children and allows William to live. When a peace treaty between Stephen and Henry II (Empress Matilda’s son) is brokered and begins to have a solid framework, William is finally allowed to return home to his family.

While this is the first book from the series, I actually read it last, following the hype of good reviews on the subsequent William Marshal books (particularly The Greatest Knight) and the advice of one reviewer that it can be a standalone novel. John FitzGilbert was only given a page or two in the other books describing him as pragmatic and hard-hearted, and after reading his “hammer and anvil” speech in The Greatest Knight, I was certainly displeased by him. That is why I am glad to have finally read this book because it reveals the tender side of John and explains why he is so callous and unbending on the surface.

Of course, we cannot truly say if the real John FitzGilbert bore the same likeable trait or gave much thought about the emotional roller-coaster his family had experienced, but the appeal of historical fiction is not just in its ability in creating a believable picture out of real events but also in conjuring up real-like feelings or thoughts from actual historical individuals. I kept thinking: did the real John truly feel remorse for his “hammer and anvil” analogy and for letting others believe that his son was expendable to him? Did he truly nearly break at the sight of his son suspended on a trebuchet? Did he actually consider how privileged he was for having a strong and resilient wife in Sybilla? Well, we will never know unless there are written proofs of these musings, but this is exactly where Elizabeth Chadwick comes in and shows us her expertise in drawing plausible emotions from her characters. I think developing the characters’ traits and making them look believable to the readers is her biggest asset.

Also, I think every Elizabeth Chadwick book is like a magical door that easily leads us back to the olden times. It is like the great distance between some 850 years past and the present is suddenly made penetrable by the compelling way she recounts historical events. And she is so good at it that whenever I read her novel it feels like I have breached that gap to then and now and found myself face-to-face with these historical personalities!

I think I am bound to be trapped in the medieval period for a long, long time.
Profile Image for Petra.
277 reviews22 followers
October 13, 2018
You have to read this book if you want to know about one of the strongest male characters that ever lived in one of the toughest and most difficult times in history.
John Marshal reminds me of hardened diamond that was forged through politics of civil war in 12th century England.

When we meet John he seems to have everything cut out nicely for him. He loves his job and is very good at it. He is good looking, strong fighter is young and as a nice perk he is in control of court prostitutes.
But civil war happens and this is when John has to start making hard choices because what was once in his favor starts to turn against him. This is when his rock solid character, his warrior spirit and his honor are shaped. He goes from being a courtier to being a fighter, castle builder and magnificent strategist. At the beginning he is cold and calculating and it takes being stuck in burning church tower, an accident that scars him badly, that we start to see a little bit more of his heart.
I laughted and I cried and I thought I will never be able to forgive him.
If there is an ideal of a man then I think John FitzGilbert Marshal is it (at least for me). He lived in tough times and was determined to make the best out of it no matter which way the wind blew. He had smarts enough for it. He is not a spotless hero like his son but nevertheless he is honorable, brave man with enormous strength of mind and vigour.

I loved all the scenes with him and his second wife. It was all so real and sweet. William Marshal does steel some scenes towards the end. We also meet young Young future Henry II and learn so much about the tumulus times during the reign of King Stephen.

Profile Image for Amy Bruno.
364 reviews483 followers
March 1, 2009
A Place Beyond Courage is a novel of John FitzGilbert (John Marshal). In the year 1130 John is a royal marshal to King Henry I - young he may be, but through his courage and cunning he earned his stripes and respect and men knew not to mess with him. As royal marshal, John was the gate-keeper to the king - if you wanted to see the king, you needed to get past John first. He was also in charge of the court's living arrangements, the horses, the dogs and hawks - there was nothing John didn't have his hand in, including the approval and upkeep of the court whores. This last part did have it's perks, as John says...

"Where would the court be for information, madam, without the digging of prostitutes and priests?"

When John gets to the point in his life where his thoughts turn to marriage and the begetting of an heir, he thoughts are to the practical, not romantic. He marries the daughter of an acquaintance, Aline - a nervous girl, afraid of her own shadow. These two could not have been more imperfectly matched. Despite all the time John was away on court business and all the time Aline spent praying on her knees, they did manage to produce two sons, thus securing the FitzGilbert name.

