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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A riveting picture of the real world of a mediaeval knight
You feel in reading George Duby's book that a corner is lifted on the real world of life under Henry 11 and his sons.It is a long way from the romanticised version we are fed as children but no less fascinating.The story of the last days of William Marshall must be one of the most moving descriptions ever written of a powerful man preparing to take his leave of this life...
Published on July 11, 1998 by geoffreydalton@compuserve.com

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars William is the not so great Knight in this telling
Duby writes in a somewhat old fashioned style, which I rather liked. The entry into the book (William on his deathbed releasing his goods and preparing to die) hooked me right in. The order is that William prepares to die, dies, and then his son and friends commission a praise-book biography, much of which the authors claim to have seen or heard from William's own...
Published 8 months ago by Cary


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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A riveting picture of the real world of a mediaeval knight, July 11, 1998
This review is from: William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry (Paperback)
You feel in reading George Duby's book that a corner is lifted on the real world of life under Henry 11 and his sons.It is a long way from the romanticised version we are fed as children but no less fascinating.The story of the last days of William Marshall must be one of the most moving descriptions ever written of a powerful man preparing to take his leave of this life. Spellbinding. The description of a tournament must be the most comprehensive ever written I was brought up on Ivanhoe and all that! The most devastating discovery is the very minor role played by most women in the lives of the Plantagenets - it will horrify the modern woman.This book evokes all the drama we have seen in classic films like "The Lion in Winter" and puts it in perspective. Not for everyone but for those interested in the twelfth century a real spellbinder. Does anyone know where I can get a copy of William Marshall's biography in English?
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All in a knight's work, May 17, 2006
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As you may recall in the film A LION IN WINTER, there was a briefly seen character named "William" (played by Nigel Stock in the superlative 1968 version starring Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn), the right-hand man of King Henry II, who fetched his master's sons, Richard and Geoffrey, and Henry's Queen Eleanor (imprisoned in England's Salisbury Tower) to the royal castle of Chinon in France for the 1183 Christmas court. This William was William Marshal, the subject of this small book (153 pages) of the same name by French medieval historian Georges Duby. The translated volume was published in 1985.

Marshal was a remarkable man, whose knightly career spanned roughly five decades, over which time he went from penniless knight to acting-King of England (when he served as Regent for the young Henry III). Over that period, he was a faithful servant to four kings (Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III) and one almost-king, the Young King Henry, the eldest son of Henry II crowned and anointed heir in 1170, but who pre-deceased Ol' Dad in June of 1183. William, by then Earl of Pembroke, died in 1219.

Duby's interest lies in that facet of medieval feudalism called chivalry, and he admiringly uses Marshal's life to illustrate the subject. Indeed, the author's description of William's life seems sometimes oddly detached, as if describing a rat in a lab experiment. Georges uses as his primary source a biography of the man - twenty-seven parchment leaves containing 19,914 verses - commissioned by the family shortly after the earl's death, and which survived in its entirety to the present. The biography, "Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal", was written in French, a fact, I suspect, which was crucial in drawing Duby's attention to it.

The author takes great pains to point out that feudal society was a hierarchical one comprised of superimposed layers, and with an order, ostensibly intended by God, "based on the intermingled notions of inequality, service, and loyalty." For laymen, i.e. the non-Church nobility - from bottom to top, from knight to king - it was a complex web of relations of domesticity, consanguinity, vassalage, and politics. Duby's great accomplishment in WILLIAM MARSHAL: THE FLOWER OF CHIVALRY is reducing this complexity to a human level for the reader using Marshal as the poster boy.

With a knowledge of feudalism probably no greater than anyone with an average interest and instruction in Western history, I came away from this absolute gem of a book with a greater and satisfying understanding of five particular aspects of feudalism and chivalry: the loyalty expected of a vassal knight to his lord of the moment regardless of the latter's loyalty to his superior further up the ladder, the importance of tournaments to the knights' livelihoods, the role of increasing circulating specie in eroding the knights' class pretensions, the necessity of marriage to an heiress to move a bachelor knight up in societal rank (marriage = land = power), and the status of women, i.e. landed noble women, in this society run exclusively by men. Indeed, Marshal himself remained a bachelor - and, therefore, a relative non-entity - until he was almost fifty, at which time he married Isabel de Clare, a seventeen-year old orphaned heiress sequestered as a royal ward in the Tower of London for her own protection (like a gold bar in a bank vault), and who was granted to William by a dying Henry II. (At the time, Isabel, in terms of land, was the second richest woman in England.) After Henry died and his successor Richard confirmed the gift, Marshal hurried back to England from France in unseemly haste to wed, deflower, and claim his prize. Isabel, of course, had absolutely no say in the matter, a fact likely to infuriate modern-day feminists. In any case, Marshal lived long enough to father at least ten children by her, and it was via her patrimony that William became Earl of Pembroke.

