Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Knight Who Saved England: William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217, by Richard Brooks

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     Robin Hood and his band of merry men? Yes, probably most of us have seen Robin Hood movies, or read books, seen plays, or poured over the comics to enjoy the story of the injustices of John's taxation of the poor people. And, of course, Robin Hood's antics as he robbed the rich and gave to the poor. So, like many others, I am generally familiar with the era in which Robin Hood lived, Richard the Lionheart, John, the king that followed Richard, an era of knights in armor, beautiful ladies, chivalry, kings and courts and the honor or dishonor that could attach to one of the players.

     I remember studying the middle ages in grade school, learning about the peasants and how they labored long for little. Our teacher explained how the feudal system worked so, as students, we could reach a basic understanding of people and life in the middle ages.

One spin-off of the classic
story of Ivanhoe, by Sir Wal-
ter Scott, is the Classics
 version. [2]
     Since I lived out in the country while I was growing up, I was able to see country life with a variety of animals all around me. This rural life allowed me to own my very own horse--a black Quarter Horse mare, I called Beauty. Like many young women I loved horses and would read anything about the beautiful animals, not the least of which was about the knights and their horses. As many of you already know from reading past posts, one of my favorite books was written by the author, Sir Walter Scott, and is entitled, Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe, is set in twelfth century England while Richard the Lionheart is, yet, king. [2]

In Robin Hood (2010), starring
Russell Crowe, Max Von Sydow,
and Cate Blanchett, William
Hurt takes on the role of William
. While the movie was a
fun watch for most, it was, none-
theless, roundly criticized for its
historical inaccuracies. [3]

     So, whether it is Robin Hood or Ivanhoe who captures your fancy, William Marshal was the one who transcended his own country's history to leave an indelible mark on the world. As we begin discussing William Marshal through Richard Brooks' book, let's start by taking a look at a brief synopsis of The Knight Who Saved England.

     We've already learned that William Marshal is a man of the middle ages. Why should we care about someone who lived so very long ago and has nothing to do with today? Well, my answer is Richard Brooks' book, itself. That is to say, Brook's book explains to us why William Marshal is really a man for all centuries.  In short, it has to do with the rights of the common man.
This is one angle of the walls of Lin-
coln Castle, castle where Marshal won
his greatest victory. Note the steep in-
cline approaching the castle walls.  It
is no small wonder the French had to
set siege to the castle. [4]

     Brooks shows us a man who lived during a brutal time of medieval warfare and growing concepts of chivalry and nobility. Marshal faced the betrayal by his countrymen, rebel English forces who had allied themselves with the French. In England's darkest hour, Marshal was called upon to stop the French and rebel troops from pillaging the country. Marshal led the campaign, culminating in the siege of Lincoln in 1217, earning a victory of more import, perhaps, than even that of Agincourt. 

     In politics, Marshal had to walk a medieval tightrope and not only survived, but thrived. Moreover, as the "right-hand man to three kings and regent for a fourth," he also campaigned for and defended the rights of the common man and the Magna Carta.

This image is a copy of the Papal Bull annulling the Magna
Carta. In it, Pope Innocent III calls the Magna Carta,
"shameful and demeaning." [5]
     King John never intended to honor his sealing of the Magna Carta in 1215, since he viewed the signing as having been coerced and unlawful. An appeal to the Pope by John resulted in the document being deemed null and void. John's rejection of the document was short-lived, how- ever, for after his death (1216), his son ascended to the throne. A child of nine years, King Henry III, won a bid for Marshal's protection and support. In 1217, Marshal, vowing to protect the young king, began the last period of his life as Regent of England. It was then, as he became regent to the young king, that Marshal issued the edict and made law of, none other than, the Magna Carta.

     First, I think it ironic that a man of such stature has no famous quotes with which to be remembered--but his father does. John Marshal, father of William Marshal, had given his son in ransom to King Stephen as a surity to relinquish his castle. Stephen used what time he had, instead, to reinforce his castle. 

The Magna Carta. [7]
     Then, when Stephen ordered Marshal to surrender his castle, John Marshal called his bluff. He was reported as having said to King Stephen, "I still have the hammer and anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!" [6] 

     It is ironic, because long before I ever heard of William Marshal, I had heard of John Marshal and his words to a besieging King. Instead, we remember William Marshal for the things he did rather than for what he said.

     Second, it cannot be doubted that no topic for a book could be much better than William Marshal. It really is wonderful to see more attention brought to this historically important person. I hope Marshal's importance continues to be more appreciated and more people grow to learn of his life. So, Richard Brooks really could do no better in my book than to select Marshal for his subject matter.