So, things are going well for John...an heir with one to spare at home, the owner of many estates, a pretty, young wife - so what if she passes out at the sight of blood or gives all his money to the church - she's loyal and fertile, what else could you ask for? Then King Henry has to go and screw things up by dying without naming a successor, throwing the court into chaos and beginning the fight over the throne of England between the king's daughter, Mathilda, and the king's nephew, Stephen.

As sides are chosen and loyalties are made, John has to tread carefully, as he has haters on either side that would like to see him knocked down the ladder a bit. He realizes that the only chance of securing his lands would be to align himself with his enemy, Patrick of Salisbury, who was his neighbor. And what better way than to marry Salisbury's sister, Sybilla. The little matter of getting rid of Aline is quickly dealt with and John is just as swiftly married to Sybilla. Even though you know Sybilla is a much better match for John, you can't help but feel for the cast off Aline, who was quite unsure as to what it was she had done wrong to be so treated, then had her children taken away from her and packed off like an unwanted guest. But, neither could you not like John's new wife, Sybilla, who was quite the opposite of his first. John had finally met his match in this fiery, strong woman and in doing so, fell deeply in love.

The dynamic relationship of John and Sybilla was a pleasure to read, Chadwick excels at capturing love and describing it well. John saying that "if he lost Sybilla, he would be like a boat with a hole torn in it's keep and the sea bleeding in to sink it". They had many children together, including the famous William Marshal of Chadwick's novels The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion (he was the kid in the famous "hammer and anvil" speech made by his father). It was interesting to see this event through the eyes of John, a side I'd never been privy to and one which absolves him of being the heartless bastard he came across as. I also had wondered about what William's mother was going through when William was a hostage and now I know...hoping that her husband's intuition that Stephen would be too soft to really follow through with the threat would prove true, but bracing for the worst. Those were some heart wrenching scenes!

Yet again, another of Chadwick's novels has been given another five star rating from yours truly. No one can do medieval like Chadwick; she brings the people and the places alive and it's pure enjoyment to read her novels. I liked John a lot more than I thought I would and am so pleased that Chadwick chose to write about him, he most definitely earned his place in the history books. Very much recommended.
Profile Image for Rio (Lynne).
325 reviews4 followers
February 17, 2012
John FitzGilbert aka William Marshal's father, was King Henry 1's Marshal. When Henry suspiciously died John had to play a fine line between his oath to Matilda and the usurper Stephen. To play this game he needed a strong wife and alliance, not his current wife Aline who wasn't born or had the stomach to be the wife of a Marshal. Words and honor had to be broken to survive. Chadwick makes you laugh, get emotional and cheer like no other author. I love how she writes about lessor known, but very important people who had huge parts in the history and the world we live in today. Another 5 star read! For those who have read the William Marshal books, you will love seeing William has a young kid. If you haven't read them or any Chadwick...run to the bookstore!
Profile Image for Beorn.
300 reviews55 followers
July 14, 2014
Well-written but essentially Emmerdale meets renaissance fair schtick.
For people more accustomed to meatier, historical fiction gristle, you're best off reading something else as this all feels considerably more trite and focused on the intimate relationship side of things than the historical machinations and battles etc.
Profile Image for Regan Walker.
Author 56 books759 followers
January 7, 2020
Wonderful Medieval Storytelling brings you 12th Century England

Set in the twelfth century, beginning in 1130, this is the story of John FitzGilbert, the Marshall for King Henry I and Sybilla of Salisbury set against the war between King Stephen, who followed Henry I, and Matilda, Henry’s daughter.

When King Henry I dies, and his nephew, Stephen, becomes king, he rewards John with castles and lands. John, it turned out, was a master at organizing everything that made the king’s castles and life run smoothly. He was also a brilliant and courageous warrior. But when John’s jealous rivals persuade King Stephen that John is not loyal, he backs Henry’s daughter, Matilda, and her claim to the throne. In the process, his first marriage is annulled and he is forced to marry Sybilla.

