The Knight Who Saved EnglandPosted: April 19, 2014
When I was sent a copy of Richard Brook’s THE KNIGHT WHO SAVED ENGLAND: WILLIAM MARSHAL AND THE FRENCH INVASION, 1217 (Osprey Publishing  ISBN 978 1 84908 550 2) I approached reading it with somewhat mixed thoughts. Firstly I had never heard of William Marshal or the French Invasion of 1217, so it probably wasn’t a very important topic to write about. Secondly it was about a period of history that had never really interested me because it was boring. Thirdly my understanding of the warfare of the period was that it was usually two lines of mounted knights charging each other and engaging in melee combat.
I was wrong on all three counts, and having read Richard’s book I can thoroughly recommend it.
The book covers the seventy odd years of William Marshal’s life (1147 [approximately] to 1219), during which he rose from being the younger son of a poor knight to becoming 1st Earl of Pembroke and the regent for Henry III. He loyally served four Kings of England during his life (Henry II, Richard I, John, and Henry III) and became one of the leading magnates of the kingdom. He was a renowned fighter, and during his period as regent he commanded Henry III’s armies against Prince Louis of France and the rebel barons, and despite his age he lead the charge at the decisive Battle of Lincoln.
William was also a statesman who had the sense to know how to achieve lasting results. This is evidenced by the negotiations he conducted at the end of the war with France. In order to secure peace and stability for his young king, William set very generous of the terms to Prince Louis and the rebel barons.
The book is divided into eight chapters:
- Angevin Inheritance
- Finest Knight
- Before the Longbow
- King John and the Dauphin
- William’s War
- Lincoln Fair
- The Battle of Sandwich and the Treaty of Kingston
- Nunc Dimittis
Richard’s style of writing is an interesting one in that the book reads like a novel in places whilst at the same time as being full of academic references. Once I started a chapter, I found it difficult to put down until I had read to the end. He also varies his style to suit the topic. Therefore the chapter that deals with the Angevin Inheritance reads like an historical novel whereas the one that covers William’s training and career as a knight is more like a traditional military history book.
Incidentally, this latter chapter completely changed my ideas about the type of fighting that took place during this era. For example, I had no idea that the early tournaments were more like modern Formula 1 motor racing (i.e. tournaments were fought by teams of knights that were often trained together to fight together for personal financial reward on a well-known circuit of tournament sites across Europe) than Hollywood’s portrayal of chivalric activity at a tourney. Likewise I had little idea that most of the fighting that took place were sieges, raids, or ambushes, and that pitched battles were the very rare exception rather than the rule.
From a wargamers point-of-view this book contains lots of information that can be used on all sorts of levels. There are ideas for campaigns that could be fought either as conventional map games where the battles are fought out on the tabletop, as committee games, or as large-scale Matrix Games. For someone looking for a more typical figure game that they might want to set up at a wargames club or as a demonstration game at a wargames show, the description of the Battle of Lincoln provides lots of potential ideas, with mounted knights charging in line abreast down narrow city streets and local people grabbing anything that they could use as a weapon to join in the fray.
I am very pleased that I was given this book to read … and I am sure that other readers will also enjoy reading it.