timewatch: greatest knight, the

Military historian Dr. Saul David, delves deep into the violent world of the medieval melee tournament and focuses on the undisputed champion - William Marshal.

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Medieval tournaments conjure up images of knights clad in plate armour jousting at each other for the love of a maiden. But the original tournaments of Europe’s Middle Ages were actually centred on a much more fearsome event – the mêlée. This was a free-for-all fight in which knights were divided into two sides and came together in a thundering charge using the shock tactic of the day, the couched lance. The objective was to capture the enemy for ransom without killing him and make your reputation. And the ‘greatest knight in all the world’ during the mêlée’s hey-day was William Marshal – a man of fairly humble origins whose success on the tournament field brought him, fame, wealth, a trophy wife and eventually the regency of England. Through the life of William Marshal, Timewatch explores the mêlée, the men who played the game, their tactics (often remarkably unchivalrous according to the modern connotations of chivalry), the armour they wore and the weapons they used. But these fearsome events were also hugely influential on the politics, society, and literature of the Middle Ages. Heraldry originated from the need to identify knights fighting in the mêlée, the Fourth Crusade was called at a tournament, romance literature was born from the events of the knights on the tourneying field and King John signed Magna Carta because of a tournament. In The Greatest Knight, historian Saul David goes on a journey of discovery that takes him to the battlefields of the northern France, the medieval manuscripts of the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris, Lincoln castle, Temple Church in London, the College of Arms, St. Mary-Le-Bow in London’s Cheapside, a knight training school in Wiltshire, a Manhattan museum to see the original biography of William the Marshal and Eglington in Scotland, where Victorian gentlemen tried to imitate their chivalric heroes by holding a tournament of their own that got rained off. Dramatic reconstruction of the mêlée will punctuate the film and give the audience a feel for the violence and skill of this extraordinary and much-overlooked event of the early Middle Ages.

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