I loved this story. Chadwick brings alive twelfth century England and its warring factions in a rich historical tapestry of well-drawn characters based on solid research. It’s a time in history when both men and women face challenges absent in normal life and where marriage was only a tool of political leaders. Love, if it came at all, was an unexpected boon. And if a man who was a strong leader found a wife of ideas and well thought out opinions, he found a new life. Sometimes a match made for political reasons produced a bond stronger than life.

In this story we also get to see the young William Marshall, son of John and Sybilla, when he is taken hostage by King Stephen. William will become a great knight. (His story is told in The Greatest Knight.)

Get lost in medieval England and enjoy Chadwick’s meticulous storytelling!
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,858 reviews363 followers
May 14, 2023

5/13. There is something about children in distress that squeezes my tears from my eyes the last couple of years. I’ve always been in tune with the trials and tribulations I suppose that’s what happens when you teach. But the last year or so I cry so easily. And I’ve finally arrived at the part of the story that relates to William the Marshall. And he’s just so precious and precocious.he’s adorable. And the teacher and more importantly the mother in me is empathizing with his mother right now.
Im not sure why I’m reading this so slowly? It’s a great story having not known anything of the great William’s life. I think I finally bought the whole series now? There are several books and one series by this author overlaps with another one so I’m going to have to watch the numbering because m fairly certain these must be read in order.
Profile Image for Bryn.
Author 60 books37 followers
March 8, 2011
This is a solid, action led historical romance. I'm not normally a romance reader, but I make an exception for Chadwick because she is a story teller first and foremost. As she writes stories based on history, it's not as 'safe' as some romance fiction, and certainly not as predictable. Add in a lyrical style and a great pace, convincing characters and a lot of technical skill - she's an author who deserves a much higher profile.

Set duing the Stephen and Matilda chaos (12th century UK) this story is also a serious history lesson as it follows the fate of a nation through the mayhem of an unclear succession. Focussing on real historical figure John Marshal, this is a story with a lot of battles and action in it. There are two lead females, and we see things from their perspective, although it's John who dominates - again unusual in romance fiction. The women are intersting, and pleasingly complex. I gather this book relates to two other novels Chadwick has written about William Marshall - I've not read those, but this one certanly stands alone.

I very much appreciated the inclusion of a few pages at the end in which the author explained her sources, why she had interpreted those sources in certain ways, and where she had made things up. In historical fiction, that's a great help, allowing you to work out what to keep as 'fact'. It also illsutrates how the author worked with the available historical data, and as an author, that kind of insight fascinates me. As a study in writing, I was also impressed by the structure - with the author hat on again. The plot runs over twenty odd years, with multiple characters who grow, develop and relate to each other. The carefully crafted expressions of this, through scenes and interactions rather than any 'telling', made that long timeline plausible. As a piece of crafting, it's impressive.
16 reviews27 followers
January 19, 2011
I always like Elizabeth Chadwick's books, in fact I imported this one from the UK because I couldn't find it in the US. Having said that though, I think this is my least favorite so far. A Place Beyond Courage is the story of John Marshall, father of William Marshall who stars in The Greatest Knight also by Elizabeth Chadwick, and is memorable for his comment about having the hammer and anvils to form more and better sons when faced with William's execution as a four year old hostage. I probably had a prejudice against his character just based on that comment, but he doesn't get much more endearing in this book. The story begins with a description of his duties as the court pimp, moves on to marrying his ward for her property then abandoning her to marry someone with more property, and all the while his behavior is vain, selfish, shallow and controlling. The acts of heroism attributed to him seem to be less about valor and more about a huge ego and an inability to back down. To use some modern phraseology, he's a tool. It seems harsh to describe an historical figure who has been fictionalized as a tool, however as part of her research EC uses the 'Akashic Record' to access the characters personalities, so perhaps he was such a tool that he left his toolism imprinted on the sub-atomic particles of the universe. It's possible, I've known some guys like that. Anyway, it's hard to like a book with a romantic plot line when you despise the main character, but it did have lots of redeeming qualities in the other characters and it was very well written. It was kind of a unique experience, in that not every hero is going to be lovable, some were probably assholes.
Profile Image for Sarah u.
226 reviews34 followers
February 22, 2017
I chose to read this book after thoroughly enjoying Lady of the English by the same author. This book tells a story of the same period from the point of view of the royal marshal, John Fitzgilbert, who serves Henry I, Stephen and Matilda in turn.

