The Knight Who Saved England

I must admit to something … and that is that English history prior to the English Civil War has never been of great interest to me. That is not to say that I know nothing about it; it is just that it never really fired my imagination, and the history books that I had to read were always rather boring. Interestingly enough I always enjoyed watching Shakespeare’s historical plays, mainly because they did something that I feel is very important; they are great STORIES rather than worthy HISTORIES.

When I was sent a copy of Richard Brook’s THE KNIGHT WHO SAVED ENGLAND: WILLIAM MARSHAL AND THE FRENCH INVASION, 1217 (Osprey Publishing [2014] 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:

  1. Angevin Inheritance
  2. Finest Knight
  3. Before the Longbow
  4. King John and the Dauphin
  5. William’s War
  6. Lincoln Fair
  7. The Battle of Sandwich and the Treaty of Kingston
  8. 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.


12 Comments on “The Knight Who Saved England”

  1. I'm feeling all smug 🙂 I saw the title 'The Knight who saved England', and my immediate thought was 'William (the) Marshal.' Sure 'nuff…

    He seems to be one of those few historical characters of whom it difficult to find a bad opinion.

  2. barry carter says:

    So, 13th Century Portable Wargame street fighting then? Utilizing your new PW. buildings system of course.
    Actually, it would look quite impressive………….another potential project!

  3. barry carter says:

    I see the duplicated comment has made a comeback!

  4. Archduke Piccolo,

    If you have heard of him, you will probably enjoy this book.

    All the best,


  5. Barry Carter,

    Funny that you should write that, but the same thought had crossed my mind.

    That said, I don't want to take on yet another project quite yet.

    All the best,


  6. Barry Carter,

    It happens quite a lot.

    Thank god for the delete option!

    All the best,


  7. I think that medieval warfare and medieval soldiers are often sold short. Sounds like a good book. I should pester the local library.

  8. Ross Mac,

    I think that you will enjoy reading this book … and I suspect that you will get a few scenario ideas from it.

    By the way, Richard Brooks – the author – is a wargamer and the designer of the RED SQUARE and OP14 gridded wargame rules.

    All the best,


  9. I first heard of William Marshal in a History course at varsity. But I also read several historical novels of the 12th century by Graham Shelby, in which Wm Marshal appears. I believe he is the main character in the one about King John.

    It was thinking about Mr Shelby and the first of his two Crusades novels (Knights of Dark Renown) that I was reminded of one of the blackest villains history has to show – Reynald of Chatillon – the complete antithesis of the likes of William Marshal. I mean, this guy Reynald was just, plain …. nasty.

  10. Fitz-Badger says:

    I enjoy the history of the early days of the British Isles.

    I recently finished reading Donald Fetaherstone's Bowmen of England, which gave me some new insights into battles and fighting involving longbowmen. Your book sounds interesting, too.

  11. Archduke Piccolo,

    I have never heard of the novels that you mention … but I will certainly seek them out ASAP! They sound very interesting.

    All the best,


  12. Fitz-Badger,

    I think that if you found Donald Featherstone's book interesting, you will enjoy this one as well.

    Read and enjoy!

    All the best,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s