One last note about THE LION IN WINTER. William's role in the film was perhaps a screenwriter's embellishment. At the time (Nov 1183-Jan 1184), Marshal was likely still trying to attach to a new lord's household after the death of his previous employer, the Young King Henry, the previous summer. The fact that Henry, Jr. had been in rebellion against his father at the time of the former's death wasn't likely to help Marshal attach to the latter's retinue, a feat ensured success only after William spent two years on crusade in the Holy Land from 1185 to 1187.

I would unreservedly recommend WILLIAM MARSHAL to any casual or serious student of European feudalism during the reigns of the early Plantagenets.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exellent tale of the greatest knight on earth., September 16, 1998
This review is from: William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry (Paperback)
This book is great for those beginning the study of medieval life and warfare of the middle ages.William Marshal is the greatest knight that England has ever produced, and a reader will become captive in the story as William becomes one of the nations greatest and respected nobles.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All you ever wanted to know about chivalry, January 19, 2004
This review is from: William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry (Paperback)
If you like middle Ageds, this is your book. IF you like chivalry, this is your book. If you like to read a good book, this is your book. Prof. Duby was not only a great scholar, but as a writer has a great style. He is simple and elegant. Although is a short book it will give you a great pleasure. Not only if you are a professional, but to anyone who likes History and learning. iN fact any book by Duby is an open window to the middles Ages. So just get ready for a great trip.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars William Marshall, the knight to outshine all knights, December 9, 2007
Georges Duby, among the most influential French scholars to bring the middle ages to life, based his "William Marshall: The Flower of Chivalry" on many sources. One of those needs special mention. "L'Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal" is a poem of more than 19,000 lines commissioned by the eldest of Marshall's five sons to celebrate the life of their father.

And what a life, rising from humble squire to become a champion in many tournaments and a feared warrior who ended his years as Regent of England after a lifetime at war. As a young knight William Marshall was severely wounded while saving Eleanor of Aquitaine from an ambush. She ransomed him and he joined her service. (See Duby's "Women of the Twelfth Century, Volume 1: Eleanor of Aquitaine and Six Others.")

After that, William served Eleanor's spouse, King Henry I, and their crowned heir to England, Young Henry: William's tournament winnings repaid Young Henry's debts. After that, William took his sword to Palestine, a vow made to Young Henry, who died at 15. Thereafter, William served Henry I again, then Richard I (Lionheart), his brother King John, and finally John's son, the boy-king Henry III.

The age of chivalry's high point centered on the decade of the 1170s. We know of no better practitioner than William Marshall. His career and his conduct were those of the perfect knight. It is no exaggeration to say that the real life of William Marshall exceeded the on-screen career of any Hollywood action hero, with no stunt doubles or special effects.

Duby puts more than William Marshall's career in brilliant context. His principal source, "L'Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal" was written, not in Latin, but in Anglo-Norman French. Duby explains its provenance. It remains the first document of such length to be written in French. And the odds are very good that the excellent poet who produced those 19,000 lines in octosyllabic couplets wrote them in England!

Robert Fripp, Author,
Power of a Woman. Memoirs of a turbulent life: Eleanor of Aquitaine
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderfully detailed book, despite its length, February 19, 2007
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This review is from: William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry (Paperback)
The life of William Marshal is an elusive life to study upon. There is very little written about him and what little there is reads more like propaganda. That being said, Georges Duby has done a superb job in bringing the character of William Marshal to life. We are told by Duby himself that he is not attempting to write a biography of Marshal, but rather use the lengthy poem written about Marshal to analyze his character and illustrate why he was thought of as the Flower of Chivalry.