It is great to have discovered another historical fiction author who shows integrity and respect for the people they are writing about, I have to say. Elizabeth is careful with the facts and does not speculate wildly, the depth of her research really shows and as far as is possible is accurate. I found this book to be a good read but did not enjoy it quite as much as Lady of the English, though I can't quite put my finger on why. However it did give me the 'other side of the story', it was well written, and I would recommend it.
Profile Image for Caz.
2,680 reviews1,015 followers
August 30, 2012
I have a confession to make, one of which, as a self-respecting reader of Historical Fiction, I am duly ashamed. This is the first novel by Chadwick that I have read.
I’ve had several of her books on my “must get a copy” list for years now, and have never managed to get around to reading any of them, so when this title appeared on NetGalley (although it’s not a new novel, but a reissue), I decided to grab it to provide me with the needed impetus.

As I expected, the novel didn’t disappoint. Chadwick’s knowledge of the period is clearly extensive, and her writing, while it is informative and detailed, is never dull or too “scholarly”.

I know of William Marshal, soldier, statesman and one-time regent of England, who is the principal character in two of her other novels – The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. But I knew nothing of his father, John FitzGilbert, who is the focus of this book. He’s risen to the rank of Marshal to Henry I in his early twenties and is renowned as a warrior, diplomat and strategist. He’s clever and loyal, and intent on further advancement, but not at the expense of his honour as was common among many at the time. This is essentially the story of a principled man who has to make difficult decisions for his monarch and his family in the turbulent times of the twelfth century. The death of King Henry I caused what was essentially a civil war, as both his daughter, Matilda, and his nephew, Stephen, were rival claimants to the throne, Henry having given no definite decision as to his successor on his deathbed.

Having a queen in her own right on the English throne at that time was unthinkable to many, and although Henry had insisted that his men swear fealty to Matilda and therefore signalled his intention that she should succeed him, his failure to secure the succession led to years of rivaly and insurrection – and John FitzGilbert was frequently at the forefront of it.

Feeling that the English will never accept a woman on the throne, John throws in his lot with Stephen, despite having sworn the oath demanded by Henry, and despite the fact that his decision puts him on the opposing side to one of his greatest friends, Robert of Gloucester, Matilda’s half-brother.
Stephen however Is weak and easily swayed and it is not long before he is turned against John, leaving FitzGilbert no alternative but to switch sides.

He is honest and steadfast; an incredible tactician and fighter and a force to be reckoned with. He is able to add to his lands and status, but none of that comes without a cost. His first wife, Aline is completely unsuited to be the wife of a noted courtier and her health – both mental and physical – deteriorates rapidly during the period of her marriage to John. She bears him two sons, but has no real interest in either them, or the events of the day, instead preferring to spend her time in prayer.

John’s second wife, however, is a completely different kettle of fish. Sybilla is extremely capable and has a spirit to match his; and although their marriage was arranged in order to cement an alliance between FitzGilbert and the Earl of Salisbury, in her, John finds a true companion, someone to whom he can talk about politics, and who, on occasion, is able to give him good advice.

But even though John finds happiness with Sybilla, and she bears him several more children, he is still being forced to make harsh choices. When Matilda retires back to Normandy, leaving the field clear for Stephen, John finds himself under siege and in order to buy time, is forced to offer his youngest son William as hostage to Stephen. Knowing that William will grow up to be England’s “Greatest Knight” doesn’t detract from the suspense at all – Chadwick has managed to create a sense of peril and uncertainty around this episode, and the reader agonises with Sybilla as she has to send off her five-year-old to possible death, and with John as he stands his ground with Stephen. It could be easy to dislike John at this point, but he was a man of his time and life was harsh – and Chadwick makes it clear that has he has taken the only path realistically open to him at the time.

