Review: The Knight Banneret by Richard Woodman


William Marshal was born in a time of civil war. In a time of bloodshed and honour. As a boy he is used as a pawn, during the conflict between Stephen and Matilda. But as a young man he trains as a knight.
Marshal learns his trade in England and Normandy, fighting in tournaments and war-games, gaining friends and enemies alike.

But the boy must become a man – and the squire must become a knight.

Marshal soon finds himself embroiled in the campaigns of Henry II and the rivalry between French Kings. Where once he fought for fame and riches, the young knight finds himself fighting for his life.

The Knight Banneret is the first book in an epic series chronicling the story of William Marshal, “the Greatest Knight”.

My Review

William Marshal was a huge presence in the Plantagenet story, but as a younger son with no lands and no money, he was completely on his own. He certainly got off to an inauspicious start in King Stephen’s reign, where he found himself a hostage for his father’s good faith—except that his father was willing to sacrifice him, having “both the hammer and the anvil to forge another son”. For a while it looked like Stephen would carry out his threat to kill him:

‘Throw the boy hence and we shall catch him! He is our own!’ William recognised the voice of his father’s steward, Geoffrey FitzJohn, and his heart leapt with hope. Could they possibly catch him? Suppose he fell short? Or sailed above them? There was no word about surrender, just that defiant challenge. Suddenly, as a murmur rose from the King’s ranks, the basket shuddered. William was aware that the catapult arm was dropping lower as the men on the windlass turned the barrel and the twisted ropes drew the basket lower and lower. He lost his footing under the vibration and sat on his buttocks with a heavy thump. The basket continued to descend and suddenly he was level with men’s heads; they stared at him, their faces blank, indifferent now.

But Stephen wasn’t cruel enough to kill young William—besides, he liked the boy. So the young hostage stayed with the king for many months, serving as a page, almost a squire, and picking up skills that would hold him good stead. He soon gained quite a reputation for military excellence, and, after Stephen’s death, he came to the attention of Eleanor of Aquitaine. And soon, he was tutoring Young Henry, the King in Waiting, so to speak, who was crowned in his father’s lifetime but was not given any lands to rule. William had his hands full, because Young Henry was frustrated, unstable, and difficult to manage. To make matters worse, the old king, who didn’t particularly like William, would give him orders that would inevitably anger his son. Luckily, William was clever as well as competent, and managed to talk sense to his young charge. Mostly. He had picked up enemies along the way who were determined to ruin him. And it almost worked.

Life was not easy for William Marshal, and in the next book we’ll see how he managed to pick up the pieces after young Henry died. The book had a good pace; there were a few awkward passages that could have used some polishing, but overall a very good read.


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