The Greatest Knight

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

The greatest knight being William Marshal, one of life’s survivors who managed to make himself indispensable to five successive kings – though this rather cheatingly includes the unnumbered Henry, son of Henry II, who was crowned king while his dad was still alive but never actually allowed to be in charge of anything. Anyway. Marshal lived in an age when loyalty was everything, and provided you served your liege lord faithfully, no one held it against you, though they might still kill you in battle. Thus he supported Young Henry against Henry II; switched to Henry II when the young one died; supported Old Henry against Richard the Lionheart; switched to Richard when Henry died; supported Richard against John … and so on. It’s a fascinating insight into the times and mindset of the Middle Ages, which dear old Game of Thrones sort of gets sometimes (the sense of entitlement to rule of the nobility, never mind who suffers further down in the ranks) but usually doesn’t. I didn’t know that in Marshal’s day, a tournament was far from the friendly one-on-one jousting that we get in all good fantasy – rather, it was a controlled war game, with armies charging around vast territories trying to capture each other.