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The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  3,045 ratings  ·  465 reviews

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 celebrate

Kindle Edition, 481 pages
Published December 2nd 2014 by Ecco
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Start your review of The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones
Jeffrey Keeten
”In 1152 King Stephen of England decided to execute a five-year-old boy. This child--William Marshal--had committed no crime. He was a hostage, given over to the crown as surety for his father’s word, a pawn in the great game of power and politics then being played out within a realm wracked by civil war. When William’s father promptly broke his pledge to the king, declaring that ‘he did not care about the child, since he still had the anvils and hammers to forge even finer ones,’ Stephen was fu ...more
``Laurie Henderson
I've been wanting to read this book and learn more about William Marshal for a long time now and author Thomas Asbridge didn't disappoint. This reads more like a work of historical fiction than history as there was never a dull moment in this fast paced book relating this unlikely tale of rags to riches.

I first ran across William Marshal back in the early 1980's when I read Thomas Costain's book:
The Conquering Family and The Magnificent Century.
Costain was clearly in awe of William Marshal and
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: I wouldn't recommend it unless you read others on the subject.
I confess that before I read Thomas Asbridge’s THE GREATEST KNIGHT” I was already curious about this new biography of William Marshal. The lives of John FitzGilbert the Marshal and his son William are a lifelong study subject for me outside my novel writing career. Since this work shared the title of my 2004 novel The Greatest Knight the life of William Marshal and even the same font and cloudy background as my UK cover, my interest was naturally piqued even more!
William Marshal, circa 1246-121
A knight there was, and he a worthy man,
Who, from the moment that he first began
To ride about the world, loved chivalry,
Truth, honour, freedom and all courtesy.
Full worthy was he in his liege-lord's war,
And therein had he ridden (none more far)
As well in Christendom as heathenesse,
And honoured everywhere for worthiness.

(The Canterbury Tales - Chaucer)

Relying on L'Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, the first and only biography known to describe the life of a medieval knight, written by John o
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First off I won this in the First Reads here at Goodreads but this in no way effected this review.From a military and political stand point this was like having a front row seat to the reigns of five english kings.William Marshall served these kings with honor,dignity and bravery as this book shows throughout.Despite that I received an uncorrected copy with the occasional left out word or out of order sentence it was filled with detail on most every aspect of his long career.I especially enjoyed ...more
If you are a devotee of Medieval English history; more than likely you have a crush on William Marshal (if you are interested in men). This man is everything that the stereotype of a knight-in-shining-armor entails (even though shiny armor plates didn’t exist yet): loyalty, bravery, and chivalry. The question is whether William Marshal truly encompassed these traits or if that is an exaggerated portrayal in hindsight. Acclaimed author and medieval studies lecturer Thomas Asbridge highlights the ...more
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What was it like to be a knight in the age of chivalry? What was it like to be up close and personal to Henry II, his Queen Eleanor and their sons? Thomas Abridge brings it all to life in this engagingly written biography of William Marshall.

While born a noble, William Marshall was not a first son. His father supported King Stephen's cousin's claim to the throne and was willing to make William a hostage in the 14 year civil war. William survived execution orders and the general poor and uncertai
Jan 18, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I know very little about Knights and was interested to give the books a go because I was curious to learn more. However I'm not quite sure if either the subject don't intressed me enough or that the book wasn't written in a compelling way for me. It was well written and reacherd. It just didn't blow my mind and make me more curious about the subject in question. ...more
Rio (Lynne)
Having read Chadwick's books on William Marshal a few years ago, I enjoyed reading and revisiting this non-fiction book on his amazing life. Some who have read Chadwick made comments....that there is no way this happened and the author just had a love affair with William. Well, at first read I thought the same, so I investigated. Well, it's there written in a medieval biography that was almost lost to history. We are lucky that a French scholar came across this "rubbish aka hidden jewel" at an a ...more
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having seen William Marshal's effigy in the Temple Church in London last year, when I saw this book I had to get it.