This is a superb read about a lesser known historical figure. The pace never lets up, the author’s eye for historical detail and accuracy is immaculate, and in John Marshal, she has fleshed out the character of a truly remarkable man.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,618 reviews478 followers
April 2, 2016
Chadwick's novel chronicles the life of William Marshal's father during the time when Christ and His Saints Slept. While the plot is rather predictable (and I really felt sorry for Aliane), Chadwick's grasp of history and vigorous writing style make it worth a read.
Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
733 reviews1,778 followers
November 4, 2012
Another amazing novel by Chadwick... she never disappoints!!! Can't put them down and sad when they end!!! Especially loved this series...
282 reviews7 followers
September 12, 2021
I love historical fiction, but this was difficult to track the characters and properties plus I am not found of reading about battles. I am torn about reading more of this series. One thing for sure, I couldn't stomach Aline.
July 21, 2014
There are very few authors I can state for the record who NEVER fail me. Elizabeth Chadwick is amongst that exclusive pantheon. I truly do not know how she does it, bringing the tempestuous era of the Middle Ages to life. Every book is like a miniseries of the mind, though it has often occurred to me that the BBC would do well to turn one of her glorious novels into an actual series. Forget Game of Thrones--this is the real deal.

Though to be fair (and to showcase my incredible nerdiness), George R.R. Martin has said he based GoT on The Wars of the Roses, though I also see some parallels to the war between Stephen and Matilda, a dark time that some called "When Christ and his Saints Slept".

Speaking of which, it still boggles the imagination that men were so against being ruled by a woman, even one as capable as Matilda, that they were willing to forsake their honor and lay waste to England for twenty years. How ironic it is then, that several of the greatest rulers of Britain were/are women? Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II.

A Place Beyond Courage is the story of John Marshal, the father of the greatest knight William Marshal. I'd always wondered about the man who, for honor's sake, was willing to gamble on his son's life. On the other hand, it was hard for me to have some sympathy for John since he too had initially foresworn honor to follow Stephen, only to find himself back in Matilda's camp due to Stephen's lack of leadership and loyalty. Not to mention the deadly jealousy of Stephen's cronies. However, once in Matilda's camp (though for the sake of her son Henry), he was steadfast. The war for the succession was filled with shifting alliances.

One particular character, that of John Marshal's first wife Aline, practically drove me insane, and not in a good way. How many times I wanted to slap some backbone into her. I kind of blame Chadwick for this, since she has crafted so many intelligent, resourceful and resilient heroines, both historical and fictional. Aline was like a "WTH are you doing in my book"? Granted Aline was gently reared with no stomach for things of the world, but I was certain that once married to John Marshal and with her own household she'd come into flower. I really cannot stand milquetoast heroines, and Aline tried my patience. I was actually thrilled when her marriage to John was annulled on that favourite catch-all of medieval life--consanguinity--being too closely related. Once Sybilla of Salisbury, the sister of a questionable ally with his own axe to grind, entered his life, I cheered. Finally, a heroine able to match the spirit of a man like John Marshall. Oh and how Sybilla matched him perfectly. Capable chatelaine, lover, mother. Strong and wise, gentle and fierce.

