You, the reader, may have noticed that several novels about William Marshal have been published. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. The historical record is very short on details for the Marshal’s life — details such as exact dates.
The long poem about Will (“History of William Marshal,” ed. by A.J. Holden, Anglo-Norman Text Society, 2004) is, too. Thus the field is open for many different interpretations of the preserved information.
It’s fun to read all the novels written so far about Marshal. (I think I’ve read them all. Altogether they paint a rich picture of life in the twelfth century. I also like to read the novels that deal with Elizabeth I of England.)
However, there are some things about my novel that are different from the rest. First, “The Devil’s Grandson” is the first to concentrate on the life of a young William Marshal, from 1147 to 1170.
The story emphasizes the forces that shaped a magnificent hero, who would be called England’s greatest knight. These forces include the dynamics of William’s family of birth, and opportunities to learn from kings and queens.
The novel shows how Marshal, lacking land and money, propels himself to the forefront of English history by the age of twenty-three. (When he dies, Marshal will have defended five kings, served as regent of England, and issued the final Magna Carta.)
The book plays up events in which Marshal’s life intersected with those of the other history-makers of the twelfth century rather than glosses over them.
I have used a few events that lack evidence of William’s presence – such as the death of Thomas Becket. Doing so has allowed me to present more of the sweep of history that affected William’s life. (You could say I’ve used my artistic license freely.)
The book corrects some myths about the reign of Henry II and his sons. For instance, it gives attention to the real causes of strife between Henry II and Thomas Becket. The book characterizes Becket as his peers regarded him – not as a saint. In the novel, as in the historical record, the Archbishop schemes to give the church more power than the king, while Henry Second insists upon separation of church and lay authority.
At that time, the church had been usurping the right to try criminal cases, which heretofore had been heard by the King’s judges. (Infractions of church rules, such as the commitment of heresy, had always been tried by the church.)
The book does not avoid the elements of life that my mother does not like to read about: war, death, and sex. She is a product of the times when she grew up, and I am a product of mine. However, I’m happy to say that Mother read “The Devil’s Grandson.” In fact, she couldn’t put it down.
Finally, the book is a bit like a travelogue. I hope I’ve given enough description of key locations so that the reader can see, touch, smell, taste, and hear what William Marshal himself would have. I hope it makes the reader want to visit England and France. I think that if you don’t like description you should be reading scripts for dramas – and not novels.