The Greatest Knight

The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones
Narrated by: Derek Perkins
Length: 14 hrs and 29 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (566 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In The Greatest Knight, renowned historian Thomas Asbridge draws upon the thirteenth-century biography and an array of other contemporary evidence to present a compelling account of William Marshal's life and times. Asbridge charts the unparalleled rise to prominence of a man bound to a code of honor yet driven by unquenchable ambition.

Marshal was the true Lancelot of his era - a peerless warrior and paragon of chivalry. As a five-year-old boy, William was sentenced to execution and led to the gallows, yet this landless younger son survived his brush with death and went on to train as a medieval knight. Against all odds Marshal rose through the ranks - serving at the right hand of five English monarchs - to become a celebrated tournament champion, a baron and politician, and, ultimately, regent of the realm.

This knight's tale lays bare the brutish realities of medieval warfare and the machinations of the royal court and draws us into the heart of a formative period of our history. It is the story of one remarkable man, the birth of the knightly class to which he belonged, and the forging of the English nation.

©2014 Thomas Asbridge (P)2015 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Readers seeking a deeper understanding of early tournaments and the origins of chivalry will be pleased." (Library Journal)

"Derek Perkins skillfully narrates Asbridge's history of the exemplary twelfth-century knight William Marshall.... Perkins's voice has something of the medieval in it, and he easily fills the contours of a narrative that ranges from the manufacture of knight's armor to its bloody use on the field of battle. Here is Arthurian legend at its core - and one of the year's true sleepers." (AudioFile)

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Rare biography of a true knight

the rarity of a volume about an average man who broke the rules of the Middle Ages to become a figure of myth and greatness. Thus the focus is on some people and incidents that do not get much attention. Such as the details between Henry the second and his battles with his sons rather than the killing of Thomas Becket. Worth the time.

4 people found this helpful

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The Biography of a Legend

Credited as the very embodiment of chivalry in a time with the concept was just coming into its own, William Marshal was very nearly executed at the age of five yet would go on to serve as the backbone of the Plantagenet dynasty. He would rebel against kings, serve alongside kings, go on Crusade, and become instrumental in the signing of Magna Carta. By any measure, this man is a legend in the annals of knighthood, England, and the whole of the Middle Ages.

This new biography is nothing less than impressive. While it does help to have some background knowledge of the Plantagenet dynasty and its key players (I highly recommend Dan Jones' The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England), the great thing about this book is that it does stand on its own for those who are just dipping their toes into this part of history. This means it works very well as both an introduction to the man and his times and as supplemental reading to other works. It's an easy read, but it's by no means lightweight in its approach. The result is that the Greatest Knight steps out to shine as one of the most respected men in history, fully accessible to modern readers some 800 years later.

8 people found this helpful

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true story of an amazing knight

This is the incredible story of William Marshal who rose from hostage who escaped execution as a child to renown knight to navigating deadly political waters. During the course of his life he served 5 kings and was known for his loyalty. In his lifetime he was known as a fierce warrior and he helped shape the chivalric code of knights.

The author does an excellent job of describing medieval life, especially of knights. William Marshal's life encompassed the reigns of Stephen through Henry III. William was larger than life. I recommend this book to anyone interested in medieval European history.

The narration is excellent. Derek Perkins did a wonderful job. Sometimes I shy away from history audiobooks because too often the narration is dull. Mr. Perkins kept the pace interesting.

2 people found this helpful

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Absolutely superb

What an engaging read! From start to finish a pure delight. Exceedingly well researched and well read...

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Wonderful Story

This is a great read. The historical points are well researched and approached from multiple sources to provide as clear a picture as possible about William Marshall's life. While no one can be perfect, Marshall was a prototype of chivalry, courage, and loyalty and his story is fascinating.

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A great book!

It was an AMAZING book. I loved it sooo much! I learned so much about the middle ages and of lords and knights. The story was absolutely fantastic. William Marshell, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting men in history!

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The Title Does Not Disappoint!

The title of this book begs the question of what exactly had Sir William Marshall done to become the greatest knight. His greatest quality was his unwavering loyalty as a retainer to both great kings and a tyrant alike and even when doing so went against his advantage, and he was also loyal to his wife to whom he gave 10 children at a time when infant mortality was high and male infidelity was conventional. Richard the Lionhearted granted generous offices/jobs to Marshall and others who had kept themselves faithful unto their king and Richard's enemy/father Henry II until his death. He granted an exception for his brother John the Tyrant, John the Softsword, and John the Cowardly Lion who quite literally "surrounded [his] name with a foul stench" because no other English kings during the last 800 years have adopted or relayed that name, so he was the first and the last John and a political whore. The baronial uprising had initially been a righteous cause that gave rise to the first draft of the Magna Carter, but it soon got out of hand and with help of the Capetian French, so William Marshall at 70 years old lead the outnumbered royalist forces to a great victory at Lincoln in defense of the boy-king Henry III, and then gave magnanimous terms of peace to the rebel barons and decreed that England should return to an updated version of the Magna Carter. This book gives us a detailed look at what happened on the home front in England and France during Richard's captivity and his last remaining years before his death in 1199. The main primary source of the author was an epic poem in Old French (no doubt), discovered in the 1800s, but he failed to back up some of his claims about war crimes that were committed by Marshall and the Lionhearted in the Occitan and Gascony. I do not know if the printed edition of this book cites any primary sources, but I'm willing to bet that at fewest one of Richard's chroniclers would have made a record of his every deed; whereas, most peasants in Medieval Europe were probably illiterate and thus could not leave a record of what Marshall had or had not done.

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Fascinating (his)story and great narration

So enjoyed this as history and narrative and the narrator, Derek Perkins, was superb. Would look forward to hearing him narrate in future.
Can’t recommend enough.

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Great biography of a real knight in armor

This is an incredible story of a true knight in armor. William Marshall a documented knight, went from being the landless hostage of a Lord to serving five English kings before dying in his seventies. The story is based on a pan anglo French “history” commissioned by his eldest son, but corroborated in many instances by other official historical documents. The biography maybe a bit biased but it is nevertheless interesting and the narrator is British and gives a dispassionate reading of even the scary battle moments. I liked his narration. I loved the book. Even the story of how this biography came to light and was translated was interesting. I’ve never rated a book, much less written a review but this book was worth my time.

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A Delight

A well-researched, detailed and very readable account of an important historical figure. This book is a delight for all lovers of things medieval.