I've said it many times in regards to Chadwick's books: she truly brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of the medieval world. From the well-appointed noble bower to the stench of a battlefield. The rustle of silk and the clash of maille. From the vaulted arches of splendid cathedrals to the humblest farmstead. Her research is top notch, though some of it might be a tad unorthodox. It is not hyperbole to state that she ranks amongst the greatest historical fiction authors like Dorothy Dunnett and Bernard Cornwell. Sad that she just doesn't write fast enough. Then again, I'm glad that she takes her time. There are many reasons I'd live in the UK, having access to all of Chadwick's books is merely one of them.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
145 reviews17 followers
July 21, 2013
This novel was brilliant; both well-written and incredibly interesting. I really enjoyed the William Marshall novels by Ms Chadwick and I found this prequel to his story to be just as enjoyable a read. I found John Marshall to be as intriguing a figure as his son, plus I enjoyed reading of William as a child and his experience inside Stephen's camp.
My favourite character of this novel was John's second wife, Sybilla. I feel as though Ms Chadwick used her character to cast a different light upon John than history has shed. My prior feelings upon his character were those of what I imagine many people's are: as a man who abandoned his child to the enemy without a backwards glance. However after reading this novel I have come to admire John Marshall and his resilience. Seeing him through Sybilla's eyes helped greatly with this, as their interactions allowed the reader to see Marshall's caring side and the pain that it caused him to give up his son. He puts on a hard front for the rest of the world, but in his private residence with his wife he allows his emotions more of a free rein. This cast a refreshing perspective upon his character, plus made me admire his unwavering determination when facing his public life.
This novel brought to my mind the idea that we all have differences between our public and private lives and of course historical figures are no different. However history only records the public aspect, and even then it has its biases. Ms Chadwick has done a wonderful job in telling John Marshall's story behind the façade of what history has recorded. This is one of the reasons why I love historical fiction as much as I do.
I really enjoyed Ms Chadwick's novel 'Lady of the English' about Matilda, and although this novel is of an entirely different nature, it was still interesting to read of the battles that occurred during this turbulent period from a perspective other than hers. I enjoyed the way various characters from that novel were portrayed in this one. With each novel I read from this time period the figures become more solidly real to me, as another layer is added to their personality each time.
Overall I loved this novel and it has given me much food for thought. If you enjoyed the William Marshall novels then you will love this too.
Profile Image for Blodeuedd Finland.
3,405 reviews292 followers
September 9, 2012
When I think of medieval fiction writers I think of Elizabeth Chadwick. She is the go to author for me and this was another great novel.

John FitzGilbert was the father of the more famous William Marshal. But this is John's book. He was King Henry II's marshal, he was young and went for what he wanted. I liked how he was portrayed, even in his darkest moments. Because in the end you can't know what he thought and felt and I felt what she wrote here was very possible.

His first wife was Aline, yeah, the less we talk about her the better. She was weak. His second marriage was a political one since he was feuding with his neighbor. So he out aside Aline and married Sybilla. Again this could have made me dislike him, but to save his children, his future and life it was just something he had to do. Life back then was not easy for women, but we all know that already.

The novel takes place during the civil war when Matilda and her cousin Stephen fights for the throne. And of course we got John in the middle of it all, trying to pick a side and stay alive. Not that easy in a time like that.

Chadwick is always so good with the little details. I feel like I am there over 800 years ago. It feels real. I am watching the story in my head while reading it.

And the things I learn, it was the Marshal's job to take care of the royal whores. Yes, he brought in new blood and saw to that they kept their standards. He did sample the wares too ;)

I know that when I want good historical fiction then Chadwick's books are the ones to read. Medieval life comes alive while reading.
Profile Image for Christina.
81 reviews8 followers
August 7, 2013
If you would happen to need me for anything, I can be found in the 12th Century. Thank you very much Elizabeth Chadwick. I was absolutely swept away and enamored by the first installment of the William Marshall series. A Place Beyond Courage is a novel about John FitzGilbert, William Marshall’s father. (William Marshall is the Greatest Knight and the subject of the subsequent novels in the series.) The setting is 12th Century England where the crown is up for grabs and the country is in turmoil. John serves as the king’s marshall, but when the king passes away, no one wants to fulfill their oath to support his daughter the Empress Matilda and would rather see her cousin Stephen on the throne. John is forced to choose a side and live with the consequences or the rewards while trying to manage his family as well as the exchequer of the court. I was caught up in the love story, the action, and the detail of this novel. Chadwick has done impeccable research to bring this long ago time to life.
Profile Image for Brian.
Author 11 books51 followers
June 29, 2009
Pretty much what you expect from Elizabeth Chadwick these days. Consistent quality - good story-telling, and a well-researched but unobtrusive historical 'backing tape'.

