A few days ago, I reviewed THE GREATEST KNIGHT by Elizabeth Chadwick. I absolutely loved the book about the life of William Marshal, and I'm anxious to read more of Ms. Chadwick's books. In the meantime, I'll have to be content with this lovely guest post that she wrote for my blog! I am so honored that took time from her busy schedule to write a few words about many of the characters in her book.
I’d like to say a warm thank you to Booking Mama for sending me an invite to be a guest blogger today.
The Greatest Knight is about a largely forgotten medieval hero William Marshal who rose from a minor position in society to become the most important man in England. William has been my obsession for some time and The Greatest Knight, is very much a book of my heart.
While I was writing the novel though, I had opportunity to think about the women in William’s life. It may be a cliché, but in this case it was true that ‘behind every great man is a great woman - indeed several great women in William’s instance. The first was his mother, Sybilla, sister of the Earl of Salisbury. Although little is recorded about her in history, she had a tough row to hoe and she did it with great success. Her husband, John Marshal, divorced his first wife in order to marry her and thereby secure a peace alliance with her brother. She had no say in the matter. John had lost an eye in battle and the political circumstances of the time meant that his lands were at the front line of the fight, so there was little peace to be had in daily life. Sybilla bore John six children, William being her second-born. When he was five years old, he was taken as a hostage for his father’s word of honour and almost hanged when his father reneged on the deal he had made. Indeed, John Marshal is known to have told William’s gaolors to go ahead and hang the child because he had the ‘anvils and hammers’ to forge better sons. Luckily for William, the men holding him hostage, including the King of England, couldn’t bring themselves to do the deed. Worried for him, his mother sent one of her chamber servants to keep an eye on William from a distance. William himself was very keen to play games with King Stephen, and was such a bright, chirpy, confident little chap that he endeared himself to his captors. The underlying qualities of good nature, confidence and a willingness to cooperate whilst still retaining a sense of self all came from that original grounding of maternal care (in difficult circumstances) in his early years.
William was sent to Normandy to be trained in the knightly arts and in his early twenties was taken into the household of his uncle who was governor of Poitou. One day, while out on patrol, acting as an escort to the Queen of England, the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine, the party was attacked by enemies. William stood in the way of the attackers and fought them off while Eleanor made her escape. William was badly wounded and taken prisoner. He didn’t have any bandages for his injury, but when his captors stopped at a castle for the night, a woman took pity on him and sneaked him some linen bindings concealed in a loaf of bread. Without her act of kindness, William would have been in a much worse case, and it is interesting that she was moved to help him. One gets the impression that William had a vast amount of charm, both the boyish and the virile, and that women were very attracted!
Queen Eleanor herself paid William’s ransom and recognising his great talent and loyalty, rewarded him with a place in her household as tutor in chivalry to her eldest son, Henry the Young King. William was on his way to stardom. Stars though, sometimes fall and William was almost brought down by a whispering campaign about himself and Marguerite, the wife of his young lord. Jealous rivals accused him of having an affair with her, and although he denied it vociferously, he was banished from court and Marguerite was bundled off back to her brother in France. Was William guilty of the accusations? Read the book and find out!
Queen Eleanor and William remained friends throughout their lives. When Henry II died, William was sent to England with messages to Eleanor from her son Richard the Lionheart. I think it quite likely that Eleanor had some influence in arranging William a great marriage to Isabelle de Clare, a beautiful heiress of vast tracks of land in Normandy, the Welsh Marches and Southern Ireland.
The bond seems to have suited both William and Isabelle very well despite the age gap between them. She was about 18, he was 41. I think it telling of William’s tact and understanding that he took his young wife on honeymoon so they could get to know each other. Perhaps as a matter of pride, he kept his own small seal from the days when he was an ordinary knight, rather than have a new extravagant one made. Or perhaps it was to keep his feet on the ground. He seems to have consulted Isabelle on matters pertaining to the lands, which were only his by right of his marriage to her and it was a fact he freely acknowledged in full public before all their vassals. He could spend her money and rule her estates as he chose, by right of the marriage laws at the time, but he always involved her in decisions and sought her opinion.
William Marshal was raised in love by one woman, healed by another, given a staircase to climb to the stars by a great queen, almost brought down by another one of lesser degree, and held in balance by a young woman twenty years younger than himself, but his equal in every way. The women of the time might receive less comment in the historical record than the men, but they were frequently the secret driving force!
About the Author
Elizabeth Chadwick lives near Nottingham with her husband and two sons. She is the author of 17 historical novels, including Lords of the White Castle, Shadows and Strongholds, A Place Beyond Courage, The Scarlet Lion, the Winter Mantle, and the Falcons of Montebard, four of which have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Awards. Much of her research is carried out as a member of Regia Anglorum, an early medieval re-enactment society with the emphasis on accurately re-creating the past. She won a Betty Trask Award for The Wild Hunt, her first novel.
You can learn more about Elizabeth Chadwick and her books on her website and blog.
I am so excited that I can giveaway two copies of THE GREATEST KNIGHT courtesy of Sourcebooks. To enter, please leave a comment with a valid e-mail address telling me if you have ever read any books about the Middle Ages. To double or triple your chances, you can blog and/or tweet about this contest with a link back to this post. This contest is open until September 10th at 11:59 p.m. EST, and I will notify the winners the following day. This giveaway is for those of you with U.S. or Canada mailing addresses only -- no P.O. boxes please. Good luck!