The novel is a fictionalization of the early part of William Marshal’s career, beginning at age 20 and continuing up until the time he marries at age 43, highlighting the major events of his life. In preparation for this week’s Sunday Salon, I thought I’d share with you a little bit about what I know of the Marshal's life. Born in 1146 or thereabouts, he was a younger son of John Marshal. John switched sides in the civil war between the Empress Maude and King Stephen, who asked John to surrender or watch as his young son was hanged. To which, John Marshal replied, “I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!" King Stephen, however, couldn't bring himself to kill the boy.
William Marshal later was appointed tutor of chivalry to the Henry the Younger, and quickly became one of the wealthiest and most successful knights of the court. Later, William stood by Henry and his brothers during their rebellion against their father. Henry and William had a falling out in 1182 over rumored improprieties William had taken with Henry’s wife, Marguerite. On his deathbed, Henry asked William to go on a Crusade, which William then did, returning to marry Isabel de Clare, one of the richest heiresses in England. The title of the novel comes from Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton (1150-1228), who described Marshal as being "the greatest knight that ever lived." The sequel to The Greatest Knight, The Scarlet Lion (which I've already ordered from Amazon UK!) covers the latter part of William Marshal’s life. The image below is from the Chronica Majora of Benedictine monk, cartographer, and historian Matthew Paris, of William Marshal vanquishing a rival in tournament (and when I read and review The Scarlet Lion, there's a great, snarky Matthew Paris quote about King John that I'll share with you).
For additional research, I went to Elizabeth Chadwick's website and blog, where she talks about the research she does for her books. She does her research via a wide variety of methods, including historical reenactment with the Regia Anglorum society, as well as what's called the Akashic Record, or spiritualism. And, apprently she's doing research for and writing a new novel about William Marshal's daughter, Mahelt!