How and why I never got to this author before is a mystery. I wish I had. The story of William Marshall who served a king loyally and then swore allegiance to his sons one after another, none of whom deserved such a loyal servant is a masterful story telling which will keep you enthralled and wanting more.
William Marshall joins the king's household as a very lowly squire. He is not very popular with his colleagues but he does the job that he has been entrusted to him wonderfully. It is his skill with the horses and jousts that make him come to the forefront amongst all the other knights. His victories at the tournaments brings him fame and some returns and this helps him to make his fortune as well as establish his reputation as one of the most skilled horsemen of his time. The history of the period of Henry II was bloody and what followed was even worse and it does make for fascinating reading. The politics of today seems to be so mild in comparison to what went on in those days - all with the idea of maintaining control, keeping the estates intact and hang mankind in general. The poor had a lot to contend with - and no recourse to any authority because the King was the final word and if you had an autocratic one you were more or less doomed.
The other story telling which was different from other historical fiction books is the personal life of William Marshall which forms an integral part of the story. Married to Isabelle who was 20 years his junior, William wanted Isabelle from the first moment he saw her but had to bide his time to even approach her for her hand in marriage. Isabelle went into the marriage not knowing whether it was going to be another marriage of convenience and one of aggrandisement and a way of protecting her own dower lands. She did not expect to fall in love and to have compassion and tenderness and much sensuality in her marriage. For Isabelle this was a bonus of an unexpected kind. In the face of so much infidelity and flouting of conventions, Isabelle and William had a beautiful marriage which was envied by many. This part of the story was so good because you constantly had other royal marriages as part of the background and believe me they were ugly and strained. full of every vice known to man.
This story is heavy on the description - from the food, weaponry, the domestic details of running a castle and in Isabelle's case several homes, the furnishing of not just comfort for your own family and William and she did have a large one, but also seeing to the needs of all the domestic servants as well as soldiers who formed part of your estate was an enormous amount of work and this is very interesting to read. Even description of battlefields was minute and brought the scenes very much to life however gory it all was.
This was a read of the Middle Ages in both England and France. My knowledge of this era was skimpy at best so I did enjoy learning about the period. I am looking ever so forward to finishing the sequel to this book The Scarlet Lion.