This is something that is hard to do. What is reality and what was written in order to lift Marshal high in the eyes of his peers? Using his own knowledge of the time along with other biographies written about Marshal Duby is able to depict a seemingly accurate rendition of the chivalric knight. We are treated to short, yet pleasingly full explanations of normal everyday medieval society. Where other authors pass over the trivial explanations Duby includes. Such as why a final resting place was chosen, the act of homage, why children were sent away, the importance of maternal uncles and so on... Small detail oriented research that one familiar with the period knows, and yet we as the amateur reader aren't too familiar with. This in itself makes this a book any reader of history should read.

The only downside is that we may truly never know who Marshal was. What we know is based off of a poem commissioned by Marshal's son in order to lift his father, and thus the family, higher in the eyes of society. How much is propaganda? I think it safe to say almost everything is, but within this lengthy poem we can find the character of Marshal.

I am eager to read something else written by Georges Duby. I would definitely recommend this book and author to all.

5 stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars William is the not so great Knight in this telling, March 31, 2014
By 
Cary "Cary" (Glenview, IL USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: William Marshal (Kindle Edition)
Duby writes in a somewhat old fashioned style, which I rather liked. The entry into the book (William on his deathbed releasing his goods and preparing to die) hooked me right in. The order is that William prepares to die, dies, and then his son and friends commission a praise-book biography, much of which the authors claim to have seen or heard from William's own mouth. So far so good,

However, the book then locks to the praising biography, From that point on Duby's (somewhat cynical) take on William seems to be pointing out that in real life (no sources given) in was "known" not to be loyal, or respectful of women, etc. I can agree that affection between William and Isabel is speculative, but Duby seems to suggest that there could be none because of a total disregard for women as people. As I see it there is evidence in history that Wm at least respected her. Duby also seems to think that William would have had no affection for the young king's wife, but that he may very well have had sex with her as accused by his jealous enemies.

Duby says (without giving evidence) that William was well known NOT to be loyal (and implies that the biographical poem called him loyal so often mostly because the old French words for loyalty and Marshall rhymed). It accuses him of being disloyal to Richard in favor of John because John was his lord in Ireland after Henry II made John king there... And on and on. He implies that Wm hired heralds or troubadours (Henry something, can't remember) to "puff" his prowess at tournaments - although Duby does admit that he was good enough to be much sought after later). In all, I think his take on William was very negative.

Even so, some of what he said about the times was very interesting, and (while I am taking a grain of salt here), his take that William (and most contemporaries) had no interest in or respect for their spouses or children other than the heir was interesting. William was given to Stephen as a hostage because he was his father's 4th son, and therefore of no importance in this telling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and Insightful; 4.5 Stars, May 20, 2009
By 
R. Albin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry (Paperback)
This short book is an entrancing analysis of the nature of the knighthood at the apogee of chivalry. William Marshal was a major figure in 12th - 13th century Britain and France. The younger son of an English knight, he used his superb skills as a jouster and warrior to attract the patronage of the English crown and rise into the Baronage. At the end of his unusually long life, he was the Regent of England and one of the most powerful men in Western Europe. At his death, his family commissioned a lengthy, vernacular memorial poem which provides considerable biographical information. This poem, which may be the only surviving example of a fairly common genre, is a rich source of information about the life of knights like Marshal. The famous French medievalist Georges Duby uses the poem as a point of departure to describe several important facets of the life of knights during this period of Medieval history. Key features exposed by Duby are the importance of public ceremony in the life of the nobility, the nature of family structures, the feudal bond as a system of clientage and prestige, the difficulties of life at major courts, and the fissiparous and complex politics inherent in the feudal system. Duby is clearly fascinated by both this poem and the nature of knighthood and chivalry generally. He shows very well a number of the distinctly alien features of the conduct of the knightly class. These include the patriarchial attitudes towards children, the cavalier attitudes towards violence and the property of others, and the remarkably disadvantageous position of noble women - not quite chattels, but not much better situated. Written in an elegant and at times almost conversational style, this insightful book is a pleasure to read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wordy but pretty good, October 28, 2013
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This review is from: William Marshal (Kindle Edition)
Very wordy, but if you hang in there, the reward is a lot of interesting insight. I wish I could get an English translation of 'histoire de Guilliuim Marechal
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, July 1, 2014
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This review is from: William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry (Paperback)
Very interesting about one of the great knights in history.
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William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry
William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry by Georges Duby (Paperback - February 12, 1987)
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