Book review: Templar Silks by Elizabeth Chadwick
A legendary soldier and perhaps the most influential statesman of the 12th century, William Marshal was eulogised as '˜the best knight that ever lived.'
A star of the spectacular medieval tournaments, Marshal faithfully served no less than five English kings, including Henry II and Richard the Lionheart, and mysteriously joined the illustrious Knights Templar on his deathbed in 1219.
And no one has done more to make this giant of a man flesh and blood again than award-winning historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick. Her two immensely popular William Marshal novels, The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion, took readers on a gripping journey through his life and loves, and now Chadwick has dug a rich new seam all the way to the Holy Land to reinvent Marshal’s real-life, three-year crusade to Jerusalem.
Virtually nothing is known of this dangerous mission to a land that was then considered to be ‘the edge of the world’ to fulfil a vow made to the dying son and heir of Henry II.
But through extensive research and a soaring flight of imaginative power, Chadwick has filled in the gaps to create a thrilling tale of adventure, intrigue and forbidden love.Lying on his
deathbed at his manor house in Caversham in 1219, William Marshal, England's greatest knight, sends a trusted servant to bring him the silk Templar burial shrouds which were woven in Jerusalem and returned with him from the Holy Land thirty years earlier.
It is time to become a Templar monk for eternity and as he waits for the return of the silks, he looks back upon his long-ago pilgrimage with his younger brother Ancel.
Only a short time after stealing from a sacred shrine in France in 1183, Henry II’s son and ‘shadow king’ Harry died from dysentery but not before begging William, his protector, to take his cloak to Jerusalem and lay it on Christ's tomb in the church of the Holy Sepulchre to atone for his sins.
Consumed with guilt for his own part in the raid, William and a party of knights head for the holy city, taking a perilous route through the ‘foul underbelly’ of Constantinople.
But it is Jerusalem that holds the greatest danger. The city is embroiled in a vicious power struggle caused by the fatal illness of the young King Baldwin.
Soon the brothers are drawn into the devious scheming of a place where ‘the nights are dark, and the knives are long,’ and William must choose his affinity wisely.
Entangled with the beautiful and mercurial Paschia de Riveri, concubine of the Patriarch Heraclius, the highest churchman in the land, William steps out on a path so perilous that there seems no way back for him, or for his brother.
Both will pay a terrible price and their only chance to see home again will lie with the Templar shrouds…
Fragments of real history and exciting fiction converge as Chadwick brings life, light and colour to the medieval Holy Land. From the gilded stones of the magnificent Tower of David and the diverse throng of traders and pilgrims to the palaces of the powerful and the bejewelled Sepulchre of Christ, this is Jerusalem in all its religious, political and commercial complexity.
And yet the towering presence in this remarkable story is still William Marshal… his wisdom, his diplomacy, his high sense of honour, his humility and his essential humanity forming the beating heart of a story packed with menace, ambition, power and passion.
Templar Silks sees Chadwick at her very best, fleshing out real characters from the past and placing them in a breathtakingly authentic and vibrant world to create a spectacular historical odyssey.
Thrilling as a standalone novel and fascinating as an added extra to the William Marshal chronicles, this is history, drama and adventure in perfect harmony.
(Sphere, hardback, £18.99)