     Technical Considerations: 
(1)     The very first technical consideration we will look at today is, "What was the author's main purpose in writing a book about William Marshal, and did he accomplish his objective?" Richard Brooks tells us in the INTRODUCTION, that he wrote the book to "reconsider" England's forgotten champi- on, William Marshal, as the author looks forward to the Battle at Lincoln's 800th anniversary (May 20, 1217 to May 20, 2017). I would say Brooks' objective was met, in that he wrote and published the book about William Marshal and the French Invasion of 1217 in anticipation of the 800 year anniversary of the culmination of the victory over the French at Lincoln. His book is also a good way to spread the word about William Marshal and the exemplary life he led and the legacy he left to the world.

(2)     Since this is a nonfiction book, alternatively listed as military history, we must next ask whether or not the facts that the author, Richard Brooks, shared with us in this title, The Knight Who Saved England, are accurate.  Since this is a scholarly work, Brooks has documented both his primary and secondary sources at the back of the book. Additionally, Brooks has listed the publishing company, and provided contact information.

This image is one included in Richard Brooks' book, The
Knight Who Saved England
. This graphic is a 13th Century
image of the Battle at Lincoln. An archer shoots at the
fleeing French knights. [8]
     I have not checked Mr. Brooks' sources personally, and leave that to someone with more time to do such things than the little time I have. Moreover, since I am not a scholar on William Marshal, I cannot say with any authority whether everything Mr. Brooks presented is wholly accurate. However, on the face of things, it appears to me that Mr. Brooks' not only has considerable personal knowledge about William Marshal, but that he has completed exhaustive research into the background of this historic individual.

(3)  Our third consideration is the target audience...just who are they? It seems most apparent that the target audience is those appreciating military history, or history in general. Other offshoots could include those interested in medieval history, royalty, war reenactors, armor, mail and weapon reproduction specialists, those interested in politics, law, or strategic alliances. I, of course, fit into none of those categories. Instead, I am a simple book reviewer who happens to love horses, knights, and the era in which they existed.

From Richard Brooks book, The Knight Who
Saved England, Brooks says, this image is of a
group of "[c]losely formed conrois of knights
pursu[ing] fleeing opponents with lances couch-
ed for impact. Mail shirts are longer than [they
were] at Hastings, but helmets remain open.
One knight (left) has lowered his lance to finish
off a dismounted enemy." [9]
(4)  Consideration four concerns any extra features that may add to either the appreciation of the story or book, or its under- standing. Some might even include whether or not these added features made the book more attractive. Since this book is an ebook, such features are not under consideration since we have no cover, dust jacket, or glossy illustrated inserts. However, Richard Brooks has included a number of features that makes the book both easier to understand and also helps the reader to visualize the period or the point Brooks attempts to make. The extras Brooks has included are as follows:
  • A Preface and an Introduction that helps explain the book to get the basics down. For example, a section on medieval money. I found the Introduction to be most helpful!;
  • A chronology of events aids the reader in keeping events straight;
  • A series of maps showing locations and layouts of strategic areas;
  • A Glossary to include important terms;
  • A list of Select Bibliography for checking references;
  • A list of Illustrations (Plate Section): Full color plates of various scenes, people, and events.
     I found the full color graphic images beautiful and well selected for the book. They were quite enjoyable and I spent a goodly amount of time perusing the images. Because of the extras, I think this book might be a helpful addition to a public library, or perhaps a university library for those who wish to do research into English history or William Marshal.

The image is a representation of the stone effigy of William
Marshal. As you look at the close-up of the face you see the dam-
age the stone received as a result of the Blitz (WWII). [10]
(5)   Our fifth consideration is to ask whether or not the book was interesting and held the reader's attention. I've already commented, above, that the topic itself is interesting. William Marshal is a superb topic! Moreover, it is not overdone and seen every- where. Now as far as the topic, the topic held my attention; however, Richard Brooks intellectual style may not appeal to everyone. Since this book is not a novel, we don't get to see character develop- ment. That is we don't really know what William Marshal thought or felt. Also, as I mentioned, above, we do not get dialog or quotes from Marshal, but straight out action. We see what he has done.

     We are not only asking whether or not the topic is interesting, but whether or not the book is interesting, as written. Mr. Brooks is obviously an intelligent, and erudite persoyn. His book is apparently well-researched and documented. I have to say, however his writing style in presenting factual information seemed to digress or meander from the path before culminating in the paragraph or chapter's thesis. At places I felt a bit lost, and sometimes the material seemed dry because the information about the surrounding cast of characters or events may have been a bit too much when describing the background information or family lineages. My attention wandered a bit and I felt it bogged down, just a bit. For this reason, I don't feel I can recommend this book to younger readers.