Like most people, all I really knew about Marshall is how he appeared in historical fiction (I first came across him in Jean Plaidy's works).

And interesting rags to riches story in many ways. From minor nobility to being the most powerful man in England is a hell of a journey.

Interesting and absorbing read.

Highly recommended.
I received this book as part of GoodReads First Reads giveaway. And I read an Uncorrected Proof copy.

Edited: I originally quibbled about the lack of references but I only did not see them because I read an uncorrected proof so I have no qualms or reservations about this book. It's a straight up great book, very informative and extremely interesting.

Well that was fascinating. This book is a biography of the life of William Marshall along with a whole lot of other information to give context. It t
A.L. Sowards
I really enjoyed this audiobook about William Marshal. When he was five, he was given over as a hostage for his father’s good behavior during the civil war between Matilda and Stephen. His father didn’t keep his word, and didn’t worry too much about losing a son—he could always make more, and William wasn’t the eldest anyway.

William survived (King Stephen wasn't heartless enough to hang a five-year-old) and went on to a long and distinguished career that included disappointment, success, and so
G. Lawrence
Mar 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book about a remarkable man, wonderful read
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Confession time. One of my regrets in life is making the ridiculous decision at 15 not to continue with studies in history because I didn't like the teacher for the upcoming year. I blame my parents for not over-ruling me. (Smugly sidesteps all responsibility and crosses fingers that own children won't try something so silly.) Consequently, I have rather embarrassing gaps in my knowledge of British history. "The Greatest Knight" did an excellent job of filling in some rather crucial details invo ...more
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic biography of an amazing life.
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's an act of hubris to be able to pronounce the 'greatest' anything, much less the 'greatest' knight, a class of people that was fairly large and existed over centuries, but it is certainly fair to say that William Marshal is the best known knight, and actually a good contender for the title on his own merits.

Long-lived and successful, Marshal rose from obscurity as a second son to being the regent of England in all but name. Even so, he'd hardly be known at all today if not for a biography of
What a book! I am so thankful that the record of his life was found and studied by Paul Meyer. This is such a golden look into a time in English and European histories from 1066- 1219, that is really quite remarkable. It takes us through the life of William Marshal a boy given for ransom to King Stephen. It then goes on to explain the world William grew up in, as the world of knights grew from its infancy. This is a very detailed account of his life and times that could read horribly dry, but yo ...more
David Dinaburg
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tragedy inspires ownership. It is not one of humankind’s prettier reactions. To stake a claim—this was what I was doing when JFK was shot, when the towers fell—seems natural; an attempt to subsume inexplicable circumstances within a comprehensible narrative. Yet, there’s something rankling about those on the periphery of a widely disruptive event claiming proximity or personal discomfiture; an inherent and seemingly inevitable competitive response replaces sympathy or commiseration, radiating ou ...more
Jul 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently finished the whole Angevin history series of historical fiction by Sharon Kay Penman. Anyone familiar with her work knows that the historical research she puts into her books is enormous and meticulous, and that the vast majority of her characters and events are factual, or based on facts. One minor character who is woven through all five books is named William Marshal, and he was very real. In fact, he has been called the paragon of chivalry, the epitome of the medieval warrior, and ...more
To the person that recommended to me this book, I wish to thank from the heart for my love of History. This was indeed a fabulous book on a Knight who is deemed today by many in academic circles to have been “The Greatest Knight.”

This accounting of Earl William Marshal is nothing short of brilliant. Persons who study, read, learn, and write of medieval History will of course be able to split hairs on the work offered by Mr. Asbridge. I am not one of those people mind you, but the thoroughness of
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fabulous research and source materials, photos, landscapes, period tombs for William Marshal's life.

The 12th Century was a time of great change. Very definitions and categories for and pursued by the noble or gentle classes! Those pursuits also for all kinds of power display and influence became pageant heavy.

Five kings, and he wasn't always on the "side" of any of them? Or was he?