This is the story of William Marshal's parents, so a prequel to The Greatest Knight.

I quite enjoy being picky with historicals and finding little faults, but to be honest there's not much scope for that here because the author knows her job too well. John Marshal's rather dull first marriage is maybe more reflective of the average reality of these arrangements than the usual fictional cases of perfect happiness or utter misery. That's my random thought.

Good book. If you're an admirer of EC's work, I'm sure you'll enjoy this one.
Profile Image for  Linda (Miss Greedybooks).
348 reviews105 followers
August 9, 2012
I won this from Sourcebooks! I really liked this book very much! I enjoyed reading about a period of time I have read about before so was familiar with some characters, 1130 - 1153. I liked reading about John FitzGilbert. Marshal to King Henry. William Marshall's father. I did not care much for Aline (his first wife) a snivelling scardy-cat who could only help by running off to pray. His second wife was much more likable and she was the mother of William. I want to read the other books that go on further down the family line. EC is a very good writer - A pleasure to read.
Profile Image for Andrew.
573 reviews
July 29, 2016
This was my first Elizabeth Chadwick book, but will not be my last. It is a while since I have enjoyed a historical fiction book as much of this one. It gave a strong feel for the time and place of the battle between Stephen and Matilda and the cost to those involved in this Ongoing war. The character of JohnFitzGilbert came through well, as did his courage and never say die attitude. An interesting introduction to William Marshall as well, who is the subject of The Greatest Knight which I intend to read next. I can certainly recommend this book to others.
Profile Image for Jacqueline.
342 reviews
September 13, 2013
I loved it! John is just as wonderful as his son William. I will forever associate the Marshals and their legendary lives fondly with Elizabeth Chadwick.This book definitely holds a special place in my heart. It is alive with details of 12th century lives,dress,terms,culture,you can almost smell the food, horses,and battles!I was totally immersed in the fast paced events of this book. There were no boring parts, only favorite ones.
Profile Image for Kelly.
129 reviews21 followers
August 10, 2019
I don't think I have ever had the chance to expound upon my love Elizabeth Chadwick up here. She is by far, one of the most skilled historical novelists, immaculate with her research, clever with her language, and an utter dream to read and truly immerse you in the times of the tales she tells. It takes me a while if I have to stop reading to reorient myself to where and when I actually am she is so incredibly spellbinding with her tales.

I discovered a couple of her early books when traveling in the UK back in the late 90s and when I returned home, was furious to find no one on this side of the pond had heard of her or was selling her novels. My getting my hands on more of her books involved international travel, so I am thrilled to find her now readily carried in the US market this past decade or so.

I had followed her writing her William Marshal series on her blog, and have been looking forward to diving into it. I did not realize that this book was really a special bonus, nearly a prequel, and the third book she actually wrote. Focusing more on William's father, John FitzGilbert Marshal, it turns out to be an incredible character study of another incredibly honorable and determined man during some of the riskiest of times during the Civil War/The Anarchy.

As always, Chadwick more than delivered with this book. You get the detail of day to day life of the characters, no matter their class or status, but never in an intrusive, deterring from the action or story kind of way. It is just subtly woven into the scenes, only setting or enhancing the moment, allowing the reader to time travel. The language and turns of phrase she uses cleverly also reflect the time and way of thinking of the characters, but again, it never feels forced. You just simply are there. It's like the author has channeled the humanity of the characters and beyond what scant bits history has passed down and opened a door for you to time travel.

I'm ready to devour the rest of this series!

note: I recommend reading Lady of the English before diving into this series to really appreciate the shock and horror that faced those poor heroic men who battled for land and honor and had to suffer the idea that A WOMAN MIGHT ACTUALLY HAVE THE POWER AND INTELLIGENCE TO RULE THEM! ::gasp:: Because lemme tell ya, Empress Matilda had some big brass ones to be able to turn the idea of the monarchy on its head and successfully establish the Plantagenet dynasty on the English throne where they would hold is for more than 300 years. 14 kings. Because of this fab bitch who said, "MINE."

I mean, seriously. Kick.Ass.Woman.