This is the coat of arms adopted by William Marshal. [5]
(6)     The sixth consideration is what about the book is its greatest value to the reader? Is there anything that would make it especially worthwhile? Obviously, the greatest value is to learn about William Marshal. To read about him and his life makes it easier to understand the legacy he left to the world in his contribution to the the Magna Carta and the rule of law that had been undertaken. Marshal's life of honor and dedication to higher principles can demonstrate that real people exist to make things like freedom and law come into being. Learning about his role in the Magna Charta was lovely; equally as enjoyable was to learn just how many things in which he took part that were notable and important throughout the course of his whole life.

     The following short list is just a few important things from the life of William Marshal that I learned about in Richard Brooks' book.
Eleanor of Aquitaine. [5]

  • William saved the life of Eleanor of Acquitane, being injured and getting captured in the process;
  • William fought Richard the Lionheart on the field of battle--he avoided killing his future king by aiming his lance at Richard's horse and killing it, instead;
  • At age 70 (roughly), William was summoned to defend the kingdom one more time and won a great victory at the 1217 battle at Lincoln;
  • William negotiated a truce between the barons (nobles) and King John;
  • William encouraged the creation of the Magna Carta and fought for it until his death;
  • William pledged himself to the nine-year-old King Henry III, with tears in his eyes, pledging to care for the fragile king;
  • William reissued the Magna Carta after John had it revoked and placed his seal as Regent on the document.
     I am glad that I read Richard Brooks' book, The Knight Who Saved England: William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217. I enjoyed the book and learned some important facts about William Marshal; in conclusion, I find that I can recommend this book to those who love or are interested in history, military history, reenactors, weapon or armour forgers, William Marshal, Richard the Lionheart, John, Henry III, battle strategists, The Magna Carta, those interested in law and human rights, Runnymede (location of Magna Carta signing), Thomas Comte de Perche (French forces commander killed at Lincoln), Nicola de Haye (female Castellan and protector of the castle at Lincoln and pro-John supporter) and those in education, research, or higher learning. I am sure others will be interested in this book, as well. I cannot recommend this book to younger readers or those who have reading difficulties as Brooks writing tends to digress and meander before going back to topic. 

     As to the rating, I find that given all the above information, I am very happy to award 4.0 stars out of 5 to this book. Congratulations to Richard Brooks on his informative new book.

     Thank you for joining me this week as we delved into history with a man who was called "The Greatest Knight Whoever Lived." Richard Brooks presented an informative and well-documented book. Please join me again, next week, as we take up another book from a different genre. I hope you join me, then.

     Today we do not live in the Middle Ages, mankind has grown and worked to establish laws and justice systems to treat human beings fairly. Please be fair to everyone with which you do business and try to keep your honor in your daily life like William Marshal--a man for all ages.

Until next time . . . 
This flower is a white with red center, Rose of Sharon. [14]
. . . many happy pages of reading!  

My best to you all.


[1] "The Knight Who Saved England: William Marshal and the French Invasion, 1217." [richard brooks] Retrieved 11-08-15.
[2] "Ivanhoe." [walter scott] Retrieved 11-13-15.
[3] "Robin Hood: Production Reins Over Story." [diana saenger] Retrieved 11-09-15.
[4] "Nichola de la Haye, England's Forgotten Heroine." [sharon bennett connolly; 12-11-15] retrieved 11-14-15.
[5] "William Marshal - The Flower of Chivalry." Retrieved 11-18-15.
[6] "This Day in History: [June 15,] 1215 Magna Carta Sealed." Retrieved 11-14-15.
[7] "William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke." Retrieved 11-14-15.
[8] "The Battle of Lincoln (1217), According to Roger of Wendover." [drm_peter; 03-24-14] Retrieved 11-15-15.
[9] "Manuscript Miniatures." Retrieved 11-17-15.
[10] "Elizabeth Chadwick: Living the History." Retrieved 11-18-15.
[11] "White Rose of Sharon Gifts." Retrieved 11-09-15.
[12] "How to Pitch the Top 50 'New Product Review' Bloggers." Retrieved 11-18-15.
[13] "28 Honor Quotes to Live By." Retrieved 11-18-15.
[14] "White Rose of Sharon Gifts." Retrieved 11-18-15.
[*] "NetGalley." Retrieved 11-18-15.