Long-lived in a time when life (and in his specialty double that) was often elderly disability and/or becoming lon
Paul Wisbey
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to summarise all the crazy twists in William Marshal's life, but here goes...

As a child he's held hostage by a tyrant and narrowly avoids being used as ammunition for a siege catapult. As a young adult he masters the skill of horse riding whist simultaneously bashing people very hard with a sword. He outlives 3 Kings, despite being impaled with a lance, held hostage again, fighting in a war to defend Normandy, fighting in an invasion of Normandy, and being sent on a crusade to Jerusale
Apr 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really interesting audiobook to tackle on the heels of Helen Castor's section on the Empress Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine in She-Wolves and Catherine Hanley's biography of Matilda, because in the early sections of this book I can see a little of what they're responding to in terms of the historiographical traditions about Matilda. In turn, Asbridge would probably take issue with Castor's assessment of Henry the Young King, son of Henry II and Eleanor, because Castor's version of h ...more
Steven Poore
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Reading this, it's incredible to think that the details of Marshal's life and career were lost to history for so many centuries - his impact on England was as great as, if not greater than, Warwick the Kingmaker. Thomas Asbridge does necessarily have to guess at a fair amount of the details of Marshal's personality, plugging the gaps with social and political commentary, but he paints Marshal as a mostly sympathetic character. Marshal may have had one eye on the prize, gathering wealth to himsel ...more
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I found most of this book interesting, and much of it was fascinating—especially the description of what a tournament would have been like in the 12th century. Instead of a formal Medieval Times-style joust, a tournament was full-armor team war games, a full-on melee, complete with battlefield tactics, deception, and cheating. The winners kidnapped the losers and their horses, and were paid literal ransoms as prizes. This was how William Marshal first made his name and his fortune.
Feb 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A detailed look at the life of William Marshal, whose career spanned several decades from the late 12th century through the early 13th century. His life was truly remarkable, as he served, and at times contended with, several notable kings of England, including Henry II, Richard I (Lionheart), and John. He served with crusaders in the Holy Land and helped create Magna Carta. Asbridge's biography is thorough and compelling, and he does an excellent job of placing Marshal's life within the histori ...more
Jo Walton
This is a very thorough earnest well researched book about William Marshall, with good explanations of complex situations, and I'm glad I've read it. But I have to admit, I'm also glad I've finished it, because it has a very plodding style. ...more
Hannah Sillars
In the process of reading this book, I learned William Marshal is one of my ancestors. (Yes, you may bow.)

The book is dry in its telling, but the content is very interesting. William Marshal lived a fascinating life and the lack of insight into his personal motivations leave it open for interpretation. Was he a faithful servant of the crown? A power-hungry schemer? Both at once?
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thrilling from start to finish.
Jacob Stelling
Feb 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant summary of the epitome of chivalry that is William the Marshal. This is a well-written biography which builds on existing scholarship but also goes further in its use of new sources to paint a more accurate picture of a man who rose from the lowest levels of the aristocracy to be regent of England, after serving 5 different kings.
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Goodreads Librari...: mislabeled as HC but is ebook edition 2 14 Dec 09, 2017 07:31AM  
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Thomas Asbridge is an internationally renowned expert on the history of the Middle Ages and author of the critically acclaimed books The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land and The First Crusade: A New History. His latest publication is The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones.

Thomas studied for a BA in Ancient and Medieval History at Cardi

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“I'm in a weird place because the book is about to come out. So I'm basically just walking around like a raw nerve and I'm not sure that I...
32 likes · 6 comments
“The 1216 Magna Carta was distinctive in two further regards. It was not a mere peace treaty, extracted under duress from an embattled monarch, but a freely given assurance of rights. Crucially, the document was also issued with the full and unequivocal support of the papal legate, Guala.” 1 likes
“It was this document, validated by Guala and Marshal, which resurrected Magna Carta – the discarded pact of 1215. This development represented a critical step in English history, for without this reissue and those that followed in later years, the Great Charter would have been forgotten.” 1 likes
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