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Profile Image for Julie Kenkel Yates.
275 reviews1 follower
August 6, 2022
Novel about John FitzGilbert, father of William Marshal, and his actions during "The Anarchy" (the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda" 1138-1153) Chadwick takes what little is known of John (William's History poem, various Pipe rolls) and weaves an enthralling story. It is not a "war" novl, but a character study of a man of middling means but great valor trying to stay alive during a civil war where more powerful magnates want his land and blood.

This novel initially has the same problems of The Scarlet Lion and To Defy a King - too many POV and much time passing from chapter to chapter. Most importantly, the last third of the book is outstanding, especially the chapters when John gives his son William up as a hostage and the battle following that decision.

Much better than to Defy a King.
Profile Image for Shannon.
985 reviews29 followers
May 29, 2023
This is what good historical fiction looks like. The characters are interesting and feel real, but they don't have totally modern sensibilities. I loved the way the author explained the hammers and anvils speech, it made total sense to me, and it makes me want to read more by her. I definitely recommend reading this book before the first one that's just about William Marshal.
Profile Image for Kiesha ~ Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd .
421 reviews12 followers
January 5, 2019
Well I'll be damned. I kind of fell in love with John FitzGilbert. He was difficult, hard and a bit of a jerk but there were other layers to him as well. Also really loved Sybilla. Aline wore me out. She was soooooo nervous and mousy. I was unsure if this one will hold my interest but it really did and made me ready to learn more about William.
Profile Image for Laura.
1,450 reviews15 followers
October 26, 2012
One of my favorite times of year is whenever there happens to be a new Elizabeth Chadwick novel. After reading her wonderful, engrossing novel, The Greatest Knight, she now ranks as one of my favorite authors. Her historical fiction has no equal. It doesn’t just state the dry history, but becomes living history. Chadwick uses creative techniques to tell the story including reenactment and akashic records.

A Place Beyond Courage is the story of the Greatest Knight’s (William Marshal’s) father, John Fitzgilbert. The thing I most remembered about John from The Greatest Knight was that he once ransomed his young son William to King Stephen and then broke his word. When Stephen threatened to kill his son, John said that he had the “anvils and hammers to make more and better sons.” That is a statement that is heard to forget!

In A Place Beyond Courage, John Fitzgilbert starts off as the marshal of King Henry I. Although his father was also marshal, John won his position through a trial by hand combat. Realizing he is ready for a family, he marries Aline, a shy young neighbor girl. Aline is not well suited to John. Although they have two sons, Aline is always too shy to be out in company, to keep John company, and to take command of her home.

During this time, John has many difficult decisions to make. King Henry has died unexpectedly, with only a female heir, Matilda. Henry’s nephew, Stephen, is crowned the next king of England and John serves him as marshal. John is soon disillusioned by Stephen’s inability to be a firm leader and his followers that do not like John. He leaves Stephen’s household and throws his lot in with Matilda and her young son Henry. Part of this decision is that John must also cast aside Aline and marry feisty Sybilla. Sybilla and John become soul mates and their story is very romantic.

While reading A Place Beyond Courage, I was struck by the difficulty of the decisions that John had to make to survive and prosper during such a tumultuous time in history. He was a strong man and his toughness shown in several key scenes. There is a horrific battle scene where John was very badly hurt, but yet managed to walk miles back home. He survived sieges, battles, and more. Yet, there was a softer side of John that played out in his relationship with Sybilla and all of his children from both wives. In particular, I will admit to crying during the entire William hostage crisis. That part of the book was masterfully written. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about John and his infamous statement, but the book put it wonderfully into context of John having to stand firm, although he loved and favored his young son.

Overall, A Place Beyond Courage is another absolutely wonderful historical fiction novel from Elizabeth Chadwick. It made me cry and really feel for the characters involved in the story, as well as appreciate the history of living during that difficult time in England’s history. I highly recommend this book and Elizabeth Chadwick in general. She is a master of historical fiction.

Book Source: Review copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

My review was originally posted at: http://www.lauragerold.blogspot.com/2...
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