No two kings have ever lived and been more colourful than King Richard I and John of England. They were opposites in some ways but all had the sharp Angevin temper. Their other two brothers were minor players in the drama that unfolded in England in the years 1189 to 1216.
The story begins with a peace keeping force in the Holy Land. They are about to embark on ships and return to England when they are attacked by beserkers. The Irishman is killed, but before he dies, he asks his closest friend, Sir Hugh, to go to Ireland and rescue his two sons who will be killed by their evil uncle once he knows that the father is dead. Hugh agrees reluctantly and is surprised when he finds not two sons but four.
The story of Richard I and John is told by the four Irish brothers, two of whom are warriors and two are scholars. As a result, we see King Richard the fearless warrior and the poet-singer from two points of view. Richard reigned first and the two brothers who accompanied him through his battles in France and to the Holy Land are constantly comparing notes. They write frequently to their other two brothers who are with King Henry II first and later with King John.
The battles in the Holy Land, Richard’s callous treatment of the captured Muslims whom he ordered murdered as they stood chained together are all vividly portrayed. The death of Richard is also told as it is thought to have occurred, from an arrow lodged in the angle between his neck and shoulder. It could not be removed or treated safely without danger of infection. There is the murder of Thomas a’ Becket as well and the dysfunctional household of the old King and his queen when the boys were growing up.
After Richard’s death, two of the brothers go back to Ireland and marry. The other two stay on and serve under King John, but live to regret their decision. They see John begin as a concerned monarch who would see to justice for all and then turn into a man consumed with greed and ready to charge any fee that he thought he could extract from his people for a bit of justice. They saw him build a government that was so invasive that his people could not live as free men and they did not, would not pay for so much governance. They also saw the events leading up to the Magna Carta and the rapid demise of the document in John’s hands. They were there when the King lost the crown jewels in the Wash and when he died soon after from dysentery. In the end the four brothers end up at their castle in Ireland and make some much needed changes. They compare notes and celebrate their timely escape from the Angevins.