The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge

    William Marshal is a very important figure of the medieval period, especially in regards to the English high middle ages. Thomas Asbridge’s work, The Greatest Knight, is an excellent full-blooded biography of William Marshall spanning the man’s entire life. A major source for the book is the medieval manuscript “The History of William Marsahal” which has only been rediscovered essentially since the late 1800s. However, the author does expound, add to, and contradict the medieval history when needed and has astute and critical observations of its omissions and embellished material.

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     All in all, I only have a few complaints about the entire book. First, there are some situations where there is a lot of “guesswork” or theory into what was going on behind some decisions or reasons for certain events. While some speculation is fine and actually needed to write such a full biography of a medieval figure, sometimes it might actually be better to just leave something be and simply acknowledge that some things just can’t be known at this time. This is especially so if some of these situations bunch up together chronologically. The other negative of the book is that there are no in-text citations. I don’t why this is trending in nonfiction books, but I just can’t see the point of writing good notes that end up in the back of the book if there is no indication in the narrative of when to look at them.
    Anyways, the book as a whole is tremendous. One of the strong features is that, when in the narrative of William Marshal’s life, the author goes on the perfect amount of tangents to explain different features of medieval society and life. For example, early in William Marshal’s career, he served under Henry the Young King and they made a grand habit of participating in tournaments. The author then explains tournaments thoroughly so that we understand the importance of what was going on for the king and William Marshal. These tangents are not too lengthy and their are some interspersed throughout William Marshal’s life in the book, fleshing out his status and position in the medieval English world. Also, I found the connections between William and all of the royalty he served under fascinating in how he remained loyal but served them in different ways to ensure his own survival and position. Lastly, I simply learned a ton of information about William Marshal that I didn’t know before, which is always a plus in nonfiction work.
    Overall, I found this to be a great biography of a medieval figure. I encourage anyone who enjoys learning about medieval history, especially in the Kingdom of England, to pick up this book. It may have had a few problems and perhaps a few dry spots (though the book was not tedious), this was heavily outweighed by the good that this book delivers.
    4.5 out of 5 stars.